Kananaskis Country is part of the Alberta Rockies region on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. It is located about half an hour's drive west of Calgary, Canada, south of the Trans-Canada Highway 1.
The Kananaskis park area consists of a number of provincial parks and reserves including:
- Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park
- Bow Valley Provincial Park
- Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park
- Bragg Creek Provincial Park
- Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park
- Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park
- Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park
- Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
- Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve
- Sheep River Provincial Park
- Spray Valley Provincial Park
There are no towns or villages in the area, Kananaskis village being hotel and activity complex, but the town of Canmore lies just outside the region.
Flora and fauna
Wildlife is abundant, with lots of mountain goats, longhorn sheep, elk, moose, deer, bear, etc. If you come in late June or early July you will be amazed at the variety of wildflowers and songbirds making their home in the area.
This is a great area to do some wildlife spotting, even from the road. No guarantees if and where so make sure every one is keeping their eyes peeled as you drive though the area. Some examples:
- Grizzly bears - Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, particularly the area a few kilometre around the visitors centre.
- Moose - particularly around Mount Engadine Lodge and Lake Kananaskis areas
- Pika - Rock glacier trail
- Ground squirrels - just about everywhere though top of Highwood pass is a good place.
- Golden-mantled ground squirrel - North Interlakes Day Use
- Bighorn sheep - on the 40 Kananaskis Trail up towards Highwood pass and the Sheep River road
- Mountain goats - rare but sometimes above Canmore
- Coyotes - Smith Dorrien-Spray Road
- deer - all over the parks areas
- Osprey - Spray Lake, Kananaskis river (towards Bow river confluence)
- Golden Eagle - Upper Kananaskis lake
The parks provide a range of landscapes with the chance to see alpine meadow and wetland plants.
- Yellow lady's slipper orchid - Bow river park trails
- Western wood lily - Bow river park trails
- Shooting Star
- Indian paintbush - just about everywhere
To get there, drive west from Calgary on Highway 1 until you see the Kananaskis sign (Highway 40). Turn south at the sign and follow the highway into Kananaskis country. You may also enter Peter Lougheed Provincial Park by taking the Spray Lakes Road/Smith-Dorrien Highway from Canmore. Follow the signs to the Nordic Ski Center and keep going up the steep hill.
Unlike the national parks there are no fees to enter the provincial parks and there is plenty of day use free parking in the area.
The Smith-Dorrien Trail passed Spray Lake is a driving experience not to be missed. A wide stone gravel road from highway 40 with a steep drop into Canmore.
- Peter Lougheed Visitor Information Centre, Kananaskis Lakes Trail, ☎ +1 403-678-0760. Information displays, rangers with advice and indoor washrooms. Free wifi.
- Bow Valley Provincial Park. Leaflet from the centre on a number of short easy walks around the area. Drive to a number of parking spots around the campsite where you can then walk trails. In June lots of opportunities to see alpine meadow and wet land plants including orchids.
- Elbow Falls.
- Rock glacier trail. Rock scree on the side of the road with a very good chance of seeing Pika.
- Highwood Pass. At 2,206 m it is the highest paved pass in Canada. From the Highwood Meadows Day Use Area car park just south of the pass high point is a small paved and board-walk providing a good opportunity to see alpine flowers as well as ground squirrels and the mountain scenery.
- North Interlakes Day Use (Between the Upper and lower Kananaskis lakes.). Great views of the area and good starting point for hikes.
- Bighorn Lookout, Sheep River Park. Short walk from car part to viewpoint of river ravine
Many activities are available in Kananaskis country, both summer and winter. It includes an ATV area for ATV users, cross country and downhill skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, backcountry camping, day hiking, canoeing, fishing, and golf.
There are two ski resorts in the Kananaskis area:
- Nakiska. site of the ski events at the 1988 olympic winter games in Calgary
- Fortress Mountain (K-Pow).
Excellent cross country skiing is also available within the region. It is also close to the Canmore Nordic Centre, home of the cross-country events in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Refer to the Alberta Government website - Kananaskis information for more details. Cross country and snow shoe trails are maintained by the parks staff. Various classic and skate skiing trails are set at Mount Shark Trails area and at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Kananaskis is also renowned for its top-notch biking, hiking and equestrian trails.
