Head south from Banff National Park and find an undiscovered series of Provincial Parks known locally as Kananaskis Country.
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Kananaskis Country is a series of provincial parks located in the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains, about an hour from Calgary.
Locals often describe the rugged beauty of the lakes and mountains in Kananaskis Country as one of the most scenic areas in all the Rockies. Just a short drive from Calgary and some of Alberta’s most popular destinations (like Banff), this series of provincial parks offers endless recreation all 12 months of the year, and some of the best hiking in the Canadian Rockies. Whether you’re a local Albertan or coming from elsewhere, you’ll find an endless supply of outdoor fun in the Kananaskis.
Here’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to Kananaskis Country, and a few of our favorite places to stay and play in the area.
How To Get To Kananaskis Country
Driving to Kananaskis
The area is very accessible from any direction. From Calgary, just hop on the Trans-Canada Highway and drive west about an hour. Easy. Likewise, if you’re coming from BC, taking Hwy 1 over the Rockies and through Banff will lead you right into Kananaskis.
From the south, take Hwy 93 through Kootenay National Park to Hwy 1. From northern Alberta, you can come down Hwy 2 to Calgary or take Hwy 93 south through the Rockies.
Flying to Kananaskis:
You can’t fly directly to Kananaskis Country, but you can get close. Calgary International is the closest major airport and is served by dozens of airlines with hundreds of direct flights daily. Upon arrival, you can rent a car and be in Kananaskis in about an hour. The Delta Lodge in Kananaskis also runs daily shuttles to and from the airport.
View from North Kananaskis Pass on Turbine Canyon backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Amazing landscape on Weary Creek backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
How to Get Around Kananaskis Country
You’ll want a car to get around Kananaskis and the mountains. There’s no reliable transportation between the different towns and villages, and a car will be your best bet for getting to the trailheads and recreation.
It should be noted that there are few services once you are in the heart of Kananaskis Country, in fact there is just one service station on Highway 40 that’s open year-round, the station at Fortress Junction. In summer, the Highwood House General Store is south of Highwood Pass.
When to Visit Kananaskis Country
Kananaskis is beautiful and welcoming year-round. Summer and fall make for great hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and kayaking on the many lakes and rivers. Winter and spring are prime time for skiing, touring and snowshoeing. If you can do it in the mountains, you can do it in Kananaskis Country.
View from the top of the Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake Hike in Kananaskis, near Canmore
Views southwest on Little Lougheed snowshoe trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Where to Stay in Kananaskis Country
When looking where to stay, most visitors camp or stay in nearby towns, and if you want to stay in a town then the logical places are either Bragg Creek or Canmore.
If you want to stay inside the park, there are only limited options besides camping. We recommend the two hotels located in the Kananaskis, as they are both great options.
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The first place to stay is the pretty Mount Engadine Lodge. Located off the gravel Smith Dorrien Trail, the lodge offers stunning views in a remote setting. There is great hiking, mountain biking, XC Skiing and snowshoeing located all around Mount Engadine Lodge, so it’s an outdoor lovers paradise.
Tent set up near Rae Lake on Rae Lake backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Morning on Rae Lake backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Staying in Bragg Creek
Bragg Creek is located in the foothills, southwest of Calgary, and makes a great jumping off point to the eastern portion of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Overnight lodging in Bragg Creek includes a number of B&B’s - the Sleepy Creek Country Manor – a cozy bed and breakfast on a wooden estate; the upscale Redwood Retreat B&B up the road and the Craftsman House right in the center of town. These are some of the cushier digs in the area but make great places to warm up after a day on the slopes.
Staying in Canmore
Canmore is located right on Highway 1 and makes a fantastic jumping point to the northern part of Kananaskis Country, as well as to Banff to the north. You’ll find plenty of lodging here, from the cushy Grande Rockies Resort, with its mountain views and indoor pool, to the unassuming and great-for-your-budget Canmore Hotel Hostel or Alpine Club of Canada clubhouse, which has spectacular views and a great location. There are a number of B&B’s and hotels of all prices and comfort ratings, too.
There is great camping in the Kananaskis, with most centered around the Kananaskis Lakes area. Elkwood Campground (open May through October) has over 130 campsites for both tents and RV’s, all tucked away privately in the trees, and is right off Hwy 40. The Lower Lakes Campground sits right on the shores of Lower Kananaskis Lake, with 95 unserviced sites for both tents and RV’s just minutes away from the lake, hiking and biking trails (open May 15 – September 15). Be sure to make reservations ahead of time, as they fill up quick.
For first-come, first-served camping, try Kananaskis Interlakes Campground, which sits between Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. There are 48 unserviced sites with lakeside views, available May through Mid-October.
Stunning scenery on Tombstone Lakes backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Where to Eat in Kananaskis Country
The options to eat in Kananaskis Country are limited, as the core of the parks that make up the Kananaskis have no services.
Refueling after a day in the mountains is vital to keep strength and spirits up, so head over to the upscale Bavarian Inn to get some classic German eats and brews and enjoy their outdoor patio with mountain views when the weather is nice. The Pork Jager is particularly delicious.
