One warm, sunny, Sunday last fall we decided it was the perfect day for a little hike with the kids. I had been wanting to check out Red Willow Falls all summer but we just never found the right time to go. As with everything, I scoured the internet to find out info about the small falls, but there really wasn’t a lot to be found! After talking to a few friends who had done the hike, I found out it is quite short and easy (besides the steep section) but can be quite muddy in the spring!
Yet I was still confused about how exactly to get there, why more people didn’t know about it, and what to expect! I needed to get there asap so I could experience it myself and get a proper post full of info written about it! So, here it is! After reading this article on Red Willow Falls I hope you will be encouraged to go out there and see it for yourselves!
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Looking for more hikes or waterfalls? Read all about the great family friendly hikes we took in Tumbler Ridge!
Read my Review of the Lions Flatbed Creek Campground in Tumbler Ridge
Red Willow Falls Location
The trailhead to Red Willow Falls is located about 100 kilometers out of Grande Prairie, AB. Several of the roads are gravel to get there, so plan on taking around an hour and 15 mins or so each way driving. The closest village is Elmworth. I didn’t notice any gas stations on the drive so fill up before you go!
The actual hike itself is only about 1.2 kms one-way, but we spent a couple hours walking, having a snack, and enjoying the beauty of the falls and Red Willow Creek!
Directions to Red Willow Falls Trailhead
The easiest way to get to Red Willow Falls is just to enter these coordinates into maps on your phone or in your vehicle:
Or, follow these driving directions to Red Willow Falls:
- Take Highway 43 West out of Grande Prairie towards Beaverlodge for about 30 km (from west end of town)
- Turn left on Highway 667 (west) for 6.6 kms
- Take a left onto 722 South for 18.2 kms (*you will pass McNaught Homestead)
- Turn right onto 722 West at the Hinton Trail Hall (sign for Elmsworth); follow for 11.3 kms
- Turn left onto Range Road 121, follow for 3.2 kms
- Turn right onto Township Road 700 and drive for 20.1 kms
- Take the dirt road on your right (you will be just past the border in BC for a bit then the road swerves over back into AB) for 6.2 kms then you will see a dirt pullout on the left where you can park and access the red willow falls trailhead (when we went this was the end of the road since there was a locked gate blocking off the rest of this narrow gravel road.
Beware! Don’t follow googles directions unless you put in the coordinates! After following their directions on my phone, we eventually came to a narrow dirt road that ended up in a locked gate! So, we had to backtrack in order to cross the creek and continue on the other side of it. Which ended up being about a 45 minute detour!
What to Expect on the Red Willow Falls Trail
The Red Willow Falls Trail is a rather short 1.2 km hike in. Most of the trail is quite flat and easy. There is only one short section of the trail you will need to scramble (or slide) down. Update: This steep section can be avoided by taking another trail down!
I suggest you wear good walking/hiking shoes! Also, allow 4 hours or more for the whole trip so it is not rushed. Bring snacks, water, and bear spray because you will be out in the toolies with possibly no one else on the trail!
And please bring a plastic bag and carry out all garbage! There are no garbage cans or picnic tables on this trail so plan accordingly.
Beginning of the trail
The first part meanders through the trees and had some soft areas even in the dry fall when we went.
Shortly after, it opens up to a viewpoint over Red Willow Creek. There is another trail that heads on into the trees away from the creek which is the quad trail (or easier route) down to the falls. Next time we will take this trail down and probably do the steep section on the way back. That way it is a loop instead of the same trail both ways!
Note: If you need a good baby/toddler carrier I strongly suggest the ergo-baby! I love mine…it has great support so my back never hurts and the straps are super padded so they don’t cut in. I’ve even used it to carry my big toddler on our Tumbler Ridge hikes! You can find them on Amazon here.
Caution: Steep Section
The steep section may take awhile to descend. This part of the trail is through the trees, so there is a rope tied between to help you get to the bottom. The kids all made it on their own (in fact they loved the challenge!). I had baby in a carrier strapped on me and had to take it really slow but made it safely as well. My legs were burning a little though since I was bent close to the ground just in case I slipped!
Last Half of the Red Willow Falls Trail
For the last half of the trail, you can either keep walking in the trees beside Red Willow Creek (on the actual trail) or down by the water on the shale. The kids skipped along by the creek and went down to look and touch the water. The creek had plenty of shallow areas and would be ideal in the summer!
Red Willow Falls
The actual waterfall on the red willow falls trail isn’t very big – but there is a small drop into a deep looking hole. There are flat rocks at the top beside the waterfall that the kids enjoyed sitting on to watch the water splash into the pool below. One man was fishing beside the fall and caught a fish while we were there much to the delight of the kidlets.
Apparently you can jump off the cliffs into the pool below. Whether you’re into jumping or just want to swim in the hole, be aware of unstable cliff edges! Don’t swim under any ledges and careful where you sit (or jump) at the top of the falls.
Best time of year to Visit Red Willow Falls, Alberta
The first part of the trail can be quite muddy in spring or if it’s recently rained. Due to spring runoff, the creek (or river) can also be quite high and turbulent. So be aware of that! Plus, the bears are always hungriest in spring after a long winter of starvation! Not that that stops me from engaging in spring hiking, I am just more aware and we are sure to carry bear scare devices.
We visited Red Willow Falls in autumn and the colors were vibrant! It was warm for fall yet still cool enough to keep us from sweating on our walk. The trail was also quite dry.
This summer I plan on going again on a hot day and spending the day so the kids can play in the water and have a picnic. The flat rocks and shallow little pools will be perfect even to find a spot for baby to splash around.
Other Activities Close to Red Willow Falls
Red Willow Falls may be out in the back-country a ways, but there are a few other sites of interest close to or on the way there. If you wanted to make a complete day trip, you could easily add in a few other stops. Here are a few places along the route to Red Willow Falls:
Red Willow Park Day Use Area – A nice spot down by the shallow creek that would be perfect on a hot day.
Red Willow Beach – sandy beach great for kids and a picnic. Directions: Go through the hamlet of Elmworth until the end of the pavement, Turn Right (there is a sign saying Rio Grande Rodeo), Turn left right before the big blue bridge
McNaught Homestead – A preserved homestead and 1 km boardwalk to McNaught Lake where you can see many types of waterfowl.
The hike into Red Willow Falls is definitely worth spending an afternoon if you live in GP or even Dawson Creek. While the falls aren’t super big, the hike is nice and the shale creek bed is picturesque. The shallow creek would even be a great spot to splash around in the summer and have a picnic. I could see myself making a day out of it this summer! Hopefully I’ll see you there!
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