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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Scenic Drive through Kananaskis Country - Alberta, Canada

Updated: Oct 5

On our last day of our four day trip in Alberta, we had almost a whole day to explore before our flight back home. We made sure though that we had plenty enough time to return the rental car and have some dinner before our flight. So, in order not to be short on time, we just drove the Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop, the back road of the Kananaskis Country. It borders the town of Canmore and Banff National Park, located west and southwest of Calgary. It can be easily accessed from the Trans Canada Highway at the towns of Canmore and Kananaskis.

Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop
Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop

KANANASKIS COUNTRY

Kananaskis Country is "Alberta's Mountain Playground". The area is an open green space with five provincial parks, four wildland provincial parks, one ecological reserve and several provincial recreation areas (including the Canmore Nordic Center built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and Nakiska Ski Resort, used for the alpine events). Kananaskis Country is the same size as Banff National Park, but much quieter and wilder.

Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop
Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop

Driving the Kananaskis Wildlife Trail Loop was a wonderful idea if you don't have a lot of time but want to see the area. Leaving Canmore, we followed the road to the Nordic Ski Center, driving southwest until we reached the turn-off to Highway 742 also known as the Smith-Dorrien Trail. The loop, which is about 96 miles takes about three hours, depending on how much time you spend stopping and taking pictures along the way. The first mile or so was a rough and winding narrow gravel road over the pass of Three Sisters Parkway ridge. But then the road flattened out as we reached Whitemans Pond.

Bighorn Sheep along the Three Sisters Parkway
Bighorn Sheep along the Three Sisters Parkway

They call this back road Wildlife Trail Road because you are bound to see wild animals. Our first sighting was by a construction zone along the Three Sisters Parkway. The three female bighorn sheep were there probably to lick the salt on the roadway surface.


A SCENIC ROUTE


It was a very scenic route, almost no traffic. You will really feel that you are in the wilderness even if you're just driving. The gravel road was well maintained, so driving a regular car is not a problem - just keep the windows closed if there's a car coming, it can be dusty. The wide gravel road is shadowed on either side by dense pine forest in some parts. We drove leisurely and looked around to see if we could find wild animals - especially bear or moose - lurking in the shadows of the trees. No such luck.

Bear activity warning sign
Bear activity warning sign

A BEAR COUNTRY


We found plenty of photo ops without wandering far away from the road. As much as we wanted to see wild animals, one thing we didn't want to encounter was a bear, especially a grizzly bear. It would be nice to seem them from afar but not face to face, especially since we didn't have bear spray with us. It was not quite autumn when we were there, but it was that time of year when berries are at their peak. The bears definitely would be out looking for food. There were warning signs at some recreation areas making it clear that they are closed, so we were cautious.


PONDS & LAKES


So, with all this spectacular landscape, who can resist stopping for pictures? It was a sunny but cool day and we had plenty of time, so why not. We stopped at several beautiful ponds and lakes and we found almost no people at any of them at all. This is the place if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Banff National Park. Except for occasional cars and cyclists, we only saw a couple of people fishing at Buller Pond - complete solitude for those two.

Goat Pond
Goat Pond
Buller Pond
Buller Pond
Spray Lake Reservoir
Spray Lakes Reservoir

SPRAY LAKES RESERVOIR


The Spray Lakes Reservoir is a tributary of the Bow River. Well, actually, the Spray River that formed the string of lakes, is the tributary. This reservoir supply drinking water to the town of Canmore. The rugged peaks in the background lent a stunning effect to the landscape so that we couldn't help but stop several times. The lake is long, about 9.2 miles, following the west side of Highway 742, with varying landscape views. Definitely great photo ops for everyone.


The sky was blue and the lake was calm, so it reflected the mountains clearly. It was such a nice day to be driving this back road. It was the least we could do, since hiking was not on our agenda on this trip. There are lots of hiking trails, picnic sites and campgrounds along the side of this lake, but there were no activities either on water or on land, at least at the time when we were there. I bet in summer this lake is busy, but not that day. Of course it was a weekday after the unofficial end of summer.


Buller Mountain's reflection on Buller Pond
Buller Pond & Buller Mountain
Bighorn sheep by the road
Bighorn sheep by the road at a junction

KANANASKIS TRAIL/HIGHWAY 40


We did not see any wild animals again until we reached the junction with the Kananaskis Trail/Highway 40. There was a lone female bighorn sheep standing right in the middle of the intersection.


We've seen many big wild animals (moose, deer, elk, bear, etc.) on our hiking and road trips, so this was nothing new. But it's always cool to see wildlife at anytime. A real treat, it will put a smile on your face every time. We are are always satisfied just to see them from afar, not to be near them or take selfies with them. Keeping a safe distance and giving them space is the right thing to do, for our safety and the safety of wild animals.

View of Kananaskis Range at the Grizzly Day Use Area/Opal Ridge South Trailhead
View of Kananaskis Range at the Grizzly Day Use Area/Opal Ridge South Trailhead

A quick stop at a viewpoint along Highway 40 at the Grizzly Day Use Area/Opal Ridge South Trailhead - no one was around to our surprise, even though it's just by the road - to admire the spectacular mountain landscape. The photo above shows part of the Kananaskis Range, Mount Inflexible, named after a battle cruiser of the Royal Navy which served during the First World War.


Stopping some more at several spots along the way, we took a short drive through Kananaskis Village, a hotel community, then drove straight to the airport to catch our flight. This is a beautiful drive worth doing, that any nature lover would appreciate.


OTHER SITES WE EXPLORED IN ALBERTA, CANADA:


TOWN OF CANMORE

BOW LAKE, PEYTO LAKE & LAKE MINNEWANKA - BANFF NATIONAL PARK

LAKE LOUISE, VERMILION LAKES, TOWN OF BANFF, BOW FALLS - BANFF NATIONAL PARK


 

A MAP TO GUIDE YOU


LEGEND:


1. Town of Canmore

2. Goat Pond

3. Buller Pond/Sparrow Hawk Day-Use Area

4. Spray Lakes Reservoir

5. Peninsula Day-Use Area/Lower Kananaskis Lake

6. Grizzly Creek Day-Use Area/Opal Ridge South Trailhead

7. Kananaskis Village

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