Turbine Canyon Campground – Walk With the Grizzly Bears

Having spent a good many nights camping and a good many days hiking the front ranges of Kananaskis Lakes, Alberta, I thought it was high time we leave the RV behind and spend some time camping the back country campgrounds of the area.

Kananaskis 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, its lakes and rivers after one of the local natives since the Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations people have been calling this land home for some 8000 years.

Tucked into the back ranges of Kananaskis Country, Alberta in is a beautiful little campground known as Turbine Canyon, aptly named for the deep cavern where Maude Brook and a stream from the Haig Glacier runoff meet in a swirling rush of frigid water.

The 15 km (9 mile) journey to Turbine Canyon Campground begins at the North Interlakes parking lot on the Upper Kananaskis Lake where the trail takes you around the North side of the lake as you head west toward two other campgrounds worthy of future visits, Three Isle Lake Campground and the Forks Campground.

The terrain is rugged as you journey beneath Mount Indefatigable. The path is strewn with rocks as you follow an 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 the Grizzly Bears walking along the ditches before re-entering the forest, oblivious it seemed to our presence. I wasn’t however prepared to hear the stories of every passing hiker about their close encounter with the Bears near the Turbine Canyon campground.

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 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 $8.00 per person per night (children under 16 free of charge). A non-refundable reservation fee of $10.00 will be applied to all telephone and advance bookings. Back country permits may be purchased in person at the Peter Lougheed Park, Barrier Lake and Elbow Valley visitor information centers, or by phone at the number listed (toll free anywhere in Alberta: 310-0000). Reservation Phone: 403-678-3136.

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 of the Canadian Winter Sport Institute, where skiers train for upcoming sporting events.

As for the Grizzly Bears, much to my relief they stayed close, but not too close. 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.