Many campervan rentals make the infamous Banff to Jasper loop. While this is a magical journey, we love recommending alternate destinations. New Age Travel and Services enjoys providing travellers with local, undiscovered gems. Kananaskis is one such destination that has entertainment for all. Better yet, within each sport is a difficulty level for all! Another reason Kananaskis is an ideal destination for your RV vacation.
New Age Travel and Services would like to introduce you to the unsung backcountry hero of Alberta: the Kananaskis Improvement District.
Driving your campervan along Highway 40, you will see the definition of scenic. It offers many "Insta-worthy" lookouts on either side. In fact, Highway 40 gives credence to the saying “it’s not the destination but the journey”. This highway is reputable for its abundant wildlife. Your chance of crossing a grizzly bear or a black bear from the comfort of your campervan is the best. Tall peaks, dense forests and blue waters dawn this magical mountain playground. No shortage of views and fun!
Along the highway, you’ll find many lakes to stop along the way. Two of the biggest ones are the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. They are both beautiful spots to park your campervan, soak up some sun and some views. Another Albertan lake worth visiting is Barrier. This is the first one you’ll encounter. It is a popular area for swimming, fishing, people watching and stretching your legs.
Kananaskis and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park offer a shocking number of day hikes. When researching hikes, we recommend using the AllTrails App. The free version gives good explanations of hiking trails. AllTrails offers a paid version. Premium gets you valuable services like a map linking to your GPS. It will help you find the trailhead for parking your RV and to stay on the route. Safety features like a live tracker can give your loved ones peace of mind.
Kananaskis has day hikes for all levels. Below are our favourites per difficulty level.
Easy Day Hike: Lillian Lake
This gentle and forested climb is ~12.5 km round trip. This little mountain lake is charming. Many hikers stop or descend from here. You can use the firepits and cooking spots for a picnic before continuing or going back. Lillian Lake trail continues to Galatea where you get a higher view of the water and the Valley.
Moderate: The Hidden Lake
To get to The Hidden Lake, you first walk East alongside Upper Kananaskis Lake on a rolling trail. A 16.5 km roundtrip, The Hidden Lake excursion is a cumulative gain rather than a gain in altitude. Upper and Lower Kananaskis lakes are often busy. Few venture to the hidden lake for a couple of reasons. For starters, you need to know it’s there. The two huge Albertan lakes are easy to find because, well, they’re big! Plus, fewer people walk 16.5 kilometres to find another lake when there's one at the parking lot. The Hidden Lake prevails as a gem in the Kananaskis area.
Hard: Mount Baldy Peak
Mount Baldy is a good hike to add to the start of your trip because of its convenience and location. This mountain is the first well-trafficked hiking trail. Ample parking and space for an RV--but watch for cars when crossing the highway!
This is a difficult hike because of the short scramble section near the apex. It is easy to stay on the route.
Bonus Miles - You can extend the Mount Baldy hike into a 3 peak loop. The preceding summits are difficult, and not attempted as often. Have your map downloaded and read the loop description in advance. Further, depending on the time of year, the summit may have snow. This can impede your progress or create avalanche hazards.
It is easy to connect hikes into multi-day trips in Kananaskis as it is plentiful in campsites and trails. Carry in your gear and all the “bear necessities” to immerse yourself in the mountains.
Shameless disclaimer: a campervan at the trailhead of a multi-day hike is invaluable. Load the fridge with ice and a meal to enjoy when you complete your trek. The private room with your luggage in the RV lets you change upon arrival. Our campervans also come with battery-operated showers! When you’ve worn the same clothes for days straight, it is something that you will appreciate. Other people have to wait to get home.
Easy: Galatea over Gunn’s Pass to Ribbon Creek
Here's a multi-day for the books: Galatea Lakes Trail to Guinn's Pass, Ribbon Creek, and Kovach Trail. You can proceed in either direction. We camped at Lillian Lake, hiked over Gunn’s Pass and carried on to Ribbon Creek. Both campgrounds are super romantic as they nestle cozily in the valley; and both are next to blue, serene water.
Difficult: North Over Ridge
Another multi-day hike worth exploring is North Over Ridge. It is a technical ridge walk; however, for the ridge walk inclined, your second day is epic. Sleep at Aster Lake Back Country Campground, and 3 Isle Creek Campground to "sandwich" the ridge.
When discussing scrambles, please note that an “easy” scramble means a “difficult” hike. Scrambles are trickier than hikes for a few reasons. At some point in a scramble, there will no longer be an obvious trail. More often than not they are higher than the tree line with sections of rock that you ascend using your hands. Altitude exposure is also what defines the difficulty. If you suffer from vertigo you might want to try an easier scramble before a difficult one. We urge scramblers to use a helmet and gloves. The limestone is sharp and loose in this region.
