Kananaskis Country Nature Guide
Kananaskis Country holds two distinct ecosystems: the high peaks of the Continental Divide to the west and the lower, rolling foothills to the east. The glacier-carved Kananaskis Valley separates the two. The Elbow and Sheep River Valleys rise in the west to the Front Ranges, which formed around 85 million years ago and have eroded to half their original height. The Main Ranges, which form part of the Continental Divide, are composed of older, erosion-resistant quartzite and limestone, giving them a more jagged appearance.
Flora and Fauna
Kananaskis Country occupies a transition zone between foothills and mountains, and as a result it harbors a wide variety of plant species. In the east, the relatively low-lying Sheep, Elbow, and Sibbald Valleys are dominated by stands of aspen, interspersed with open meadows. Climbing gradually to the west, you’ll pass through the montane zone, with its forests of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, white spruce, and balsam poplar, then enter the subalpine zone, where stands of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and occasionally larch lead up to the tree line. Above the tree line, which here occurs at around 2,300 meters (7,550 feet), lie the open meadows of the alpine zone. These meadows lie under a deep cover of snow for most of the year but come alive with color during July when wildflowers bloom. Highwood Pass, along Highway 40, is one of the most accessible areas of alpine terrain in the Canadian Rockies; look for forget-me-nots, Indian paintbrush, and western anemone along the interpretive trail. These hills, valleys, and forests are home to an abundance of wildlife, including large populations of moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat. Also present, but less likely to be seen, are wolves, grizzly bears, and cougars.