Exploring Alberta’s Crown Land: Kananaskis – Public Land Use Zone

Kananaskis Conservation Pass Required for Parking in Kananaskis

As of June 1, 2021 – The Alberta government charges PLUZ and Park users for parking in Kananaskis country in order to recover some of the costs associated with maintaining the land.

You can purchase a conservation pass here (~$15/day or ~$90/year)

Kananaskis is a Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) found in Southern Alberta. Like other PLUZ, Kananaskis is a popular place for backcountry campers and off-road enthusiasts. Kananaskis is probably the busiest PLUZ in Alberta due to its close proximity to both Calgary and to Banff. It has some of the most famous mountains and hikes in Canada.

Kananaskis is the largest of 4 PLUZ that make up Kananaskis Country – the others being Sibbald Snow Vehicle PLUZ, Cataract Creek Snow Vehicle PLUZ, and McLean Creek PLUZ.

See Also: Ultimate List of All PLUZ (Crown Land) In Alberta

Official Crown Land Camping Alberta Facebook Group
TexasNorth has partnered with the Crown Land Camping Alberta Facebook group with the intention of sharing our crown land experiences and to become better stewards of all of the beautiful crown land that Alberta has to offer!

This group is the largest crown land group in Alberta and has been instrumental in my adventures in Alberta’s Public Land Use Zones.

Read about my experience with Crown Land Camping Alberta
Photo of Mount Kidd In Kananaskis PLUZ

What is the Ecology of the Kananaskis PLUZ?

Kananaskis contains subalpine, alpine, and montane regions. The subalpine regions are found higher in elevation than the upper foothill montane regions but below the alpine region. The subalpine zone has cooler/wetter summers and colder winters. Vegetation in this region is largely lodgepole pine forests at lower elevations, and spruce and fir trees found higher up. Lastly, the alpine region of Kananaskis PLUZ exists above the treeline on the mountains. Climate is similar to the subalpine regions. These cold temperatures ensure that snow remains on top of the mountains well into the summer. Only low lying plants and lichens are able to grow in the alpine regions. Lower in elevation, there is the montane foothills which consist primarily of coniferous trees such as douglas fir and lodgepole pine with some Aspen mixing within. Temperatures in the montane regions in Kananaskis country are unique due to the chinook winds that the area receives in the wintertime. It is not unusual to see temperature increases of 20-30 degrees Celsius overnight[1].

What kind of wildlife exists in the Kananaskis PLUZ?

There are many different types of mammals that live within the Kananaskis PLUZ including black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, deer, wolves, and mountain lions. In higher regions, you will also find mountain goats and bighorn sheep. There is also a vast variety of birds that reside in the Kananaskis PLUZ including various sparrows and finches.

How big is Kananaskis PLUZ?

Kananaskis is a large Public Land Use Zone spanning approximately 1128 square kilometers (435 square miles) across the southern, eastern slopes of the Alberta Rockies. It contains 3 other PLUZ designated for motorized activities.

Highway 40 at the Highwood Pass on the south end of Kananaskis PLUZ

How to get to Kananaskis PLUZ

Getting to Kananaskis PLUZ is actually fairly simple. Due to its size, there are many ways to access Kananaskis PLUZ.

Starting from the city of Calgary, Alberta (Northern end of K-Country)

  1. Leave Calgary on the TransCanada Highway (or Highway 1-A if you are feeling adventurous – Though do be very careful as this is one of the more dangerous stretches of road in Alberta due to its narrow shoulders and a relatively high proportion of drunk/reckless driving through the tight corners)
    • If you are on the Transcanada Highway, the PLUZ begins about 5km past the Stoney Nakoda Resort. Other than a few PRA and Bow Valley Provincial Park, this region is entirely crown land until Canmore.
    • If you are on Highway 1A, the road will wind through several small mining establishments however the regions behind and around those are crown land. The private ranches along 1A end around the town of Seebe (now a ghost town).
  2. The majority of the PLUZ is easily accessible from Highway 40 (the Stoney Nakoda Resort road) and this road extends right down the center of the PLUZ.
    • For montane regions in the Sibbald PLUZ you will want to turn onto Highway 68 right before Barrier Lake. You can also access this road from right before Scotts Hill on the Transcanada heading west.
  3. Highway 40 will eventually wrap around the bottom of the mountain range head back east out of the PLUZ and into the town of Longview, Alberta.
    • Cataract Creek PLUZ is accessible on this bottom portion of Highway 40 VIA turning south on Highway 940 (closed between December 1 and May 1)

Access to Kananaskis from the South

  1. From the town of Longview, Alberta – Drive west on Highway 541 (turns into Highway 40) and follow the above directions in reverse
The view from the east side of Mount Rundle the peak in the photo is HaLing Peak and it is a popular mountain to climb. You can see Canmore on the left and Grassi Lakes is just below the reservoir. Aside from Canmore, this is all on the western border of the Kananaskis PLUZ (the dirt road is the top of the cliffside climb mentioned in the ‘secret route’ below).

