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14 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Bow Valley Provincial Park

14 Things to KNOW Before Visiting Bow Valley Provincial Park

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Bow Valley Provincial Park is one of the best places to visit in Alberta. It’s relatively small compared to other provincial parks, and much less touristy than its neighbor Banff National Park, but it’s absolutely beautiful and packs a big punch with its abundant wildlife and stunning landscapes.

The park is located in the Kananaskis Region and is home to forests, meadows, lakes, and hot springs, so there’s plenty to explore. And with many activities including hiking, canoeing, and fishing available, you might even want to spend a night in one of the park’s campgrounds and make a weekend out of it. I absolutely love camping with my family here, so I highly recommend it!

With that in mind, we’ve compiled this complete guide to visiting Bow Valley Provincial Park so that you can make the most out of your trip.

Don’t have time to read the full article? If you’re looking to visit Alberta’s great outdoors without the crowds, you’ll love Bow Valley Provincial Park. Explore some of the hiking trails, go horseback riding, white water rafting, and my absolute favorite activity – camping! If you camp, be sure to book a stargazing tour!

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. About Bow Valley Provincial Park
  2. 2. Where is Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  3. 3. When is the best time to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  4. 4. What is the difference between Bow Valley Provincial Park and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park?
  5. 5. Is it free to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  6. 6. Where are the best cities/towns to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park from?
  7. 7. What are the best things to do around Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  8. 8. What are the best campsites in Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  9. 9. Can you visit Bow Valley Provincial Park in winter?
  10. 10. Is Bow Valley Provincial Park wheelchair accessible?
  11. 11. Are there bears in Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  12. 12. Does Bow Valley Provincial Park have cell phone service?
  13. 13. What are the facilities in Bow Valley Provincial Park?
  14. 14. Is visiting Bow Valley Provincial Park worth it?
  15. Where to Stay in Canmore
  16. Thanks for reading!
  17. Renting a Car in Alberta

1. About Bow Valley Provincial Park

Bailey and her dad pose for photo with views of Mount Yamnuska in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Me and my dad love camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park!

Bow Valley Provincial Park was established in 1959 and covers 33 square kilometers (13 square miles). It’s not the largest provincial park in Alberta, but it’s still plenty big enough to get lost in. It contains both the Bow and Kananaskis river valleys and is bordered by the rugged Rocky Mountains.

The park is part of a wildlife corridor, which is a protected route for animals to travel without encountering humans. As a result, Bow Valley is home to many different kinds of Alberta wildlife including birds, reptiles, and mammals like bears, elk, moose, and wolves.

The area is thought to have been inhabited and visited by humans for thousands of years, including by members of the Hopi tribe from Arizona, who traveled to the Grotto Canyon and created rock art upon the cliffs. Since Arizona is over 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) away from the park, this was no easy feat!

Bow Valley Provincial Park is a traditional territory for several First Nations: the Tsuu T’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Ktunaxa amakis, and Blackfoot/Niisitapi. The name “Bow Valley” stems from how Indigenous peoples would make bows from the reeds growing by the river.

2. Where is Bow Valley Provincial Park?

A narrow trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
So breathtaking!
A flower in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
Down to every flower!

Bow Valley Provincial Park is located in the southern Alberta region of Canada and sits on the eastern edge of Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains. The park is located at the junction of the Bow and Kananaskis Rivers, and Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park also borders it.

The park is 35 minutes southeast of Banff or 20 minutes from Canmore, and it’s a nice, easy drive. It’s also 1 hour and 15 minutes west of Calgary, so I’ve often made the day trip from the city. Basically, it’s a very accessible park that you shouldn’t have any trouble finding.

3. When is the best time to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park?

The Bow River runs through Bow Valley Provincial Park near Bow Valley campground
The Bow River is one of the most important rivers in Alberta!

The best time to visit is during the summer, between May and September. It’s easier to visit the park at this time because it’s when the road and weather conditions are best. Temperatures are warmest around then, and the snow has usually melted away. This also means that it’s a lot easier to drive to and from the park.

You can also only camp inside Bow Valley Provincial Park during the summer, because the campgrounds close during the winter – and to be honest, who really wants to camp in the snow? I’m a summer camper that’s for sure!

With that being said, the park is open year-round and if you’re keen to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, then winter in Canmore and Bow Valley might be the perfect time to visit. Just make sure you’re prepared for cold weather and check the road conditions before you go!

4. What is the difference between Bow Valley Provincial Park and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park?

Middle Lake in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Bow Valley Provincial Park is small but stunning!