Easy: South Mount Kidd
Access South Mount Kidd from Guinn’s Pass (past Galatea and Lillian Lakes). It is a big adventure, so starting at the midway point after sleeping at Lillian is a good way to save time. New Age Travel and Services has a certain fondness for this scramble. It is sky-scraping with a nice view--and the first scramble we completed together.
Moderate: Mount Rae
Mount Rae is at the top of Highway 40 (the highest asphalt road in Canada). Its summit is at 3218m; roundtrip is 8km. Amazing scramble—strongly recommended.
Mt. Rae is part of a popular family hike called "Ptarmigan Cirque Trail". Spectacular peaks and waterfalls surround Ptarmigan. When you reach the end of the meadow, you will see Mount Rae on the left. The steep climb is your route. Believe it or not, this route offers better hands and footing. Rocks are quite loose in this section, please proceed carefully in case people are below you. Yell “rock” if you dislodge any rocks.
Difficult: Mount Arethusa
M.t Arethusa is one valley in the south of Mount Rae. It offers a more difficult route with more exposure. A long ridge walk allows you to enjoy the mountain view all along the hike. You can return one of two ways. Either the same way you ascended, or a steeper descent to make a loop. Exposure lovers, this is for you! While it cuts your time in half, it amps up the adrenaline levels.
Mountaineering is the ultimate way to scale a mountain. This sport mixes rock climbing, ice climbing, glacier traverse, ski touring and more. Alberta is popular for mountaineers in training before they attempt the world’s highest peaks. Plenty of Albertan guides and organizations can assist you in this learning journey.
New Age Travel and Services invites you to discover two famous routes: Mount Joffre and Mount Assiniboine. Both are monstrous climbs yet rated as “beginner” in the Mountaineering world.
Another fun way to experience the mountains is to climb them! When it’s sunny, there's not much better than challenging yourself in the great outdoors for hours. Kananaskis offers numerous locations for sport, traditional and mixed climbing. Non climbers may enjoy watching the impressive climbers of the region.
Fun fact: the army set up their 1950s training center at the Wasootch Slabs. Calgary climbers come to Wasootch as it is a close climbing spot outside the city. What's more, the approach is practically non-existent. You can park your campervan within a minute of the first route. Due to its popularity, the first couple of moves on some of the routes are a little polished. It is a popular spot for beginners. 103 of the 115 routes are below 5.10.
If you are attracted by multi-pitch climbing, Mount Yamnuska is a MECA in the area. It's the first mountain you see to your right when you enter the Rocky Mountains. An impressive rock wall around 400m tall gives this mountain its name. "Yamnuska" translates to "wall of stone".
With hundreds of climbs from 5.5 to 5.14, everyone can enjoy!
Road Cycling at Highwood
This picturesque bike ride is most spectacular in the spring. It is a rare treat for cyclists to get to use the full road. That’s what makes this ride an annual item on the Calgarian cyclist checklist. Due to several reasons, this highway closes to cars from October to June. Highwood Pass is the highest asphalt road in Canada. Further, the snow accumulation in the Kananaskis region leads to avalanche hazards. In the spring, you might have to maneuver some avalanche debris, horse manure and (believe it or not) GOATS! The goats like to lick the salt on the road. Exercise caution on the quick descent; you don't know what you’re going to find.
The highway opens up to cars in June. Cyclists and pedestrians have exclusive use of the road after the snow melts and before the gates open. You can park the campervan at one of the two entrances. Highwood Pass's South Entrance at Peter Lougheed is a longer hill clocking in at 37.5 km to the top. The North Entrance near Pocaterra is 18 km (but steeper). Prepare for hills in whichever direction you choose.
Mountain Biking at Barrier Lake
Barrier Lake has a range of mountain biking trails for all levels. I mountain biked for the first time at Barrier! It offers difficult trails for experienced mountain bikers yet gentle climbing for beginners. With lots of trails and identified routes, you can spend hours enjoying yourself.
This was an exhaustive list. In all honesty, we haven’t scratched the surface of the fun hikes, climbs, bikes, camp spots, and water sports you can do.
We hope that you gained some insight into the area and some excitement to visit it. If a trip to Kananaskis interests you, please contact New Age Travel and Services. We have books to share that will supplement our local knowledge. For any other inquiries regarding campervan rentals or Southern Alberta Road Trips, we would love to be your guides.
(587) 287-7127 firstname.lastname@example.org or book online, today.