There are only a few special places in the Canadian Rockies where you can drive close to treeline. Topping the list is Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country at 2210m, the parking lot at Bow Pass in Banff National Park is second at 2085m and at 2027m Sunwapta Pass in Jasper National Park is third. By comparison, the Cardinal Divide in the Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park, at 1981m may seem diminutive, but it is the only one that, despite being below treeline, has a distinctive alpine feel to it. Elevation and wind keep all but the hardiest trees at bay and allow plenty of room for meadows with stunning wildflower displays.
Even if you don't plan on hiking the trail, the drive up to the Cardinal Divide makes a satisfying outing in itself. From the tiny Hamlet of Cadomin the Grave Flats Road pierces the mountain front and winds its way up the narrow McLeod River valley. Along the way you'll pass the Mountain Park graveyard. Mountain Park (http://www.ghosttowns.com/canada/alberta/alberta.html) was a prosperous coal mining town from 1912-50. Long gone, the location of the buildings are now marked by small signs scattered above the road. Driving to the Cardinal Divide is not something you want to do in a sports car, the Grave Flats Road is not always in the best of shape.
The Grave Flats Road parallels Elk Valley Coal's (http://www.elkvalleycoal.ca) monstrously huge haul road between the old processing plant at Luscar and the new Cardinal River mine(aka: Cheviot). Elk Valley Coal is not fond of trespassers, even something as simple as climbing the berm between the haul road and the Grave Flats Road is 'against the rules'. This mine has and continues to be surrounded in controversy, find out why at (http://fanweb.ca/cheviot/index_html?main_page_name=home_reference).
The whole trail is visible from the parking lot as it follows the Cardinal Divide to the crest of its eastern ridge, a short 1.5km away. Gaining the ridge is rewarding enough for many hikers but it is easy and enjoyable to turn right and follow this exposed ridge to its summit at 3.5km.
All along the ridge the Nikanassin Range, standing guard on the eastern boundary of Jasper National Park fills the southwestern horizon. The prominent gap in this wall of rock is Rocky Pass (aka. Cardinal Pass, Cardinal may have won the battle of toponymy but I'm not switching) over which runs a trail connecting the Grave Flats Road to the Medicine Tent River and the South Boundary Trail. Flanking Rocky Pass are Mount MacKenzie on the south and Mount Cardinal on the north. Framed in the gap of Rocky Pass is Mount Balcarres. Spinning around, Leyland, Cadomin and Redcap Mountains form the northeastern horizon. Just beyond the virtually indistinguishable summit and reflective survey marker marks the turn around point, or you can continue another two klicks on continuing open ridge.
From Hinton drive west on Hwy 16 for 2km and turn left on Hwy 40 south (70km east of Jasper on Hwy 16). Drive 47km south on Hyw 40 then turn right on the Grave Flats Road. Pass through the cottage community / ghost town of Cadomin in 3kms, where you can 'eat here and get gas' in Jacoby's General Store, Then it's another 20km to the divide. Soon that monstrous haul road comes rumbling in and even people driving big trucks or SUV's will feel diminutive next to the behemoths that haul eight loads of coal in a twelve hour shift. At Mountain Park the haul road veers right while the Grave Flats Road crosses the MacLeod River twice then begins its accent to the Cardinal Divide. A sign at the divide welcomes you while latrines and garbage cans receive your waste. This is the end of the Grave Flats Road, and the start of the Cardinal River Road
This trail can also be reached from Nordegg. Drive west of Nordegg on Hwy 11, turning right on Hwy 734, drive north for about 70 klicks before turning left on the Cardinal River Road after the Brazeau River crossing. Drive another 55kms on this rough road, through the Small Boy Camp, past Muskiki Lake and up to the Cardinal Divide.
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Posted By: Willaknits
- Sat Aug 22 16:11:07 UTC 2015
UpsideEasy hike through sub-alpine meadows to unparalleled views. DownsideThe view and sounds (truck beepers) from the Cheviot mine. CommentI was astounded at the view into the valley on the "other" side of the ridge. It is a gorgeous area and we enjoyed a lunch at the top when we visited on August 4, 2015.
I uploaded photos.
Posted By: raynorshine
- Fri Jul 18 20:45:34 UTC 2014
UpsideGetting there and finding no crowds and a view the like of which isnot to be had anywhere else in Alberta by road DownsideThe mine site CommentIn years past you could access this via the Cardinal River Road. Unfortunately this was washed out in 2011 or 2012 near the point where the road leaves the river and begins to climb up to the divide. A few ATVs have created a trail around the actual washout (a couple kms beyond the cement barrier which does not block the road), but this is not passable by road vehicles without substantially damaging the river bank and river and further damaging the remaining roadbed. The sharp, bolder strewn bank is at least a meter high where the ATVers have gone across. The road to that point is passable by most 2 cars and trucks. It is worth taking for the views from the valley floor even though you'll have to turn back. I guess you could spend a day hiking up the old road, but really I'd suggest driving round to the Divide and spending your energy up there.
In the 30 years I have been using this access the road and given way at this point a number of times and been rebuilt, probably by private parties. I suspect there are fish habitat issues that prevent that happening with public $. The 100 meter washout this time may make it too time consuming for the average joe with a backhoe to try it.
The detour around the washout is to take the Grave Flats Road north from its junction with the Cardinal River Road about 30 kms west of the Trunk Road (Hwy 40), to where it rejoins the Trunk Road. You would then continue north west into Cadomine and pick up the Divide Road there going south through the mine site.
Posted By: xtremepeaks
- Sat Sep 30 00:10:24 UTC 2006
UpsideGreat hike on the ridge above tree line. Views to the peaks of Jasper Park. DownsideWindy and cool, early snowfalls here. Large snowfall here around Sept 20 this year. CommentAdded a photo of the area from my recent hike.