Rockin’ in the Rockies-Part 4: Kananaskis Country, Critters, and Calgary

Our friends from Calgary have talked about Kananaskis for 40 years, but the guidebooks say that this area is mostly visited by Albertans and other Canadians, and is definitely not well-known to Americans. Possibly because the area of Kananaskis is made up of several provincial parks, rather than one big national park like Banff, it just doesn’t get the same recognition or attention.

The northern portion of Kananaskis Country
We focused on a small portion of the southern portion of Kananaskis. So much to see!

But our Calgarian friends were right! The mountains of Kananaskis Country (just southeast of Banff NP) are every bit as breathtaking as Banff, and because it is less crowded, you are more likely to see wildlife.

Just as beautiful as Banff

Just driving along the main road (Highway 40) the first day to get to and from the Boulton Creek Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, we passed three grizzly bears, including a mother and young cub, three black bears, and three different groups of bighorn sheep, all either on the road or beside the road.

One of only a few good pictures of a black bear

There’s no cell service or wifi in this area, except at the visitors’ centre, so you really feel unplugged in this part of the Canadian Rockies.

We had more RV trouble once we got to the campground—a problem with the leveling system for our jacks. So, we drove about 30 minutes to a place with cell reception, so Hank could call, text, and email to look for help and answers. The bonus was getting to view a female grizzly and her young cub on the side of the road as we returned to the campground.

This grizzly cub stayed close to Mom and hid in the grass on the side of the road.
Staying close to mom

Next morning while eating breakfast, we looked out of our RV at the empty campsite across the road, only to discover that the campsite wasn’t empty! A grizzly bear was enjoying his breakfast of grass and dandelions about 20 feet from our motorhome. Our cat Danno had eyes the size of saucers as he stared at this unfamiliar form. Hank and I took a bunch of pictures (of course from inside the RV), and after a few minutes, the bear sauntered back into the woods behind the campsite.

Grizzly next to our campsite!
Notice the collar on this bear.

We headed over to the visitors’ centre and I got to do my first bear report, letting the campground staff know what we had seen, where, and when. They appreciated knowing exactly where the bear had been spotted, whether it had a collar or not (yes, it did), and what it was doing.

After another set of calls and emails down the road, we returned to our campsite so Hank could work on manually raising the jacks, which required him to lie on his back under the RV. He was happy to get to wear the coveralls he had bought for just such an event. And I sat nearby, with bear spray at the ready, though we did not see that particular grizzly again.

Success! Hank was able to raise the four jacks, so we could begin exploring Kananaskis a bit more. The first priority was driving back out to the main road to see if we could find the mom and baby grizzly we had seen previously. Yes, there they were! So was a bighorn sheep showing off on the road.

This cub was hard to photograph because it stayed hidden in the grass.
This rocky mountain bighorn sheep was not hard to photograph. It posed in the middle of the road.

And, when we turned off Highway 40 onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail, we found another female grizzly, this one with triplets—the smallest cubs we have ever seen. We stayed with this family for as long as we were able. What a delight to see these little bundles of energy, while Mom stuffed her face with grasses along the side of the road.

Our day ended with a 2-mile hike to Marl Lake. On the way we enjoyed sighting a pair of green-winged teals (one of many duck species).

Green-winged teal

The next day was our only full day to explore Kananaskis, since the previous day had been largely taken up with RV repairs. First, we drove up to see if any of the cubs were in sight. The mom and single cub were in their usual spot, but on the side of the highway where they were hard to photograph. 

Next we drove to Upper Kananaskis Lake, one of two large reservoirs in the area. We hiked along the edge of the lake to Upper Kananaskis Falls, making sure we had our bear spray with us!

The shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake
Upper Kananaskis Falls

We then proceeded to the other side of the dam, where we hiked the 2-mile Canadian Mt. Everest Expedition Trail. This trail was created in 1982 to honor the 11 Canadians who first summited Mt. Everest (in 1977). It is well-constructed and provides views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

After hopping back in the car, we headed over to see the other reservoir, Lower Kananaskis Lake, also beautiful.

