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A Hike to Lillian Lake – A Real Singing Lake

Yesterday’s 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.

"Scenery about 30 minutes into the hike"

Scenery about 30 minutes into the hike

Let me explain.

We arrived at Lillian Lake about noon yesterday. 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.

"Ice is just beginning to form on the streams"

Ice is just beginning to form on the streams

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 from 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’s still cold, -8°C yesterday, though we heard it was going to warm up nicely and it did.

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.

"The path is snowy and icy starting about 2/3 of the way up"

The path is snowy and icy starting about 2/3 of the way up

"The last of the elderberries"

The last of the elderberries

Yesterday the ice was just starting to form at lower elevations on the stream; by the time we were roughly two thirds of the way up there was snow on the ground. Some was so hard packed that it was icy and a pair of Yactrax 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"

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. No bears or even bear scat was spotted. Trees with unusual bark and juniper bushes loaded with berries were also around.

"The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October"

The campground at Lillian Lake in mid October

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

There was plenty of snow around this past weekend 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 I understand 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 – though Yactrax and a pair of gaiters are highly recommended at this time of year. The hike to Guinn Pass is particularly beautiful and another reason to return to the area.

"A fall scene on the trail down from Lillian Lake"

A fall scene on the trail down from Lillian Lake

"Very unusual bark - don't know what type of tree"

Very unusual bark – don’t know what type of tree

"Juniper berries galore"

Juniper berries galore

"Location map for Lillian Lake"

Location map for Lillian Lake

Have you ever been to a real singing lake?

Leigh McAdam


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