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Road Trips in Alberta, Things to do in Calgary

Updated on May 3, 2010

A Drive through K-Country (Highway 40)

Located 1 hour west of Calgary, the Kananaskis region is a spectacular mountain playground that remains a secret to most visitors to Alberta. This sprawling park, about 2/3 the size of Banff National Park, lies on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. Access by road is available for less than half of the year so enjoy this scenic drive whenever you have a chance.

Traveling along Highway 40, from the Trans Canada Highway to the town of Longview 160 km away, this extraordinary route takes you from bald prairie expanses to the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, once you reach the Highwood Pass, you'll be traveling on the highest elevation of any highway in the country (7310 ft). You'll be traveling close to the treeline where you can find pockets of snow even in the middle of summer.

Throughout the journey, you'll be rewarded with abundant views of wildlife (bears, elk, moose, mountain goats & coyotes) and spectacular mountain vistas. This is a scenic day trip that a perfect way to discover Canada and southern Alberta.

Mile High in the Sky

(Actually the highest elevation is 1.38 miles (2.228 km) above sea-level)

I feel insignificant when I'm in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. The majestic peaks tower overhead, the long valleys stretch on forever. Their sheer size, ruggedness and distant beauty show me that there are physical barriers that I will probably never reach in my lifetime. I feel small here.

But on Highway 40, I feel equal with the towering mountains. I journey to the top of their peaks and get to experience this high altitude world on one of the most picturesque highways in the country. The long gentle turns and the rapid inclines lift me into a higher world that few people get to experience. With the CD playing in the background, I enjoy being in a corner of the world where few will ever venture. Here, I feel tall.

This circle route is one of my favorite drives in the province because of the scenic contrasts. From flat, bleak prairie to the heights of the Rocky Mountains. Even in August, with the temperatures near 25C, I find patches of snow in the Highwood Pass. It looks out of place. It feels out of place.

This highway is never crowded. Calgarians consider this area not as back-country but as a part of our backyard. The area is so large (4200 square km), you never feel isolated or abandoned despite the lack of development. There's very limited commercial activity in the area (i.e. Nakiska Ski area) and this is the way it's going to stay. In fact, the last time the provincial government tried to commercialize the area, Albertans made it clear that further development would not be allowed.

This scenic drive is always spectacular. I've driven it in the early summer, late summer, fall and early winter and each time, have been mesmerized with its changing beauty. One trip that stands above all the rest was a night drive during a full moon. The entire landscape was like the moon's surface but teaming with life. Bears, elk and mountain goats forage along the side of the road while the mountain faces were painted in the bluish gray light of the moon. The only phrase to describe such an experience is ... spectacularly peaceful.

Hollywood Highlights

The following movies were partly taped in the K-Country:

- Unforgiven (1992) - Clint Eastwood, a retired gunslinger, reluctantly takes on one last job.

- John Q (2002) - Denzel Washington's movie about the father left with no choices. The car crash scene was taped in the Kananaskis.

- Snow Dogs (2002) - Cuba Gooding Jr. inherits a team of sled dogs.

- X Men II (2003) - Halle Berry & Patrick Stewart came to K-country to fight General William Stryker.

- Brokeback Mountain (2005) - The gay cowboy epic really took place in Alberta instead of Wyoming.

- The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) - A story of Jesse James (played by Brad Pitt) in the twilight months of his infamous life.

Travel Time: 3.5 hours from Calgary, 4.0 hours from Canmore, 4.5 hours from Banff

Circle-route times

From Calgary:


Click here for a detailed Google Map.

1. Head west out of Calgary along the Trans Canada Highway (Highway #1) for 70 km (45 minutes)

2. Turn left at Exit 118 onto Highway 40 which will take you into K-Country and through the Highwood Pass. Follow for 120 km (1:15 minutes)

3. Highway 40 turns into Highway 541. Follow for 45 km (30 minutes) until you get to Longview, Alberta (home of country singer Ian Tyson).