One thing we’ve noticed is that people often confuse Bow Valley Provincial Park with Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park – and who can blame them since the names are almost identical? However, there’s actually a big difference between the two.

For one thing, Wildland Park is much larger than Bow Valley Provincial Park, covering a whopping 575 square kilometers (222 square miles). It’s also not one continuous park and is instead broken up into fragments around sections of private land.

A key difference between the two parks is that Bow Valley Provincial Park was created to protect recreation and scenic landscape, while Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park was created to protect the wildlife and biodiversity of the region. You can camp and hike inside both parks, but Bow Valley Provincial Park tends to have more recreational activities available and is more visitor-friendly.

It’s confusing, so don’t worry if you venture into either during your visit. You’re more than welcome and exploring is where adventures start!

5. Is it free to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park?

Bailey and her dad at Many Springs in Bow Valley Provincial Park
It’s not free but worth every penny!

Unfortunately, no. You’ll need to buy a Conservation Pass to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park, but the good news is that these passes are fairly cheap and easy to buy online. Alternatively, you can buy them in person at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre or the Canmore Nordic Centre Day Lodge, but we just bought ours online and it was super quick and easy.

Conservation Passes are assigned per vehicle, rather than per passenger. A day pass for one private vehicle costs $15 CAD while an annual pass costs $90 CAD and includes up to two vehicles. You will need to register your license plate number when you buy the pass, and then you can use it to access any of the protected parks and land sites in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley Corridor.

If you’re camping, you’ll need to pay the nightly rate, which usually varies between $29 – $47 CAD, depending on which type of pitch you want, and in which campsite. There’s also a reservation fee if you want to secure your site in advance, and you’ll still need to pay for your Conservation Pass as this isn’t included.

Aside from those costs, all of the attractions in the park – such as the lake, hiking trails, and hot springs – are free, so this can still be a pretty low-cost trip.

Related Read: Keep exploring the Rockies on a budget with all these free things to do in Banff!

6. Where are the best cities/towns to visit Bow Valley Provincial Park from?

Bailey and Daniel Take a selfie in Canmore, Alberta on the Bow River
We called Canmore home and it’s our favorite town in the Rockies!

Canmore

Canmore is 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from Bow Valley Provincial Park, making it the closest town. It’s a great base for exploring the park, as well as the Three Sisters Peaks, and Banff National Park. Plus, despite its excellent location, it’s not actually located inside a national park, which makes it cheaper to stay here than in other mountain towns.

In fact, we have to say that Canmore is one of our favorite towns in all of Canada – we even lived there for a few months! There’s just as much to do here as there is in Banff, but it’s not as popular and feels less flashy, so it’s more our vibe. (Don’t worry – we still love Banff, but Canmore is just where we prefer to call home!).

Calgary

Calgary is an easy 103-kilometer (64-mile) drive from Bow Valley Provincial Park and makes an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the Canadian Rockies. It’s the largest city in Alberta, with a population of around 1.4 million people, and it’s also the sunniest city in Canada, so pack your Ray-Bans! 

There are lots of fun things to do here, so it’s worth considering spending a few days before or after your visit to Bow Valley Provincial Park. We had a lot of fun when we visited, and staying here would be the perfect way to mix a city break with a nature holiday.

Banff

Okay, so we may have called it flashy just moments ago, but we do really love visiting Banff! We’ve spent a ton of time here and had so much fun. Plus, it’s only 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Banff is right in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, so it truly is a wonderful base for a mountain adventure. It’s a picture-perfect town… literally, there are so many Instagrammable spots in Banff! It’s practically impossible not to see a mountain from wherever you’re standing. Plus, there are a ton of great art galleries, craft breweries, boutiques, and amazing restaurants to visit. 

Related Read: For some helpful road trip guides in this area check out our tips on driving from Calgary to Canmore or the trip from Calgary to Banff!

7. What are the best things to do around Bow Valley Provincial Park?

Go hiking

A lady climbs up rock on the Heart mountain hike near Canmore, Alberta
On our way up Heart Mountain!

There are some really nice walks inside Bow Valley Provincial Park, and the surrounding area is also full of great hiking trails, so this is the perfect place to strap on your boots and explore.

Inside Bow Valley Provincial Park

The Bow River Interpretive Walk is a great way to learn more about this unique and stunning environment. This 2-kilometer (1.25-mile) path takes you through forests, over creeks, past beaver ponds, and along the gorgeous Bow River. You should be able to do it in under 30 minutes – although perhaps a little longer because you’ll want to stop and snap some photos.

