During our end of August Canadian Road Trip this year, we visited our son in Calgary. During the day, when he was busy with his daily activities, we took another road trip. Generally when we visit Calgary, we take a drive or two to Banff or Jasper, or maybe even the badlands. All are spectacular.
This time around our son suggested that we take a different – but easy drive through Kananaskis. He often visits this area with his cycling and hiking friends and frequently sends us pictures of wildlife spotted along the way.
An Easy Drive to Kananaskis from Calgary
He suggested that if we headed out that way we would definitely see some wildlife! While Banff, Canmore and Jasper are breathtakingly beautiful scenic mountain drives, we wanted to take a different but easy drive and stay away from people. Kananaskis Country is an area to the west of Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Kananaskis Country contains (at least) 10 Provincial Parks, campgrounds, a golf course, hiking trails and of course ski hills and nordic trails. (Note that some roads are closed for winter months). It is over 4000 square KM but is sparsely populated.
Calgary to Bragg Creek
That was definitely what we needed – wildlife, scenery, but no pandemic tourist crowds please. We travelled west from Calgary along the TransCanada Highway (1), and then turned south onto Highway 22 towards and along the Elbow River, and then towards the little town of Bragg Creek.
Bragg Creek is a picturesque small town along the Elbow River – about half an hour from Calgary – with rustic log cabin style homes amongst the forest and artisan style shops. It’s in Rocky View county, and was a diversion on our way to Kananaskis. We did not know that Bragg Creek was the main filming location for the Canadian CBC series “North of 60”, but that explained the way the town seemed so familiar to us. We saw a few deer crossing the road near Bragg Creek Provincial Park.
Bragg Creek to Kananaskis
We continued southwest along Highway 66 and then headed north along the Powderface Trail past Elbow and Jumping Pound and then west again on Highway 68 (partly paved) towards Highway 40. We travelled south along Highway 40 just past Highwood Pass – and eventually turned around to head back to Calgary (straight north on 40 to the TransCanada) as it was getting dark!
Kananaskis is beautifully forested, but less touristy than Banff.
There was very little traffic along the way. At one point a number of cars were stopped and a park ranger was using police tape to close off a trail. It turned out to be a grizzly bear sighting. He was long gone when we arrived.
We finally ran into a traffic jam at the intersection of Highway 40 and Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail. A herd of mountain goats was happily crossing the road.
I had read that mountain goats avoided human activity, but these goats had no concern about cars and people. They seemed a bit like the animals at “African Lion Safari” or a petting zoo – but I wouldn’t want to get out of the car and test their disposition.
After seeing very little wildlife on our trip west from Ontario, it was worth the drive to see these creatures.
Further on down the road towards Highwood Pass, I thought I saw a bear in the forest. We stopped to have a look and a herd of cattle slowly meandered out onto the highway. Highwood Pass is the highest paved road in Canada at just over 2200metres.
Kananaskis Country is free-range, which means that livestock, as well as wildlife roam freely.
Now my husband is usually the wildlife “spotter”, but this time I really did spot a black bear on the left side of the road up the hill.
We stopped and just barely (not a pun, honest) caught a glimpse of this bear.
We decided to head home at this point. We could have continued south and headed back east to Calgary from the south end of Kananaskis – but we turned around and headed back north on Highway 40 to the TransCanada Highway.
This was an easy wildlife and scenery viewing drive – not far from Calgary, which kept us busy for a full day. There is a daily fee of $15 or $90 for the season per vehicle visiting Kananaskis. It’s worth every penny.