4. Turn left onto Highway #22 and travel for 20 km to Black Diamond, Alberta (15 minutes).

5. At the 4-way stop, turn right onto Highway #7 and travel for 20 km to Okotoks, Alberta (10 minutes).

6. Turn left onto 16th Street (Southridge Drive) and go through Okotoks. Continue as this road turns into Northridge Drive and then into Highway 2A (25 minutes).

7. At the interchange, turn north on Highway 2 to take you back to Calgary (15 minutes).

From Canmore:


Click here for a detailed Google Map.

1. Head east out of Canmore along the Trans Canada Highway (Highway #1) for 30 km (20 minutes)

2. Turn right at Exit 118 onto Highway 40 which will take you into K-Country and through the Highwood Pass. Follow for 120 km (1:15 minutes)

3. Highway 40 turns into Highway 541. Follow for 45 km (30 minutes) until you get to Longview, Alberta (home of country singer Ian Tyson).

4. Turn left onto Highway #22 and travel for 20 km to Black Diamond, Alberta (15 minutes).

5. At the 4-way stop, turn left onto Highway #546 and travel for 5 km to Turner Valley, Alberta (5 minutes).

6. At the 4-way stop, turn right Highway 22(Main Street) and go through Turner Valley. Continue on this highway for 50 km (30 minutes).

7. Turn left onto Highway 22X to start your journey westward. Continue for 25 km (25 minutes).

8. Turn right onto Highway 22 and travel through the town of Bragg Creek, past Redwood Meadows and then to the Trans Canada Highway 20 km away (20 minutes).

9. At the interchange, turn west on Highway #1. Travel 70 km to get back to Canmore (40 minutes)

Road Description

Road Conditions

See the Alberta Motor Association Road Report for up-to-the-minute road conditions.

Highway 40-CLOSED

Highway 40 is closed near the midpoint at the Kananaskis Lake Trail Road & at the Hwy 40/ 940 /541 junction from December 1 to June 15 of each year due to the treacherous winter weather at these high elevation. The circle route can not be completed during this 6.5 month period.

Highway 40-OPEN

Highway 40 is open from June 16 to November 30 of each year. This is a two lane highway with steep grades and wide turns. The highway road is in EXCELLENT conditions and is suitable for all vehicles including motorcycles. RVs and campers will find this road passable but the ascents slow. Expect winter conditions in November.

Highway 1

This portion of the Trans Canada Highway from Calgary to Canmore is four-lane wide and is in EXCELLENT condition. Its well maintained throughout the year.

Highway 2

This is a six-lane highway from Okotoks to Calgary and is in EXCELLENT condition. Its well maintained throughout the year.

Highway 2A

This four lane highway is in EXCELLENT condition and is well maintained throughout the year.

Highway 7

This two lane highway is in EXCELLENT condition. A few potholes may be evident in the spring but are usually patched as warmer temperatures arrive.

Highway 22

This two lane highway is in EXCELLENT condition. A few potholes may be evident in the spring but are usually patched as warmer temperatures arrive.

Highway 22X

This two lane highway is in EXCELLENT condition. A few potholes may be evident in the spring but are usually patched as warmer temperatures arrive.

Highway 541

This two-lane highway follows the Highwood river and is in EXCELLENT condition. A few potholes may be evident in the spring but are usually patched as warmer temperatures arrive.

Additional Information

Visitor's Information Centres

For more information, and for hours of operation, please call park staff at the following numbers:

Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre:

(403) 673-3985

Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park Visitor Information Centre:

(403) 678-2400

Peter Lougheed Provincial Park Visitor Information Centre:

(403) 591-6322

Elbow Valley Visitor Information Centre:

(403) 949-4261

Romantic getaways in Canmore, Banff and Calgary at www.heavenlyhideaways.com

Petfriendly accommodations in Canmore, Banff and Calgary at www.petfriendly.ca

Explore the lakes and trails of Kananaskis at www.powderface.ca

If you're going through BC, don't miss these amazing roadside attractions

Find a Canadian Adventure for you!

There are plenty of other adventurous things to do in Canada.

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