Grande Cache is a hamlet within the Rocky Mountains surrounded by three river valleys. We sat down with local resident and keen hiker Anton Hauck to ask him about things to do in Grande Cache and hiking in the region.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, my name is Anton. I moved here in 1978 from Regina for a couple of years thinking that this is an absolutely marvellous place to live. As a boy, I dreamed of going to the mountains and being on horseback and exploring all the trails I possibly could. I forgot to leave – I’m still here.
When I first moved to Grande Cache, I was so excited to travel all of the trails that I could possibly find. I’ve spent 41 years travelling on the trails and off the trails in the bush exploring this area and the mountains in which we live. It’s been awesome and I’m not quitting yet.
Were you always a keen hiker?
I’ve been involved in hiking in Grande Cache from the day I got here. I was always a kid that had to be called in for supper, so this was the perfect place for me to be. I came here to be adventurous, to explore the mountains and do as much as I could in the environment.
What is it about the area that makes Grande Cache so unique?
Grande Cache is unique because we have so much to offer here. We are the recreation base for this province.
I have often thought that we would become very much like Jasper in the 40 years that I’ve lived here. It hasn’t happened yet and we’re still a secret, but I hope we don’t keep that secret too long. We’ve got too much to offer here.
What makes Grande Cache such a good place for hiking?
There is a treasure trove of trails accessible right from your front door. They are all over the mountains. They are in town and out of town. Willmore Wilderness has a variety of trails that you can explore for weeks in and never see another soul.
There are so many trails that one could travel by mountain bike, by horseback, by walking, hiking, running. Most of the people who live here are involved in some way or another on the trails. You can hike a mountain and spend the entire day there, or you can hike out the back door and go around town in an hour and a half.
Which trails would you recommend for novice hikers, families or children?
The trails that I would check out if I was brand new and just came to Grande Cache would be the ones close to town. There is a beautiful trail that we’ve built that is 8.6 kilometres and circumnavigates the town. It’s high, gravelled and culverted so it’s not muddy and wet. It’s a beautiful walk with beautiful scenery.
There are plenty that are suitable for children. Over the years I’ve introduced many children to hiking. We took them into Willmore Wilderness on backpack trips at the end of every grade six school year. We introduced them to easier travels first, and then built up to trails that were a little more difficult.
To find out more about the trails and their difficulty, I would go to the tourism center. They are very good at telling you which trails are available and what degree of difficulty they are designed for.
And what trails would you suggest for more experienced hikers looking for an outdoor adventure?
For advanced hikers, there are so many backcountry trails. Willmore Wilderness is 4,600 square kilometres of wilderness territory intersected with a multitude of trails.
For the advanced backpacker, you can go into the wilderness and be lost for a long time. It’s a marvellous network of trails.
Some of my greatest adventures and stories come from the fact that I love to hunt sheep. I would have people take me into the mountains with horses and drop me off for anywhere from six days to two weeks. I’d spend the time there cruising the mountains on foot. It’s an absolutely amazing experience that everyone should have an opportunity to do. It’s just truly wonderful. That would be my favourite thing to do here.
What’s the weather like in Grande Cache? Can you hike all year round?
Well, I think in Grande Cache we have three seasons. Basically, we miss spring because we tend to be so high up in the mountains at 4,100 to 4,500 feet above sea level. We are a slow to melt, slow to warm up kind of place. We are a little bit behind everybody else in the spring.
Winters are beautiful and warm and we have the same kinds of chinooks as Calgary. There are tremendous opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities. Wiener roasts here in the winter are fun because of the mild weather.
They’re usually quite nice summers, not like the hot beach weather but warm enough.
My favourite season here is fall when the leaves turn and the animals begin to rut and move around. This is when I get an opportunity to see more wildlife and to hunt.
What wildlife do you see here?
I love living in the wilderness and the opportunity to walk out my back door and see a bear, a wolf, a deer or an elk. Having wildlife around us is something that I value and I treasure. For me, every walk is an exciting walk.
We have black bears and grizzly bears, moose, elk, whitetail deer, mule deer, every kind of fur-bearing animal that you can think of. We have mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, pikas, it’s endless. We have a tremendously rich and diverse amount of wildlife here.
What necessities should people take with them when hiking Grande Cache’s trails?