Access to Kananaskis VIA ‘secret’ Canmore Route

There is a road hidden in the back of Canmore that you can take to access some of the westernmost regions of the Kananaskis PLUZ. Warning for the faint hearted: this road does start alongside some steep cliffsides up a mountain. There are guard rails and it is a decently busy road however I have definitely scared myself a bit before.

Starting from Three Sisters Parkway exit in Transcanada in Canmore (the first Canmore exit)

  1. Turn right onto Three Sisters Parkway (Highway 742) at the 4 way intersection south of the TransCanada highway.
  2. Highway 742 will eventually jog to the right (there will be the option to keep going but that road will end). There should be signage indicating this, but there is also a stop sign on the straight through.
  3. Highway 742 will then jog again to the left. This one should be easy to see because it is the next left turn after the first jog. Note that this is also the direction of the Canmore Nordic Center.
  4. Follow Highway 742 around the reservoir and eventually it will head up the mountain. If you want to do an easy hike with a gorgeous lake at the end, the Grassi Lakes trailhead is along this road as well.
  5. Highway 742 runs alongside several of the Kananaskis lakes on the westernmost portion of the PLUZ before eventually connecting to Highway 40. At this T-Intersection, Longview will be south (right) and Stoney Nakoda Resort will be north (left).

What is Allowed at Kananaskis PLUZ?

ActivityKananaskis PLUZ Rules
CampingRandom backcountry camping is allowed at Kananaskis PLUZ provided that all campsites and fires are set back at least 1km from any Recreation Area, Provincial Park, or public roadway.
Motorized ActivitiesOff Highway Vehicles (OHV) are not allowed to be used at Kananaskis PLUZ. OHV includes motorcycles, ATVs, Side by sides, and snowmobiles. Trucks and SUVs are not allowed off road at Kananaskis PLUZ.

Kananaskis’ other PLUZ do however allow for motorized activities:

OHV/Truck Off Road: McLean Creek PLUZ
Snowmobile Use: Sibbald PLUZ or Cataract Creek PLUZ
Non-Motorized ActivitiesHiking, Equestrian, and Cross Country skiing are allowed at Kananaskis PLUZ. Mountain biking at Kananaskis should be acceptable provided you aren’t constructing ramps and sticking to existing pathways.

Hunting is permitted at Kananaskis PLUZ provided that you are following the Alberta Hunting Regulations.

FishingFishing is permitted at Kananaskis PLUZ provided that you are following Alberta’s Fishing Regulations.
Note that Alberta could alter these regulations at any time

Rules for Horses In Kananaskis PLUZ

Horses are permitted in Kananaskis, however they must be tied up at least 100 meters back from any lakeshore. Alberta Parks doesn’t want horses tied to trees however because this can damage the trees. Many people will tie their horses to their trailers instead, but if you do this – the horse must not be able to reach the drip line of any tree (basically not under the canopy of any particular tree). Additionally, equestrians cannot use electric fences at all on any Crown Land in Kananaskis Country.

What is near Kananaskis PLUZ?

Other PLUZ: McLean Creek PLUZ (within), Sibbald Snow Vehicle PLUZ (within), Cataract Creek Snow Vehicle (within), Livingston PLUZ (south), Ghost PLUZ (north)

Nearby Parks: Little Elbow, Cobble Flats, McLean Creek, Gooseberry, Fir Creek, Highwood Junction, Strawberry, Etherington, Lantern Creek, Picklejar, Lineham, Elbow Falls, Elbow Launch, Evan-Thomas PRA (largest one in Kananaskis; also location of Nakiska Ski Area), Old Baldy Pass, Lusk Creek, Sibbald Lake, Sibbald Pond, Dawson, Heart Creek, and Wildhorse Provincial Recreation Areas. Bow Valley Provincial Park, Canmore Nordic Center Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and Sheep River Provincial Park. Banff National Park.

Closest Accommodations: Kananaskis Mountain Lodge by Marriot (Kananaskis Village)

Closest Restaurant: Forte (Kananaskis Village)

Closest Gas Station: Fortress Junction Service Centre (mid-PLUZ), Stoney Nakoda Esso (TransCanada Region), Shell (Bragg Creek Region), Eden Valley Gas Bar (south region)

Closest Town(s): Canmore, Longview, Stoney Nakoda, Morley, Exshaw

Closest Major Population Center (Population 25,000+): Calgary

Closest Hospital Emergency Room: Canmore General Hospital (Canmore)

Nearby Destinations: Nakiska Ski Area, Elbow Falls, Grassi Lakes, Fortress Mountain, Banff National Park



[1] Willoughby, Michael. “RANGE PLANT COMMUNITY TYPES and CARRYING CAPACITY for the SUBALPINE and ALPINE SUBREGIONS.” Sustainable Resource Development Public Lands and Forests Division, no. 3, 2006. Open Alberta.

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