Compiled by the Road Trip Alberta team
Last updated on January 27, 2023
Looking for information on where to hike, camp, and things to do on a trip to Bow Valley Provincial Park? Look no further! We’ve compiled all the pertinent information you will need to explore this amazing place.
Just over an hour from Calgary, Bow Valley Provincial Park is an awesome mountain destination full of panoramic mountain views, heart-pumping hiking trails, and spectacular Bow River activities like canoeing and fishing.
The park can be a choose-your-own-adventure depending on what you’re feeling up for on the day. The whole park is a mix of rugged outdoors and carefully curated interpretive assistance with groomed trails, benches along some trails for snack breaks, designated picnic areas, and washrooms at a majority of the parking lots.
Hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park range from short interpretive trails around Bow Valley park campgrounds that are ideal for families with small children to longer hikes like Mount Yamnuska, Heart Mountain, Grotto Canyon Trail, Bow Valley Bunker, and more. (Our post on Canmore hikes will give you some great ideas.)
This is one of the biggest Alberta parks with a plethora of fun activities to explore… Read on to find out more about the Bow Valley.
Bow Valley Provincial Park is located in the traditional territories of the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot Confederacy) and the people of the Treaty 7 region. We acknowledge all of the many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit whose footsteps have marked these lands in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, and within and around the Kananaskis area for centuries.
About Bow Valley Provincial Park
Bow Valley Provincial Park is located in Kananaskis Country at the confluence of the Bow River and the Kananaskis River, on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. It spans nearly 33 square kilometres and is surrounded by Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park to the north and southwest, and Elbow Sheep Wildland Provincial Park to the southeast. It is part of a notable wildlife corridor – a protected route that allows wildlife to move safely between areas of suitable habitat.
There are two main entrance points: one is off the Trans-Canada Highway at the intersection with Highway 1X and the other is at the entrance to the Barrier Dam via Highway 40. This small but mighty provincial park packs a punch with spectacular views, various trails to walk or hike, and sparkling waters renowned for challenging fishing, it is a perfect stop for a day trip in nature.
The Best Time To Visit
With a year-round visitor centre and spectacular mountains that look amazing bare or snow-capped, Bow Valley Provincial Park is accessible and fun to visit any season of the year! It’s just a matter of what you want to do while you’re there. For the quintessential provincial park summer experience full of swimming, hiking the plethora of trails, and horseback riding, May to September is ideal.
Bow Valley Provincial Park is still a worthy destination in winter. The activities will of course be more geared towards snow activities if you visit between November to February. Think cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It’s also a great time to encounter some wildlife.
Heads up that there is an annual road closure on Bow Valley Park Road west of Middle Lake from mid-October – April 30.
Keep in mind that no matter the season, vehicles parked at provincial park and public land sites in Kananaskis Country and the Bow Valley need a Conservation Pass. Buy your pass online and register your license plate or you can purchase a pass at the visitor centre. Only one pass per vehicle is required and pass purchases are non-transferable to another vehicle.
Current rates for personal vehicles (2023):
- Day pass – $15 (registers one vehicle)
- Yearly pass – $90 (registers up to 2 vehicles)
Getting to Bow Valley Provincial Park
From Calgary to Bow Valley Provincial Park
Head west out of the city on Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W and keep on this road for just under an hour. Following the signs, take exit 93 toward Three Sisters Parkway/Bow River Campground for roughly 10 minutes until you reach the parking lot for the park.
From Edmonton to Bow Valley Provincial Park
When leaving Edmonton, take Calgary Trail to AB-2 S and follow this highway south for just over 2 hours until reaching the north end of Calgary. Keep right at the fork, follow signs for Alberta 201 W/Stoney Tr and merge onto Stoney Trail NW/AB-201 W.
Stay on Stoney Trail NW for 23 km until you see signs for Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W and then take the exit toward Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W. Stay on the Trans-Canada Hwy 1 for about an hour until you see the exit for exit 93 toward Three Sisters Parkway/Bow River Campground which will be just shy of Canmore. Stay on this paved road for roughly 10 minutes until you reach the parking lot for the park.
Accessibility at Bow Valley Provincial Park
Given that Bow Valley Provincial Park is in the heart of Kananaskis Country, it is a rugged destination. Although there are some interpretive trails and paved roads around the campgrounds, the park is not particularly accessible for those with limited mobility. However, some campsites do offer wheelchair-accessible washrooms.
Camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park
There’s lots of camping available with many excellent campsites along the beautiful Bow River or in the forest if you want to not be at the mercy of strong winds. As stays in nearby Canmore hotels in the summer months can be pricey and book up extremely quick, camping is an amazing way to easily and affordably access Canmore and Banff.
From any Bow Valley campground, it’s between 25-40 minutes to get to either Canmore or Banff townsite respectively. Here are the campgrounds within the Provincial Park:
Bow River Campground
The season runs from April until October at this accessible campsite. The majority of the 60+ campsites are serviced with power and the campground sits next to the Bow River, offering pleasant views to most lucky sites. Showers, firewood for sale, firepits, and pit/vault toilets are some of the amenities available during the season.
