Upper Kananaskis Lake: A Winter Gem
The epic hikes off of Highway 40 just West of Calgary are familiar to many outdoor enthusiasts. In the summer, this area of Kananaskis booms with eager hikers – but winter brings a special kind of magic to this place.
At the very end of the skinny, winding “Kananaskis Lakes Trail” lies an epicentre of snowy adventures.
Here’s how to spend a winter’s weekend at this oasis…
Friday - Set Up Camp
Abandoning the comforts of home for just a few nights, has it’s rewards. You often get the pick of the litter for the best sites, and you may not even run into a single soul while you are out there. The solitude is a treasure, and having the whole camp to yourself really allows you to make yourself at home.
The Point Backcountry campground has 20 walk-in sites bordering the lakes edge.
This is a full serviced area stocked with firewood, pit toilets, and food storage.
The hike in is a relatively easy 3.4km from the trailhead at the North Interlakes
Day Use parking lot, and is flat for much of the way. Once you arrive, set yourself up with a sleeping area, a kitchen area, and a fire area to keep warm. Cook up some delicious food, have some backcountry dessert, and fall asleep to the extraterrestrial sounds of the lake ice shifting beside you.
Saturday Morning - Ice Fishing on the Lake
A sportfishing license is simple and inexpensive to obtain in Alberta for a mere $28.00.
Upper Kananaskis Lake contains freshwater bull trout, and usually generates a thick enough ice pack later in winter for you to relax on and make your catches. However, keep in mind there is a bait ban here.
You will need:
– An ice auger (make a friend or rent from Home Depot).
– A compact ice fishing rod
– Your tackle boxes, with your lures, weights and extra gear
– Camp chair, warm clothing, and a receptacle for your catches
There are regulations around bait and catch limits, so always review our provincial regulations before heading out.
Saturday - Find those Vistas on Mount Indefatigable
Your camp lies near the foot of Mt Indefatigable – a wonderfully forgiving mountain that offers breathtaking panoramas of both the Upper and Lower lakes.
The lower parts of the mountain is densely forested, and is habitat to many song birds and squirrels, and bears! Always carry bearspray just in case.
The sounds of chirping and fluttering carry throughout the forest canopy, and creates a lovely atmosphere. It is a pleasant reminder that there is life still exists in the dead of winter!
As you continue and a gentle upward incline, you will eventually break tree line, where it becomes a steeper hike. At this point it is advised to be equipped with snowshoes, as the pack is quite deep. The mountain soon begins to reward you with consistent views without being incredibly high.
As you continue ascent, you will pass the frozen-over Fossil Falls to your left, and eventually reach rockier, ridge terrain that will bask you in sweet sunlight.
The ridge is a good place to end, however if you want to continue to the summit, proper winter climbing gear is required, as it can get steep and a bit icy. You will need crampons and poles, and a confident grip.
All the trudging through the snow will surely tire you out. Once you get back to your camp, be sure to walk out towards the lake and catch the sunset!
Sunday Morning - Picnic up at Rawson Lake
**This will not require snowshoes, as the trail remains quite packed down in the Winter.
Bring your sled if it is not too heavy!
When the upper lakes are frozen, you have the added advantage of making an easy trek across the icy surface to reach the Rawson Lake trailhead. This will save you at least a half hour of hiking.
Pack some tea in your thermos and begin your pilgrimage.
Once you reach the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Day Use Area”, you will find the trailhead on South side of the parking lot, leading into the trees. The easy incline in the first minutes eventually slopes upward, turning into a bit of a workout through the sub-alpine forest. Persevere!
It is only about 1-1.5 hours to Rawson Lake and the trail is well-maintained and scenic.
You will pass a wooden bridge over the still trickling Sarrail Creek, and there will be a lovely dappled light filtered through the pines and firs.
Enjoy the scents of evergreen resins and saps, and check out all the lichen growing around you!
The forest eventually opens up in front of you, and there you will see Rawson Lake, sitting peacefully a the foot of Mount Sarrail. Stop and enjoy a picnic on sled-top. You can meander around the lake for a whole afternoon, just be mindful that Rawson does not typically freeze over entirely in the Winter.
If you go in Early-Mid season, you will find yourself in a wonderland of fresh powder, and may be lucky enough to see fluffy flakes making their way down and settling in the clearing.
Or, in late Winter, you might be hanging out shore side if it has been sunny enough to melt.
It is not advised to go higher than this point. Although in the warmer months you can climb Sarrail Ridge, this is prime avalanche terrain in the Winter and extremely dangerous.
Sunday Afternoon - Sled It
Now here’s the real fun. The whole ascent you just made up to the lake transforms into a snowy downhill slope…
Remember that sled you brought with you?
Pack In, Pack Out
As always, clean your site and leave no trace. As you make your way back to civilization, you will feel accomplished and grateful that wild places like this exist so close to home. It is our responsibility as humans to protect these natural spaces so they are preserved for generations of winter campers to come!