RVing Alberta’s Highwood Pass & Kananaskis Trail
The highest paved road in Canada, Highwood Pass reaches over 2200 meters of elevation. It offers incredible scenery, great hiking, and lots off opportunity to see wildlife. It’s popular with campers, hikers, cyclists and motorcyclists and is one of the best RVing trips you can do in Alberta! This guide will explain everything you need to know for RVing Alberta’s Highwood Pass.
When to Explore the Highwood Pass & Kananaskis Trail
The best time to explore the Highwood Pass area is from June 16 to October 30, depending on the weather. Remember, the pass is closed seasonally from December 1 to June 15 to protect wildlife, particularly the many Bighorn sheep that live in the area.
Summer will offer the most hiking opportunities and warmest weather. Fall is also beautiful in this area due to the larches, but the weather can be cold and snowy early in the season.
The Highwood Pass Kananaskis Trail Route
The Highwood Pass is part of Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) and Highway 541. There are two starting points: the north and the south. The south starting point is the more popular option.
If you do the drive straight through, it will take about 4 hours.
Access from the South
Coming from Calgary, you head south to Longview. You can take the scenic Highway 22 (Cowboy Trail) by taking 22X west out of the city and turning left onto Highway 22. Alternatively, you can take the faster but less scenic Highway 2, turning west on Highway 543 to reach Longview.
From Longview, head west on Highway 541. This will turn into Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) when you reach Kananaskis Country. Follow this highway through the scenic mountains and river valleys where you will reach Highwood Pass. From the high point, continue along the road until you reach the TransCanada Highway (Highway 1). You can head west to Canmore or Banff or go east to head back to Calgary.
Access from the North
From Calgary, head west on the TransCanada Highway (Highway 1). Turn left (south) when you reach Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail), just past Morley. Follow this highway to the Highwood Pass. Continue and Highway 40 will turn into Highway 541. Once you reach Longview, you can head back to Calgary by heading north on Highway 22 (Cowboy Trail) for the scenic route. For a faster drive, you can take Highway 543 east to Highway 2 and head north back to the city.
Access from Banff
If you’re coming from Banff, Canmore or B.C., head east on the TransCanada Highway (Highway 1). Turn right (south) on Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail).
Driving the Highwood Pass & Kananaskis Trail in an RV
You’ll need to purchase a Kananaskis Pass to drive or camp along the Highwood Pass route. You can buy the pass online and register up to two license plates. You can also buy the pass at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centers. A day pass is $15 and a yearly pass is $90.
We recommend driving the Highwood Pass during daylight hours, mostly so you can take in the gorgeous views and get in a hike or bike ride before you get to your campground. There’s also lots of wildlife and cattle along this route, so it’s best to avoid driving at twilight and in the dark.
As the highest paved road in Canada, it should be no surprise that there are steep sections. The maximum grade is seven per cent, so it’s important your tow vehicle and brakes are up to the challenge. Make sure your rig isn’t overloaded and that your brakes are in working order before tackling the pass.
Keep in mind there are minimal services. You can gas up in Longview and the Bearspaw Kananaskis Travel Centre at either end of the route. There’s also a gas station at Fortress Junction, Highwood House and Eden Valley.
Where to Camp when RVing the Kananaskis Trail
Going from south to north, here are places you can camp along the Highwood Pass route. Keep in mind, random camping is not allowed in Kananaskis. You can not park overnight in any parking lots, rest areas or on the road. There is a booking fee of $12 for each campground reservation and change or cancellation fees may apply. Some campgrounds may not be open year round (most are open from mid-May to mid-October). There may be reduced amenities in the shoulder seasons due to weather.
Tales & Trails Campground
Located on the edge of Longview, this campground has 19 sites with power. There are flush toilets, showers, potable water and a sani-dump. Open May 1 to the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. Power sites are $30 per night and firewood is available for a fee. You can reserve by calling or showing up.
Located alongside the Highwood River, this campground has 13 unserviced sites available for $31 per night. There is a water pump, pit toilets and a picnic shelter. There is a sani-deump station available nearby at Highwood House.