There’s also the Bow Valley Paved Walkway, which is an 8.4-kilometer (5.2-mile) out-and-back trail that takes you along the Bow River and through forests and meadows. Since, as the name suggests, it’s paved, this is a nice, easy introduction to the park that offers some beautiful views along the way. 

We’ll talk more about our favorite hikes in a later section of the blog – remember to keep an eye out for the Widow Maker! 

Heart Mountain

Of course, you don’t have to stay inside Bow Valley Provincial Park to enjoy some of the area’s amazing hikes. We loved hiking the Heart Mountain Trail, and you can do it all year round! We did it in the summer, but you can even snowshoe it in the winter if you’re up for a challenge.

It’s a 5.6-kilometer (3.5-mile) out-and-back trail, but although it’s not super long, it’s pretty steep and involves scrambling over rocks, so budget a couple of hours for this one. Don’t worry – when you get to the top and see the heart-stopping (sorry, couldn’t resist) views, all of your efforts will have totally been worth it.

There’s also the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Trail, which is 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long and takes you along a mountain ridge to visit 3 summit peaks. We won’t lie to you, it’s pretty difficult in places, but if you love hiking as much as we do then you’ll probably enjoy it. It should take you between 5-7 hours to complete, depending on your fitness level and hiking experience.

Only hikers with some experience should consider hiking the horseshoe trail and those afraid of heights should either steer clear or hike with experienced hikers. Also, you should avoid this trail on days with high winds or any rain as the rocks can become dangerously slippery.

This 7-hour private hiking tour is ideal if you lack the confidence to complete this tough climb and you have a good level of fitness. Your guide will help you on the steep terrain as well as teach you basic scrambling techniques. The tour costs $120 CAD per person, and you will need to make your own way to the starting point (at Heart Mountain parking lot, off Highway 1). Check out the details and book this guided hike here!

The starting point for both trails is at the Heart Creek Day Use Area. The trailhead is well-signed, but if you are snowshoeing in the winter it can be a bit more difficult to spot. 

Kananaskis

There are also some amazing hikes in the Kananaskis Lakes area, ranging from the easy (but gorgeous) Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail to the more challenging (but absolutely spectacular) Pocaterra Ridge Hike.

No matter your fitness level or hiking experience, you’re sure to find something suitable here.

Canmore

If you’re staying in Canmore, there are some incredible trails around there, too, such as the Grassi Lakes Trail, which is a moderate 3.4-kilometer (2-mile) route, along which you can spot lots of birds in addition to the gorgeous lake and mountain views.

Or for something more challenging in Canmore, hiking up Ha Ling Peak is a great way to get your blood pumping and your muscles working! We loved this route – the views from the top are just stunning and well worth the effort. It’s 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) to the saddle, and another 400 meters to the summit if you’re prepared to tackle loose rocks and steep scrambles. But if not, the views from the saddle are still worthy of any postcard!

Go whitewater rafting

Bailey smiles at the camera while white water rafting in Canada
So much fun!

If you are a thrill seeker (like me!), you are going to want to add whitewater rafting to the top of your itinerary! Explore the gorgeous Kananaskis River, which flows right through Bow Valley Provincial Park, while having an exciting adventure – no matter what your skill level might be. 

This rafting adventure tour is the perfect mix of sightseeing and high-adrenaline activity as you soak up the views from the Kananaskis River. You will need your paddle at the ready as I’ll warn you that the river has some pretty extreme rapids! However, don’t worry there are plenty of calm sections which will allow you to relax and spot some of the river’s beautiful wildlife.

This small group rafting tour has a maximum of 7 people and starts at $140 CAD. This a great activity for the whole family, kids 5 years and up are welcome to join. They provide all the equipment, snacks, and even free photos to remember your adventure.

Whitewater rafting is definitely a popular activity here, so be sure to book this tour in advance!

Go camping

Bailey sits in a camp chair in Bow Valley campground in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Our setup is simple, but that’s how we like it!

It’s possible to camp inside Bow Valley Provincial Park between April and October, and there are a couple of campgrounds to choose from. We’ll dive more into the best options later, but we definitely had a lot of fun camping here – it’s a great way to experience the park in its entirety and get close to nature.

Day trip down the Kananaskis

Stunning view of the road through the Kananaskis in Alberta, Canada
The Kananaskis are stunning!

If white water rafting isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the beauty of the river! The Kananaskis River is a tributary of the Bow River, and it stretches through Kananaskis Country, which is a pretty wonderful part of Alberta to explore. The area sits in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and it’s a great place to strap on your boots and explore.

