A wonderful loop takes you around Upper Kananaskis lake. Along the way you can expect to see eagles and bears, a wide range of micro climates, and an incredible slide area. It’s an easy loop, but it is long and you’ll feel very remote in places. Side trails take you to surrounding lakes and mountains, and a back country campsite exists on the northwest shore.
We always start out at the south parking lot and travel clockwise. That’s the way we like it, but nothing is preventing you from starting at the north lot or from going counter-clockwise.
From our start, you immediately plunge into a moist spruce and fir forest. Paralleling the lake shore (as is does most of the loop), things are pretty easy going. Occasionally we’ll get views of the mountains across the lake. And there are lots of anglers to be seen, and boats dot the lake. I understand the fishing is good.
You’ll hear Sarrail Creek before you see it. It’s always a noisy little thing, but with the huge snow melt this year, it was roaring. Don’t worry, there is a bridge allowing you to cross it safely. Just past that is a side trail to Rawson Lake. We have never been, but I hear it is beautiful.
A number of kilometres on and passing through mature forests we come to an unmarked junction with the Hidden Lake trail. It’s a short one kilometre side trip and worth it, but you have to hop over some dead fall The lake itself is usually stunning, but this time it was storming and it was desolate looking. The lake has no visible outlet, travelling underground before entering Upper Kananaskis Lake just above its shore. There is a trail past Hidden Lake, taking you to Aster Lake and scrambling options beyond. That’s for the hardcore bunch.
Back on the main trail, some elevation is gained, but it’s nothing much. Not far after, there is a series of small bridges taking you over some boggy areas. And right after that, a more substantial bridge crosses Kananaskis River. Just below is a series of step falls, quite pretty. The river was at full flood stage the time of our visit. Heading east now, we stay close to the river for while and near a point of land is the aptly name Point Back Country Campground.
It’s a lovely spot to pitch a tent, and there is plenty of room for all. The site includes a biffy and there is ample firewood. Many people who stay here travel from the north parking lot and head counter-clockwise, since that route is shorter.
Just beyond the campsite, we enter the rock garden. Here is an extensive slide area, and if you look at Mount Indefatigable above, you can see the severely tilted slabs where it originated from. Since we are out of the trees we get good views of surrounding peaks, including Mount Lyautey which sits above Hidden Lake which we visited earlier. This is by far the most interesting part of the trail (IMO).
There is a junction in rock garden, and it’s marked. You can stay on the Upper Lake trail, or you can go up and use the old forest service road to go west deep into the Kananaskis River valley.
Staying a bit above the lake we leave the rock garden and follow the undulating trail till it meets up with a forest service road. Not long beyond that, we come to civilization, the north parking lot. But we’ll be back into the woods in no time and following the east section of the trail we soon leave the tourists behind. This is the easiest and least exciting part of the trail, but it’s nice none the less. After a few kilometres, we emerge on an earthen dam and just beyond that is our parking lot.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: June 2012
Location: Peter Lougheed provincial park, Upper Kananaskis lake.
Distance: 16km loop
Height gain from start: negligible
Height gain cumulative: 100m or so.
Technical bits: None
Notes: We’ve seen a bear and lots of evidence of same on this trail over the years. Bring your bear spray and travel in groups.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.