Alberta’s Kananaskis Canmore to Cowboy Country

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By: Bob Kenyon

Kananaskis Hiking

Kananaskis Hiking
Photo: Travel Alberta

Traveling between Banff and Calgary, on the Trans-Canada #1 Highway travelers will arrive in Canmore. This former coal mining town has become a mountain resort and a centre for year round adventure. The town is also a gateway to Alberta’s Kananaskis Country. From Canmore you can access the Canmore Nordic Centre via a paved road also Spray Valley and other recreation areas and provincial parks via a well maintained gravel road (742) that is well maintained, but like most of Kananaskis, with poor signage. If you plan to camp in the main, serviced area of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, use the paved Highway 40 going south from Trans-Canada #1, which is east of Canmore. To get into the park, be sure to turn west before the north gate to the Highwood Pass.

The Kananaskis back country provides excellent opportunities for hiking, backpacking and trail riding on both horseback and bicycle. Whitewater rafting, canoeing and fishing are also of high-quality on the areas lakes and rivers.

During the August Heritage Day long weekend, the town hosts the Canmore Folk Festival, Alberta’s longest running folk music festivals. At the end of the beginning of September, there are the Canmore Highland Games.

For accommodations, the area has many hotels, inns and lodges. For campers there are excellent campgrounds. During high season (May – September) reservations are suggested for all the accommodations in the area. Back country permits are required for overnight use and are also used for reserving back country camping sites.

Travelers into the Kananaskis back country should be trained in map and compass use, proper gear, clothing, food storage/disposal and experience and bear avoidance skills are mandatory!

winter hiking

Winter Hiking
Photo: Travel Alberta

During winter Kananaskis provides great opportunities for downhill skiing, at Fortress Mountain and cross-country skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Many of the trails offer great opportunities for snowshoeing and winter hiking.

For a great extension to a drive, into southern Alberta, take the Highwood Trail (Hwy. 541) over the front range (with incredible views) to Longview and the Cowboy Trail. The Highwood Trail also branches off onto the southern section, of the Coal Branch Road, which heads on, via gravel surface to the Crowsnest Pass.

Areas in the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park and Canmore Nordic Centre,  in Kananaskis Country are closed to all public access other than limited access on designated trails. This permanent closure includes the Upper Benchlands Trail upslope of Silver Tip Golf Course.

The areas represent important wildlife travel corridors located in very popular areas visited by the public, making it a challenge to address the needs of wildlife while providing appropriate tourism and recreation opportunities.

To continue to provide recreational opportunities for Albertans, the government constructed the new 2.3 km Montane-Traverse Trail that maintains the connection between the Town of Canmore and Harvie Heights. There are approximately 200 km of trails within the provincial parks and protected areas network in the Canmore area that are still available to walkers, joggers and cyclists.

This closure will provide a natural barrier between people and wildlife by focusing human use on one side of the wildlife corridors. Signs and closure tape will be posted at trails leading into the areas and the affected trails will be restored to a natural condition.

The closures and new trail construction are based on detailed research and extensive public consultation underway for a number of years. The Alberta government will continue to work with the Trails Advisory Group comprising representatives from local businesses, outdoor recreation organizations, and the environmental community.

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