Driving Through the Scenic 60 Km Gravel Road, the Smith-Dorrien Trail or Hwy 742, from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Canmore, followed by a Great Steak at Rustica!

Loretta Ponds Kananaskis Contry, Malik Merchant Simerg Photos.
Memorial bench to a family member, Mt Lorette Ponds, off Hwy 40, Kananaskis Country. As a visitor I felt deeply touched and gratified by the words inscribed on benches such as this one that offers spectacular views of nature all around it. The place no doubt was deeply inspirational to the deceased person during his lifetime; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  Simergphotos, Barakah, and Simerg

My first outing to Kananaskis Country was on June 30, 2022, when I drove from Calgary to Longview and headed Northbound on Hwy 40 all the way until Trans Canada Hwy 1, before returning to Calgary. I was hungry for more of the wonderful and inspiring Kananaskis Country, and I set out again on the following day, July 1, Canada Day, this time via Hwy 1 and driving South on Hwy 40. The two day 12 hour trip was covered in a photo piece HERE.

Of course on both days I had to bypass a lot of (easy) trails and viewing points, and decided on more trips in the ensuing days.

I had also done some reading about what one must do in Kananaskis Country, and the approximately 60 km drive on a gravel road known as Hwy 742 or the Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail was a MUST on many an adventurer’s list. However, some of the responses had suggested that the road was not advisable in a sedan, with a 4×4 or an SUV being the preferred vehicles to traverse the trail.

Now, growing up in Tanzania, my parents in the late 1960’s took their three boys aged 8 to 16, on a Safari trip from Dar es Salaam to Moshi and Arusha in our tiny Morris Mini! During the 1800 km trip my dad took his Morris through some of the worst roads in the country. We even did the Lake Manyara National Park in the Mini, and on our way back to Dar es Salaam he drove the car through the Usambara Mountains all the way upto Lushoto — considered at that time to be the country’s prospective Switzerland. On the trip that spanned almost 2 weeks, we went through gravel roads, deep pot-holes, muddy roads and long patches of flooded roads. I was slightly underage but he trusted me with the car whenever he needed a break. My mother also drove on that trip for short periods. So for me the 60 kilometre Smith-Dorrien drive appeared to be a piece of cake. As a Mazda 6 sedan owner, I came across a piece in the beautiful Mazda Stories magazine about an owner of Mazda’s flagship SUV, the CX-9, driving through the gravel highway. I decided to put my sedan through some rough Canadian roads. I was of course inspired by the trip that my dad had made some 50 years earlier in his Morris. If indeed the Mini had travelled almost 2,000 kms, what was there to worry about the short 62 kms journey through the dusty and gravel Hwy 742.

When I got to the visitors centre at the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, after having made a stop at the beautiful Mount Lorette ponds, just off Hwy 40, the friendly information desk team encouraged me to make the Hwy 742 trip, and highlighted a few stops for me. The only thing that bothered me was the grey skies as I began my trip. Fortunately the rain kept away and I encountered lovely blue skies along many sections of the road. The Smith-Dorrien Trail starts just a short distance from the visitors centre.

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Loretta Ponds Kananaskis Contry Malik Merchant Simergphotos
Lorette Ponds, Hwy 40, Kananaskis Country; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Loretta Ponds, Bird, Malik Merchant Simerg Photos
Beautiful bird, Lorette Ponds, Hwy 40, Kananaskis Country; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Loretta Ponds Kananaskis Country
Lorette Ponds, Hwy 40, Kananaskis Country; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.

How was my experience? Eventful, extremely scenic where you felt you could touch the mountains, but at times uncomfortable. Driving Northwards to Canmore was not as as bad as I thought it might be. Luckily, that afternoon the road was not busy in either direction, and I did not have to contend with dust and gravel chips from cars ahead of me or that drove from the opposite direction. Yes, the road was bumpy (corrugated was the term we used in East Africa) but not too bumpy, except for a few big potholes that were occasionally difficult to avoid. However, the last 15 kms were quite rough, full of deep potholes every few metres. I slowed down considerably in order to negotiate the car around some sections that looked like they could damage the car or the tires and wheels. With the exception of this patch, the entire gravel road is very wide and allows generous speed limits. I drove well under the speed limit to enjoy the scenery, and allowed other cars to overtake me.

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Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Mountain Goat near turn-off to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Big Horn Sheep, Hwy 40, near turn-off to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.

I am glad I started from the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and not the other way around from Canmore as that may have deterred me from driving further, thinking that the entire road would be as bad as the first 15 kms. Actually a number of writers had referred to these last few kilometres being in poor condition. The scenery along the way was breathtaking, and the stop overs that had been suggested as well as those that I decided to make on my own were fantastic. I saw two black bears, and deer along the way. I am glad I did the trip. The car may have taken some beating to its suspensions and wheels but it continues to drive as well as it did before the trip.

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Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Information Board and trail maps, Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Mountain View, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Bear, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Mountain view, Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Deer, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Mountain View, just off Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Mountain View, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Black Bear Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Bear, same one as in a previous photograph, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.

I must however emphasize that the final 15 kms were uncomfortable, and that’s the section I disliked the most, and I would not put my sedan through that patch again. If I did make the trip again to show the scenery to someone visiting me, I would once again begin the trip at Peter Lougheed and travel for around 35 kms before turning back. I would then visit the beautiful Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes.

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Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Spray Lake Reservoir; Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Memorial bench at Spray Lake Reservoir; Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Spray Lake Reservoir, Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.

In conclusion, I may say that the Kananaskis Country offers spectacular scenery on its main throughfare Highway 40, anyway, so the 742 trail, in my humble opinion, is not a MUST do trip. Opinions will differ, and I am stating this from the perspective of scenic driving, and not from the magnificent trails that one can do on the Hwy 742 if someone has plenty of time on hand. I am also not in a position to undertake anything more than an easy or easy to moderate trail.

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Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Falls, approaching Canmore, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Spectacular rock formation! Approaching Canmore, Hwy 742, Smith Dorrien Trail, July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos.
Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien or Spray Trail. Simerg Photos, Malik Merchant
Approaching Canmore, Hwy 742, Smith-Dorrien Trail; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos

In Canmore, I wanted a better view of the Three Sisters Mountains than what I had seen a couple of weeks earlier. I met a very friendly and helpful gentleman at the Canmore Nordic Centre, who suggested that I go to the Silvertip Golf Resort for a great view of the Three Sisters. Being hungry for a good meal and especially a steak — and my daughter had sent me a cash gift for Father’s Day — my search for the best steak intown revealed that the Silvertip was home to a fantastic restaurant that serves outstanding steaks — the Rustica. I have to say the Rib Eye was the best steak I have tasted in my life, period! It was cooked medium-rare as suggested by the host waitress. A beautiful day trip thus ended up on a high note in the patio of Rustica, with Three Sisters as a backdrop! The host was happy with the photograph that she took of me, as I was with the excellent service and suggestions that she made.

Three Sisters Canmore Kananaskis Country
Three Sisters Mountains from Silvertop Golf Resort, Canmore,; July 5, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg Photos
Rustica Restaurant, Silvertop Gold Resort, Canmore Three Sisters Mountains, Simergphotos
Malik Merchant at Rustica Restaurant, Silvertop Golf Resort, Canmore with the Three Sisters Mountains forming the backdrop; July 5, 2022, Photograph: Hostess/Rustica Restaurant

Date Posted: July 26, 2022.

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