A Drive Through Kananaskis Country
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With Day 6 winding down, I didn't know what to do with myself. In the summer, Banff provides an endless supply of trails to hike, but in winter, the list is limited, and I had already seen most of it. Add to that, those pesky clouds were settling in again. I started to feel depressed about the evening's potential. So I decided to go for a drive out of the mountains, in hopes that I could see some sunshine, if nothing else.
I ended up taking Trans Canada 1 out to the rolling prairies, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Canmore. There was a road that I had never traveled before, Highway 40, that heads south into Kananaskis Country. It's an area which I had always overlooked, under the assumption that the best places to see were around Banff or Lake Louise.
I wasn't certain if the weather would be any better in Kananaskis Country than it was in Canmore or Banff. Looking in the direction of Highway 40 south, the sky looked very volatile. But, I didn't know where else to go, so I decided to give it a try. And boy, am I glad I did.
It only takes a few minutes for Highway 40, the Kananaskis Trail, to leave the prairie behind, and plunge back into the mountains.
As the road twisted around through the hills, I was treated to cloudy views of mountains when looking forward...
... and beautiful blue skies when glancing back to the north.
About 10 kilometers down the road from Highway 1, the Kananaskis Trail skirts by the edge of Barrier Lake. Looking south from the highway, you'll see a jumble of beautiful mountains, that likely include Mt. McDougall and Mt. Lorette. During the winter, you can cross-country ski around the lake, and in the summer, there are hiking trails in the area.
Barrier Lake enjoyed a bit of Hollywood fame, when it played the role of Alkali Lake in X2: X-Men United.
The road appears to provide a straight-shot into the mountains, but it soon turns to the right, and stays at the bottom of the valley.
Mt. Lorette is one of the more noticeable peaks along the highway. It stands 2,469 meters tall (8,101 feet).
Just a bit further south, Mt. Lorette gets smaller, and the tail end of Mt. McDougall dominated the view looking north.
One of the most imposing mountains along the Kananaskis Trail is Mount Kidd, which tops out at 2,958 meters (9,705 feet). But, it's so close to the road, and so tall, that it's tough to get a good look at it, especially in the evening, when the sun sets behind it. It's probably gorgeous in the morning.
Somewhere around Mount Kidd, I decided to turn around. The weather to the south was looking even more threatening, and I knew it would be dark soon, especially in the shadow of the mountains. So, I headed north...
... once again finding a nice place to view Mt. Lorette.
The only place I found along the Kananaskis Trail that was appropriate for a short winter hike, was the Mount Lorette Ponds. These small ponds on the east side of the highway used to be part of the Kananaskis River (which is on the west side of the road). When the highway came through, the river's oxbows were cut off. The ponds were deepened, and are now stocked with fish, making this a popular place to cast a line -- in warmer months.
In winter, you can still take a leisurely walk around the ponds, even though the trails are snow-covered.
I found one spot, near one of the bridges, where the water was moving fast enough to keep the surface from freezing.
After walking around the lakes, I resumed my northbound drive, stopping again at a much larger lake.
This is the northern end of the aforementioned Barrier Lake. There's a road that provides access to some park benches along the northern shore. It would have been a nice, relaxing spot, if the temperature hadn't been below freezing, and the wind hadn't been howling across the frozen lake at tropical storm speeds.
So that's why I stayed in the car. I sat here for a few minutes watching the sun set, while the car rocked back and forth with the wind. I decided it wasn't going to get any more pleasant, any time soon, so I moved along.
I took a detour on Highway 68, the Sibbald Creek Trail. It's a well-maintained dirt road that runs east from Highway 40, through some small hills, then eventually back into the prairie, where it connects with Trans Canada 1. I went up it for a few kilometers, hoping I'd come upon some grand viewpoint, but I didn't find anything worth stopping for, and eventually I turned around.
Back on Highway 1, I paused for one more look towards Kananaskis Country. The weather seemed just as confused as when I started -- but I was still happy that I had made this side trip, into an area I had never seen before.
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