Trailhead: Located next to the David Thompson Highway (#11) 218kms west of Rocky Mountain House. A 4.5 hour drive from Edmonton, 3.5 hours from Calgary. If you’re traveling from Calgary the route through the National Parks is shorter than heading through Rocky Mountain House. Park at the roadside pullout on the northwest side of the Big Whirlpool.
Description: The Big Whirlpool is a short walk down to the North Saskatchewan River. I recommend hiking up Whirlpool Ridge first then drop down to the Big Whirlpool after. To gain the ridge cross the highway and work your way straight up the rocky spine until you reach the saddle crest. Views of the Big Whirlpool and the North Saskatchewan River Valley are spectacular. There are several trail braids created by a large population of Mountain Sheep. You’ll also find lots of Limber Pines here. Limber Pines are very unusual coniferous trees that seem to grow downwind of the gale force winds that frequently blow across this ridge. Some of the the oldest trees in Alberta were recorded here. Several may be as old as 1000 years. On your way back continue past your vehicle down towards the Big Whirlpool on the North Saskatchewan River.
The Whirlpool is huge and runs deep. It will not fit in a wide angle lens while standing near the shore. If you’re planning to float it make sure you stop upstream first to have a good look at things before entering the Whirlpool. Depending on the time of year and the rivers flow rate it can change from a slow flat rotation of water to a fast enormous slightly inclined funnel
Studies have shown that fish can be found on both sides of the Whirlpool but not in the Whirlpool itself. That alone is a good indicator of the turbulence under what looks like a gentle rotating surface. I would love to float this stretch of the North Saskatchewan River but I’m not sure if two paddlers are strong enough to escape the wide rotation of the whirlpool. The Government of Canada has placed a water management research station and cable trolley near the Whirlpool. There are several hiking trails located in this area. You are in bear country