Bow Valley Provincial Park is already inside Kananaskis Country, but there are also a ton of other parks to explore in the area, with our favorite being Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Here, you can hike the 8.7-kilometer (5.4-mile) Rawson Trail and hang out at the lower and upper lakes, and even bring a picnic with you to enjoy.

If you’re visiting the Kananaskis in winter, you can head to the Nakiska Ski Area, which is probably the least busy resort in the area around Canmore. We’ve been here a bunch of times, and we love it! It costs around $100-$130 CAD for a daily lift ticket, which makes it one of the cheapest options around. They also have a snowmaking machine to guarantee that the pistes will be open all season.

In summer, you can also head to Goat Pond for canoeing or kayaking or hike Tent Ridge for amazing views of the Spray Lakes – and in winter, the water often freezes over, allowing you to go wild skating on its surface!

And for something more relaxed, you simply must go to the Nordic Spa, an incredible day spa tucked away in an alpine forest. You can make use of their hydrotherapy circuit or enjoy a super relaxing massage. It’s the perfect way to end your day trip in Kananaskis Country – we felt reborn after our treatments!

Explore Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park

A lady poses for a photo wiht a dog on the Grassi Lakes Trail
Me and Polly hiking Grassi Lakes!

There’s plenty to see and do in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, too, and it’s just a quick 15-minute drive to get there. Inside this park, you can go rock climbing, canoeing, or kayaking, and there are plenty of backcountry hiking trails, too. 

There’s also a campground – Quaite Valley Backcountry Campground – so you can even spend a night here if you want more time to explore. However, we did notice that the hike to enter this campground was pretty steep so beginner hikers and families are probably better off staying in one of the campsites in Bow Valley Provincial Park. 

Fishing

The Bow River is known for its excellent fishing opportunities, so if you’re a keen angler then you should definitely pack your rod and tackle. We saw quite a few people fishing when we visited the park and learned that there are lots of trout species in the area – in fact, we repeatedly heard that this is one of the best areas for trout fishing in Alberta.

In addition to the Bow River itself, you can also fish in Gap Lake or Grotto Pond, but you will need to make sure you have your Alberta fishing license first. You’ll need to apply through AlbertaRELM with a form of ID such as a passport or driver’s license. Everyone except those under 16 and Alberta residents over the age of 65 will need to obtain a license before fishing.

If you’re an Alberta resident, the license costs $28 CAD per year. For Canadian citizens who live in other provinces, the cost is $25 CAD per day, $41 CAD per week, and $60 CAD per year. And if you’re an international visitor, prices are $27 CAD per day, $55 CAD per week, and $85 CAD per year.

All of the above prices are subject to a 5% GST tax, so bear that in mind. As you can see, if you plan on fishing a few times in Alberta, buying a weekly or annual pass is the most cost-effective option.

Go stargazing

The Milky-way above the Three Sisters mountains.
The stars are stunning here!

One of the best things to do at night in Bow Valley Provincial Park is to get out and witness the incredible stars that shine every night over the beautiful scenery.

Thanks to the lack of light pollution out here, Kananaskis Country has some of the darkest skies in the world! Ever seen the Milky Way? Well, you can spot it here. If you’re lucky, you might even see the northern lights dancing in the sky too.

To really experience the beauty of the night sky here, we love this guided stargazing tour. You’ll get the chance to snowshoe through the forest on a moonlit hike to the best stargazing spots. The guides are so knowledgeable regarding all things astronomy and will help you look through the telescope to take a peek at the mesmerizing skies.

The tour is only $85 CAD and also includes a hot chocolate and a cookie to warm up after your hike! Please note that this tour is only available during the winter. Check the availability of this tour and book it in advance here so you don’t miss out.

Go horseback riding

Daniel and Bailey horseback riding at Rafter Six Ranch
Such a cool way to explore!

If you’ve always fancied yourself as a bit of a cowboy, why not saddle up and go for a gallop in the stunning scenery at Rafter Six Ranch?

This ranch is located about 25 minutes away from Bow Valley Provincial Park and they offer guided horseback rides from May – October, ranging from hour-long rides to full-day adventures through the park. This is an amazing way to explore the Canadian Rockies and we had a blast riding with the guides at Rafter Six!

Another iconic spot to horseback ride near Bow Valley is Boundary Ranch. Although it’s about a 45-minute drive from the provincial park, it’s totally worth it for a few hours of scenic horseback riding.

