Lillian Lake Hike, Alberta – A Real Singing Lake

Lillian Lake when there is still a little snow in the mountains
Lillian Lake when there is still a little snow in the mountains

The Lillian Lake hike in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country was a visual and surprisingly, an auditory treat when we first did it. It seems that Lillian Lake under the perfect storm of circumstances is really a singing lake. (Keep reading to find out why …)

The Lillian Lake hike is primarily in the trees – with the really good views starting on the way up to the Galatea Lakes. But it’s still a very pleasant outing and a means to an end if you want to hike to Guinn Pass and the Ribbon Lake backcountry campground. 

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Lillian Lake hike in Alberta summary

Distance return: 12.6 km or 7.8 miles

Elevation gain: 492 m or 1,514 feet

Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on your fitness level

Dogs allowed: Yes, on leash

Time needed: 4 – 5 hours

Map: Gem Trek Canmore and Kananaskis Village

Important: The Galatea Day Use Area – the trailhead used for the Lillian Lake hike is closed from early May until late June every year.

Backcountry campground: Yes at Lillian Lake. Read below for more information.

Scenery about 30 minutes into the hike
Scenery about 30 minutes into the hike

Lillian Lake hike – trailhead location

Lillian Lake is a very popular day hike in the Kananaskis area of the Rocky Mountains. The trailhead is only about 70-75 minutes from Calgary. The trailhead is just off Highway 40, about 33 km south of the Trans-Canada Highway and about 5 minutes on the road up from Mount Kidd RV Park. It’s on the west side of the highway and is signed for Galatea Lakes. 


Lillian Lake hike description

The hike to Lillian Lake begins with a short descent down to and over the Kananaskis River on a well-built suspension bridge. Once you’ve across the bridge turn left and follow Galatea Creek, basically all the way to Lillian Lake – a distance of  6.3 km with an elevation gain of 492 m (1,614 feet).

Along the way there are numerous small bridges to cross – all rock solid, as well as many avalanche path to cross. That’s why the Lillian Lake hike is not recommended for winter touring.

Near the halfway point on the Lillian Lake hike, head up towards open areas with excellent views of the mountains both nearby and in the distance. 

The final half hour up to the lake isn’t that interesting nut the first glimpse of Lillian Lake makes the uphill worthwhile. Once you catch sight of Lillian Lake, walk around the lake on a flat trail to reach the turnoff to Galatea Lakes and the backcountry campground.

By mid-October the crowds have disappeared. We saw only seven other people – perhaps because it was  -8°C which is not big deal if you’re moving.

Crossing the Kananaskis River near the start of the Lillian Lake hike
Crossing the Kananaskis River near the start of the hike to Lillian Lake 
Early season icicles seen on the Lillian Lake hike Alberta
Beautiful early season icicles seen on the hike to Lillian Lake

Expect snow on the ground if you do the Lillian Lake hike in October

The ice was just starting to form at lower elevations on the stream in early October. By the time we had done two thirds of the Lillian Lake hike, there was snow on the ground. Some was so hard packed that it was icy and a pair of icers or microspikes would have come in handy. I won’t venture again this fall into the backcountry without a pair. 

There are lots of pretty vistas and sights along the way – beautiful yellow-leafed poplars with snow- covered mountains in the distance, rushing streams with fantastic shaped icicles, the last of the elderberries which are much loved by the bears and one three-toed woodpecker. Trees with unusual bark and juniper bushes loaded with berries were also to be seen. All in all, late fall is a beautiful time to hike.

The shaded parts of the trail are snowy and icy in late September
The shaded parts of the trail up to Lillian Lake are snowy and icy even by late September
Lillian Lake – covered with about two inches of ice
The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October
The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October

Camping at Lillian Lake

At the far end of Lillian Lake there’s a campsite – and a backcountry permit is required. It can be purchased within a 90 day window of your visit.

There was plenty of snow around when he hiked it but that didn’t deter the Outdoors Club from the Cochrane High School. A few teachers and about 15 kids spent the night out here. The ice was surprisingly thick close to shore though our dog wasn’t so keen on it. Dogs are allowed on this hike though they must be kept on a leash.

Lillian Lake is very pretty though Galatea Lakes, which are just a bit higher, are even prettier. 

Guinn Pass is also accessible from the Lillian Lake Trail with the turnoff near the campground – something that changed after the 2013 floods. If you continue past Lillian Lake be sure to also include a pair of gaiters

My Caribbean dog didn't know what to make of the ice
My Caribbean dog didn’t know what to make of the ice
Looking back at Lillian Lake
Looking back at Lillian Lake on the way up to Galatea Lakes
The section with some open views
The section on the Lillian Lake hike with some open views on the descent
A fall scene on the trail heading back to the parking lot from Lillian Lake
A fall scene on the trail heading back to the parking lot from Lillian Lake
Very unusual, thickly textured bark
Very unusual bark but I don’t know what type of tree
Map of the trail to Lillian and Galatea Lakes
Map of the trail to Lillian and Galatea Lakes

Did you know Lillian Lake can sing?

Let me explain about the Lillian Lake singing. We arrived at Lillian Lake about noon on an October day. The sun was shining but it was still freezing outside – probably about -5°C and Lillian Lake was covered in about two inches of ice. Initially all was quiet but as we got about halfway around the lake, there was what sounded like the echo of kids hollering. And since there was a big group camped at the far end of the lake, this initially made sense.

But when we stopped to intently listen, the sound seemed to echo off the far side of the lake. It transfixed us. We literally couldn’t believe our ears. For the next 20 – 25 minutes we listened to the lake singing. Sometime it was musical, other-times highly discordant – akin to a ricocheting bullfrog sound if you could imagine that. And then it abruptly stopped.

My husband figures it was the perfect storm of sun heating the ice-covered lake with the energy being released as sound. It didn’t hurt that the setting was a bit like an amphitheatre with a huge rock wall to bounce back the sound.

This was truly a once in a lifetime and a very unique experience. And perhaps that’s why some lakes are called Singing Lake.

There are a couple of pretty streams along the way
There are a couple of pretty streams along the way

A few things you might like on the hike

If you’re navigation skills aren’t up to snuff – or if you want a way to get in touch with friends or family in the event of an emergency, purchase a Garmin InReach Mini. You can take it on any hike you do.

You might find a pair of lightweight, collapsible hiking poles are helpful.

You’re going to need energy on this hike. Some protein bars are always a good idea – but if you want a treat, how about some chocolate. I love the Whittaker’s brand, especially their peanut slab. 

Where to stay in Kananaskis

There is lots of camping in Kananaskis and some of it is first come, first served. 

You can book a night very close to the Lillian Lake trailhead at the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel

There are two options that are at the higher end – the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge (home to the Kananaskis Nordic Spa) and Mount Engadine Lodge – located in the heart of world-class hiking.

Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate
Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate

Further reading on hikes in Kananaskis 

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Lillian Lakes hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta - a real singing lake under the right conditions


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