Penner: Kananaskis is calling all adventurers

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Just as I smashed my wee Titleist into the crisp mountain air, a cool gust of wind slashed through the pine tops and whipped over the tee deck. I tried to steady myself in my off-kilter finishing pose and watched my ball fight the wind and soar against the knife-edge summit of Mount Lorette. It sure looked purdy. But I thought, hmm, I don’t believe my dimpled little “friend” will find dry land. And, as gusts and gravity grabbed my ball and thrust it downwards to its inevitable watery grave, I turned to my wife and said, “Throw me another one, dear. We each get a mulligan. Do-overs are perfectly acceptable in Kananaskis.”

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I’m not going to lie, the iconic par-3 4th hole on the Mount Kidd Course at the awesome Kananaskis Country Golf Course (36 holes) seems to have my number. I’ve dunked a few there. Between the swirling winds and the majestic view, my sensory system often seems to malfunction. But this is, unquestionably, one of the most spectacular golf holes in the world and the view from the tee never gets old.

However, what I have discovered on many “do-overs” in Kananaskis is this: golf is just one of the many glorious games you can play in “K-Country.” And, yes, the more do-overs, the better!

Kananaskis
The par-3 4th on the Mount Kidd Course at Kananaskis Country Golf Course. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

Kananaskis is, and forever will be, a go-to place for me and countless other Calgarians who want a quick and easy getaway in the mountains. The benefits are many. It’s close. It’s uncrowded. It’s spectacular. It’s variety-filled. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. And this just scratches the surface.

If you want to splurge, a weekend at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is about as painless (and easy) a mountain getaway from Calgary can get. In an hour you’re immersed in mountains and pines and lakes and rivers and trails and everything good about the region.

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While I have heard of some people heading to that property and not even leaving the grounds for multiple days, I tend to succumb to the pull of the great outdoors. (But I get it. Between the Kananaskis Nordic Spa, the craft beer and cocktails at the Blacktail Bar, and the gourmet food in the Cedar Room, there are many convincing reasons to stay put!)

K-Country
Reflection at Wedge Pond. Photo,  Andrew Penner cal

Even just driving through Kananaskis on Highway 40 – up and over the Highwood Pass – makes for an incredible road trip and a rewarding adventure. The highway, which typically opens for the season on June 15, is the highest paved road in Canada. The high point on the pass is a whopping 2,206 metres. It’s a spectacular drive that over-delivers on mountain scenery and wildlife viewing. Some of my favourite stops along the way are Wedge Pond (beautiful mountain reflections ideal for photography), Mount Lorette Ponds (fully accessible paved trails with picnic spots), Elbow Lake (a short but steep hike to the headwaters of the Elbow River), and the Blackshale Suspension Bridge (it’s an easy one-km hike with a sweet reward). If possible, take a full day, do the entire loop through the town of Longview, and make plenty of stops along the way.

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K-Country
The new boathouse at Barrier Lake in K-Country. Photo, Andrew Penner cal

If you decide to stay in Kananaskis for the weekend, Kananaskis Outfitters in the quaint village behind the Pomeroy, is a great starting point for hiking, paddling and biking adventures. They offer quality rental equipment, guided trips and adventures, and a variety of excursions that are family-oriented. New this year is a boathouse on the southern shore of beautiful Barrier Lake. Although there is signage on Highway 40 that indicates the turn-off to get to the boathouse, pay close attention because it’s easy to miss! Canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent by the hour, half-day, or full-day.

After using up our mulligan quota on the Mount Kidd Golf Course (and enjoying some refreshments on, perhaps, the most spectacular outdoor patio in Canadian golf) my wife and I made our way to the boathouse on Barrier Lake for a late-afternoon paddle. Due to the gusty winds and our lack of kayaking skills, we stayed close to shore and enjoyed the incredible views. Thankfully, the winds settled down and we coasted back to the boathouse.

Boundary Ranch
The author horseback riding at Boundary Ranch. Courtesy, Andrew Penner cal

To cap off this latest short-and-sweet Kananaskis adventure (I’m somewhere in K-Country almost weekly), we did a two-hour horseback riding adventure at Boundary Ranch. A sprawling and historic ranch that occupies a swath of rugged Rocky Mountain terrain, Boundary Ranch serves up the type of Western hospitality that people from all over the world come to experience. Their facilities, especially for corporate groups, are top-notch.

The highlights on the trail included riding along a ridgeline with dramatic views into the Kananaskis valley. Not surprisingly, after dismounting to take some photos, I needed a few “mulligans” to try to get back onto my horse. Normal for this part of the world, I suppose.

For more information on the region, visit www.explorekananaskis.com.

Andrew Penner is a photojournalist based in Calgary. You can follow him on Instagram @andrewpennerphotography. 

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