Exshaw, Canada.

Exshaw, Canada

Exshaw is a tiny hamlet in the Municipal District of Bighorn No. 8, in Alberta, Canada. Its slogan is "The Heart of the Valley," referring to its proximity to Heart Mountain but also its all-around beautiful position in Bow Valley - surrounded by uniquely-shaped Rocky Mountain peaks on either side of the highways. Exshaw is easy to bypass on the way to Canmore or Banff but well worth a side-trip, especially for those fond of low-traffic hikes. 

Geography And Climate Of Exshaw

Aerial view of Bow river valley
Aerial view of Bow River Valley.

Exshaw is located in Southwestern Alberta, just inside the Canadian Rockies, in the area referred to as Bow Valley (named after the Bow River around which it is centered). This places the hamlet about 55 miles West of Calgary, 11 miles East of Canmore, and 25 miles Southeast of the Town of Banff. Exshaw sits at an elevation of about 4,500 feet above sea level. 

The climate in Exshaw is very much akin to that of its neighbor, Canmore (i.e., cold to temperate with dry mountain air and heavy snowfall). Since exact data is difficult to parse for such a small community, the following is drawn from Canmore instead. 

The average annual temperature is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, ranging from a low of 8 degrees in December to a high of 71 degrees in July. The relative humidity, on average, is 66%, and just over 30 inches of precipitation falls annually. The cold, snowy winters are often punctuated by the warm chinook winds that blow over the Rockies from British Columbia. This phenomenon can swing the frigid temperatures up to a pleasant spring level for a few days at a time. For this reason, the term chinook means "snow-eater" in several Indigenous languages. 

History Of Exshaw

The cement plant in Exshaw.

The land on which Exshaw operates is classified as Treaty 7 territory. This refers to the Indigenous Nations that lived within this boundary before colonization in the 19th century. These nations include: Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee). This boundary also includes the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. The Stoney-Nakoda Nation (comprising the Bearspaw, Chiniki, and Wesley First Nations) is the most closely affiliated with this region. The Stoney 142, 143, 144 Indian Reserve is adjacent to Exshaw. 

The Hamlet of Exshaw was established in the early 1900s as a settlement for workers in the mining industry. Before the 1960s, Exshaw featured such amenities as a bowling alley, movie theater, and a skating rink. These were torn down to make room for expanding the cement plant that operates today. The remaining facilities are now managed by volunteers from the humble community of roughly 412 people. 

Visiting Exshaw

Bow River valley
The spectacular landscape around Exshaw. 

Exshaw can be accessed by taking Highway 1A all the way from Calgary, Alberta (the closest international airport). However, it is a shorter drive to take the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1) and turn off onto Highway 1A, via Highway 1X towards Seebe. 

The predominant highlights for out-of-town visitors are challenging and scenic hikes. Any one of the following can be done as a day trip. However, there is a drive-in campground in Exshaw, which allows for a potential weekend of adventures. Here are some recommendations.

Heart Mountain: This 6-mile loop climbs the steep but manageable mountain whose undulating summit makes it look like the love organ it is named after. Many people also choose to go up and down on the same trail. 

Jura Creek Trail: This is a great summertime adventure. Be prepared to get wet as you navigate your way up a modest canyon, sometimes rock-hopping but often simply slogging through the cool waters of Jura Creek. 

Yamnuska: This crumbling mountain is instantly recognizable by its resemblance to a Stegosaurus (if looking from the highway). There is a modest hike option for the first section of the trail. Sure-footed folks can then proceed up the advanced scramble to the summit, which can be followed by a ridiculously fun and rapid descent down the loose scree. Yamnuska is also a popular site for rock climbers. However, caution is advised as Yamnuska is notorious for falling rocks. 

Loder Peak: This rocky, hands-on scramble takes you straight into the alpine. The ridges that bridge the series of jagged peaks often experience heavy winds. This is a choose-your-own-adventure mountain, as any peak is as good as the last to turn around at. Weather and ability are the main deciding factors.  

Grotto Mountain Pond: This cool, quaint watering hole makes for a nice picnic spot, easy walk, or refreshing swim.  

The Hamlet of Exshaw is a quintessential one-horse town. But do not let that fool you. It is still a pleasant place to stop for a rugged hike or a casual campout. If you are going to Canmore or Banff National Park, consider making the small detour. 

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