If you ever find yourself in Kananaskis Country, make sure that you do not leave the Canadian Rockies before paying homage to its mountain scenery, fresh air, and breathtaking natural beauty. One way to do that is to plan a camping trip to the magnificent Elbow River Provincial Recreation Area. A very short drive, southwest of Bragg Creek, this recreation area serves as a great starting point of your journey to explore the beautiful and wild Kananaskis Country.
The Paddy’s Flat campground in the park more than welcomes campers from far and wide to come and claim a spot for an enjoyable overnight camping trip. The park allows you to spend one of the best nights of your life, right under the starry skies and above the banks of Elbow River. In the morning, set out on foot to explore the deeper woodland regions, or grab a boat and explore the river. If it's tranquility you seek, this is the right place to camp.
Elbow River Provincial Recreation Area makes sure that campers get the full experience of living in nature by providing only the basic amenities such as toilets and drinking water. The rest is as primitive as it gets. Grab a horse and enjoy the ride, go mountain biking on the trails, take your family on an interpretive trail or brave one of the many hiking trails Kananaskis Country is renowned for.
Elbow River Provincial Recreation Park is located only 20 km (12.5 miles) west of Bragg Creek, on Highway 66. If you reach Bragg Creek, then finding the area from there shouldn’t be a problem at all.
From Calgary, the recreation area is around 65 km (45 miles) and it takes about an hour to get to the park’s main entrance. From Calgary, get on Crowchild Trail southwest from 6 Ave, and Bow Trail. At the end of the Bow Trail, take Highway 8 West and Highway 22 to get on to Highway 66 in Rocky View County. Follow Highway 66 west, for a little over ten minutes, and you’ll see your destination.
Elbow River Provincial Area has one huge campground, Paddy’s Flat. It is located among the mountains, near the trails for horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking. This campground boasts 98 well-treed and unserviced campsites suited for both recreational vehicles and tents. All the campsites are amply spaced and spread evenly over 4 separate loops, allowing privacy and ease of movement to campers. Some of these sites back right into Elbow River.
Since the recreation area is located so close to Calgary, it doesn’t take long for the sites to fill up rapidly during the weekends. Facilities and amenities provided by the campground include an amphitheater, interpretive trails, water pumps, dry toilets, playground, fire pits, and picnic tables. Dry firewood is also provided at the campground for a fee. Most trails are groomed, hand-curated, and property marked allowing for a nice walk, hike, or trail running.
The sites cannot be registered and only provided on a first come first serve basis.
While the water can be obtained from a hand pump at this site, Alberta Parks recommend bringing your drinking water.
Almost 20 trails wind and loop around Elbow River Provincial Recreation Area. All trails are of different lengths and range in difficulty level from easy to extremely challenging. There’s a trail for every kind of hiker; those with families, those with friends, and those who like to take to the wild on their own.
One of the more popular hiking trails is the Fullerton Loop Trail, which is about 7 km (4.4 miles) in length. It takes hikers past woodlands, streams, a river, and some rocky terrain. The trail is of moderate difficulty and the best part is that your pets can accompany you on this trail as well.
The proximity of the campground to the river allows campers to leisurely enjoy Elbow River for hours on end. Stretches along the river allow campers to paddle their way across on the slow water current while other stretches of water are fast and rapid, making for a perfect tubing experience.
During early summer, the river also offers excellent opportunities to go kayaking, rafting, and whitewater rafting and enjoy the natural and raw beauty of the region up-close.
Anglers get some great action at Elbow River as it has a healthy population of brown trout, rainbow trout, mountain whitefish, and northern pike. Winter fishing is also allowed here, but not through the ice. Make sure you bring your fishing license if you want to try your luck here. This river offers some of the best fishing spots for trout and pike game fish.
Paddy’s Flat interpretive trail is 2 km (1.25 mile) long and starts at the campground, loops through the foliage and mixed woods, right beside the shifting river and then back on to the campground. This trail allows hikers to enjoy the diverse flora and fauna of the area, that can only be found in places with more moisture. Balsam poplar trees and willows are some of the plant species that grow here. Along this interpretive trail, you’ll learn several interesting facts such as the stories of the rock and what caused the trees to bear such marks.
This park is generous with its trails allowing all kinds of athletes to practice their skills amidst nature. Similarly, there are several trails and loops in the recreation area that allow mountain bikers to zoom by in their bikes. Diamond T Loop is a 4 km (2.5 mile) loop good for all skill levels with its steep hills, roots, and rocks.
Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trail is another out back trail meant for more experienced mountain bikers. It is 13 km (8 miles) long, with beautiful wildflowers along the way and the chance to spot plenty of wildlife.
Interestingly enough, this recreation area with all its trails and recreation opportunities is also a very popular spot for a picnic. It features picnic tables, a playground, and a nice day-use area. Picnickers can enjoy a wonderful river-side picnic experience among natural beauty that is truly stunning and unique to this part of the world