If you love a good waterfall hike, then put the Ribbon Falls hike in Kananaskis…
The Rawson Lake hike in Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is one of a few that you can do year-round, no matter what the weather throws at you. You can knock it off in half a day – whether you hike it in summer or snowshoe it in winter. It’s family-friendly if your kids are regular hikers and are 8 years of age or older. If you want to do a full day of hiking, outside of winter, you can add in the hike-scramble to Sarrail Ridge or the full loop hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake.
I have only done the Rawson Lake hike during the winter. On the few occasions I’ve wanted to do it in summer, the trail was closed because of bear activity. Be sure to check the trail report for closure before heading out to avoid disappointment.
Rawson Lake hike or snowshoe details
- Distance: 7.8 km round trip to the lake, 11.3 km round trip to Sarrail Ridge
- Total elevation gain: 300 m (982 feet) from the turnoff plus another 355 m (1164 feet) to Sarrail Ridge
The hike starts from the trail sign in the parking lot at the southwest shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake. For the first 1.2 km, enjoy a wide, rolling easy trail, with the odd peek-a-boo view to Upper Kananaskis Lake.
After crossing the bridge over Sarrail Creek Falls, look for a signed fork on the left. The trail switchbacks, steeply at first, through dense forest. After 20 – 25 minutes, the grade moderates for the last kilometre to the lake.
In summer, I understand there is a boardwalk in places for the last half kilometre. In winter, the area receives up to 2.5 m of snow, so you never see the boardwalk.
You can continue in any season for a further 300 m, following a trail along the southeast shore. There are lots of places to tuck into and enjoy a lunch or snack out of the wind. But be careful in December as the ice is still thin. I ventured out just a foot from shore and ended up with a soaker.
By January, when the lake is frozen, you can walk to the far end of the lake. Be aware that there’s a large avalanche path coming down from the ridge, so stop well before that.
I am hoping to do the hike up to Sarrail Ridge in the summer of 2021. From what I’ve seen from photos, the views are sublime. But it isn’t a walk in the park to get there. It’s about an hour’s climb up and there is scrambling involved. If you don’t like scrambling, you’re better off enjoying the impressive views of Mt. Sarrail from the lake.
There will be an addition to this blog post with photos once I’ve actually completed it.
Cool fact about the area
Almost 600 years ago, a forest fire swept through the area. Although it took a century to re-establish the forest, there are some Douglas fir trees still standing that survived the blaze.
Finding the trailhead
Take Highway 40 south from the Trans-Canada Highway for 50 km to reach the Kananaskis Trails Road. If you’re coming from Highwood Pass, drive 17 km north on Highway 40 to reach the turnoff. Take the Kananaskis Lakes Trail road – ignoring the Smith Dorrien- Spray Trail heading right at the 2.2 km mark. Instead, continue straight. The total distance from the intersection of Highway 40 is 13.2 km. The parking lot is on the left hand side of the road.
On beautiful summer days and sunny weekends in winter, you can expect competition for parking. Parking is free.
A few things to take with you on the hike or snowshoe
For most of the year plan to take bear spray – in an easy to access holster. It won’t do you any good if it’s packed away.
Carry the 10 hiking essentials, even if its a hot, sunny day.
Dress in layers, no matter what the season. I always carry my Patagonia down sweater, no matter what day of the year I’m hiking.
It gets windy and cold at the lake in winter and chances are you won’t want to stay long. I highly recommend a thermos full of something hot, an inflatable seat cushion no matter what the season and hiking poles if you have trouble on steep sections – or just want to save your knees.
More Kananaskis hikes you might enjoy
- The Hike to Three Isle Lake & South Kananaskis Pass
- The South End of Lawson Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Headwall Lakes Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The King Creek Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country
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