Canmore has quite a few restaurants and eateries to dig into. Head over to Graze Food and Drink for some delicious gourmet burgers, some Tex-Mex with elk, and some Canadian staples like poutine, all accompanied by draft beers and fine wines. It’s the kind of place where the owner might even swing by your table to chat it up.
Swing by the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. and get some wood-fired gourmet pizzas right out of the oven, paired with the wine or local craft beer of your choosing. The Farmers Market pizza is fresh and herby; be sure to try the Bow Valley BBQ Chicken Pizza if you’re into that sort of thing, too. Or head over to the Tapas Restaurant if you’re in the mood for some traditional Spanish fare and vino.
If you love a good cup of java to start the morning, you’ll love Beamer’s Coffee Bar, too. It’s got all the coffee and breakfast staples you know and love in a true mountain town style café.
Shore views along Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Wonderful views on Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
What to Do In Kananaskis Country
The real question is - what can’t you do in Kananaskis Country? Hiking and backpacking, biking, ski touring, kayaking. The opportunities really are endless, no matter the time of year. Here’s a few of our selected trips and activities.
Backpacking: You’ll have quite your fill of backpacking trips in Kananaskis, whether you’re looking for a quick overnight or a weeklong backcountry odyssey. Most of the popular ones, for which you’ll need to plan and book in advance, are found in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
One easy weekend trip is to hike the 3.4 km along the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake to Point Campground, where you can spend the night at one of the 20 designated backcountry campsites. From there, you can continue another 6.2 km to the Forks Backcountry Campground and spend a second night, before returning on Day 3. Point Campground is open year-round, but you must make reservations on the Parks Alberta website February through November. Forks Backcountry Campground is only open June through November.
For a challenging multi-day trip, also in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, try hiking Turbine Canyon Backcountry Campground to Three Isle Lake Backcountry Campground via North and South Kananaskis Passes. You’ll exit Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and enter the adjacent Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, in beautiful British Columbia. Both campgrounds are only open June through November and you’ll need reservations, but this 40 km trip gives you an up-close taste of some of the Rockies’ greenest, most-forested terrain.
Incredible views on Turbine Canyon backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Beautiful scenery on Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Random Camping in the Backcountry: If you prefer to create your own routes and spend the night wherever you please, random camping is allowed in certain areas of Kananaskis Country, such as in Wildland Provincial Parks and in Public Land Use Zones. Be sure to follow all posted rules, and always camp at least 1 km from all roads, boundaries and designated camp sites.
Random backcountry camping is not allowed in any Provincial Parks in Kananaskis Country, so be sure to read up on where you’re visiting and the applicable rules before heading out.
Biking: Top off those tires, because Kananaskis has enough mountain biking to satisfy even the hungriest amongst us. Big Elbow is a popular trail not far from Bragg Creek – a 26 km round trip that’s easy enough for anybody but provides the steep climbs and thrilling downhills to keep the more experience amongst us coming back. The mountain views certainly don’t hurt, either.
Incredible views on Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Lake views on Point Campground and Upper Kananaskis Lake backpacking trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Hiking: Bringing the kids? There are plenty of easy day hikes in the Kananaskis that let you soak up the views and get into the wild without too much challenge or the need to pitch a tent. West Wind Pass is an easy 5 km roundtrip hike not far from Canmore that gives you all the stunning mountain pass views you’re looking for without all the rugged challenge.
Another family-friendly hike is Picklejar Lakes off Highway 40 in the southern part of Kananaskis - a 10 km roundtrip perfect for introducing the kids to more challenging hikes. It’s got 500 m of elevation gain and exploring the lakes at the end is worth the effort.
For more challenging day hikes, we certainly recommend Guinn’s Pass, an 18.3 km trek past Lillian Lake and Lower Galatea Lake to Guinn’s Pass, where you get sweeping views of Ribbon Lake and Buller Pass. It’s challenging, but a beautiful trip every step of the way.
Skiing: For easy slope-shredding, Nakiska Ski Area is under an hour from Calgary. It’s relatively small, with 64 trails over 1.2 square miles, but makes for an easy family day on the slopes.
Just 30 minutes south of Nakiska is Fortress Mountain, where you can cat ski 2000+ acres of gorgeous Rocky Mountain terrain. It’s (summer 2019) currently closed for redevelopment.
Cross-country skiing is also plentiful. Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park offers over 60 km of cross-country trails just west of Canmore; it’s also home to biathlon trails.
Lady on Rawson Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis near Canmore
Panoramic views on Goat Creek to Banff Springs XC ski trail in Banff National Park
Interesting facts about Kananaskis Country
How big is Kananaskis Country? Kananaskis Country area covers 4.211 square kilometers.
Is Kananaskis Country a provincial park? It’s not but it includes five provincial parks in its territory as well as four wildland provincial parks, an ecological reserve and a few provincial recreation areas.
People lived in Kananaskis Country area for centuries. There is evidence of humans in Kananaskis Country going back over 8000 years. The Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations are all connected to these territories.
What is the elevation of Kananaskis Country? The highest peak in Kananaskis Country is Mount Galatea, which is 3,185 m (10,449 ft.) tall.