You don’t have to wander far from Canmore to find yourself in the middle of the mountains, standing beside beautiful lakes that mirror snowy peaks. And, you don’t have to drive into Banff National Park, either. Just look for the spot, in the mountains southwest of town, where a dirt road slips into the middle of the rugged terrain. That road is Spray Trail, also known as Smith-Dorrien Trail, because it takes you into the middle of the Smith-Dorrien Valley.
From downtown, cross the Bow River, then follow Three Sisters Drive to Spray Lakes Road. You’ll gain elevation quickly, the pavement will run out, and you’ll twist around a few dozen curves, before reaching the spot you see in the photo above. Here, you’re next to a dam that holds back Canmore’s water supply, the first in a series of reservoirs and canals which the road follows.
Directly below are the Grassi Lakes, and beyond them, Canmore. The popular Grassi Lakes Trail hikes up the hillside here. I hiked it during my 2009 visit, but to be honest, I prefer to drive somewhere, rather than hike, if I have the option.
At the dam, the road plunges into the middle of the mountains, slipping between the southern end of Mount Rundle and Ha Ling Peak, formerly known as Chinaman’s Peak. The road passes by a partially-frozen reservoir here — the one formed by that dam. As you drive south, this reservoir turns into a canal, that connects to the next reservoir at the next dam up the road. For most of the way, the road stays slightly below, and out of sight of, the canal.
Just before that next dam, the dirt road climbs up, and crosses the canal.
From the middle of the bridge, you get a nice view looking south (towards Old Goat Mountain)…
… and to the north, back the way you came (this is probably Ha Ling Peak).
I decided to turn around here, because I had driven the road in 2009, and I knew that the scenery wouldn’t change much over the following few kilometers. That’s not to say that it’s not a beautiful drive — you will be constantly treated to mountains and lakes as you head south. Spray Trail skirts along the boundary between Spray Valley Provincial Park and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park for a while, then passes the Spray Lakes Reservoir. If you kept going, you’d eventually end up on Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and connect with Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into Canmore, then up Spray Trail, and back to town: