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Gorgeous Sunset On The Smith Dorrien Trail

Smith Dorrien Trail – Highway 40 Road Trip

From Canmore, it’s easy to access the Smith Dorrien Trail – Highway 40 loop, a spectacular road trip in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains that can be done on your own or in luxury with Canadian Rockies Experience. The road trip can be done in either direction, but if you’re driving in summer consider returning via the Smith Dorrien Trail so you catch the sunset. There are numerous scenic spots along the route along with access to plenty of hikes, of all lengths and difficulties.

I have done the road trip numerous times in all seasons, and it never fails to impress. However, I had never done the Smith Dorrien Trail as part of a luxury experience until the summer of 2021. I was invited by Laura Dowling, owner of Canadian Rockies Experience, to spend a late afternoon – evening with her. Over the course of about 5.5 hours, Laura drove me and my 90-year-old neighbour (she had never driven the Smith Dorrien Trail before) in a spacious Ford Expedition. We stopped to do a hike to Upper Troll Falls off of Highway 40 and spent a good hour enjoying a delicious charcuterie dinner overlooking Upper Kananaskis Lake. On the Smith Dorrien section of the trip, we pulled over countless times to capture the magnificent sunset. All in all, it was a noteworthy and highly enjoyable experience.

Your own personal driver on a Canadian Rockies Experience
Your own personal driver in a kitted-out car – heading for the Smith Dorrien Road

Starting the loop drive

We met Laura in Canmore, a good place to start the drive whether on your own or with her. We drove east on the Trans-Canada Highway to the Highway 40 turnoff and then south to reach the Troll Falls trailhead in just under 40 minutes.

Before we left the parking lot, we were offered an assortment of snacks including fresh pastries, energy bars and drinks. Then we just sat back, chatted, and enjoyed the scenery.

Troll Falls – our first stop

Troll Falls is an easy family-friendly hike but with the addition of a trail to Upper Troll Falls, the enjoyment factor of the hike has gone way up. It’s notoriously busy on weekends, but when we started out at 5 PM, we hardly met a soul. If you decide to do the hike, I think the extra effort to reach the upper falls is warranted. Allow at least 90 minutes to do the return hike and take photos.

Laura offers the Troll Falls hike in both summer and winter. You can see all her tour offerings right here.

My 90 year old neighbour hiked to Troll Falls for the first time ever
My 90 year old neighbour hiked to Troll Falls for the first time ever
Admiring the cascades on the hike up to Upper Troll Falls
Admiring the cascades on the hike up to Upper Troll Falls
Upper Troll Falls is a fantastic place to visit especially late in the afternoon when the crowds have gone home
Upper Troll Falls is a fantastic place to visit especially late in the afternoon when the crowds have gone home

Pass pretty fields of wildflowers on the return to the carPass pretty fields of wildflowers on the return to the car

Dinner at Upper Kananaskis Lake

The drive south on Highway 40 is extremely beautiful, no matter what season you do it. There are lots of pull offs along the way. If its the first time you’re driving it, consider a stop a Mount Lorette Ponds and Wedge Pond before continuing towards Upper Kananaskis Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

It’s about a 40-minute drive without stops to reach the Upper Kananaskis Day Use Area via Highway 742 and the Kananaskis Lakes Trail. There is a place to gas up and get snacks at the Fortress Junction Service Station before you turn onto Highway 742.

Once we arrived at Upper Kananaskis Lake, Laura got to work setting up chairs and a table, offering hot drinks and then the charcuterie dinner and dessert. We were lucky with a beautiful summer night – even with smoke. Views were fantastic, Laura is easy company, and the dinner and dessert were delicious.

Beautiful reflections in the Mount Lorette ponds
Beautiful reflections in the Mount Lorette Ponds
Wedge Pond in the fall
Wedge Pond in the fall
Upper Kananaskis Lake in all its summer glory
Upper Kananaskis Lake in all its summer glory
Laura gets everything set up for dinner
Laura gets everything set up for dinner overlooking Upper Kananaskis Lake
Enjoying hot chocolate with a view
Enjoying hot chocolate with a view
Charcuterie plate thanks to Canadian Rockies Experience
Charcuterie plate thanks to Canadian Rockies Experience
Pat my neighbour is thoroughly enjoying the outing
Pat, my neighbour, is thoroughly enjoying the outing
Decadence in a glass jar for dessert
Decadence in a glass jar for dessert
What a scene to look out on over dinner
What a scene to look out on over dinner

Driving the Smith Dorrien Trail

The 62 km Smith Dorrien Trail – Spray Lakes Road is also known as Highway 742. It connects Kananaskis Trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to the east side of Canmore via a dirt road that traverses the Smith Dorrien Valley. It can sometimes be in rough shape and in summer, it is famous for the dust it generates. However, it can also be a very quiet road – especially early in the day or later in the evening.

It’s also one where you have a good chance of seeing wildlife. I have seen moose on it on several occasions, black bear, coyote, bighorn sheep and most recently Rocky Mountain goats. 

There is a long section where you get great views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir as you can see below. There isn’t much in the way of services save for one campground and the fabulous Mount Engadine Lodge, where you can get a late afternoon “tea” which consists of a delicious charcuterie plate and small dessert.

A stop near the Buller Mountain Day Use Area
A stop near the Buller Mountain Day Use Area
Watching the sunset over the Spray Lakes
Watching the sunset over the Spray Lakes
Stunning sunset along the Smith Dorrien Trail
Stunning sunset along the Smith Dorrien Trail
Not another car to be seen on a pretty summer's night near the Spray Lakes Reservoir
Gorgeous sunset on the Smith Dorrien Trail

Picnic stops along the trail

There are a couple of picnic spots along the Smith Dorrien including Sparrowhawk-Spray Lake Day Use Areas – with a nice view of the lake, Buller Pond, Hogarth Lakes – Mud Lake area by the Burstall Pass trailhead, Sawmill and Black Prince. There are also several places along Kananaskis Trail on the way into Upper Kananaskis Lake.

John and his mother at Buller Pond
John and his mother at Buller Pond several years ago
Go off trail down by the the Spray Lakes and find your own picnic spot
Go off trail down by the the Spray Lakes and find your own picnic spot

Hikes along the Smith Dorrien Trail

There are some exceptional hikes (and snowshoe trips) that are accessed from the Smith Dorrien Trail. 

One of the easier hikes is the Black Prince Cirque that takes you to Warspite Lake. (Laura offers this as a guided hike.)

Chester Lake is a perennial favourite in any season. Also try the Headwall Lakes hike accessed from the same trailhead.

I also love Burstall Pass, Buller Pass (good in larch season) and Sparrowhawk Tarns – a hike that’s closer to Canmore.

Beautiful Warspite Lake
Beautiful Warspite Lake
The view from the far end of Chester Lake
The view from the far end of Chester Lake
The stunning Sparrowhawk Tarn
The stunning Sparrowhawk Tarn

Why you’d want to book a trip with Canadian Rockies Experience

If you have out of town guests or you’re a local Albertan who has never spent much time in the Rockies, then Laura’s trips are ideal. She is very knowledgeable – and in addition takes all the hassle out of driving, especially in winter. Nothing beats a personable guide for shedding light on your travels and just making the getting around so easy. It’s a seamless, luxurious experience to go with her.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Smith Dorrien Trail - Highway 40 road trip in Alberta's Kananaskis Country with Canadian Rockies Experience

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. This area looks gorgeous. We will have a short stay in Canmore in October and hope to fit it in. Thank you for all your research.

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