Ribbon Falls – Spray Lake Provincial Park

As we all know, 2020 was not the best.

I suffered mentally, physically, and emotionally. Like many I gained weight, lost hope, missed connections with people, and struggled with anxiety. Thankfully, I was able to get out on one backpacking trip this summer when restrictions relaxed a bit in Alberta.

My friend (L) and I decided to hike to Ribbon Falls Backcountry Campsite. The trail itself is under 10km with about 550 m of elevation gain so very doable. This was the first backpacking trip of the summer so we wanted something less strenuous to ease ourselves into it.

Ribbon Creek is your constant companion on this trail.

The trail follows Ribbon Creek all the way up the pass to Ribbon Falls. The creek is a beautiful companion to the trail, winding through the forest below the mountain ridge. You cross the river multiple times so you don’t need to worry about packing lots of water. As long as you have a filtration system, you will have ample access!

One recommendation I will make is to not start the trail at 1pm on a +30C day. Mistake on our part.

Photo by L

The first part of the trail is also used as a mountain bike path so be aware. This trail is well used and we were passed by multiple bikes. About half way up though, you meet this little face in a tree stump! This stump is the marker at the end of the bike trail and the trail becomes a hiking only trail. It gets narrower and rougher from here on. The trail is well used though so it is far from bushwhacking!

Photo by L

I am still in constant awe of the magnificence of natural areas. Each new turn in the trail lead to a new view of the mountain range we were walking along and the river curled with us. It was a sunny, blue bird sky above us. The bugs were hiding from the heat. The views were stunning.

If I’m being honest though, I struggled. It was hot and I was not at the same fitness level as I was last summer. But, my friend L pushed and encouraged me. Spurred on by her enthusiasm and my own desire to see where we were going to camp beneath the stars that night, we moved on.

Up and up we went. The elevation gain was spread out so it wasn’t a giant spike. But there was not rest from it. The wildflowers were in bloom so we passed the time pointing out pretty flowers as we passed them. Looking back now, I wish I had taken more pictures of them so I knew what we saw.

Supper with a view

That night, we cooked supper with a splendid view. We weren’t the only ones in camp so supper had a wonderful buzz of community to it. We even had a deer stop by our little supper area to welcome us to camp. The view was stunning! Mountains surrounded us, almost encompassing us in an embrace.

It was comfortable, wild, and peaceful.

A short walk from our campsite was Ribbon Falls. It provided a wonderful melody to our time in camp.

Ribbon Falls

The rocks below the falls were worn with age and years of water washing over them. You could feel the spray from the water ricocheting off the rocks. Any other sound of the world around you disappeared. There were no cars rushing past. There were no planes flying over head. The only sound you could hear was the water falling and the occasional sound of your own breath.

I was determined to wake up at midnight and see the stars. Being out in the wilderness and being able to see stars as a backdrop against the silhouettes of the mountains and trees drew me in. I didn’t mind waking up in the middle of the night (thanks Fitbit for having an alarm that L couldn’t hear!) to see such a wonder.

It didn’t disappoint. I won’t bother trying to show you the pictures I took of it because it just doesn’t do it justice. The stars were out in full glory. The cool night air coupled with the silence of the evening (besides the constant reminder of the waterfall near by) was inspiring.

The next morning, L and I had great ambitions to hike to Ribbon Lake and from there, maybe summit a nearby mountain.

Anyone who ventures out in the wilderness likes to say that if you encounter something that doesn’t make you feel safe or comfortable, turn around.

Well, I experienced that.

To get to Ribbon Lake, there are chains you have to climb up a cliff to get there.

Photo by L

I tried. I really tried climbing the chains up. I got part way up and my anxiety took over. I froze, my mind raced with worse case scenarios, and my hands became sweaty. I had to climb down.

L was compassionate but I felt bad. Thankfully we had met another hiker that L could continue on with. We came up with a time when I would expect her back in camp. We talked about safety. And I returned to camp while she continued on with our new friend.

I thought I would regret that decision to turn around. I thought I would feel bad that I didn’t continue.

You know what though?

I didn’t. I don’t regret it. I thought about my comfort level and physical fitness level. I saw others conquering it (some with full packs on!) and I was proud of them while also in awe that they could accomplish that. L likes rock climbing so for her, it wasn’t a big deal! For me, my brain and body were telling me that this was pushing myself too far on that day. And you know what? Maybe one day I will go back and conquer that, but I’m ok with my decision even now.

I returned to camp and soaked up nature. I hung in our hammock, sat by the creek, read, took pictures, and just let myself be. I let my mind wander. I let my body relax. I watched the trees sway in the breeze. I felt the sun on my legs. I drank refreshing mountain creek water. I enjoyed the environment I was in.

Ribbon Creek by the campsite

Later that day, L and our new friend made it back in camp (with 15 mins to spare before our agreed upon meeting time I might add!) with tales of the lake and the summit. I soaked up their stories and told them of my day spent relaxing and connecting with nature. Our friend had to get back to her car before the sunset so we said goodbye. L took a nap before we made supper and we turned in for the night soon after our meal.

In the morning, the trees and flowers were covered with dew. The sun was shining again. It was time to pack up and return.

We left early in the morning. Early enough that we cleared the trail of every spider web that was made the night before.

Early morning trail

We were the only one on the trail for a long time. We watched the sun start to peek over the mountain ridge and the dew evaporate quickly in the morning sun.

Part way through our morning, we heard another group coming up the trail. They were calling out, clearly meaning to inform bears of their presence, and I echoed. Good thing too. We rounded a corner and came across the group hiking up. They informed us a bear crossed our path not 30 seconds before we came around the corner. Looking up into the bush, we saw the black bear making his way. Bear spray out and safety off, we talked for a few moments with the group before going our separate ways – us continuing our descent. The bear was obviously trying to get away from us. It made it’s way up the ridge and out of sight. It was incredible to see such a creature making their morning rounds.

Photo by L

Although I struggled at times with this trail, I am glad I did it. I love having all of your gear on your back and being out in the wilderness. We had amazing weather, some wildlife encounters, and just enjoyed being out. I seem to forget that sometimes trails that seem “small” are the perfect ones to just get outside. Just spending that afternoon soaking up the environment around me, recharged my soul.

Have you hiked to Ribbon Falls? What was your experience?

One thought on “Ribbon Falls – Spray Lake Provincial Park

  1. Thank you for sharing your adventure. This past year was a mess, but your need to be in nature to recharge your soul was evident. Love you so much!!

    Sent from my iPhone Robin Stuart

    Working hrs Monday-Thursday.

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