Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, near Canmore, Alberta, is often overshadowed by other parks in the Canadian Rockies—but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Hiking trails wind through mature forests, traverse alpine meadows and lead along narrow and steep mountain ridges. Not only is the park remarkable, but Highway 40 has become a serious contender on my list of top roads to travel. A possible wildlife encounter and a new mountain view around every corner—what more can you ask for?
The highway—nicknamed ‘Bighorn Highway’—takes you right through Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and over the highest paved road in Canada. Its summit, Highwood Pass, reaches 2,206 metres in elevation. Although a much longer route to and from Calgary, compared to the Trans-Canada, Highway 40 is unique and spectacular alternative. However, there’s only a short window to take this route. In an effort to protect the elk’s feeding habitat during the harsh winter months, the highway and park are closed from December to June.Kira Hak
Before setting off to explore, my husband and I stopped at the Peter Lougheed Discovery Centre to grab a map and check for any trail closures or special notices. After speaking with the knowledgeable rangers, we chose to start with the Ptarmigan Cirque Trail, a 4.5-kilometre strenuous roundtrip hike with a good payout. The trail took us past a prehistoric glacier, through alpine landscapes and across rocks formed from an ancient seabed. It was a stunning locale to relax and watch the sunset that evening. On our way back to camp at the Interlakes Campground, we saw a moose and her mature calf grazing in wetlands on the side of the road. A beautiful sunset hike and a rare wildlife experience followed by a hearty lentil and sweet potato curry put us to bed that night with full bellies and wide smiles.Kira Hak
The next day, we set out on the Rawson Lake Trail. This four-kilometre (one-way) hike took us up a steady incline through a subalpine forest and ended at an alpine lake surrounded by towering mountain ridges. When we made it to the lake, we laid down a blanket along the shore, shared a picnic lunch and watched as a group of determined individuals scrambled up to Sarrail Ridge. Although not on the park’s list of trails, it is still popular for those willing to add another grueling kilometer and 1,000-metre elevation gain to their day. After some serious persuasion, I was able to convince my husband to undertake the steep and narrow slope with me.Kira Hak
The ascent was difficult. I required frequent breaks to stop and catch my breath. During one such pause, I stopped to snap a photo. I was just lifting the camera to my face when I heard what sounded like a person running down the chute. My brain realized, a second too late, that it was moving too quick to be a person, and the boulder came flying past me, smashing 10 feet from where I stood. This experience was a close call and reminder of the dangers associated with climbing mountains. Take extra care on this section, and always be alert for falling rocks from above.
There were many times during that long one kilometer where I second-guessed my decision to climb up there. But when I dragged my tired body up and over the last little bit and took my first look over the ridge at the view of the brilliant turquoise colored Kananaskis Lake below, I nearly burst into tears. Half in amazement, half in relief to have made it. The astonishing view diminished all memories of the struggle it took to get there. It was well-worth the effort. And my husband? He ended up being happy I forced him along, too.
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