Crowsnest Highway: Cranbrook to Lethbridge

What to See & Do Between Cranbrook and Lethbridge?

This 302 km (3-1/2 hours) stretch of the Crowsnest Highway passes through the beautiful Elk Valley and then heads east through the actual Crowsnest Pass into Alberta (and the community of Crowsnest Pass). You pass a number of wind turbine farms, sitting on high ridges south of the highway, which generate a lot of electricity before the highway hits the wide open Alberta Prairie.

BC Itinerary - Crowsnest Route - Cranbrook-Lethbridge

This route takes you by several great ski resorts: Kimberley just north of Cranbrook, Fernie (in Fernie), and Castle Mountain, 40 km south of Pincher Creek. There’s also a small for-locals ski hill in the Crowsnest Pass.

In the market town of Cranbrook, Highway 3/95 is the major commercial street, passing by downtown Cranbrook at King Street/9th Avenue). North of this Junction, streets are “north” and south of this junction streets are “south”. On the way out of town you pass the Tamarack Centre mall, the largest in the region. You pass the Cranbrook Community Forest (on your south side) before hitting the 3/93/95 junction. 95 takes you north to Radium, 3 back to Cranbrook, and 3 (now also 93) heads south east on the southside of the Kootenay River which it crosses at the town of Wardner. At Elko, you see beautiful snow-covered Mt Broadwood, which you pass by before the highway veers northward along the Elk River to the ski town of Fernie.

Cranbrook- downtown streetscape
Cranbrook- downtown streetscape

The scenic Elk River valley passes through Fernie

From Fernie you continue up a beautiful valley to Sparwood, which is home to several mines and The World’s Largest Truck, just off the highway (it’s bright green, so you cannot miss it!). The highway then heads southeast toward the Alberta border. You will driver through Crowsnest Provincial Park (with BC Travel Information for westbound travellers) and as you climb up the hill past Summit Lake, there is a plaque marking the border.

World's biggest truck on display in Sparwood

Inside Alberta, the highway drops quickly and crosses Island Lake, and then climbs a bit to grant a vies of Crowsnest Lake, and then you pass through or by a bunch of communities that used to be all separate and recently amalgamated into one community of Crowsnest Pass. To the south of the highway is a stunning view of a ridge that comprises of (from west to east) Mt Senty, Chinook Peak, Mt Parrish, Mt McLaren, and Mt Coulthard. North of the highway is the Crowsnest Mountain that the highway and region are named for.

Travel Tip: gas is much cheaper in Alberta, so eastbound travelers should wait to gas up until you hit the Alberta side of this highway. And westbound travellers should gas up in the Crowsnest Pass before entering BC.

Crowsnest Pass - view of mountains just inside BC -sliver
Crowsnest Pass - view of mountains just inside BC -sliver

Crowsnest Mountain on the Alberta side of the Crownest Pass

In Alberta, you pass through the Town of Crowsnest Pass, which is an amalgamation of several small villages in the Crowsnest Valley. This area used be a coal-mining area and the river is now well-known for its trout fishing. Then you will pass the Frank Slide on the south side of the highway, and there is a visitor centre and observation desk on the north side. The unstable Turtle Mountain crashed down and buried a town, the railroad, and the highway, killing 90 of the town’s 600 residents in 1903. East of Frank Slide you pass the Bellevue Mine Exhibit, the town of Burmis, the famed Burmis Tree, and junction with Highway 507 south to the Castle Mountain Resort ski hill, before passing a large wind turbine right before the junction with Highway 22.

Cowboy Trail  side trip

Bar U Ranch National Historical Site on the Cowboy Trail

A worthy detour NORTH from the Crowsnest Route is taking the Cowboy Trail north. You pass the beautiful Whaleback Ridge on your drive up to the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site which is a 100 km (1 hour) drive to the north. You can either turn back or continue north to the foothills ranching towns of Longview and Black Diamond. and the historic oil town of Turner Valley. Then head east on Highway 7 to Okotoks, best known for its massive glacial erratic, before heading south on Highway 2 through High River, Nanton, Claresholm, and making a side-trip west to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and rejoining the trip on the #3 Crowsnest Highway at Fort MacLeod. Side Trip Map

Crowsnest Pass-Burmis Tree-sliver
Crowsnest Pass-Burmis Tree-sliver

Buffalo Herd at Head-Smashed-In
As you head east you pass Pincher Creek, and a massive wind turbine farm on a ridge to the south of the highway. You also pass by the Pikani (Peigan) First Nation, which has a 430 square kilometre reserve, the 4th largest in Canada.

You will pass the junction with Highway 2 north (to Calgary) before passing through Fort MacLeod.  which has a famous Fort used by the Northwest Mounted Police when they were taming the prairies, working with the First Nations in the area to kick out the American whiskey traders. Also, to the north off Highway 2 is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump UNESCO World Heritage site, a must-see on this route (20 km / 20 minutes). To the south of Fort MacLeod is Cardston, (60 km, 40 minutes) which is home to the largest Mormon temple outside the United States.

Waterton Lakes side trip

Prince Of Wales Hotel
A worthy detour SOUTH from this segment is a drive south to Waterton Lakes National Park, where the prairies jut up against the first range of the Rocky Mountains. Access is via highway 6 south of Pincher Creek. You can return via Highway 5 east to Cardston, and then north on #2 to Fort MacLeod. You’ll also drive through the town of Standoff in the Blood Reserve. The drive is about 1 hour in each direction from the #3 Crowsnest Highway, plus time spent exploring. Side Trip Map

From Fort MacLeod, the highway heads east through hilly farming country and crosses the Old Man River (just to the south is the high-level railway bridge, and the architectural masterpiece campus of Lethbridge University) before entering Lethbridge.  American visitors often arrive in Lethbridge from Great Falls, Montana via Hwy #4 and #15 through the Coutts border crossing.

Lethbridge- Approaching From west
Lethbridge- Approaching From west

Cranbrook to Lethbridge (Crowsnest Highway) Route Map