Boundary Ranch is great for all abilities and they even have ponies for children to ride so you can enjoy the experience as a whole family. The Ridge Ride is the most popular route to take as you ride the mountain ridge above the Kananaskis. The views of the entire valley were breathtaking and I loved that I got a break from walking! This tour takes 2 hours and starts at $191 CAD. 

If you think the Ridge Ride seems a bit long for you, you can book either the Lodgepole Loop or the Buffalo Loop

The Lodgepole Loop takes roughly 1.5 hours. The tour starts from $152 CAD and takes you through the aspen forest on horseback. Once you reach the top of the ridge you head down past the lodgepole pines to the ranch’s herd of buffalo. 

For a shorter trail, you can take this 1 hour horseback ride around the Buffalo Loop. This is the best option if you are planning on horseback riding with children as this trek is suitable for ponies as well! You’ll ride past the buffalo paddock and through the forest where you might spot marmots, deer, or elk. This short ride is also the cheapest at $98 CAD per person.

Visit Many Springs Day Use Area

Bailey takes in views of the mountains at Many Springs in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Canada
What a place to relax!
Bailey sits on the dock at Many Springs in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
I could sit here for hours!

The Many Springs Day Use Area is a wet basin on the Bow River. It’s a great place to relax and take in the views, with plenty of wildflowers growing along its shoreline, and there are natural springs that you can explore, too. Bring a picnic along and just enjoy being in the beauty of nature.

The day-use area is also the trailhead for the Many Springs Interpretive Trail, which is a short, easy walk that we think is perfect if you’re visiting the park with kids! Budding botanists can learn about animal life and plant life in the area, spotting beautiful flowers along the way. 

Visit Middle Lake

The Middle Lake Interpretive Trail takes you for a lovely walk around the tree-lined lake. You’ll pass through mountain and forest landscapes on this easy 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) loop walk. It took us about 25 minutes to walk around, so this is easy to fit into your day out at Bow Valley, and the views really are lovely.

Check out Barrier Lake

Barrier Lake on a sunny day in the Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada
I dare you to take a dip!

Barrier Lake is the best place in the park to kayak, canoe, SUP, and swim – basically, it’s your one-stop-shop for water sports in Bow Valley Provincial Park! 

If you need to rent equipment, it’s best to organize that before you go. There are plenty of rental shops in Canmore, Banff, and Calgary, so you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Make sure that you check out the Barrier Lake Lookout Trail while you’re in this part of the park. We loved this short little trail that takes you up a hill, where you get a great vantage point over the lake. It only takes about 25-30 minutes to hike up and down again – although you can always chill up there for a while and enjoy the view.

The Barrier Lake Lookout Trail is only 1.1 kilometers (0.7 miles) out-and-back, but if you’re looking for something longer there are a couple of trails nearby that might suit you. The Yates Mountain via Prairie View Trail is a pretty simple and steady hike, but it’s 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long, so it’s perfect if you’ve got ants in your pants. It starts at the Barrier Lake Trail Day Use Area, and there are some fantastic viewpoints along the way.

Walk the Widow Maker

The Widow Maker Trail is one of our favorite hikes in the park. It follows the Kananaskis River along the rapids section, so you can witness the power of the river as you follow its course.

The trail is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) out and back, with a low elevation gain, but there are lots of roots in some parts, so be careful not to trip over them. It’s super scenic and can be accessed from the visitor center or Canoe Meadows.

Watch the kayakers at Canoe Meadows

Head to the Canoe Meadows Day Use Area to watch fellow visitors kayaking along the river rapids, which we actually found super entertaining. You can even sit and dip your feet in the river as you watch, although the water can be pretty cold sometimes! There are also picnic tables around so you can hang out here and eat lunch while enjoying the view.

8. What are the best campsites in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

Bailey and her dad camp in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
Bow Valley Campground is the only place I stay, it’s so beautiful!

There are a handful of campsites to choose from in the park, and they’re all in great shape! Unless we state otherwise, they’re open from late April until early October, although running water only becomes available in late May for most campgrounds.

There’s a non-refundable booking fee of $12 CAD per reservation for the sites that can be booked in advance. You can make reservations via the Alberta Parks website up to 90 days in advance for the individual campsites, or 24 hours in advance for the group sites.

Bow Valley Campground – Best overall

Bow Valley Campground is where we camped when we visited. It’s a nice, shady campground with great views of the valley and mountains, and a choice of powered, walk-in, and unserviced sites. The facilities are well-maintained and include flushing toilets, a kids’ play area, drinkable tap water, fire pits, and a small grocery store, so you should be plenty comfortable.

