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Big Knife Provincial Park is a quiet recreation area located alongside a section of the Battle River, in the northern part of the Canadian Badlands.
The park has a campground, day use area, playground, and a boat launch offering access to the river. There are also some hiking trails that showcase the park’s diverse scenery, including forests, meadows, hills, and hoodoos.
Things to Do at Big Knife Provincial Park
Big Knife Provincial Park has year-round recreational opportunities but is primarily a summer destination. Here are some things to do at Big Knife Provincial Park.
Spring, Summer and Fall Activities
- hiking, nature walks
- water sports on the river (canoeing, kayaking, power boating)
- wildlife viewing
- cross country skiing (ungroomed trail)
*There is no snow removal in the park so winter access depends on snow conditions.
Hiking Trails at Big Knife Provincial Park
There are only two hiking trails at Big Knife Provincial Park but each offers a different perspective of the park’s natural landscape. Highlands Trail passes through an area of open forest and features some viewpoints overlooking the Battle River Valley, whereas River Flats Trail goes near the shore of the Battle and features a small area of hoodoos.
In terms of difficulty, the trails at Big Knife Provincial Park are rated easy because they have minimal elevation gain, are well marked with signs and maps, and have benches for rest stops. The combined distance of both hikes is about 10 km.
River Flats Trail
Distance: 5.1 km round trip (including the spur trail to the hoodoos)
Elevation Gain: 24 m
Surface: Grass (some packed dirt)
Time: 1- 1.5 hours
River Flats Trail is the more popular of the two hikes in Big Knife Provincial Park. The route has three connected loops near the river and a spur trail that leads to the Big Knife hoodoos.
River Flats Trail begins from the day use area but there’s also a second trailhead at the campground, beside site 28. These two paths connect the campground and day use area to the loops of River Flats Trail.
Starting from the day use parking lot, the trail descends down a staircase into the trees. It then crosses a bridge leading towards a small gazebo and soon exits the forest into an open meadow along the south shore of the Battle River.
Once you get to the meadow there’s a junction in the trail where you can choose to go clockwise or counterclockwise.
Keeping left to go clockwise, you’ll soon reach a side trail that leads up a small hill to an area of hoodoos. At the time of this writing there wasn’t a sign indicating the way, but there’s a post where a sign used to be.
The hoodoos aren’t very big, but the other erosion patterns in the hills are still interesting to see. From here you also get a great view of the Battle River and its valley.
From the hoodoos, return to River Flats Trail and continue going clockwise. The trail will eventually come to the river so you can walk near the shoreline.
For the rest of the hike the trail roughly follows the path of the river, alternating between river views and short walks in the trees. Closer to the end of the trail, near the campground, you’ll see evidence of beaver activity.
To end your hike you can take the side trail into the campground and follow the road back to the day use area, or you can continue on the trail to retrace your steps back to the main trailhead.
Distance: 5.2 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 45 m
Time: 1- 1.5 hours
The Highlands Trail is an out and back route with several small connected loops that allow you to customize the length of your hike. This trail is higher up than River Flats Trail, so offers elevated views of the river valley. Black bears are sometimes spotted around this area, so bring bear spray.
The Highlands Trail begins from a pullout on the left hand side of the road as you’re driving into the park.
The wide, grassy trail starts with a fairly easy ascent through the trees, then arrives at a more open area and the first loop of the hike. To walk the full length of the trail and reach the viewpoints early on, keep right at all the junctions.
The first loop has one of the main viewpoints and there’s even a bench if you want to sit while admiring the scenery.
Continuing on the trail you’ll go through an area of open forest, then the path becomes more sheltered. You’ll eventually pass a picnic table and arrive at the second official viewpoint.
The rest of the trail passes through another forested area before rejoining the main path back to the trailhead.
Camping at Big Knife Provincial Park
For camping at Big Knife Provincial Park there are RV sites, walk in-tent sites, and an overflow camping area. The campground opens for the May long weekend and closes after the September long weekend. Sites are first come first served.
Big Knife Provincial Park Campground
The Big Knife Provincial Park campground features 40 unserviced sites suitable for RVs or tents, plus 11 walk-in tenting sites. The main sites are arranged in a loop and the tent sites are nestled in the forest by the day use area.
The primary camping loop has a mix of open and treed sites that are of average size. Most the sites are well spaced, especially at the start of the loop, but there are some that are fairly close to each other, offering less privacy.
Campground amenities include picnic tables, fire pits, tap water, a playground, pit toilets, and sewage disposal. Firewood is not available onsite, but you can check at the Fas Gas in Forestburg if they have some for sale. Also, potable water isn’t available after Labour Day.
Review of Big Knife Provincial Park
Big Knife Provincial Park is a pleasant, uncrowded recreation area that will appeal to both day-trippers and those wanting to camp for a night or two. The beautiful surroundings, quiet atmosphere, and “undiscovered” feel make the park a real central Alberta gem.
The best way to experience Big Knife Provincial Park is by heading out on the two hiking trails. These well marked paths help visitors discover the park’s most attractive elements- the badlands, Battle River, and forests.
Another great thing about this park is its central, but off the beaten path location. It’s close enough for a day trip from Edmonton or Red Deer, and is especially convenient to visit from Camrose and Stettler.
Even though there are several nice places to visit near Stettler for outdoor recreation, Big Knife Provincial Park offers some of the best hiking trails.
Tips for Visiting Big Knife Provincial Park
Location: Big Knife Provincial Park is located in the Battle River Valley in east central Alberta, near the village of Forestburg. It’s about 65 km northeast of Stettler.
Getting There: From Stettler, drive east on Highway 12 then north on Highway 855. The park entrance is on the left just before crossing the Battle River. Drive time is about 40 minutes.
- The park is about a 1 hour drive from Camrose, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Red Deer, and a little over 2 hours from Edmonton.
Campground Reservations: The Big Knife Provincial Park campground does not take reservations so sites are first come first served.
Off-season Services: Maintenance services are not provided after Labour Day until the following spring. Potable water isn’t available after Labour Day.
Park, Campground and Trail Map: Here is a map of Big Knife Provincial Park, including the campground and hiking trails.
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