The Amazing Forests and the history of the Rogers Pass or The Red Chairs Hike

This hike has a little bit of everything. Views, history and even the experience of forest bathing. Of all our offerings, it offers the most flexibility and can be adapted even as you go. It’s also a wonderful alternative to the higher alpine hikes when presented with rain or bad weather.

What is the Parks Canada Red Chair Experience?

The red chairs, placed in special locations around Glacier National Park, are all about taking time to connect with nature and with each other. Some are easy to find, while others provide more of an adventure. All of them offer a place to rest, relax, and reflect on the place you’ve discovered and the journey you took to get there.

We will depart Heather Mountain Lodge at 9 am to travel to our first hike, an approximately 30 minute drive.

9:30 – 10:30 am

First stop is the Rockgarden Trail. Starting with a short boardwalk through the trees, the trail then turns up into large jagged boulders. The trail has been cleverly constructed to provide “steps” of stable, level smaller rocks through the large ones. The effect is terrific and you feel like a hobbit walking through Middle Earth.

It offers intimate views of the diminutive nature of the park, nestled among sweeping views of the Selkirk Mountains wilderness. Here you will discover moss and lichen covered boulder fields that date back to the last Ice Age. Deep green ferns and contrasting mushrooms cover the forest floor. The trail leads through bear habitat, both black and grizzly, and eventually up to a viewpoint overlooking the glaciers and the mountain barrier of Rogers Pass. This first hike takes around 45 minutes and will include lots of stops for photos.

10:30 am – 11:30 am

Our next stop, your guide will take you on a stroll through Hemlock Grove, the only inland hemlock rainforest in the world. After Canadian icon Rick Hansen visited Glacier National Park in 1987 as part of his Man in Motion tour, Parks Canada built this handicap accessible boardwalk for everyone to enjoy the splendour of these giant hemlocks and cedars. The focus of this hike is to experience shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing or forest therapy. This is not exercise per se, or even hiking really. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge to our senses.

 

By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree.

This short 400-metre barrier-free boardwalk offers a true rainforest experience. Your guide will be on hand to help you identify flora and fauna along the way. You will also be given time to sit….in the red chairs!, meditate and take it all in. We will spend about 30 minutes here or more if desired.

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Next on our list is The Loop Brook trail, where we find ‘The Loops’ abandoned railway line, a Rogers Pass National Historic Site.

The Loops abandoned railway line

Canadian politicians did not mince words when they learned in 1871 that Sir John A. Macdonald, the country’s first Prime Minister, had pledged to build the longest railway in the world within ten years! Opposition leader Alexander Mackenzie called the promise “an act of insane recklessness…”

You will retrace the steps of the initial surveyors of the Candian Pacific Railway Company who, over 130 years ago were trying to answer, “How are we possibly going to get the trains over this mountain pass!”

Stone tressle at Galcier House Rogers Pass

This was one of the last hurdles to connect the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Trans Canada line and definitely one of the toughest. Rising out of the mountain forest floor stand a series of stone towers, forming both straight and curved lines

through the trees.

These stone towers once supported a rail line that made a series of drastic curves (The Loops) in order to achieve elevation over Rogers Pass at a reasonable grade for trains to successfully climb. They are are among the oldest surviving man-made structures in western Canada.

The loops is a short 1.6 km round trip trail, we will be here for about 30-45 minutes.

12:30 – 2 pm

Our next stop, The Meeting of the Waters Trail,  just 3 km up the highway, we will have an opportunity to see the location where the trains stopped to let tourists off. Since dining cars had been removed to reduce the weight allowing trains the ability to get up the steeper hills, there was need for dining halls. By 1886 a hotel complex was built that rivals the Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise, called Glacier House named after the Great Glacier upstream. Soon, wealthy adventurers came from all over the world, mostly Americans and Europeans, to take advantage of the easy access into the high alpine and see the Great Glacier (now named the Illecillewaet Glacier). Many desired to climb the nearby peaks hiring the Swiss Mountain Guides that had been brought over from Switzerland. There was even a bowling alley and a billiard room! “What do you want to do today dear, a bowling match or a summit a mountain?”

All that is left now, are the stone ruins of which was western Canada’s first mountain resort hotel, predating the Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise by about 3 years.

The 'Glacier House' luxury hotel layout and location

At this stop, we will answer the following question – Why are the sister hotels, Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, two of the most popular hotels in the world, when all that remains of Glacier House is rubble? You will need to join us on the hike to find out the answer!

 

Old railway bridge near Glacier House Stone tower beside Illecillewaet River

Old railway bridge near Glacier House Stone tower beside Illecillewaet River

The Meeting of the Waters trail also give us an opportunity to stretch the legs a bit as we embark on an easy 30 minute loop that takes us from the ruins of Glacier house on a forest walk to the bridge that stretches the confluence of Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet River. If you listen carefully here, you will hear the knocking of huge boulders together, as the raging water tumbles them like dice downstream – an eerie sound!

Illicillewaet River, Glacier National Park

Once over the bridge we are greeted with a familiar sight – the red chairs!

Meeting of the Waters, Glacier National Park

 

2 – 3 pm

Our last hike of the day is one of the lesser known hidden gems of the park! Bear Creek Falls, a short hike on a moderate grade, has an unusual start – a downhill route! However, after an easy 15 minute stroll to the falls, you find yourself feeling the cool mist of this stunning waterfall. From about 30-40 feet up, blue waters pool into the large creek below in a few stepped ledges high above the trail. The waterfall cascades beautifully and powerfully down mossy boulders framed by lush green spruce, firs, and ferns.

Once you’ve taken the time to feel the cool spray and smell the lush forest, it’s time to head back up the hill towards home; you may even work up a bit of steam returning to your vehicle! But this is a good thing as there are many delicious treats awaiting you on your return to Heather Mountain Lodge, just 10 minutes up the highway.

Even though this days offering can include up to as many as 5 family friendly hikes, it’s fully customizable depending on how much time you want to to spend at each location. All the hikes are short….no more than 30-45 minutes in length and will give you a taste of everything the park has to offer.