Mountain playgrounds

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 28, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Alberta, Calgary, Canmore, Cardston, destination, Kananaskis Village, Molly Feltner, Pincher Creek, vacation package, Waterton Park.

Mountain playgrounds

After escaping the suburban sprawl of Calgary where I started my trip, I drove west (on Trans-Canada Highway 1) to Kananaskis Country, a conglomeration of provincial parks and other protected areas that borders Banff National Park, the home of Lake Louise and other famous icons of the Canadian Rockies.

Although it has similar topography to its popular big sister Banff, Kananaskis draws mostly local Albertans, and the place was nearly devoid of people in mid-June when I visited. I can't recall seeing any RVs or tacky tourist shops by the side of the road while driving through the parks, but I did see a lumbering cinnamon-colored bear, some elk, and a group of big horn sheep who stubbornly refused to acknowledge my presence, even when I approached them to take a picture.


My stay in Kananaskis was short, but I did fit in a trail ride and a short hike. If you have more time, you can also take advantage of camping, rafting, and fishing, plus skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding in the winter.

The road south (Highway 40 and then Highway 22 via Route 541) follows a seemingly endless line of glacier-scraped mountains that soar up from the green prairie grasses. This part of the Rockies has small or no foothills separating the big mountains from the plains, and the contrast is breathtaking. One evening, as I drove towards the mountains, I noticed the star-filled sky go black. I thought the weather had turned, but as I looked more carefully, I realized that the blackness was a wall of mountains that abruptly jutted up thousands of feet from the prairie floor, covering the sky as far as I could see out the window.

The southernmost point of the road (now called Highway 6) took me to Waterton Lakes National Park, the Canadian half of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first-ever duo-nation park of its kind. Like Kananaskis, Waterton is smaller and lesser known than its American counterpart, Glacier National Park, but that means visitors here get more of the beauty to themselves.

After entering the park ($7 per adult), I stopped to get my bearings at the Swiss-chalet style Prince of Wales hotel which, perched on a promontory overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, has one of the best views on the planet. The quality of the hotel does not match its view, but it's a nice place to stop for a drink and have a gander. You'll get better value for your money by staying in one of the hotels in nearby Waterton Village. I stayed in a decent little motel, the Aspen Village Inn, which has rates from $86 USD per night.

I spent my time in Waterton hiking the trails near the village, but the park has 120 miles of trails that penetrate much deeper into the wilderness, and some trails link up with others across the border in Glacier. There's also a lot of opportunities for boating on the park's lakes.

NEXT >> Horsin' around

Read comments or add your own insight!