If you’re someone who likes getting away from the crowd when you go on holiday then Kananaskis Park is the place for you. If you can’t go all the way to Alberta but you still want to enjoy the scenery that is along the same lines as the Banff National Park, then this piece of writing is about something that is meant just for you.
Find out all the things that you need to know about the Kananaskis Country, the big attractions and the little things that make the place a lot more attractive.
Kananaskis Park, or Kananaskis Country as it is more commonly known, can be found west of Calgary in the province of Alberta, which in itself is a very scenic town. The Kananaskis is comprised of a lot of parks and camping grounds, and also include a singular ecological reserve. The list goes as follows:
- Don Getty Wildland Provincial Park
- Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park
- Sheep River Provincial Park
- Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park
- Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park
- Spray Valley Provincial Park
- Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
- Spray Valley Provincial Park
- Plateau Mountain Ecological Reserve
The natural park area is named after the Kananaskis River, which was in turn named in 1858 by John Palliser. Much like the nearby Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, it is located at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.
Managed by the Parks and Recreation division of Alberta Tourism, this is one of the most recommended tourist attractions during the summer. Many locals will suggest that you make a trip to the Kananaskis instead of the more famous Banff National Park during the summer.
The park is free to enter during the day when it is recommended that you visit. The extent of this natural park territory is so vast that you could spend your entire summer trying to explore it in its entirety and still not complete it.
Places to Visit and What You Can Do In Kananaskis Park
The extent of the natural area is remarkable, and everything that you can do at Banff, you can also do in this natural area. Here are some of the best things to do in Kananaskis Country:
1. Kananaskis Valley
If you’re someone who loves a scenic drive through the mountains, then you’ll love the Valley synonymous with the natural area. The jagged mountain tops are closer to the road here than in most other places, so the view promises to be spectacular.
Bringing your camera to the drive is an absolute must. It is guaranteed that you will be stopping quite often for photos. The view is amazing both in summer and in winter, so the experience promises to be a memorable one no matter when you decide to come to the valley.
Getting here via car can be a little intimidating if you don’t pride yourself on navigation, but it becomes a lot easier if you look up the directions beforehand. You want to head to route number 40 which can be accessed via the number 6, then onto number 3 and finally the 541.
The Kananaskis Village can be found at the northern end of route 40. This place is great because it offers you a chance to go camping, go on a scenic photo walk and to plan a hiking trip as well. There’s also a golf course here that you can have around on if you fancy yourself a game during your holidays!
A few miles down the Canadian Route 1, and you’ll find yourself in the town of Canmore. The town is a rather quiet one, which has many cool shops and restaurants to cater to the needs of tourists. The hotels are nice and cozy and are less expensive than a lot of other options that are found at Banff.
The Kananaskis Valley has two information centers and provides ample accommodation facilities. The Stoney Nakada Resort is one of the only other commercial establishments in the area, along with the Fortress Junction Gas Station and Store which offers you a chance to take a break from being behind the steering wheel.
2. Spray Valley
South of the town of Canmore, you will come across the Spray Valley which is a great place to go on a day-long road trip. It is a two-hour drive from Calgary.
The Spray Valley is a popular site for outdoor camping. It does not match the infrastructure of the rest of the park, so you must be prepared for all situations. The temperature falls drastically at night even in the middle of summer, so get woolens even when it is warm during the day.
Traveling through the Spray Valley, you will come across many water bodies in this area. The accessible areas include the shoreline of the Spray Lakes, Goat Pond, Smith Dorrien Creek Watershed, Spray Valley provincial park, Buller Pond, and the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Activities that tourists can do while they’re in Spray Valley include Dog Sledding, Snowshoeing (in the winter), Canoeing and Kayaking, Power Boating, Ice Fishing, Wind Surfing, Cross Country Skiing, and Hiking.
3. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
The Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is one of the most famous parts of the Kananaskis Country. You can reach the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park continuing down south from the town of Canmore, through the Spray Valley/ Dorrien region which finally ends up here.
You can do all the activities here, that you can do at the Spray Valley. What makes the Provincial Park unique is the Rawson Lake Trail, which is an absolute must-see region. Adding to the unique factors, the equestrian trails that it offers along the Elbow Lake are the only equestrian-friendly trails that you will find in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Backcountry hikes can also be planned out in the Provincial Park.
The Peter Lougheed Park Discovery & Information Centre has all the necessary information about the area that you will need while you’re there. There’s also free wifi here should you need it.
The Pocaterra Warming Hut offers tourists an opportunity to experience an actual fireplace, and picnic tables for the ultimate family picnic experience.
The Highway Pass boasts of being the highest paved pass in Canada and has some of the best views of the mountains that one can find in the area. Ptarmigan Cirque is a trail that offers great wildlife viewing opportunities for tourists, which makes it a must-see for wildlife enthusiasts. The variety of animals found in the area include the bighorn sheep, hoary marmots, and mountain goats.
