Creating a Bighorn Country for all Albertans

November 23, 2018

Alberta is consulting on a proposal for Bighorn Country that would conserve natural landscapes while boosting economic development, tourism and recreation.

Premier Notley and Minister Phillips announce consultation plans for Bighorn Country at the Van Vliet Complex on the University of Alberta campus.

Located between Banff and Jasper national parks, Bighorn Country includes the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River that provide clean drinking water to more than one million Albertans. Its rugged terrain, scenic vistas and array of rare plants and wildlife make it a popular recreation and tourism destination.

In the spirit of Kananaskis Country, the province is proposing a mix of parks and public lands that would preserve natural landscapes while supporting a wide range of world-class tourism and recreation opportunities. Albertans are invited to review the proposal and provide feedback by Jan. 31.

“Forty years ago, Premier Peter Lougheed created Kananaskis Country due to increased pressures on the eastern slopes. Now, Kananaskis provides amazing experiences and opportunities, showing that investments in Alberta today mean our children and grandchildren will have wild spaces to enjoy in the future. We are asking all Albertans to help us create a place for everyone.”

Rachel Notley, Premier

“This mix of parks, recreation areas and public land-use zones has the potential to be the greatest tourism development opportunity the area has ever seen. We know how much Albertans value nature and time spent outdoors. This proposal will create new jobs, enhance mountain recreation and preserve the wilds of the Bighorn backcountry for generations to come.”

Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks

To ensure the right balance of Indigenous, economic, environmental and social values and goals, all interested parties can provide input on the future of the Bighorn Country through an online survey available from Nov. 23, 2018 to Jan. 31, 2019.

New land designations in Bighorn Country would better protect headwaters and biodiversity, support continued traditional land-use by Indigenous Peoples, and provide high-quality outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism opportunities.

The proposal supports all current recreation activities (such as camping, hunting, hiking, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding and off-highway vehicle use) that have been enjoyed by local user groups for years, and would ensure these activities continue for generations to come.

I take my Outdoor Education students to the Bighorn area every year. Through activities like camping, hiking, paddling and rock-climbing, these young Albertans develop their knowledge, skills and positive attitudes while connecting with their peers and their environment. By appreciating the natural beauty of the Bighorn, our students recognize the importance of environmental conservation and strong recreation opportunities for future generations. I want to thank the government for announcing this consultation and highlighting how important this area is to our province.”

Gord Thorpe, Outdoor Education teacher, Londonderry School

“Preserving the Bighorn Country is a true gift to outdoor explorers who share a common love for the Rocky Mountains. Whether it’s hiking, backpacking, scrambling, mountaineering or rock-climbing, our members revere the Bighorn for its natural beauty and mountain experiences. This amazing place is a major source of drinking water, a home for wildlife and a quiet place for everyday people to soak it all in. We welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on this park proposal and for investments in new mountain experiences that excite the mind and challenge the body.”

Neil Bosch, president, Alpine Club of Canada

“Bighorn is one of Alberta’s last pristine wilderness spaces, treasured by nature lovers, campers and RV users alike. By setting aside this jewel and expanding camping areas with modern, electrified sites, more Alberta families will be able to go enjoy this space for generations, which supports Alberta businesses and the provincial economy. I’m thrilled to see this government invest in new recreation spaces, and the RVDA is eager to take part in the consultation.”

Dan Merkowsky, executive vice-president, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Alberta

To conserve this landscape and manage growth of numerous activities in the area, the government is proposing new, expanded or amended parks, recreation areas and Public Land Use Zones.

Key proposals include

  • A proposed investment of $40 million over five years in operations and capital infrastructure.
  • Establishing the Bighorn Wildland Provincial Park to conserve nature and allow low-impact backcountry recreation experiences provided by both the public and private sector.
  • Creating three new provincial parks – The David Thompson Provincial Park, The North Saskatchewan River Provincial Park, and the Ya Ha Tinda Provincial Park – to offer front-country experiences that come with infrastructure investments such as campgrounds and staging areas for recreation activities like hiking, paddling, horseback riding, and more.
  • Establishing three Provincial Recreation areas – Snow Creek, Bighorn Dam and Hummingbird – to accommodate future demand for commercial development while offering staging areas for off-highway vehicle (ATV and snowmobile) access to designated trails.
  • Expanding and designating Shunda Provincial Recreation Area to offer a range of public and private-sector nature-based tourism and recreation development and investment opportunities.
  • Amending the Kiska/Willson Public Land Use Zone and establishing a new West Country Public Land Use Zone east of the Bighorn that would continue to permit industrial development such as forestry and energy uses while supporting new and existing designated trails. Management planning in the new zone would be done with stakeholders over two years.
  • The refurbishment of 240 existing campsites and the construction of more than 150 new campsites. This would also include investment in parking lots, trails and staging areas.
  • Direct consultation on extending tourism leases beyond 25 years to bolster private investment in tourism infrastructure, providing greater certainty on long-term investment opportunities.
  • Direct consultation with local off-highway vehicle organizations to engage on the investment model for sustainable trail development.

To find out more about the proposed Big Country Initiative and provide feedback online, please visit

Bighorn facts

  • The Bighorn region extends from Banff National Park eastward towards Drayton Valley. It includes Clearwater County and most of Brazeau County.
  • The region forms the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River and Red Deer River, which supply clean drinking water to over 1.5 million Albertans.
  • The Bighorn area encompasses beautiful mountain ranges, alpine lakes, foothills, massive river valleys and forests, which are home to numerous species at risk, including grizzly bears, harlequin ducks and bull trout.
  • The proposed designations represent significant economic opportunity for local communities in the region. For example, tourism and recreation in Kananaskis Country generates $141 million of Alberta’s GDP annually and supports more than 2,400 jobs.
  • The new and expanded parks and protected areas would add almost 400,000 hectares of protected land, increasing overall protection in Alberta from 14.6 per cent to 15.2 per cent.
  • The Bighorn Country proposal presents further opportunities for cooperative management with local First Nations and Metis peoples to ensure traditional activities, sacred sites and treaty rights are part of parks planning, and celebrated in the visitor experience.
  • Random camping would be supported through the creation of designated rustic camping spots with basic public safety and service amenities, as was done in the Castle area.
  • Existing designated trails for off-highway vehicles would be maintained in Bighorn Country, as they have been responsibly developed by many local user groups. The proposal also outlines opportunities for future investment in designated trail systems.
  • Existing grazing would be honoured throughout the Bighorn region.
  • There would be no impact on active industrial leases within the proposed Public Land Use Zones and no forestry tenure within the parks and protected areas is being proposed.

Related Information

Big Horn Country Proposal 

Brochure and Map

North Saskatchewan Regional Plan


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