Hiking: Mountain Bunkers

Back in March of this year, 2022, we made yet another long weekend into a family adventure getaway to the mountains. With few plans besides a booked hotel suite and our hiking gear, we landed in the town of Canmore after a four hour spring drive.

A year earlier we had zipped off to the same general area (but a different side of the mountain and a different set of plans) and had done some fun, easy hikes but then had a crazy winter drive back home at the end of it all.

While the forecast turned out to be more cooperative this trip, we were a lot less prepared for what to do with our relatively pleasant weather. So when I suggested a short hike to try and find the mysterious nuclear fallout bunker on the side of a nearby mountain, there were few objections.

for whatever one photo is worth:

If you stand at the mouth of the Heart Creek Bunker and look North (and down) you can easily see the Trans-Canada Highway snaking by in the valley below, rounding the corner of Lac des Arcs and disappearing around the far end of the same mountain upon which you are standing.

The bunker is not difficult to find, though the route is not clearly marked as to what you will see when you embark on the short two kilometer trail part way up the side of a cliff face.

In fact, if it wasn’t for various social media and independent hiking guide sites I doubt many people beside the locals who live in nearby Canmore would know about this odd little gem.

As the story goes, the bunker was started (but never finished) in the late 1960s as “part of a Cold War-era plan to keep important government records safe in the event of a disaster, up to and including a nuclear bomb.”

But it leaked, water dripping through the porous rock, and then too political tides changed and I’m sure the whole endeavor became financially unfeasible so… now there is a cave dug out a couple hundred meters into the side of a mountain, and a narrow, unmarked trail through the forest leading to its entrance.

There were three other hiking parties there when we arrived in the mid-morning, and also about a half dozen other dogs. We chatted and let the dogs play and took each other’s photos at the mouth of the cave.

Then we went in.

It was pitch black inside save for the lights we carried with us.

I took as many pictures as I could in the dim light and recorded some video:

The walls were marked with graffiti and messages from past visitors as the site is apparently popular with locals for parties and late night fun and light painting and boondocking.

The dog was spooked by the whole experience and she needed to be carried out after less than ten minutes in the pitch black and eerily quiet cave.

And then … we turned our back and returned down the mountain path to our car. On the ride home, spotty mountain internet service stretched to the limit, my wife who is usually a planning and research guru for our travels took the chance to finally look up the weird history of the strange mountain bunker we’d just visited. Even our server at dinner later that evening perked his ears and seemed curious that a trio of tourists had made their way up to the secret Canmore bunker.

Off-the-beaten path sights are not necessarily rare, but they are always weird and magical and mysterious when you find them… especially if you didn’t even plan on looking in the first place.

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