Another great feature of the Ptarmigan Cirque is the 360-degree view of the Canadian Rockies that can be seen from the trail. The view is one of the best that you will come across in Kananaskis Country.
The William Watson Lodge offers hospitality around the year to people with disabilities or senior citizens above 65 years of age. It is operated by the Parks and Recreation branch of Alberta Tourism.
4. Bow Corridor
The Bow River and the Kananaskis River meet at the Bow Corridor, which can be found at the northern end of the Kananaskis Country. You will find the Bow Valley Provincial Park and the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. The former was once part of the Banff National Park but was then returned to the Alberta Government in 1930.
Since this part of the Kananaskis Country has two rivers merging, you should try your hand at landing a trout from the waters of the Bow River. Other recreational activities include canoeing and hiking, try bird watching and catch a glimpse of the golden eagles or hawks that dwell in the area, go rock climbing or go horseback riding. You can also go rafting on the flow of the Kananaskis River.
The water is relatively warm and doesn’t freeze (unlike Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta) in the winters, and hence it attracts animals like beavers for migration in the winter months. You’ll come across the beautiful coniferous forest that includes trees like pine, poplar and fir trees in the area, and you will not be disappointed by this natural offering.
Mt. Yamnuska is a popular cliff that a lot of tourists like to climb, however, that is most people who enjoy hiking and rock climbing. The Bow Valley Corridor also offers you the chance to start your career in ice climbing. There’s a waterfall along the Grotto Creek Canyon Trail which freezes during the winter and makes for a relatively easy climb.
You can reach the Bow Valley Corridor by following the Canadian Highway 40 or take Highway 68 from the Trans Canada Highway’s Western region.
5. Highwood / Cataract Area
This is the southernmost part of the Kananaskis Country and stretches out beyond the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Its reach is till the southern border of the Kananaskis Country. The Cataract area also includes the areas of the Highwood River Watershed. The Highwood Road Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary can be found here as well.
The variety of natural beauty that you will find in this region is simply stunning. The variety of serene views that you will come across in this region ranges from pine forests to alpine range well worth your time.
Various parks are included in this area, like the Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area where you can go fishing and have a hike, the Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park which offers backcountry camping opportunities, and also offers equestrian hiking opportunities. You can also bring on the wheels here with a mountain bike, and scale up the cliffs with rock climbing.
In the summer, the Highwood / Cataract area is popular for outdoor camping, but the area is rather underdeveloped, so you’ll have to come prepared if you want to make your stay a really pleasant one. The Etherington Creek Recreation Area is also one of the parks included in the list of the various areas that you’ll traverse. While you’re there you can go horse riding, spend a night under the summer sky, go fishing or hiking.
The Highwood House at, Highwood Junction is open all around the year and offers a gas station and a grocery store that operates seasonally, offering respite to tourists.
To get here, you should drive along Highway 40 from Calgary, through to Longview and ultimately, the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This makes for a great weekend escapade with ample opportunities for viewing wildlife, and going hiking.
6. Sheep River Provincial Park and Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park
East of the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and north of the Highwood/Cataract Area mentioned above, you will come across the Sheep River Provincial Park in the Kananaskis Country. The area is known as the Sheep River Valley, and the area is also shared by the Bluerock Wildland Provincial Park.
Just like most other areas in Kananaskis Country, the activities that you can do in this region include fishing, horseback riding, and hunting. You can also go mountain biking along the Sheep River Valley if you feel like taking on a real challenge. The Sandy McNabb Campground also offers people the opportunity to go ice skating in the winters.
The Sheep River provides drinking water to the towns Okotoks, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley. You should consider having a view of the river from the valley while you’re at it because it is simply too good. The Sheep River Provincial Park has one of the most beautiful hiking trails in all of the Kananaskis. The one I’m talking about is the Sheep River Falls Trail which follows the Sheep River gorge.
7. Elbow River Valley
The Elbow River Valley lies north of the Sheep Valley and also to the west of the Bragg Creek. Many different hiking trails can be found around here, which spread out along the Elbow River.
You should consider visiting the Elbow Falls, which are a 6-meter high waterfall in the Elbow River Valley, and are a part of the Elbow Falls Provincial Recreation Area in the Kananaskis. The Elbow Valley Visitor Center can be reached via Highway 66 which lies west from Bragg Creek.
The Kananaskis offers some of the best views in Alberta, especially in summer. The lakes and hiking trails are some of the best in the country and offer exhilarating views that cannot be found in another region of the country. Although the Kananaskis are sometimes recommended ahead of the Banff or the Glacier or the Waterton National Parks, the winter scenery is also one that is remarkable.