Lower Lake Campground
This reservable campground has 83 unserviced sites available for $31 per night. Located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, this campground has a playground, pit toilets, potable water and firewood is available for purchase. Kananaskis Lakes, hiking trails and biking paths are close by.
Boulton Creek Campground
Located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, this campground offers 86 unserviced campsites for $31 per night, 37 power/water campsites for $47 per night, and 32 full hookup campsites for $55 per night. The are paid showers and firewood is available for purchase. The campground is reservable online and has a store, equipment rental, hiking trails, bike paths, flush toilets, potable water and sewage disposal. It is very close to Kananaskis Lakes.
A popular campground, Elkwood has 61 unserviced campsites for $31 per night and 69 power and water sites for $47 per night. There is an interpretive program, showers, hiking trails, bike paths, flush and pit toilets, potable water and is very close to Kananaskis Lakes. Firewood is available for purchase. This campground is reserveable online.
A first-come, first-served campground with 50 unserviced sites for $31 per night. There is a nearby boat launch, pit toilets, potable water, sewage disposal, and a playground.
Eau Claire Campground
Located on Highway 40, this campground is first-come, first-served. There are 51 unserviced campsites for $31 per night. There is a playground, potable water, pit toilets, secure food storage and a pay phone. There is firewood available for purchase.
Mount Kidd RV Park
A very popular campground, Mount Kidd RV Park is located in an incredibly scenic spot with lots of activities. Unserviced sites are $37.24 per night, electricity only sites are $46.97 per night, water and electricity sites are $49.28 per night and full hook up sites are $55 per night. There is a sanitation dump and potable water available seasonally. There are bike paths, hiking travel trailers, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, volleyball court, playgrounds, a wading pool, showers and flush toilets. It is also located next to a golf course. We recommend reserving your campsite as soon as you can due to the campground’s popularity.
Willow Rock Campground
This campground has 90 unserviced campsites for $31 per night and 34 15-amp sites for $39 per night. There is potable water, flush toilets, a sani-dump, picnic shelters and a playground. You can also use the showers and laundry facilities for a small fee. Firewood is available for purchase as well. This campground is just west of the turnoff for Highway 40 Kananaskis Trail on the TransCanada. The entire campground is first-come, first-served.
Bow Valley Campground
Located just west of the Highway 40 Kananaskis Trail turnoff on the TransCanada, there are 36 unserviced campsites for $31 and 131 power/water campsites for $47 per night. This campground has potable water from May 19 to September 19 and offers a dump station. The campground has flush toilets, paid showers, a store, and playgrounds. You can also purchase firewood. This campground is 100% reservable (first-come, first-served if sites are still available).
What to Do when RVing the Highwood Pass & Kananaskis Trail
The Highwood Pass route is surrounded by provincial parks and provincial recreation areas. All along this route you will have scenic views and access to incredible outdoor adventures.
Birding & Wildlife Viewing
This area is home to 130 bird species and many different animals including Bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk and deer.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
Highwood Pass and Highway 40 is a popular route for cyclists. The route is steep but it’s an incredible accomplishment if you’ve got the fitness! There are also paved bike paths and mountain biking trails in the area. The area around Kananaskis Village offers quite a few easier trails. Some popular routes include:
- Bill Milne Trail: 9.7 kilometers one way of paved pathway with 133 meters of climbing. This path takes you from Kananaskis Village to Wedge Pond.
- High Rockies: A trek with varying levels of difficulty from green to black. You can do sections, with the most popular being Chester-Sawmill.
- Loomis Lake: 13.4 kilometers with 743 meters of elevation gain. A more advanced trail due to mud and loose rock, can hike to a lake once it gets too steep to bike.
- Peter Lougheed Provincial Park also offers a number of paved bike trails with gradual hills.
- Pocaterra: 9.9 kilometers with 324 meters of descent if you start from the north.
- Ribbon Creek: A 4 kilometer gentle ride through the forest alongside a creek.
