You are hereCalgary Day Trip through Kananaskis Country (Circle Route)
Calgary Day Trip through Kananaskis Country (Circle Route)
A Calgary Day Trip into the Rocky Mountains
There's a secret place in Alberta that most visitors don't know. Located 1 hour west of Calgary, Kananaskis Country (K-Country as the locals call it) is a spectacular mountain playground which most visitors pass on their way to the more popular towns of Banff & Lake Louise. This Calgary daytrip along Highway 40 (4 hours round trip) is a scenic drive that takes you into the alpine splendor along Alberta's western border.
Rocky Mountains along Highway 40 through K-Country.
K-Country is about 2/3 the size of Banff National Park and encompasses the foothills and front range along the Rocky Mountain spine of Alberta. It's borders Banff National Park and stretches south along the Continental Divide which makes up the Alberta-BC border.
Kananaskis Country is actually a collection of over 10 provincial parks and wildlife reserves. Together they make-up another spectacular mountain park in Alberta that's as beautiful as Banff, Jasper and Waterton National Park.
Tourists stop and wait for a coyote to cross the road.
It's a wildlife haven and an outdoor paradise for hikers, cyclists, kayakers and skiers. Taking a scenic drive through this park is enough to make anyone appreciate the beauty of the province. This is a memorable afternoon day trip from Calgary, Canmore or Banff.
The highway is never crowded and the region is so large (4200 square kilometers) that you always feel isolated. The area has limited development that includes the Nakiska Ski Resort, a hotel and golf course. Albertans have made it clear to the provincial government that any further development will not be accepted.
Here's a great video showing some of the high mountains peaks in the Highwood Pass. I wouldn't recommend driving the speed that this videographer was doing!
Highway 40 - A Scenic Drive from Calgary
Highway 40 is a two-lane highway that stretches for 160 kilometers from the TransCanada Highway near the Morley Reserve to Longview, Alberta. This route takes travellers from the bald prairie to within walking distance of the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains, near the tree-line.
As the highway crests at the top of the Highwood Pass, you'll be travelling on the highest highway in Canada (7310 ft). Even in July you can spot patches of snow along the side of the road. One of our favourite hikes is to Elbow Lake near the summit.
This highway has steep grades, wide turns and is in excellent condition. Motorcycles and all cars will not have any problems but RVs & campers may find the going slow at times.
Rocky Mountains in summer covered in green foliage.
In November, the road may have icy patches so check the road conditions before venturing out. And use caution when driving as the scenery is quite distracting.
Highway 40 Closure - Highway 40 is closed from Dec 1 to June 15 due to treacherous winter weather at the higher elevation. This also gives the large alpine animals some quiet time in their own natural environment. Consider a day trip to Waterton in the winter instead.
Not all of Highway 40 is closed in the winter. The road is open from the Trans Canada Highway to the Kananaskis Lakes turnoff so you can still get to the village and Nakiska resort to enjoy some of the best skiing in Canada.
K-Country is a wildlife refuge and the breeding ground for elk, moose, bear and mountain goats & sheep. At higher elevation, some types of crickets can only be found here. When driving on Highway 40 through Kananaskis, take extra precautions to avoid any unfortunate animal encounters:
- Mountain Goats & Sheep - Usually graze along the side of the road and bolt onto the roadway when spooked. Go slow past the herd even if they look preoccupied with grazing.
- Elk - At night, I've seen these large creatures in the middle of the road! Drive past slowly since they tower over the car and may walk out in front.
- Moose - I've seen these animals in late fall at the side of the road, licking salt. Always slow down as you pass.
- Bears - I've seen black bears and grizzly bears along the side of the road in spring & summer. Be bear-aware but I still feel more comfortable in the car.
I've done this route from both directions in all types of weather. In spring & summer, wildlife abounds along the side of the road (especially in the morning & evenings). In the fall, winter arrives earlier at the higher elevations and the highway may be a bit icy but the road-crews keep it in good condition.
Highway 40 in the fall.
My favourite time to make this journey is at night time when the moon is full and the sky is clear. The entire valley is illuminated in bluish-white light and you can see all of the large mammals exploring and foraging. Absolutely beautiful!
Daytrip from Calgary, Alberta
You can do this trip in either direction but I prefer to head west first (just my preference). I enjoy heading through the scenic mountains and then taking a break in Longview, Alberta (home of Ian Tyson). It's a tiny, picturesque town with a quaint little pub. The cops like to catch speeders in this area!
Southwest of Okotoks, make sure to stop off at the glacial erratic known as the Big Rock.
View Scenic Drive from Calgary - The Kananaskis Loop on Highway 40 in a larger map
Daytrip from Banff & Canmore, Alberta
The front range mountains are not as tall as the ones near Banff & Canmore but just as picturesque. As you drive further south, you'll enter the rolling foothills and have expansive views of the prairies. This is a grand tour of western Alberta.
View Scenic Drive from Banff & Canmore, Alberta- The Kananaskis Loop on Highway 40 in a larger map
Things to do along the way
- Kananaskis has plenty of short hikes along Highway 40.
- Enjoy a short stroll around the Mount Lorette Ponds. It's a great picnic site with tables & fire pits. Bring a jacket as it can get a bit windy when not in the trees.
- Look for the Ptarmigan Circle trail near the top of the Highwood Pass. An interpretive trail and a boardwalk awaits.
- A short hike to Troll Fall the base of the Nakiska Ski Resort is fun.
- Cochrane is famous for its ice-cream store. Honestly, the ice-cream tastes just like all others but it's fun to get outside the city and enjoy a gelato.
- A great pub is located in Longview, Alberta. The town has spectacular views of the mountains on the horizon.
Now That's Odd
A caboose on the edge of the river gorge (with no tracks in sight) is the last thing you'd expect to see on a Calgary daytrip! Stay tuned as I try to interview the owner. Tourism in Alberta has lots of surprises!
There's a caboose but no rails in sight!
Check out other road trips in Canada.
Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.