This campground usually opens from late April until early October, and bookings are required. You can book online here up to 90 days in advance, and you need to pay online with a credit card. The prices per night are $31 CAD for an unserviced site, $31 CAD for walk-in tenting, and $47 CAD for a powered campsite with water.

Also, the showers are paid and cost about $3 CAD for a 5-minute shower, but the water is warm and the showers are nice and clean!

Elk Flats Group Campground

If you’re traveling in a big group, then the Elk Flats Group Campground is a great option. It’s quiet, clean, and super peaceful, with pit toilets, fire pits, a sheltered picnic area, and a water pump. It’s is only available for group reservations and is open from May to early October. This campground costs $395 CAD per 10 units, plus the $12 CAD booking fee.

Willow Rock Campground

Willow Rock is a first-come, first-served campground that has pretty much all the same facilities as the Bow Valley Campground, minus the shop and walk-in tents. It costs $31 CAD for a non-powered site or $39 CAD for a powered one. Plus, it’s in a great location, close to lots of hiking trails and good fishing spots, so if the Bow Valley Campground is already booked up, this is a great second choice.

Owl Group Campground

Close to the Bow Valley Campground, Owl is another well-equipped group area with great access to some of the park’s best trails. There’s a heated hall, a small kitchen area, and flushing toilets. It’s a bit more expensive than the Elk Flats Campground at $475 CAD per night for 10 units, but there’s more shelter and the views are even better.

Jewell Bay Backcountry Campground

For those exploring Bow Valley on horseback, Jewell Bay is an equestrian campground on the shore of Barrier Lake. There are 7 sites which cost $12 CAD per person, per night, and basic facilities like vault toilets, fire pits, and secure food lockers because, well, this is the Canadian backcountry, and there are bears around (but don’t worry – we’ve got a section on bear safety coming up!). For the horses, there are hitching rails and corrals.

Unlike other campgrounds on this list, Jewell Bay is open almost all year round. It closes from April 14 until June 16 because of the movement of the spring elk, but you can camp here any other time of year.

Canoe Meadows Campground

Canoe Meadows is a small campground with 10 walk-in tenting sites, which cost $29 CAD per night. The facilities are basic – it’s pretty much just vault toilets and fire pits – but you’re close to the Kananaskis River, which is home to some excellent river rafting and surfing, so if that’s what you’re here to do, then this is a prime place to stay.

Campsites in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park

Note: These next three campgrounds are NOT in Bow Valley Provincial Park but are instead in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. However, their details are below as they provide a great alternative close to the park.

  • Lac des Arcs Campground – Located on the edge of the beautiful Lac des Arcs, this campground has 28 campsites priced at $31 CAD per night. The lake is super popular with windsurfers and boaters, so if you’re into that, this is definitely the place to be – the campground even has a hand launch. There are also fire pits and pit toilets available and lots of good walking trails nearby.
  • Three Sisters Campground – This is a first-come, first-served campground with 36 non-powered sites for both tents and RVs, which cost $31 CAD per night and can’t be booked in advance. It can be a little noisy here due to its proximity to the highway, but it’s really beautiful, with amazing views of the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains. Waking up here to watch the sunrise is worth it.
  • Bow River Campground – With mostly powered sites, showers, and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, this is a great campground for those looking for a bit more comfort than some of the other campgrounds listed here, so remember to book in advance if this is important to you. It’s $47 CAD for a campsite with power and water, or there are 7 walk-in tenting sites for $31 CAD per night. The Bow River Campground is quiet, well cared for, and also in a prime location, right on the edge of the Bow River and close to lots of great trails. We think that this is the best option of the 3 to camp just outside of the provincial park itself!

9. Can you visit Bow Valley Provincial Park in winter?

Bailey walks a boardwalk around Many Springs in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Alberta
You can, but I don’t.

Yes, but you can’t camp. The campgrounds close in early October and don’t open again until late April or early May. Although it’s too dangerous to hike during the winter, there are a few winter activities that we love to do near Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is essentially just hiking but in the snow! If you’re brand new to snowshoeing, we recommend joining a tour that arranges everything for you. This snowshoeing in Kananaskis tour is our pick because it includes a knowledgeable local guide who takes you on a 2-hour hike along one of the best snowshoeing trails in Kananaskis.

The trails are so peaceful and we found we could totally relax on the tour as we didn’t have to worry about directions or if we were on the right trail! The tour is $80 CAD which includes all the equipment you’ll need including snowshoes and poles and even some hot drinks and cookies to warm up after! You can easily book this snowshoeing experience online here.