- Terrace Trail: 9.5 kilometers with 162 meters of elevation gain. There is a shorter loop of only 3 kilometers that’s great for a shorter ride.
- Troll Falls: A 3.2 kilometer easy loop suitable for all ages.
You can enjoy fishing while exploring Highwood Pass with populations of rainbow, brown, brook, cutthroat, bull and lake trout, Arctic grayling and mountain white fish. You must have a fishing license and follow the Alberta Fishing Regulations. Lakes are open year-round for fishing but there are limits. Stream fishing is seasonal and no bait is allowed.
There are two 18-hole golf courses at Kananaskis Country Golf Course, located near Kananaskis Village and Mount Kidd RV Park.
There are countless incredible hikes along Highway 40 and the Highwood Pass. There’s something for everyone, from the short easy hikes to long, difficult treks. Here are a few of our favourite easy and moderate hikes:
- Arethusa Cirque Route: A 4.5 kilometer hike with excellent views.
- Barrier Lake: The full loop via Stoney Trail is 7.2 kilometers. Starting from the Barrier Lake Day Use, you walk along the lake into the forest. A rather steep but doable climb brings you to a beautiful outlook over the lake and mountains. You can turn around and go back the way you came or continue to Stoney Trail and do a loop, coming back along the lake. If you’re looking for a longer hike, you can instead choose to do Jewell Pass (16 kilometers).
- Cat Creek Waterfall: A 2.6 kilometer, easy hike to small waterfalls.
- Elbow Lake Loop: A four kilometer loop around Elbow Lake with great views.
- Galatea Lakes: A 17 kilometer moderate beautiful hike follows a creek up to glacial lakes. You can keep climbing a steeper section up above the treeline to see more lakes.
- Pocaterra Trail: A favourite for many, Pocaterra Trail is 20 kilometers with great views.
- Ptarmigan Cirque: Famous for its larches, this 3.5 kilometer hike is a great one year-round.
- Ribbon Creek: Do the loop meandering through the woods alongside Ribbon Creek. Great views and lovely trail. You can go on to Ribbon Falls, however there is a difficult section involving chains.
- Troll Falls: An easy 3.5 kilometer hike through the woods with a waterfall.
- Widow Maker: 4.2 kilometer moderate out and back hike. You walk along the river with a gentle incline.
All-Trails is a great app to find a hike in the area.
A small village just off of Highway 40, there are lots of walking and biking trails, a sports field, basketball court, playground, tennis courts and is home to some shops, restaurants, hotels and the Kananaskis Nordic Spa. Kananaskis Outfitters are also located here.
Longview is a great place to stop for a meal (although if you’re planning to go to the renowned Longview Steakhouse, make sure you book ahead). There are some cute shops and you must try the famous beef jerky. Nearby is the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site
Looking to relax? The Nordic Spa is located in Kananaskis Village just off of Highway 40 and is a great place to stop when RVing the Highwood Pass in Alberta. Enjoy the hydrotherapy pools, get a massage, and sample some delicious food. There are five hydrotherapy pools, two steam rooms, two types of sauna and areas for rest and relaxation.
There are tons of places to stop on the Highwood Pass drive for a picnic. The day-use areas are a great place as they’ll usually be equipped with picnic tables, pit toilets, garbage receptacles and maybe even cooking shelters. You can also picnic elsewhere, but be sure to pack out all of your garbage and try not to disturb vegetation or wildlife.
The water by Highwood Pass is often very cold and water levels can fluctuate wildly. Most of the area’s waterways are recommended for experienced paddlers only. Many of the lakes also have floating logs and are often very windy. It’s recommended that you avoid kayaking, canoeing or boating on these lakes and rivers unless you have the expertise and significant experience in handling the conditions.
There are boat launches at Upper Lake Day Use Area, Canyon Day Use Area and Barrier Lake Lower Day Use Area. You can also hand launch where possible.
There are tour companies that do white water rafting including Kananaskis Whitewater Rafting, Chinook River, and Canadian Rockies Rafting.
It is popular to dip your toes in the ice-cold lakes and rivers! Great for cooling off after a hike or bike ride.