To hike in this region you definitely need a good comfortable pack with a few amenities inside. I would carry a lighter, a bit of rope, a knife, and water. Bear spray is essential too, and perhaps a bear banger. It just makes you more comfortable in the environment and it gives you a better sense of protection.
I’ve lived here for over 41 years and I’ve had a few encounters, but most people will never encounter a bear on these trails.
Do you have any other recommendations or precautions that people should take before they go hiking in the area?
I think in the mountains, the biggest thing you have to be aware of is not the bears, it’s the weather. You need to be prepared for the weather.
You dress in layers, have rain gear, have matches and tarps, it can be very inclement. It can rain and be very cold here. I would say just be prepared for some cold, maybe arduous, steep hiking sometimes. If you choose those kinds of trails to be prepared, you really need to have some level of physical fitness in order to enjoy it.
I think the insider trick for people who are coming here and want to experience it like a local is to get together with a local. I know that’s always difficult, but I know it’s a tourism trend. People want to come to our place and hang out with a person who does hike around here, who does kayak around here, who does canoe, fish, or cross country ski here. So speak with some of those people in town and they will share their secrets with you.
Where would you recommend people go hiking if they’re looking to see the very best of Grande Cache’s scenery?
When people do come to visit us, we always take them to some of our spectacular scenery places. The Sulfur Gates, where you can overlook the cliffs in two rivers joining together and the mountains in the background are spectacular.
Muskeg Falls, which is another great falls just south of town, is a beautiful little walk and you see a massive drop off a waterfall down into the Muskeg River. There is another smaller falls towards the mine called Twin Falls. I would go there, too.
I would absolutely recommend you go to the Tourism Center. They do a marvellous job of explaining our area and helping people to decide what they want to do. Do you want horseback? Do you want to do a simple trail? Do you want to do a complicated trail? You want to go on an eight day backpack trip? They have the information there to help you.
What would be your perfect day in Grande Cache?
For me, the perfect day of hiking is with my family and with my grandkids, showing them the country that I really appreciate and that I really love. Taking my grandkids up the front of Grande Mountain, which we did a couple of weeks ago, and have a six-year-old make it up to Pole 15, that’s the perfect day.
What are some of your favourite places that you like to share with people?
One of my favourite spots is actually called Anton’s Ridge. You must hike through the forest and down the side of the mountain to a place that overlooks the Smoky Valley and Willmore Wilderness Park.
It is absolutely spectacular. I take everybody that comes to Grande Cache there.
After a long day of hiking, where’s your favourite place to stop and relax? Somewhere to have something to eat or drink.
Well, if you asked me, I would have a different answer than my grandkids. I have four grandkids and they absolutely love the sushi restaurant in Grande Cache. It is second to none, better than a lot of them in Edmonton. Sushi is very popular amongst my family here, but because we live in this kind of remote area, we tend to cook a great deal ourselves.
If you were looking to have a drink with the locals, the real locals would probably be in the Legion. The Legion here is a very popular place for a drink.
When you’re not hiking, where are some of the places you like to go on a warm summer’s day?
We have an absolutely wonderful place called Grande Cache Lake which is just outside of town. We take our grandkids and when my kids were growing up I spent half the summer there at the beach.
There’s also a nice little place, a day-use area, called Mason Creek. A creek flows through the campsite and you can jump into an absolutely freezing ice-cold pool of water on a hot day.
Are there any misconceptions about Grande Cache that you hear from people who aren’t familiar with the area?
People think we’re a small place with no amenities. We have a neat, pristine, beautiful, friendly community here. We have good schools, we have a good hospital and we have great people. We do have a very big sense of community and pride here with a lot of volunteerism and great recreational opportunities.
What would you say to someone to encourage them to come and visit Grande Cache?
If you want Jasper and Banff without the crowds, come here. If you want the trails to be unclogged with people that you’re constantly shuffling through, come here.
We have millions of miles of trails and wilderness. If you like peace, solitude and nature at its best, this is the place to come.
I really truly believe you should visit Grande Cache because it’s a gem. I have heard people who are teachers here, who moved away and travelled the world. He came back here last year and said, “Anton, there are not very many gems in the world, but this is one of them.” For that reason, you should come here.