Kananaskis Country is an expansive multi-use area that once hosted a G8 summit, but is, for the most part, Alberta's best kept secret. It's a wilderness that is full of gems, but none greater than Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Located about a 45 minute drive southwest of Calgary and about a 15 minute drive southeast of Canmore/Banff National Park, the primary access road to Kananaskis and, eventually, Peter Lougheed, is Highway 40, an exit of the TransCanada. You can also reach Peter Lougheed from Longview in the south and from a gravel road on the outskirts of Canmore. Past the Delta Ski Lodge (if travelling south from the TransCanada), wildlife - bighorn, elk, mule deer, coyote and moose - is common, but nothing compares to Highwood Pass and its incredible concentration of grizzly bears.
Highway 40 over the pass - the stretch of road between the junction to Upper and Lower Lakes in the north and Highwood Junction in the south - is closed from June 15 to December 1st. But in mid-summer, this bit of road is probably one of the best roads for grizzly bears in the world. Highwood Pass, at 2,206m, is the highest road pass in Canada and one of the highest road passes in grizzly habitat in the world. As such, when the mid-summer temperatures get too hot for bears in the valley bottoms, grizzlies will wander to higher elevations, including Highwood Pass, in search of food and the cool. And when the berry crop blooms in late July and early August, it's a bear picnic.
From winter closure gate to winter closure gate, you're in prime grizzly country, but keep your eyes peeled specifically from Rock Glacier to Lost Lemon Mine. We've never not seen a grizzly in this stretch of road. We know of at least four different sows and two boars that can be found within a few kilometres of the pass. Last year, Highway 40 was closed due to extreme floods in Alberta and, as such, we're unsure of the number of surviving cubs/sub-adults on the pass. The one thing you can tell from our images is that these bears are exceptionally beautiful creatures - healthy and with unique markings.
There are downsides to bear watching on Highwood Pass. Some bears in the area wear more bling than an 80's rapper - multiple ear tags, radio collars and even radio antennas. And the light is almost always awful - from low, dark clouds on a miserable day to dark shadows until, like a switch, it turns to harsh sunlight on nice days. That being said, the really wonderful part of grizzly encounters on Highwood is that you often have the sighting to yourself. And if someone does stop, you can be assured that they too will act responsibly and not leave their vehicle, unless it is safe.
About Highwood Pass
Location: Highwood Pass, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Accessibility: Hwy 40 (south from TransCanada, north from Longview; southeast of Banff; southwest of Calgary)
Photographic Focus: Grizzly Bears
Best Time: 5-8am; 6-10pm
Season: Summer (June 15-October 15, especially good when the midsummer berries are ripe)
D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com
D. Simon Jackson founded the 6 million-strong Spirit Bear Youth Coalition in the process of helping create the largest land protection measure in North American history. For his efforts, Simon was named a Hero for the Planet by Time Magazine and was the inspiration for a made-for-TV movie, Spirit Bear: The Simon Jackson Story.
Today, Simon is focused on putting forward a multi-partisan, 21st Century vision for the environment as a speaker and strategist; as well as co-running Ghost Bear Photography, which seeks to help people fall in-love with nature again.