I also love this stargazing and snowshoeing tour, as it’s such a unique experience! This guided moonlit hike takes you snowshoeing through the beautiful forests of the Kananaskis with a stop at an open meadow that sparkles with stars on a clear night. Your guide has a telescope along so you can get a closer look – some tours have even been lucky enough to spot shooting stars. The tours are offered starting at 7 pm on Friday and Saturday nights and you can reserve a spot here.

Cross country skiing

The Kananaskis is the perfect destination for cross-country skiing. There are SO many great cross-country ski trails, and there’s one for every skill level. Yet, it remains a bit of a hidden gem despite the epic Rocky Mountain terrain. But lucky for you, that means fewer crowds and a more peaceful experience. A win-win in my books!

If you haven’t skied before or want to improve your skills, I would recommend booking a cross-country ski lesson so you can go explore trails with some more confidence. This lesson, in particular, starts from $200 CAD for a two-hour lesson and will help to teach you all the basics you need to feel happy to go off on your own after.  

Even if you’re an old pro or a newbie, you can always benefit from a lesson. Check out the details and book this cross-country ski tour here.

Related Read: Don’t let winter weather in Alberta discourage you, seeing Canmore in December and Banff during the Christmas season are magical times to visit!

10. Is Bow Valley Provincial Park wheelchair accessible?

Bailey and her dad walk a trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Unfortunately, much of the park is not.

No, not really. Many of the hiking trails are steep and rugged, so they would be difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. The Bow River Campground has wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, but that’s about the only one that does. The rest are in great shape but are still not particularly wheelchair-friendly.

11. Are there bears in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

A bear looks for food in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Canada
Oh yeah, there are lots of bears.

Yes, there are – but don’t freak out. You just need to apply some common sense and know a few things about bear safety in Alberta Parks. Make sure you secure your food and toiletries, don’t leave any trash lying around, use a flashlight to be cautious at night, and keep a very close eye on young kids. Oh, and don’t clean fish near your campsite – that will really attract the grizzlies.

Bears tend to be most active at dawn, dusk, and during the night, so don’t go hiking during these times of the day. And if you do come face-to-face with a bear, don’t panic and instead back away slowly. Never offer a bear food, or try to come between a mama bear and her cubs.

For extra peace of mind, you might want to think about buying some bear spray, which is kind of like pepper spray. It doesn’t harm the bears permanently, but it does inflame their eyes and temporarily mess with their upper respiratory system, making them change direction and thus allowing you to get away.

However, just like pepper spray, you shouldn’t carry bear spray unless you know how to use it. For one thing, it should only ever be used on a charging bear, and not just as a precautionary measure. You wouldn’t go around pepper spraying people (we hope), so offer bears the same courtesy! 

And if you use it, make sure you don’t inhale the spray – it can really hurt, and the effects can last for a few hours. To be honest, as long as you use your common sense and go hiking at appropriate times, you shouldn’t have to contend with a charging bear, but if you’re anxious, bear spray might offer you peace of mind.

12. Does Bow Valley Provincial Park have cell phone service?

Mountain views in Bow valley Provincial Park

Ish. It’s possible to get service in the park, but it’s pretty spotty and the service is always weak, so no FaceTime or streaming anything. We had a few bars at Bow Valley Campground but that was about it. If you want to download offline hiking maps or information, it’s best to do it before you go.

With that said, I’m with Koodo (you know, one of the cheap cell phone providers), so you might have more luck with Rogers or Telus.

13. What are the facilities in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

Mountain reflections in Bow Valley provincial Park
Lots of mountains!

You can find toilets at all of the day use areas in the park, and at the campgrounds, too. You’ll also find hot showers at the Bow Valley Campground, although you’ll have to pay $3 CAD to use them (they used to be free, but so did visiting the park!).

At the entrance to the campground is a ranger station with a small shop where you can buy supplies such as firewood, camping equipment, and food. It’s overpriced but convenient. If you can, get a block of Whittaker’s Chocolate. I fell in love with it in New Zealand, and it’s the best! They sell it there and the peanut butter is out of this world!

Many of the day use areas also have picnic tables, fire pits, and wood for sale, so you can bring your own portable barbecue and grill if you want to! And as mentioned, there’s also a small shop at the Bow Valley Campground which can be useful for picking up basic supplies.

You can also find two visitor centers in the park: the Bow Valley Administration & Information Center at the campground, and the Kananaskis Visitor Information Center. Both of them have WiFi, toilets, and an information kiosk where you can find out about the park, its trails, and any weather warnings. However, the Bow Valley campground center is only open in the summer, while the Kananaskis one is open all year round.