Lower Kananaskis Lake

Our day ended with another sighting of the mom and single cub, plus a bighorn sheep jam of at least 5 dozen moms and lambs on the main highway. In our campground, we found a wild turkey!

A sheep jam of moms and lambs
A wild turkey in our campground

As we left Kananaskis the next morning, we headed toward Highwood Pass on a section of Highway 40 that had opened to vehicles only that morning (the road is closed from Dec. 1 to June 14 each year because of snowfall and to protect wildlife). We got one more chance to see the triplet cubs (no pictures this time), plus a single male that got a lot of attention from other drivers.

One more sheep jam slowed our RV way down, and it also slowed down as we climbed up to Highwood Pass, the highest paved pass in Canada at 7,239 feet.

Our final sheep jam--close to Highwood pass. These sheep did not want to move off the road!

Hailstorms and thunderstorms made our drive out of the mountains a little too exciting! But we safely made it to our campground in Okotoks, got set up, and headed to Calgary to see Howard and Jacky, our friends who served as tour guides in Jasper National Park.

This hail on the ground was all over our RV too!

While we could have spent the next day touring Calgary sights, such as the Calgary Tower, Canada Olympic Park, the Peace Bridge, or the Stampede grounds (most of which we viewed on previous visits), instead we joined Jacky and Howard at Spruce Meadows, one of the most prestigious equestrian facilities in the world. While there, we watched an equestrian competition, the National, featuring show jumping by riders and horses from North and South America, Europe, and even Africa.

The Spruce Meadows complex is sprawling and peaceful, with live music in some venues, a FireFit competition, a pavilion with homemade crafts, a red kangaroo, and an African crested porcupine.

We're not sure why these animals were at Spruce Meadows, but they were cute!

Howard and Jacky knew one of the cameramen for this event, and he gave us a short tour of the production trailer, where over a dozen video, sound, and technical experts recorded the events for broadcast and communicated with the camera operators out on the course.

The amount of equipment and people in the trailer was incredible. Chris (on the left) was a great guide!

The horses and riders were beautiful to watch, and we sighed with relief as each horse cleared a jump or groaned when poles were knocked off. What a relaxing way to enjoy a quintessential Calgary experience.

We wrapped up our time in Calgary with a delicious dinner provided by Jacky and Howard.

Howard, Jacky, and their son Brett fed us well!

Unfortunately, we have had to abandon the rest of our plans for Rockies exploration (Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, plus Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks in the U.S.). The evening before we were to head to Waterton Lakes, I learned that my 93-year-old mom had fallen and was taken to emergency with a broken arm. To make a long story short, my brother flew up to be with her the next day and we rerouted our trip to be with her in Seattle for whatever time period is needed to care for her and get her settled into a different living situation.

So, our Rockin’ in the Rockies trip was only half-completed, but we saw some amazing animals and sights in the glorious Canadian Rockies. We highly recommend Jasper, Banff, and the Kananaskis Country for those who love beauty and wildlife.

Back into the U.S.--a little earlier than we had planned
A beautiful rainbow over our first campsite back in the U.S.--outside of Spokane, Washington

4 thoughts on “Rockin’ in the Rockies-Part 4: Kananaskis Country, Critters, and Calgary”

  1. Sorry your trip had to be cut short …. & hope your mom recovers & can happily settle into a new place. Great photos & recap of what looks to have been a wonderful adventure!

  2. So sorry about your mom. What a fabulous trip you had, though. And those bears and sheep and beauty will be there next time. (I loved learning about Kananaskis County. We are always looking for the less crowded spots and it’s good to know about this beautiful spot.)

  3. Beautiful country and photos. Great to share that with friends. So sorry about your mom. At least was not a broken hip. See you soon.


  4. Another posting of great photos and descriptions. I’m so glad you got to experience Kananaskis and Spruce Meadows. You two could be honorary Albertans now. Well, maybe a hockey game or the Calgary Stampede are in order yet. ☺️ Praying for a smooth recovery and healing for your mom, Cindy.


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