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Kananaskis Country Travel Guide

Lying along the east side of the Continental Divide south of Banff National Park and less than one hour’s drive from Calgary, this sprawling 4,250-square-kilometer (1,640-square-mile) area of the Canadian Rockies (pronounced can-AN-a-skiss) has been extraordinarily successful in balancing the needs of the 2.4 million outdoor enthusiasts who visit annually while keeping the region in a relatively natural state. Although the area lacks the famous lakes and glaciated peaks of Banff and Jasper National Parks, the landscape rivals those parks in many ways. As well as the areas set aside for recreation, large tracts of land give full protection to wildlife. Throughout Kananaskis Country, wildlife is abundant, and opportunities for observation of larger mammals are superb.

Kananaskis Country encompasses seven provincial parks, 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of hiking trails, a complex network of bike paths, areas for horseback riding (and some for ATVs), a world-class 36-hole golf course, boat and bike rentals, and 30 lakes stocked annually with more than 150,000 fish. The downhill-skiing events of the 1988 Winter Olympic Games were held here at the specially developed Nakiska alpine resort, which is now open to the public. Meanwhile, Nordic skiers can glide over hundreds of cross-country skiing trails in the region.

Geographically, Kananaskis Country can be divided into eight areas, each with its own distinct character: Bow Valley Provincial Park, a small park between the TransCanada Highway and Bow River that extends south along either side of the Kananaskis River; Kananaskis Valley, home to a golf course, ski resort, and the accommodations of Kananaskis Village; Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, which rises from fish-filled lakes to the glaciated peaks of the Continental Divide; Spray Valley Provincial Park, named for a massive body of water nestled below the Continental Divide; Sibbald, an integrated recreation area where horseback riding is permitted; Elbow River Valley and adjacent Sheep River Valley, sections of the foothills that rise to Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park; and in the far south Highwood/Cataract Creek area, where the rugged landscape ranges from forested valleys to snowcapped peaks.

The main highway through Kananaskis Country is Highway 40, which branches off the TransCanada Highway 76 kilometers (47 miles) west of Calgary. Other points of access are south of Canmore through the Spray Valley; at Bragg Creek on the region’s northeast border; west from Millarville, Turner Valley, and Longview in the southeast; or along the Forestry Trunk Road from the south.

Planning Your Time

I love planning a camping getaway to Kananaskis Country, especially in summer, when the crowds in Banff can be unbearable — but this is about planning your trip. If you’re based in Canmore, Banff, or even Calgary, you can easily visit the region in a day, spending your time sightseeing and hiking along Highway 40, then looping back to the TransCanada Highway via Spray Valley Provincial Park. But you should plan to stay longer than a day. If you’re camping, you’ll be amazed at the number of options (2,300 auto-accessible campsites in 31 campgrounds) and the lack of crowds compared to the national parks. Be warned, though; Calgarians are well aware of this mountain wilderness, and every weekend through summer the region is overrun by urbanites in SUVs and families in minivans. Therefore, plan to arrive during the week, and you’ll almost always be assured of a spot. For creature comforts, book a two-night stay at the hotel in Kananaskis Village, and you’ll have time to combine the very best hikes with a round of golf or an extended bike ride.

Information centers are located at each of the main entrances to Kananaskis Country, but the best way to do some pretrip planning is using the website provided by the Alberta government (www.albertaparks.ca). Another good source of online information is Friends of Kananaskis Country (www.kananaskis.org), a nonprofit organization that promotes educational programs, is involved in a variety of hands-on projects, and promotes Kananaskis Country in partnership with the government.

Highlights

Canoe Meadows: This is a groovy little spot to make a stop right beside the highway into Kananaskis Country. Even if kayakers aren’t doing their stuff down the man-made rapids, the sparkling waters of the Kananaskis River are worth admiring.

Highwood Pass: In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, you’ll find one of the only places in the Canadian Rockies where you can take a scenic drive through an area of alpine meadows.

Rawson Lake

Rawson Lake

Rawson Lake Hiking Trail: Hikers visit for a variety of reasons — to go fishing, to admire the wildflowers, or simply to soak up magnificent mountain scenery. Regardless of your own interests, add this destination to your hiking agenda.

Bragg Creek: This picturesque hamlet was discovered years ago by Calgarians. Join them browsing the many galleries and taking lunch at an outdoor cafe.

 

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