14. Is visiting Bow Valley Provincial Park worth it?

Bailey and her dad walk though Many Springs trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park
Yes!

Yes, definitely. We had a really great time here, and it’s nice to visit somewhere that’s so beautiful but still not exactly a tourist hotspot.

It’s a small park, so you can either make a day trip from a nearby city or camp overnight – the choice is yours. Either way, we think it’s a great place for families, couples, or groups of friends who want to enjoy some quiet, relaxing time in nature.

Where to Stay in Canmore

Bailey lays on the bed in Coast Canmore Hotel
The rooms at Coast Canmore are gorgeous!
bailey lays on the bed at Coast Canmore

If camping isn’t your thing and you want to stay as close to Bow Valley Provincial Park as possible, you’re in luck! There are some great accommodations in Canmore, which is just a 20-minute drive from the park.

Here are the best places to stay in Canmore including our personal top choice, a budget option, and one for those looking for absolute luxury!

Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre – Our Top Choice

Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre is our absolute favorite place to stay in Canmore. It is affordable without sacrificing any of the comforts you’ll need for a relaxing and enjoyable stay – suitable for almost all travelers and budgets. They have an onsite pool, hot tub, and fitness center along with a delicious bar and restaurant (Table Food + Drink.)

Coast Canmore Hotel is located right in the heart of downtown Canmore walking distance from 8 Street (Main Street in Canmore), and just across the road from the Canmore Shops where you have a selection of restaurants, cafes, and takeaway places.

Oh, and did I mention the views from the hotel windows are breathtaking?

On top of all of that, they have a variety of rooms to choose from including ones that are pet-friendly (super handy when we are traveling with our yorkie, Rex.)

You can book this hotel on Booking.com. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible because these guys are usually fully booked!

Canmore Downtown Hostel – Budget Backpackers Option

If you’re a budget backpacker and looking for a hostel then Canmore Downtown Hostel is your best choice! These guys offer clean and comfortable facilities, dorm beds as well as private rooms, and a social atmosphere perfect for meeting other backpackers.

You can book Canmore Downtown Hostel on Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.

The Malcolm Hotel – Luxury Escape

If money isn’t an issue, then The Malcolm Hotel may be the luxurious option you’re looking for. It’s an easy walk to the main part of town or there are shops and restaurants on the same street, although you may never want to leave the property! There’s a rooftop swimming pool and hot tub that are especially amazing at sunset. I also like the games room with giant scrabble and a pool table and the views from the rooms are picture-perfect.

However, rooms here don’t come cheap and are often up to twice the price of most hotels in Canmore. But if luxury is calling your name, check availability and book a room at The Malcolm here.

Kananaskis Conservation Pass

It’s important to note that you will need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass if you want to visit the Kanananakis Region, which you can either purchase daily or for the year. You will need this for all vehicles parked in the park and public land sites in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley. The passes can be easily purchased online for $15 CAD per day (1 vehicle) or $90 CAD per year (up to 2 vehicles). 

Renting a Car in Alberta

A car drives along the Icefields Parkway
The drive is mesmerizing!

If you’re arriving in Alberta via plane then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. Canada is a large country and traveling between cities and even just getting out to some of the best places to visit in Alberta requires transport. Although you can use public transport, on some occasions, it means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Renting a car will definitely make exploring all of the fun things to see and do in Alberta easier.

Car rental in Canada isn’t super cheap, but it isn’t overly expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though depending on the time of year and the type of car that you rent. For car rentals, I use the website DiscoverCars.com. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used them all over the world including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie in Canada on a road trip
Thanks for reading!

Hopefully, this guide to exploring Bow Valley Provincial Park has helped you plan your trip! Whether you’re coming out here for the day or going to camp for the weekend, you won’t regret stopping by. The hiking here is amazing or it’s just a peaceful spot to escape into the outdoors.

If you’re planning a Canadian road trip, make sure to check out our other blogs for ideas and inspiration! We’ve lived and traveled all across Western Canada, so we have lots of tips to share about the must-see destinations in this beautiful part of the country.

Guide to Planning the Most Romantic Honeymoon in Banff & Lake Louise

23 BEST Stops on the Drive from Edmonton to Lake Louise

Where to Stay on the Icefields Parkway: The BEST Hotels + Campgrounds

10 BEST Stops on the Drive from Calgary to Edmonton & Choosing Your Route