Shaped by glaciers and encompassing the nearest Rocky Mountain ranges outside of Calgary, Kananaskis Country is the name for the area that includes dozens of provincial parks. This area is steeped in both agricultural and pioneering history and includes some of the most beautiful hikes and lakes in the country. Get the most out of your stay in the Kananaskis region with this list of 25 things to see and do in Kananaskis Country.
Hike the Three Isle Lake TrailFor a dazzling hike along Kananaskis Lake, the Three Isle Lake Trailis about 12 kilometres long and moves across the dam and along Upper Kananaskis Lake. Dogs are allowed, though mountain bikes can only be ridden for the first three kilometres. Eight kilometres in, you’ll find the “Forks” campground where you can rest for a short while or even overnight. At about three hours each way, this hike ends at the Three Isle Lake that is special in its size (larger than the usual mountain lake) and in the views of both Alberta and British Columbia.
Spend a day next to waterfalls at Elbow Falls
This waterfall can reach heights of six metres, creating a magical visual and auditory experience. Elbow Falls makes for a perfect day trip or place to settle in and camp with a short 1 kilometre hiking trail and a day use area that is kept up by the park. If you watch the falls long enough, you may even see a brave kayaker paddling this popular spot. Located off Highway 66 and west of Bragg Creek, you’re just removed enough to feel connected to the rush of water.
Challenge yourself to a hike Rawson Lake Trail
With a fairly steep incline and running 10.8 kilometres, the Rawson Lake Trailto Sarrail Ridge is rated as a moderate hike, but can be quite challenging for those wishing to get to the top in a hurry. This trail is popular for the spectacular views at Sarrail Ridge and, of course, Rawson Lake. The lake offers opportunities to fish, explore, or just hangout lakeside. Bring some snacks to enjoy before you turn back and descend — this is a fabulous picnic site.
Explore a mountain cave with a Cave Tour
Get up close and personal with the Rocky Mountains by making your way inside them. Canmore Cave Tours takes you into what’s known as the Rat’s Nest Cave, which is a lot more alluring than its name implies. Though the cave is home to bushy-tailed wood rats and pigmy shrews (North America’s smallest mammal!), the water-sculled passages kept in their natural state will have you in touch with yourself and the world we are part of. Be sure to dress for the cold, as the cave holds a year-round temperature of 4.5 degrees celsius.
Relax in the Kananaskis Nordic Spa
Described as “A Modern Alpine Sanctuary”, the Kananaskis Nordic Spa is 50,000 sq. ft. of both indoor and outdoor space. There are three outdoor pools, a bistro, steam cabins, and saunas available for your relaxation pleasure. You can also get a massage, which are available for the solo traveller and for couples. Embracing the beauty of the area, the spa brings the mountain cabin aesthetic to their retreat. You will never forget the paradise you are staying in at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.
Glide across Barrier Lake in a Canoe
What’s a Kananaskis adventure without a little time on the lake? Kananaskis Outfitters make booking your adventure easy with their Voyageur Canoe Tour on Barrier Lake. This tour will glide you across the water in a 25 foot long voyageur canoe and is completely family friendly. The tours kick off at 10am every day and include some useful skills — such as teaching you how to light a fire without a match. Keep your eyes out for any lakeside wildlife, which is a common occurrence around Barrier lake!
Hike the Ptarmigan Cirque and Highwood Pass
Tell your friends that you hiked to the highest paved point in Canada by making your way to Highwood Pass. This hike, makes its way through Highwood Meadows and the fields of wildflowers (and in the summer a small stream!) before making its way to the Ptarmigan Cirque. It is recommended that you start this hike early, as it is a popular hike in the summer and can become fairly busy.
Take in views of waterfalls by hiking The Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop
The Upper Kananaskis Lake Loopis an easy — albeit long — trail to hike that offers gorgeous views and as much crisp mountain air as you can breathe. Following the lakeshore, this trail allows you to see the lake as well as the Kananaskis Falls and the Sarrail Falls. The loop runs 16 kilometres (approximately five hours) and makes for the perfect day hike, as well as being one of the top rated hikes in the area.
