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A Hike To Lillian Lake – A Real Singing Lake

A Hike to Lillian Lake – A Real Singing Lake

An October hike to Lillian Lake in Kananaskis Country was a visual and surprisingly, an auditory treat. It seems that Lillian Lake in the Kananaskis area, under the perfect storm of circumstances is really a singing lake. (Keep reading…)

The hike to Lillian Lake 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. 

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

Lillian Lake can sing

Let me explain about the 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

Getting to Lillian Lake

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 and there are no park or parking fees to deal with. The trailhead is just off Highway 40, about 33 kilometres south of the Trans-Canada Highway. It’s on the west side of the highway and is signed Galatea Lakes.

By mid-October the crowds have disappeared. Until we reached the lake we saw only seven other people – perhaps because at 10 AM when we started it was still cold, -8°C , though it did warm up nicely.

Distance to Lillian Lake

The trail to Lillian Lake heads down 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 the lake – a distance of  5.7 kilometres with an elevation gain of 492 metres (1,614 feet).

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

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 hike to Lillian Lake
Beautiful early season icicles seen on the hike to Lillian Lake

Expect snow on the ground if you hike in October

The ice was just starting to form at lower elevations on the stream in early October. By the time we were roughly two thirds of the way up to the lake there was snow on the ground.

The shaded parts of the trail are snowy and icy in late September
The shaded parts of the trail are snowy and icy even by late September

Some was so hard packed that it was icy and a pair of icers would have come in handy. I won’t venture again this fall into the backcountry without a pair. I did a bit of bum sliding yesterday but that was tough on the rear.

Lillian Lake – covered with about two inches of ice

There are plenty 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 around.

No bears or even bear scat was spotted.

The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October
The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October

At the far end of Lillian Lake there’s a campsite – and a backcountry permit is required.

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.

My Caribbean dog didn't know what to make of the ice
My Caribbean dog didn’t know what to make of the ice

Lillian Lake is very pretty though Galatea Lakes, which are just a bit higher, are even prettier. We decided to forgo Galatea Lakes because of the icy trails.

Guinn Pass is also accessible from the Lillian Lake Trail with the turnoff near the campground- changed after the 2013 floods. If you continue past Lillian Lake be sure to also include a pair of gaiters. The hike to Guinn Pass is particularly beautiful and another reason to return to the area.

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 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

Further reading on hiking in Kananaskis Country

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. How very interesting. The soothing “music” I hear when we hike is the sound of the water flowing in little brooks along the trails and the occasional waterfall.

  2. How very interesting. The soothing “music” I hear when we hike is the sound of the water flowing in little brooks along the trails and the occasional waterfall.

    1. Michael – it was truly unbelievable – just wish I had a tape recorder with me to capture the sounds. I did hear the gurgling of flowing water which believe me I love too but this was just so different.

  3. I enjoyed your article about the singing lake. There is a lake in Indiana called Big Turkey Lake and when the wind is blowing right you can hear the wires singing. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does I becaome silent and just listen. It must have been an awesome experience for you.

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