Having spent a good many nights camping and a good many days hiking the Kananaskis Lakes region in Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, we thought it was high time we leave the RV behind and spend some time camping at a favourite backcountry campground in the area.
Tucked into a corner of Kananaskis Country near the British Columbia border is a beautiful little campground known as Turbine Canyon; aptly named for where Maude Brook and a stream from the Haig Glacier runoff meet in a swirling rush of frigid water, the force of which has carved a deep crevice.
“Kananaskis Country”, located in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, is named for a Cree warrior that, as legend has it, survived an axe blow to the head. It seems fitting to have named this area and its lakes and river, after one of the local natives since the Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations people have been calling this land home for more than 8000 years.
The 15 km (9 mile) journey into Turbine Canyon Campground begins at the North Interlakes parking lot on Upper Kananaskis Lake where the trail takes you around the North side of the lake and west toward three other campgrounds worthy of future visits, the Point, Three Isle Lake and the Forks Campgrounds.
The terrain is rugged as you journey beneath Mount Indefatigable a favourite with local hikers and scramblers, known for its spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding area. The path is strewn with rocks as you follow the old fire road before heading deep into the forest once well past the lake. At the junction of Three Isle Creek and the Upper Kananaskis River is the “Forks” Campground where our journey takes us north along the river for a time, before the ascent onto the avalanche slopes beneath Mount Putnik.
I had always known this area to be populated by many Grizzly Bears, so I had armed myself well with pepper spray and bear bangers. Even at the lake along the side of the highway I had seen Grizzly Bears walking along the ditches seemingly oblivious to our presence. However, I wasn’t prepared to hear the stories of passing hikers about their close encounter with the Bears near the Turbine Canyon campground just the night before.
Although the Grizzly Bears I had encountered in the past were well behaved and seemed more afraid of me than I was of them, the stories of these hikers seemed to indicate that the Bears at the campground were perfectly happy co-existing with the campers as they fed on nearby berries before the onset of winter. The thought was unsettling to say the least.
The climb to Turbine Canyon Campground carries on for what seems an eternity, however the climb is speckled with spectacular views up and down the river valley, before exiting to an almost level area of meadows and Larch Trees.
Ahead you will get your first glimpses of Haig Glacier, framed between two formidable mountain peaks. The glacier is home to the Beckie Scott High Performance Training Centre, which is used by Canada’s Olympic cross country ski athletes, to train in the summer.
The trail takes you past windswept Lawson Lake. Follow the trail past the Ranger cabin on Maude Brook (I was so relieved to know there were Rangers here); turn right and the campground lies to the north on the brink of Turbine Canyon.
The campground has 12 sites nicely scattered throughout this beautiful area. Food storage lockers and picnic tables are available and are located away from the campsites themselves in order to keep any hungry Grizzly Bears away from the tents.
There is a fee of $12.00 per person per night. Children under 16 free of charge but the still require a permit. A non-refundable reservation fee of $12.00 will be applied to all telephone and advance bookings. Backcountry permits may be purchased in person at the Peter Lougheed Park, Barrier Lake and Elbow Valley visitor information centres, or by phone at 403-678-3136. (toll free anywhere in Alberta by dialing 310-0000).
While at the Turbine Canyon Campground I would highly recommend visiting the Haig Glacier. The 5km (3 mile) trail is a difficult climb across glacial moraines, but it provides some spectacular views of the trail into the campground as well as the glacier itself. Along the way you will come across a training facility I mentioned where skiers train for upcoming sporting events
As for the Grizzly Bears, much to my relief they kept their distance and we ours. Just close enough to get the heart racing from time to time as you explored this wonderful corner of the world and just close enough to be able watch them in their own natural environment, existing as they’ve existed for centuries.
Turbine Canyon campground is definitely a campground the entire family would enjoy.