- Boundary Ranch, ☎ +1 403-591-7171. Trail riding
- Mountain biking. Some of Canada's best mountain bikers train at the Canmore Nordic Centre. With over 70km of trails, there's something for everyone. Kananaskis is chock full of mountain biking trails, if you're considering coming here to ride, then a copy of Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies by Doug Eastcott, (ISBN: 0-921102-69-0) is essential. There are trails for every skill level just waiting to be ridden. Being that this is a sub-alpine region, trails usually don't dry out from the Winter until mid to late May. Consult with the locals before attempting any trails around or before this date.
- Fishing. Kananaskis contains many streams, rivers, and several lakes, for the fishing enthusiast.
- Rafting. Accompanied rafting tripped down the the Kananaskis river are organized by a number of companies from Canmore.
- Kananaskis Country Golf. Kananaskis Country Golf Course suffered extensive damage due to major floods in June 2013. Work has started in rebuilding but it is expected to take a few years. Home to one of the best (and busiest) golf courses in North America. 36 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr, surrounded by mountains. A good value price wise also considering the quality of the course. Reserving in advance is highly recommended. Green fees are $75 ($55 for Alberta Residents) with a $25 deposit required for reservations. The deposit is non-refundable if the reservation is cancelled less than 3 days from the booking. Weather can be tricky in the early season, be prepared. The course has received many great reviews. Due to the fact the course is so busy, the operators are quite strict about slow play, and will use their authority to speed things up a bit if it gets out of hand (when I played, the group ahead of us foolishly spent 20 minutes or so looking for a lost ball - they were rewarded by the course marshalls - they were forced to skip a hole to allow play to catch up). You are expected to play your round in 4 1/2 hours. If you remember to timestamp your scorecard and keep the pace, they give you a free gift at the pro shop after the round.
At www.albertaskananaskis.com you will find all kinds of summer ( and winter ) activities to do in the park including horse back riding, rafting, hiking, biking, birding and wildlife watching. The golf course is on Highway 40 which is the busiest area for visitors to the parks in Kananaskis. There is a very good information centre on Highway 40 near the entrance to the Park. On the Smith Dorrien side of Kananaskis, closer to the Banff National Park, wildlife, especially moose, can often be viewed especially around the corner of Shark Road near Mount Engadine Lodge. It is the remote, less travelled area in Kananaskis and on a well maintained gravel road.
- The Village. There are six restaurants, dining rooms, cafeterias, bistros and bars within the complex.
- Mount Engadine Lodge. offers evening dining ( usually between June 15 and Oct 15 and Dec 15 to Easter).
- Fortress Gas Plus (gas station on Highway 40). has quick microwave meals
- Bolton Creek Trading Post. summer months. cafeteria and suppliers
There are many camp sites in Kananaskis country.
- Boulton Creek Campground, ☎ +1 866 427-3582. Only fully serviced in the area, and reservations are required.
- Mount Kidd RV Park, 1 Mount Kidd Drive, ☎ +1 403-591-7700.
Hotels can be found in the Kananaskis town site (Kananaskis Village) as well as at the Dead Man Flats area.
If you want a backcountry lodge experience.
- Mount Engadine Lodge (situated on the Smith Dorrien - Spray Valley Road about 35 km south of Canmore. You can drive to it on a well maintained gravel road.), ☎ +1 403-678-4080. It is small, 9 rooms that have been recently renovated, and overnight accommodation includes all meals.
- HI - Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel (previously known as Ribbon Creek Hostel), 1 Ribbon Creek Road, ☎ +1 403-591-7333. For a cheaper option
Kananaskis is a reasonable (and frequent) day trip from Calgary, depending on activity. If staying in Calgary but travelling to Kananaskis, choose a hotel in the west side of the city, preferably near 16th Avenue North (such as the ones in "Motel Village") or near Glenmore Trail or Highway 22x in the south, rather than one near the airport or downtown.
This is bear country so be careful. Also be aware that there is a good chance of coming across longhorn sheep, deer and moose on the road.
Canmore is the nearest community of size, at least a half hour drive from the turnoff to Kananaskis on the Trans Canada Highway. Travelling from the Village area it is a about an hour to Banff, 45 minutes to Canmore or Calgary using the Trans Canada Highway. Many visitors to the Park do the Kananaskis loop which includes driving on the Smith Dorrien-Spray Road (gravel). A round trip from Canmore through the park and out of the park on highway 40 would take 2-3 hours with stops. Banff is another further 20 minutes to a half hour from the Canmore area, but a must see.