Get your golf game on at Kananaskis Country Golf Course
This government-owned golf coursehas 36 holes and two course layouts: Mt. Kidd and Mt. Lorette for your golfing pleasure. Loved by Albertan golfers, this course is surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains. The course opened in 1983 and has undergone many improvements since then, making sure that the golf experience you have is always top notch. You can book as an individual or as a family — and you can even create a Stay & Play package. All of this is easily booked from their website.
Wake up to the Sunday Breakfast Brunch at Mount Engadine
Everything about the dining at Mount Engadine Lodge is uniquely Canadian, and their Sunday Brunch has become a crown jewel of the experience. While the menu shifts every week (and will have you coming back time and time again), classics such as the Smoked Salmon Benny and Banana and Almond Pancakes remain. They also feature some distinctly canadian beverages to make your brunch extra special. Try their Mountain Mimosa or the Classically Canadian Caesar that was crafted for Canada 150.
Experience Western Hospitality at the Brewster Guest Ranch
The Kananaskis Guest Ranchhas been open since 1923, when Missy Bagley Brewster opened it to commemorate her family’s homestead along the Bow River in the Rockies. Today, this ranch offers the Albertan tradition of Western Barbecues and Rodeos, Backcountry Horse Trips, an affiliated public golf course at the foot of Mt. Yamnuska, and rentable property for the celebration of your choosing. As the namesake of the Brewster Family — who were pioneers of Kananaskis Country — this is a ranch that is filled with the history of the area.
Relax and rejuvenate at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge
After a long day of exploring the Canadian Rockies and admiring the beautiful lakes, rest in relaxation at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge. With six dining options, a well-informed concierge, tennis and basketball courts, a waterpark, and a gallery all on-site, this resort will keep your trip full of enjoyment — even while you’re resting. The facility is very kid-friendly, featuring a lineup of activities known as KanananaKIDS. Everything will be taken care of for you at this mountain lodge.
Race down the Kananaskis River in a Raft
Get your blood pumping on the whitewater rapids of the Kananaskis River by embarking on a tour with Chinook Rafting. Running 1.5 to 2 hours on the river surrounded by the mountains, the tour offers free professional photos as you raft and ends with a scenic float — where you even have the opportunity to jump in and enjoy a swim in the now-calm river! Your river rafting guide will introduce you to the world of whitewater rafting and provide snacks, making sure you are completely taken care of during your journey.
Hike the famous and recognizable Mount Yamnuska
Mount Yamnuskais one of the most recognizable mountains in the first range of the Rockies because of its long ridge and sheer face. You may wonder how it could be hiked, but it is not as difficult as it looks — though the views are as spectacular as you would imagine. The trail weaves around the back of the mountain and at 7 kilometres takes between 3 and 4 hours. There are options after the initial 3.5 kilometres that cater to your experience level, but every choice results in picturesque views of the Alberta landscape.
Spend the night in a tipi at Sundance Lodges
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For a truly unique — and certainly memorable — camping experience, try sleeping in one of the tipis at Sundance Lodges. This facility takes camping to the next level with fresh coffee served every morning, a basic grocery and gift shop known as The Trading Post, and hot showers, flush toilets, and even coin laundry. If you’re not ready for the tipi experience, you cal also book a trapper’s tent or an unserviced campsite. Sundance Lodges are the place for everyone and will rent you camping gear if you don’t own your own.
Keep your eyes open for moose along the Smith Dorrien Trail+ Highwood Road Corridor
Dubbed “one of the most spectacular drives in Alberta”, this drive will showcase Kananskis Country in all its glory with plenty of picturesque picnic stops and pullouts to take in the views. Follow Highway 40 from Cowboy Trail to Smith Dorrien Trail onto Canmore! See Day 5 in 15 Day Alberta Road Trip Itinerary for a detailed trip view.