Bow Valley Campground
Large campground situated along the Bow River for pleasant views of the surrounding mountains and riverfront containing 170+ sites from unserviced to power/water sites. Interpretive programs, concession, playground, and showers are available during the season (April to October).
Lac Des Arcs Campground
There are about 30 open unserviced sites suitable for RVs and tents. Firepits, a playground, water (pump), pit/vault toilets, and a shelter for groups are available. The campsite is on the shores of Lac Des Arcs, and there is also a hand launch available which makes this site popular for windsurfers.
Three Sisters Campground
Three Sisters campground is located within Bow Valley Provincial Park in Dead Man’s Flats (just outside Canmore on Hwy. 1). There are 36 well-treed sites suited to both RVs and tents (unserviced and available on a first come first served basis). The campground is beside the Bow River and has a hand launch for small non-motorized boats.
Willow Rock Campground
There are 90 unserviced and 34 power sites, some open and some in treed areas in a first come first served basis from April to October. Amenities include a playground, showers and flush toilets, along with sewage disposal and a picnic shelter for group use.
Canoe Meadows Campground
A small and humble campground that only has 10 walk-in tenting sites but at a convenient staging area for river adventures along the Kananaskis River. Bookings are by reservations only from April to October. Amenities are basic with only pit/vault toilets and firepits onsite.
Backcountry Camping at Jewell Bay
Backcountry camping in Bow Valley Provincial Park is available at a scenic equestrian campground called Jewell Bay that is located on the northwest shore of Barrier Lake. Access is from the Barrier Dam Day Use Area and it is a short 3.9 km walk in. It can also be reached by boat as an alternative.
There are seven campsites available here and basic amenities include tent pads, hitching rails, corrals, pit/vault toilets, secure food storage lockers, and firewood. The lake is the only provided water source.
Note: Jewell Bay is closed annually from April 14-June 16 for spring elk movement.
Things to do at Bow Valley Provincial Park in Summer
The area is rich with some of the best trails in Kananaskis – from easy hikes to heart-pumping treks. Plus, being a smaller provincial park, they aren’t as busy as some of the other hiking opportunities available elsewhere. See a complete listing of the park’s trails at Alberta Parks – Bow Valley Provincial Park.
Bonus: It’s only a short jaunt to Canmore for even more hikes like Ha Ling Peak (temporarily closed), Lady Macdonald Teahouse, and Grotto Mountain among others.
Nature and Wildlife Viewing
The awe-inspiring natural landscape created by the McConnell Thrust, scenic covered trees in lush forests, beautiful lakes to adventure on (like Middle Lake, Lac De Arcs, and Barrier Lake), and interesting flora and fauna to discover, with one visit it’s easy to see why this park is a popular nature and wildlife viewing stop.
Although the campgrounds close to campers each winter, area trails are still accessible for winter hiking and photography to capture the surrounding mountains and gorgeous scenery.
This area is well-known for its amazing fishing (especially of the trout variety – it’s some of the best fishing in Alberta) and is available in Gap Lake, Bow River, or Grotto Pond (stocked).
Geocaching is a fun family-friendly activity that is a popular thing to do in the park. There are more than 8 geocaches found mainly in the north part of the park near Bow Valley Campground.
Try the paved Bow Valley Bike Path (4.2 km one-way) or bike on the road before the gate closes for the season from Middle Lake to Bow Valley Campground from mid-October – April 30. There are numerous mountain biking opportunities in the area too (check options here).
Canoeing, Rafting & Boating
Many local operators offer family-friendly trips down the Kananaskis River through Bow Valley Provincial Park.
If bringing a boat, it can be trailer launched on either:
- Barrier Lake at the Barrier Lake Lower Day Use Area
- Gap Lake at the Gap Lake Day Use Area
* Before arriving, make sure to review boating safety requirements for pleasure crafts.
Alternatively, there are paddle opportunities (paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing) at Barrier Lake (put in at Barrier Dam, Barrier Lake, or Widow Maker), Canoe Meadows (river paddling & surfing), Gap Lake, or Lac Des Arc.
Safety at Bow Valley Provincial Park
Bow Valley Provincial Park exists in a notable wildlife corridor for the animals living within the area. Many animals that you can see in the Canadian Rockies have their homes here including grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, deer, coyotes, mountain goats, and elk.
Wildlife in the region is active so it is important to exercise caution when in the park and practice wildlife safety. Make sure to make noise when on any trail, pay close attention to your surroundings, and carry bear spray (it’s even more important to know how to use it).
If you do encounter wildlife while driving slow down and don’t stop on the shoulder to capture a photograph. Move along and let the animals be in their natural habitat.
When going on hikes or other activities, it’s recommended to hike in groups of two or more people, and bring clothing for changing weather conditions (this is Alberta and snowstorms can happen in summer months at higher elevations). Most importantly have a plan in case there is an emergency and make sure that your phone has plenty of power in case you need to make a call when in reception areas.