You gotta love a great road trip and this Sunday drive was awesome with the best of homegrown, Canadian, Rocky Mountain scenery! Bragg Creek to Canmore- I’ve lived my whole life in Calgary and ventured up to Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls hundreds of times. I always thought the road ended in K-Country on Hwy 66 where it stops at Little Elbow until I read an article in last months Avenue Magazine telling of a fabled route out to Canmore.
This drive is just the perfect length of time for a great day trip and can even be shortened, the best parts are at the beginning and even on a gorgeous Sunday at the peak of holiday season it wasn’t busy at all. Well, until we got to the main highways where we encountered typical weekend summer traffic but that’s only for a small portion of the route. Fill up your gas tank, pack a picnic lunch, some snacks, drinks and grab a coffee on the way out as there isn’t much until Canmore. We left at 9am in the morning, took our time, had a short picnic and made many stops along the way with a return home at about 5:30pm. A perfect day. Heres a link to our photos from this drive
From the south end of the city you exit Macleod Trail heading west on Hwy 22X towards spruce meadows and out towards Kananaskis Country. As soon as you leave the city you’ll be following the rolling hills and home dotted countryside, with one big exhale you’ll feel all stress melt away. Quickly you reach the foothills and the mountains of K-Country start to appear up front. You’ll drive past the Bragg Creek turnoff (a great Sunday destination on its own) and will be heading towards Elbow Falls. You’ll drive past a gate which signifies the beginning of Hwy 66 which is closed during the winter months starting at 8am December 1st when it won’t open again until May. Shortly you’ll reach Elbow Falls which is the perfect place for a quick pitstop after about 45 minutes of driving. We stopped here for a short walk with the dog, a quick peak at the falls, visited the outhouses for a wee pee and on the road again.
From Elbow Falls you continue west on Hwy 66 where it seems to end at the road down to the Little Elbow campground but what’s that? There is a sign to the right up a small gravel road, it says ‘travel not recommended’, this can’t be it?
It taunts with a sense of danger and intrigue; is it, should we, do we dare? Well hell yes you should, with one caveat! I wouldn’t recommend going any further in inclement weather or rain. The road is fine, compared to some of the sketchy, cliff hugging donkey trails we drove in the mountains of Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro or Italy it’s a four-star highway but it could get treacherous when wet, the steep roads turning muddy and slick.
All along this stretch called the Powderface trail we saw the starting points for many trekking trails that I had read about in my hiking books but never knew where to access them. I had aha moment after aha moment, exclaiming as Arnold Schwarzenegger- ‘I’ll be Back’, sure to return and hike these incredible landscapes. This was my favorite part of the whole drive, barely a sole in sight, twisty turny roads, up and down like a roller coaster that was fun to drive and the scenery, beautiful! You’ll eventually come through the other side of ‘the gate’ at the Powderface campground/snowmobile lot and shortly you’ll reach a fork in the road. From the start of the Powderface Trail we drove about an hour for this stretch until reaching the next fork. Go left on Hwy 68 (towards Hwy 40) and you’ll continue up into the mountains or turn right to head back into the city.
We turned left, driving deeper into K-Country along a much wider and more open stretch of gravel highway. A short 15 km’s further and you’ll reach the Kananaskis highway 40. Here the road gets busy again as you’ve arrived on a popular stretch of tourist highway, go left to continue the journey or right to make your way to the TransCanada and back to Calgary. Going left has you soon entering Peter Lougheed Provincial Park where you’ll turn off the highway (look for the Smith Dorrien signs) on the road that heads up to the Kananaskis Lakes. Pay attention for the right turn to connect with the Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) heading towards Spray Lakes. This stretch is a bit busier, gets a little bumpy and rather dusty but worth the venture. Shortly past the turn off we detoured to The Black Prince day use area, the starting point for another hike I’ve put on my list. Obi lapped at the waters along the riverbank where we enjoyed a short picnic while taking in the amazing mountain scenery in front of us and fighting off the black flies that were determined to swallow us whole. It was a short but fulfilling stop and on the road again, our next stop at Spray Lake.
We turned left at the first Spray Lake sign which took us down to a parking lot and day use area. Here short trails led to picnic tables with amazing views out over the lake where we chatted with a family visiting from Hamburg, Germany. We started to walk down to the water and came to an opening where we saw a group of skinny-dippers daring the frigid blue waters on hot a summers day. Although they didn’t seem the least bit fazed being exposed in a relatively busy area we didn’t see the need to disturb them and headed back up to the picnic area. After dipping in the mountain runoff, they thawed themselves in the sun out on the rocky beach- so cold I guess that even my telephoto lens couldn’t detect anything worth seeing!
Why did I clean my car the day before? A waste of an hour of my life! The rest of the drive was busier, bumpier and very dusty but still presenting awesome scenery at every turn following along the Spray Lakes. We passed a stretch of blue waters along a canal and saw people swimming and sunny along the shores which led me to believe the water wasn’t that cold. Soon we could see the town of Canmore sprawling out along the valley floor, we passed the Grassi Lakes area, into town by the Nordic Center, then past the Three Sisters turn and out onto the TransCanada heading back to Calgary.
Now we were back on the busy, chaotic highway that was swollen with day-trippers and tourists returning back to the concrete jungle. We returned home with big smiles, glad we made the effort that rewarded us with an awesome experience. Our day in the Rockies brought us back to our European trekking days, today was the one-year anniversary of our return home. Our day trip had us feeling like we were on the road again, it reminded us how fortunate we are to live where we do and the incredible adventures that are to be had in our own backyard! Click Here for the rest of the Photos.