Spend a night in the backcountry at Quaite Valley Backcountry Campground
There are two different types of camping in Kananaskis: “vehicle-access” and “backcountry”. If you’re looking for a private, adventurous campground, hike or cycle out into the Kananaskis backcountry for a night spent in the rugged beauty of the Rockies. Quaite Valley Backcountry Campground is one of the highest rated campgrounds in the area and provides secure food storage, pit/vault toilets firewood, and a fire pit. If you’re looking to get close to nature, you can’t beat this woodsy rest stop.
Or camp with a few more amenities in a vehicle-access campground
For a camping experience that is more accessible, check out the Boulton Creek Campgroundin Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This campground gives you the option of having a site with power and water and the option to walk-in. They also provide showers, a pay phone, a place to rent equipment, a store, and paved bike paths and hiking trails. With close access to the Kananaskis Lakes, this vehicle-access campground will have you sleeping next to nature.
Experience the Rockies astride a horse at Cross Zee Ranch
Hop on a horse and embrace the Alberta spirit with Cross Zee Ranch’s horseback trail rides. Advertising their mountain trail rides to everyone between the ages of 7 and 100, you can have your pick of a number of trails to traverse — each one promising scenic views and adventures abound. Watch the flowers, birds, and other wildlife pass you by, just as the early ranchers would have done. The rides at Cross Zee Ranch run one or two hours long and occur daily.
Get a real taste of the west at the Boundary Ranch
Complete with horseback riding, staged gun fights, rodeos, and a western BBQ — Boundary Ranch will have all your cowboy and cowgirl dreams coming true. They also make the most of their Kananaskis location by booking white water rafting and including the Guinn Family Wildlife Museum. Because Boundary Ranchknows that each visitor and group is unique, they welcome all bookings ahead to customize their visit to make the utmost of this picturesque and historic day trip.
Spend a beach day at Quarry Lake
This reclaimed mining quarry has been turned into a recreational park and has become a popular spot for those hoping to swim on a hot and sunny day in Kananaskis. Float on your back and look up at Mount Rundle, Ha Ling Peak, and the Fairholme Range — or bring a floatation dinghy and let the water glide you around. Make sure you bring a picnic to enjoy by the side of the lake for the perfect afternoon.
Hike to the hidden treasures of the Grotto Canyon
For a special mountain treat, explore the Grotto Canyonwith a hike that is beginner level and only about 5 kilometres. This popular hike leads you to a fork in the road that either results in a waterfall (if you turn right) or hoodoos and a cave (if you choose the left path). Suitable for kids, you can’t go wrong with this walk, which is open any time of year and features seasonally changing foliage — a great repeat trek!
Fish in the crisp mountain air at any number of Kananaskis Lakes
If you’re an angler in the Kananaskis region, you might want to pick up a fishing license with the Government of Alberta because there are plenty of great fishing opportunities in these mountain lakes. You can head to Upper Kananaskis Lake or the Grotto Mountain Pond for some great trout fishing — just be wary of which species are catch and release and which you can take home. Regardless of your fishing style, the mountain air and wildlife activity will have you in the magical relaxing space that only fishing can bring.
Bike the mountains for a thrilling challengeMountain biking is a favourite activity in the Kananaskis region and there are many trails that are built for it. If you’re looking for a light ride, try the Stoney Trail Mountain Biking Trail, which runs leisurely on gravel and dirt roads. For a challenge, try Baldy Pass. The demanding incline of this trail will give you a workout, but the payoff at the top is worth that muscle burn. If you don’t have a bike, there are many shops in the area where you can rent the best bike for you.
Enjoy waterfalls and wildlife at Sheep River Provincial Park
Sheep River Provincial Park lies west of Turner Valley and features the Sheep River Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can spend some time with the bighorn sheep who live there permanently. In the summertime, the park is also a popular spot for deer and elk sightings. But the main attraction of Sheep River Provincial Park is the waterfalls which is a popular getaway spot for the people of Calgary and Turner Valley for the accessible and beautiful walks.