Investing in the Future of Kananaskis Country

Redevelopment within Kananaskis Country’s Bow Valley Provincial Park will be a major benefit to river users, supporting world-class water-based recreation.

A $5.2 million government plan to enhance recreation and tourism in the Lower Kananaskis River-Barrier Lake area will support popular water-based activities, including paddle boarding.

As Alberta celebrates the 40th anniversary of the creation of Kananaskis Country, the Government of Alberta is making a $5.2-million investment in the Lower Kananaskis River-Barrier Lake area to enhance recreation, conservation and tourism while supporting new commercial business opportunities.

“Kananaskis Country holds a special place in the hearts of Albertans. By investing in important improvements to recreation, we are ensuring future generations of Alberta families can continue exploring the outdoors and making new memories. As we celebrate its 40th anniversary, I’m proud to say this plan will ensure K-Country remains a global destination that lives up to the legacy and vision of the late Premier Peter Lougheed.”

~Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

The redevelopment project includes upgrades to several day-use areas and a group campsite along Highway 40 between Canoe Meadows and Barrier Lake. The plan will continue to develop the Lower Kananaskis River and Barrier Lake area into a world-class water-based recreation destination.

“The Alberta Whitewater Association is very excited to see Alberta Parks Lower Kananaskis River Redevelopment Plan. This will enhance the land-based day-use and campground facilities and bring these important components up to the world-class standards that the AWA has created in the river. We applaud the Government of Alberta for recognizing the importance of investing in Alberta’s sport, recreation and tourism infrastructure.”

~Chuck Lee, executive director, Alberta Whitewater Association

Alberta Parks will work with a whitewater association to build a new whitewater training facility at Canoe Meadows to serve as a hub for special events and support athletes training on the river.

River enthusiasts will benefit from formalized river access points, a water-sports staging area and “standing wave” area at the Barrier Lake Visitors Centre, a mixture of heated and open-air change rooms, gear-drying racks, and a hand-launch for paddleboards, canoes and rafts at Barrier Lake. Other commercial opportunities include plans for small-scale lodgings and an equipment rental hut.

“As an owner of a canoe and kayak school that operates on the Kananaskis River, I am very excited about the improvements to come. The Kananaskis River and Canoe Meadows will be one of the best whitewater training areas in the world.”

~Mark Taylor, Owner, Rocky Mountain Paddling Centre

In addition, significant infrastructure upgrades will improve enjoyment, accessibility and safety for the public in various areas. This includes bookable campsites, expanded and paved parking sites, picnic areas, trail improvements to support visitors with limited mobility and signage to improve wayfinding, provide ecological education and boost safety.

“Kananaskis Outfitters is very excited to see this plan moving forward. We believe the Lower Kananaskis River-Barrier Lake Redevelopment Plan fulfils our operational needs, as addressed in stakeholder engagement. The site upgrades will enhance the user experience by improving safety, accessibility and usability with purpose-built lakefront infrastructure.”

~Michelle Faerden, Kananaskis Outfitters

The plan also improves the wildlife corridor by focusing visitors close to the river and away from Highway 40, giving wildlife as much space as possible to navigate the area and reducing encounters with vehicles or people. Development between Widowmaker and Barrier Dam was avoided because it is an important pathway for multiple species, including moose, bobcat and black bear.

Recognizing these ecological sensitivities and the social carrying capacity of the region, the plan has been created to represent the ultimate build-out of this area. There will be a five-year moratorium on future development outside the scope of this current plan to ensure protection of wildlife movement.

“The Friends of Kananaskis Country value how this plan balances ecological needs, recreation and collaboration with stakeholders. These improvements will create water recreational experiences that will enhance Kananaskis Country.”

~Nancy Ouimet, executive director, Friends of Kananaskis

Use of the river has grown substantially since the mid-1980s and thousands of people kayak, canoe, raft and surf on the Kananaskis River each year, generating millions of dollars in economic activity. The final plan captures stakeholder feedback dating back to 2011 and was created in collaboration with a broad spectrum of user groups that have made significant investments in the area over the years. Consultation was revisited last year and included First Nations engagement.

Construction will begin in phases next spring, continuing through 2021.

Project sites highlights

Canoe Meadows day-use area and group camp

  • Expanded and formalized public parking area.
  • A new camping area with individually bookable walk-in tenting sites.
  • A training and meeting centre (private sector opportunity).
  • Upgrades to the group campground, including a new group shelter and formalized tent pads.
  • A trail and river put-in for people with limited mobility.
  • Formalized pedestrian access to the river.
  • Installation of two open-air change rooms – one in the main parking area and another in the camping area.
  • Installation of gear-drying racks in the day-use area.

Barrier Lake Visitor Centre and day-use area

  • Expanded parking and designated parking areas for carpoolers and visitor centre users.
  • A river surfer staging area with small parking area, surf board rack, and picnic opportunities.
  • Installation of a heated change room at the surfer staging area.

Widowmaker day-use area

  • Formalized public parking.
  • A new commercial operator put-in upstream

Barrier Lake day-use area

  • A new hand boat launch and associated road access.
  • A water sports equipment rental hut (private sector opportunity).
  • Expanded parking.
  • Decommissioning half of the access loop road, under-used pull-out parking and under-used trails.
  • Construction of a Connection Corner trail
  • Potential small-scale tourism accommodation (private sector opportunity).