Kananaskis Country is the name given to a cluster of Alberta provincial parks on the Rocky Mountains' eastern slope, southeast of Banff National Park, including Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, and Elbow-Sheep Wildland Provincial Park. Together, they make up 4,250 sq. km (1,641 sq. miles) of protected Rocky Mountain wilderness.
Once considered only a gateway region to more glamorous Banff, Kananaskis has come into its own and is now a recreation destination on par with more famous brand-name resorts in the Rockies in terms of offerings, and it's quieter in terms of crowds. Kananaskis -- or "K-Country," as it's called by locals -- has an air of the untouched about it, especially compared to the well-trodden streets and highly maintained trails of Banff. This can be both a good and bad thing because, while it feels much less busy and picked over, Kananaskis lacks some of the amenities that a more veteran tourist region like Banff possesses. Still, it's equally spectacular in terms of its surroundings, and that's why you're here. Wildlife abounds here, from deer and moose to bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, and grizzlies.
Located just west of K-Country and just outside the eastern boundary of Banff National Park, the town of Canmore is an old mining village that's grown into a resort town a la Whistler or Aspen, with real estate developments and golf courses in a dramatic location beneath the soaring peaks of Three Sisters Mountain. Only 20 minutes from Banff, the scenery here is magnificent and the accommodations generally much less expensive and less busy than those in Banff. Dining and shopping are equal to the offerings in Banff, and Canmore has a more authentic small-town feel than tourist-trodden Banff.
Also, because Kananaskis Country isn't governed by national-park restrictions, there's better road access to out-of-the-way lakeside campgrounds and trail heads, which makes this a more convenient destination for family getaways (there are more than 3,000 campsites in the area!). This provincial parkland also allows "mixed use," including some traditional (though heavily regulated) ranching. Some of the best guest ranches in Alberta operate here.
The main road through Kananaskis Country is Highway 40, which cuts south from Highway 1 at the gateway to the Rockies and follows the Kananaskis River. Kananaskis Village -- a small collection of resort hotels, a golf course, and shops -- is the center of activities in Kananaskis Country, with Canmore serving as the main hub, about 30 minutes from the village. Highway 40 eventually climbs up to 2,206m (7,238 ft.) at Highwood Pass, the highest pass in Alberta, before looping around to meet Highway 22 south of Calgary. Highway 40 is open only in summer, from mid-June to November, so be sure to check closures before you attempt it.