North Drywood Falls

May 29, 2021. An easy and popular family hike to an attractive waterfall.

  • Region: Castle Wilderness. Traditional Territory of the Tsuu T’ina, Ktunaxa, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 4.1 km one-way
  • Total Ascent: 150 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 1690 m
  • Time: 1h 15m one-way

Often just referred to as Drywood Falls, this trail is a favourite all-season destination. It involves a walk along a valley bottom following a broad gas exploration road, eventually reaching a point where the road ends and a short footpath carries on to a lovely waterfall. The simplicity of the route means that it’s ideal for a broad range of abilities and ages. Rain or snow should be no impediment to making the journey, but a very hot day may be sweltering in the valley bottom and there’s no shade. Also, be aware that windy weather is accentuated because of how the valley funnels the wind. I have only done this as a summer trip so I’ll leave my impressions on suitability for snowshoeing for another time. I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it as a rainy day or shoulder season trip, though. I have previously biked up this road so I can report that it’s doable even for the non hard-core cyclist, but I did have to push the bike in one or two places.

The trailhead can be found by heading south from Pincher Creek, or north from Waterton, on Hwy 6. Turn west onto the Shell Waterton Complex Road and drive past the complex. Where the road branches, turn left (Forest Reserve sign) – this is Twp Rd 4-3. Follow this about 3.8 km to Butcher Lake. Turn left just before the lake and go straight along the road for 2 km to the locked gate, parking area, and kiosk.  Ask Google Maps to drop a pin here: 49.2873555,-114.0653550 and it’ll show you where to go. There are no toilet facilities at the trailhead, but there are pit toilets at Butcher Lake, so your crew can make a pit-stop before starting your hike.

The route needs no explanation – just follow the big, wide road. The points of interest along the way involve the varying rock scenery of the ridges on either side of the trial. Pincher Ridge is to the north, and Drywood Mountain and its ridge are to the south. During the spring melt there are numerous little waterfalls to look for on the rocky walls. One particularly large and high waterfall comes down from Drywood Mountain about halfway along the trail. I noticed it last summer, as well, and I haven’t found an official name for it. Since Drywood Falls is taken I’ve decided to refer to them as the Falls of Drywood.

The road ends at a bit of a high-point and a trail descends a bit from there to the waterfall, which is actually not visible from that point even though it’s very close. The trail crosses over a stream coming down from Pincher Ridge via a newly built little bridge. Finally, it reaches the falls.

Like I mentioned, this is a great hike for families. I assumed all of my kids would enjoy it but I was surprised to discover that my youngest (age 9) was unhappy. I thought she’d like all of the amazing scenery around us and the interesting waterfall at the end. She liked the waterfall well enough, but found the trail itself boring. Meanwhile her older siblings were perfectly happy walking along a wide trail so they could look around and chat. I guess we all look for different things in our hikes.

Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-sized images. These are a mixture of pictures from this trip and from July 2020.

Route overview looking north
The locked vehicle gate at the parking area. Bicycles can go around to the right.
There’s official signage at the trailhead. Oddly, there’s no official signage on the road directing you to the trailhead. Luckily it’s easy to find.
The trail is actually an old road. It gets a little steep here and there, but nothing too strenuous.
To the right as you head up the valley is Pincher Ridge.
To the left as you head up the valley is Drywood Mountain.
About half way along the trail, the “Falls of Drywood” come into view, cascading from a hanging valley on Drywood Mountain’s north aspect. There is a trail that goes to the base of those which I’ll explore another time.
A closer look.
Lots of smaller waterfalls are visible coming down the ridges on either side. A good reason for making this an early season trip.
Just before reaching the falls, the road ends and an obvious trail continues onwards.
Since last year, a little bridge has been constructed over the stream just before the falls.
North Drywood Falls. Once the trail reaches here, you’ll notice that there’s a middle section (where the trail goes) as well as upper and lower sections which have obvious footpaths going to them.
Another view of the middle section.
The lower section.
Video from the upper section. Note that there are some precarious spots up here. Keep a really close eye on your kids or just skip this area. We visited on a busy weekend and there were a few off-leash dogs roaming around, bumping past people. Nothing aggressive, but I had a nightmare scenario in my head of someone ending up off-balance after stumbling over a pet and tumbling over the side.
Heading back.

3 thoughts on “North Drywood Falls

    1. Thanks for the tip! Camping at Beauvais and locking for something different. Would never have known about this place unless I’d come across this on a Facebook post. Excellent directions, thank you! And if it’s any consolation, my 9 year old complained the whole way too… but he was happy sitting on the bench by the falls when the sun came out and we were protected from the wind. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

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