Part III Best Places to Photograph in the Canadian Rockies
by Dr. Robert Berdan
February 17, 2011
Upper Lake Kananaskis - the water level in this lake fluctuates by 20 feet or more. This lake is arguably the most
scenic vista in the park and it's possible to hike around the lake. Mt. Lyautey is visible in the background.
Kananaskis is an unusual name and its meaning has been misinterpreted by many including the Alberta Government to mean "meeting of the waters'. The word Kananaskis, however is an English corruption of the name of an Indian who got bludgeoned with an axe, apparently in a fight over a woman. The Kananaskis region was thought to have been named by explorer John Palliser for Kin-e-ah-kis, an Indian whose tribal affiliation Palliser never identified, but who was famous for fending off an axe attack (Robert Pennington for National Post see reference link below).
Kananaskis is a provincial park west of Calgary and in Alberta there are no fees to enter the park. From Calgary the park is about a 45 minute drive depending on what entrance to the park you choose. The scenery in Kananaskis is not as spectacular as that in Banff and Jasper National Park, which is probably why it is a provincial park, but some may argue this point. Kananaskis generally is less crowded then Banff and Jasper National Park and when it comes to grizzly bears and moose your chances of seeing these two animals close to the road is greater. On average I find moose in Kananaskis country about 50% of my visits and grizzly bears about 10-20% of the time. Grizzly bears are often found along side of the road in Spring time feeding on dandelions. A good location to spot Grizzlies is near the Highwood pass which is one of the highest points in Canada reachable by road at 2210 meters (see article on this web site by Neil Jolly). The Highwood pass is closed between December 1 and June 15. The easiest way to get to Kananaskis from Calgary is to drive highway 1 and take the turn off before you enter the mountains. You can't miss the turn off as there is a Casino on the corner. You can also access Kananaskis from south of Calgary near Long View and there is also another entrance in to the park in Turner Valley which leads to the Sheep river area. Even closer to Calgary you can access Kananaskis from Bragg Creek and visit the very popular Elbow Falls area. Each region in Kananaskis offers unique photo-opportunities.
Grizzly bears can be seen along highway 93 feeding on dandelions in the Spring time.
Moose are common in Kananaskis along highway 93 along swamps, marshes and licks near Upper Lakes. They also frequent the meadows along Spray lakes road and are especially abundant near Engadine lodge. Best time to see them is early in the morning. In general I encounter moose in Kananaskis in about 50% of my trips to the park.
Upper Lake Kananaskis from the south end - you can hike around the lake and if you hike from this end, about 1 km along the trail you will encounter a bridge and Sarrail falls below. This photograph is available as a postcard in some of the stores in Kananaskis, but you will want to take your own shots - best time is early morning around sunrise.
Sarrail creek photographed from just above the falls. This waterfall fall is an easy short walk along the West shore of Upper lake. To get a photograph like this you have to climb up beside the falls which is only about 30 feet tall.
Kayaking on Lower Lake Kananaskis is common in Summer - you can expect to see loons on the lake, best time is early morning as the lakes can get very windy in the afternoons.
The Galatea trail is popular in summer and offers numerous opportunities to photograph small rapids and waterfalls along the way - this small tributary and waterfall is about 1 km from the entrance the trail head. The trail destination involves some steep uphill hiking so I don't recommend carrying a full pack of camera gear like I did unless you are very fit.
The Highwood pass area has numerous green slopes that are favored by Grizzly bears. Best times to photograph
the slopes are early in the morning and late in the day.
Elbow lake is a short but steep climb in the Highwood pass area. Once you reach the lake hiking is easy and you will often find folks fly fishing in the shallow crystal clear waters that form the head of the Elbow river that flows into Calgary.
Sunrise at Forgetmenot Pond in Kananaskis - another popular spot for fishing. You get to this lake via Bragg Creek.
The Spray Lakes were a string of lakes formed along the Spray River, a tributary of the Bow River. With the damming
of the river, the lakes were united in the Spray Lakes Reservoir (Wikipedia).
One of the first stops along the Spray lakes (dirt road) in Kananaskis is Black prince area. There are picnic tables and trails. I photographed dippers fishing in the river from this point and deer and moose are frequently seen around the parking lot.
Wedge Pond - is a shallow artificial lake that is stocked with trout. You can a walk around this lake in about 20 minutes (see virtual reality movie at the bottom of the page). Wedge Pond is adjacent to highway 93 just past the Golf course. In fact the pond was dredged in order to use some of the soil for the golf course according to Gillean Daffern (see link to her book at the bottom). Moose and other wildlife can occassionaly be seen drinking from the pond.
Wedge Pond is best in the morning when the water often forms a mirror and the aspens around the lake turn yellow-gold usually between the 2nd and 3rd week in September. By the end of September most of the leaves have fallen.
Wedge Pond Kananaskis 360 pan at sunrise
Click on the thumbnail above to view a 360 virtual reality panorama of Wedge Pond
What to bring as far as camera equipment depends on whether you plan to view the park by car or hike into the back country. If you travelling mainly by car and only taking short walks bring all your gear especially a tripod if you want to capture scenery in low light around sunrise. The ideal lens is a wide angle zoom for landscapes and for taking pictures of wildlife a telephoto lens of 200 mm or greater. Also, always have your telephoto lens mounted on the camera and if you are passenger have your camera turned on and ready to shoot as some wildlife like lynx, foxes, and wolves may only make a very brief appearance. One sore point is that it seems that some of the park rangers in Kananaskis are not particularly friendly to photographers especially if you stop to photograph Grizzly bears, make sure you pull well over and if the bear is closeby stay in your car for safety. If you are driving in the dark - slow down! Moose, bighorn sheep and deer frequently cross the road and there have ben several fatalties in the past few years. If you are a professional photographer technically you are supposed to have $2 million liability insurance. If you are filming professionally you are supposed to apply for a permit before hand. Provincial parks in Alberta are multi-use and they allow hunting and fishing with permits, forest harvesting, and cow grazing in certain areas. In summary, Kananaskis is close enough to Calgary that visitors can head out for just a half day trip, there are no fees, it is less crowded than the National Parks and offers abundant wildlife and landscape photo-opportunities. I feel lucky to live close to such a beautiful gem.
Click to play Slide Show to Smooth Groove royalty free music
Frightened Fawn - Wildlife Photo winner by R. Berdan 2010
The poster can be purchased on the Friends of Kananaskis web site or Information center and
other shops in Kananakis.
Another photograph of mine in 2006 won best wildlife - Mother and baby moose (below)