Approximately 180 km of The Great (Trans Canada) Trail is in Kananaskis Country and it can all be hiked or biked (with a few minor diversions). The Great Trail enters Kananaskis Country from Range Road 54 west of Bragg Creek and makes its way across the foothills over mostly well-established trails to Banff Park East Gate. There it leaves K Country for Banff via the Legacy Trail and comes back in at Whitemans Gap via the Spray River and Goat Greek, a distance of about 33 km taking the shortest options through Banff.
This short guide to the Great Trail through Kananaskis Country includes lots of links to maps, and to Trailfinder information screens where you will find more links. Most sections are described in Gillean Daffern’s Kananaskis Country Trail Guides. So get out and explore The Great Trail this summer before the official celebrations in August.
So what kind of a state is The Great Trail through Kananaskis in today?
- While it all follows maintained trails, TCT signage is poor to non-existent on many sections. With some it doesn’t matter; for others you will need to pay attention to your navigation.
- There is a significant gap in the route through the Three Sisters development in Canmore. Stewart Creek is still under construction and Smith Creek development hasn’t even started. It will be at least five years before the final route of the TCT is established and navigable.
- Some minor trail work on the High Rockies Trail and the building of the suspension bridge will be done this year.
- Two short sections of the first 2.4 km from RR54 to Boundary Ridge are under construction.
- Completion of the new section of Tom Snow Trail North up Moose Creek and a viable connection to Spruce Woods day-use area may be done this year.
- For thru hikers or bikers, there are very few campgrounds en route, and many of the available campgrounds require pre-booking. Backcountry campgrounds require a Backcountry Permit. Random Camping is allowed in Wildland Parks and Public Land Use Zones as long as you are at least 1 km from a backcountry facility or roadway. Random camping is not allowed in Provincial Parks or Provincial Recreation Areas.
Let’s look at the various sections, working from east to west.
Range Road 54 to West Bragg day-use area – 7 km, s-n 304 m, n-s 256 m
The Great Trail enters Kananaskis Country from Range Road 54 west of Bragg Creek. Turn off the West Bragg road at a major crossroad about 1.6 km before the K Country Boundary. The official trail starts on the right after 1.6 km. At present, the connector from Bragg Creek along RR54 is still under construction and there is no parking available. Head about 250 m along a soggy fence line to a good logging road. Turn left and follow the road for 1.8 km to within a few metres of the cross-country ski trail loop. A new trail, flagged, but not built, climbs for 0.6 km to join Boundary Ridge trail. Climb up onto Boundary Ridge and traverse it before descending easily to West Bragg day-use area. See map
West Bragg day-use area to Spruce Woods day-use area (resource road crossing) – 17 km, s-n 160 m, n/s 140 m
This is the longest leg of the Great Trail between access points in Kananaskis Country. From West Bragg day-use area follow Mountain Road to Moose Connector. Turn right on Moose Connector, then left on the southern leg of Moose Loop. Tom Snow Trail South trail comes in from the left after about 800 m. Follow the combined Tom Snow–Moose Loop for another 2.5 km to where Tom Snow heads left to the height-of-land between Bragg Creek and Moose Creek. After this point you are on Tom Snow Trail North, following for the most part a brand new trail to the access point for Spruce Woods day-use area. Currently, it is not easy to access the day-use area due to 2013 flood damage that has not been repaired — hopefully this summer! Meanwhile make your way across an open area to the Husky resource road. You can get to Spruce Woods day-use area by following this up to the Forest Demonstration access road and turning right to the day-use area.
If you are going straight through to Dawson day-use area, continue along Tom Snow Trail North. Arrive at a T-junction with Dawson day-use area to the right and Cox Hill – north ridge, the next leg of The Great Trail, straight on.
Dawson day-use area to Lusk Pass trailhead – 13.3 km, e-w 800 m, w/e 680 m
Lusk Pass trailhead to Barrier Dam day-use area – 12.4 km, e-w 230 m, w-e 40 m
Lusk Pass trail is mainly a dark forest trail with a few steepish hills that crosses a low pass between Powderface Trail (road) and Barrier Dam. Shortly after you cross Lusk Creek the official Great Trail turns left at a T-junction. (A shorter, rougher trail, the pre-flood route, carries straight on and joins the official trail close to Lusk Creek day-use area. See map.)
Follow the official trail to a T-junction with Baldy Pass trail and turn right. Follow “The Old Mill Road” down to yet another T-junction where you turn left on the old Lusk Pass trail to the Barrier Biogeoscience Institute field station. See detail map for the route through the field station to Barrier Dam day-use area.
Barrier Dam day-use area to Heart Creek parking at Lac des Arcs – 13.8 km, s-n 680 m, n-s 590 m
Head across Barrier Dam on Prairie View trail for 1.3 km to a T-junction with Stoney Trail. Turn left and follow it 2.5 km as it parallels the lake to the Jewell Pass trail. A little farther on is Jewell Bay backcountry campground. Turn right. The Jewell Pass trail is a forest walk alongside the creek to a viewless pass. Prairie View comes in from the right. The next trail to the right is the route down Quaite Valley to the Trans-Canada Highway. Mostly in trees, it passes Quaite Valley backcountry campground, then descends a flood-repaired section of track that may be rerouted in the next couple of years. Just before the highway a trail heads left to Heart Creek day-use area in 3.2 km. See map
Heart Creek parking to Wind Valley trailhead – 7.6 km, 90 m
Head west from the Heart Creek parking on Bow Link trail. Follow it, sometimes close to the highway, to George Biggy Sr. Road at Deadman Flat. The Great Trail will eventually climb the road (1.4 km, 110 m) to Wind Valley trailhead, then use the yet-to-be-built extension to Three Sisters Pathway on its way to Canmore.
Wind Valley trailhead to Stewart Creek pavillion. TCT map route – 7.2 km, e-w 240 m, w-e 300 m
The final route for the next section through Three Sisters Mountain Village lands is unknown. Stewart Creek area is still being developed and The Town of Canmore has recently delayed approval of the Area Structure Plan for Smith Creek.
At present (May 2017) there are two options to get to the start of Three Sisters Pathway at a pavilion on the corner of Three Sisters Parkway and Stewart Creek Way:
1. It is possible, but a bit of a flog, to follow the official route as shown on the interactive Great Trail map. This route may not be the final route as it will probably be in the wildlife corridor.
2. A better option is to use Quebexican. 5.5 km e-w 210 m w-e 180 m
Stewart Creek pavillion to Canmore Mineside trailhead (Bow River Bridge) – 6.8 km 50 m
From the pavilion follow Three Sisters Pathway to Mineside trailhead at the Bow River bridge in Canmore. Mineside is the site of Canmore’s TCT Pavillion.
The Great Trail leaves K Country for Banff via Legacy Trail and comes back in at Whitemans Gap –
If you want to continue on the Great Trail to Banff, cross the road bridge and head north through Riverview Park to Engine Bridge. Frequent trail signs indicate the route. Turn right and follow the old rail grade to Railway Avenue and on to Highway 1A. Head north along it to the start of the Legacy Trail at the Travel Alberta Visitor Information Centre (3.5 km). From here it is 4.5 km to Banff Park East Gate where the Great Trail leaves Kananaskis Country for Banff. It comes back in via the Spray River and Goat Creek at the Park boundary near Goat Creek trailhead.
High Rockies Trail Whiteman Gap to Elk Pass and into BC – 82 km
Visit our mini-site for a full description with maps and track log of The High Rockies Trail.