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The Rae Glacier – Elbow Lake Hike, Kananaskis Country

The Rae Glacier – Elbow Lake Hike, Kananaskis Country

One of the easiest hikes to do in Kananaskis Country is the hike to Elbow Lake. It’s only 1.3 kilometres in from the trailhead with about 137 metres of elevation gain. If you’re a keen hiker that won’t be enough but there is the option to continue to Rae Glacier. Note that the hike to Elbow Lake is ideal for families. And it makes a great first camping trip.

Beautiful Elbow Lake in Kananaskis Country

Beautiful Elbow Lake in Kananaskis Country

Getting to Elbow Lake from the trailhead

It’s a popular hike to Elbow Lake – in part because it’s short. However it is a steep hike from the get-go, climbing 137 metres to the lake. The trail is on an old fire road through the forest. It’s very obvious and not that interesting until you reach the lake.

Be sure to do a full circuit of Elbow Lake on foot as it’s very pretty from different angles. If you hike it in a counter-clockwise direction you’ll reach the junction with the Rae Glacier trail. Continue instead on a well-worn path to a river crossing of the Elbow on wooden planks. Make your way along the western shore of the lake on a fire road, stopping to admire the blues of the lake and the pretty mountain backdrop.

Keep an eye out for mountain bikers as the trail connects to a network of excellent biking trails in eastern Kananaskis Country so it’s a favourite. Horseback riding is also allowed.

Be sure to do the full hike around Elbow Lake

Be sure to do the full hike around Elbow Lake

The hike to Elbow Lake

Elbow Lake scenery from the fire road on the western shore

Camping at the lake

Elbow Lake is a very popular campground, especially for young families. As you can see in the photo below, most of the campsites are in the trees. But if your timing is right you might be lucky and score campsite 12 or 13 which will give you a view of the lake from your sleeping bag.

There are bear-proof lockers and outhouses as well as several picnic tables some distance from the tents for cooking. Firewood is provided.

For information on booking campsites and important dates visit the Alberta Parks website. Be prepared to book as soon as the dates open up especially if you’re trying to score a summer weekend.

Great family camping at Elbow Lake

Great family camping at Elbow Lake

Beautiful campsite close to the lake

Try and score this campsite close to the lake

Bear boxes at Elbow Lake Campground

Bear boxes at Elbow Lake Campground

The hike from Elbow Lake to Rae Glacier

Continue anti-clockwise around the east shore of Elbow Lake to reach the turnoff to Rae Glacier. There isn’t any signage but there is a piece of flagging tape. The intersection is about halfway along the length of the lake.

Turn right onto a rocky trail heading northeast. Follow the path up a rib. At the top there are some pretty views of three mountains – Rae, Tombstone and Alpaca. 

Continue along the rib eventually descending towards the creek. Stay to the right side of it on the scree. In short order the creek heads left. The névé above the small waterfall – five photos down, is the source of the Elbow River. While you can explore the area around the waterfall the trails here won’t get you to Rae Glacier.

Instead stay right and climb on moraines to the Rae Glacier. Go as far as you feel comfortable. From Elbow Lake to Rae Glacier gain 229 metres over a distance of just 2.2 kilometres. 

Descend the way you came but consider continuing anticlockwise around Elbow Lake to get back to the trail coming up from the parking lot.

Elbow Lake hike and onto Rae Glacier

Look for the flagging tape and turn right

An obvious trail through the rocks on the way to Rae Glacier

An obvious trail through the rocks on the way to Rae Glacier

Hiking up the rib on the way to Rae Glacier

Hiking up the rib on the way to Rae Glacier

Blast of yellow groundcover on a fall hike to Elbow Lake & Rae Glacier

Nice blast of yellow underfoot

The source of the Elbow River

This is NOT the way to the Rae Glacier but it is an area you could explore

There's not much left of the Rae Glacier

Hiking through the moraines on the way to Rae Glacier

Standing on chunks of Rae Glacier

Standing on chunks of what’s left of the Rae Glacier

It's a pretty descent back to Elbow Lake

It’s a pretty descent back to Elbow Lake

Taking in the view on the hike back to Elbow Lake

Taking in the view on the hike back to Elbow Lake

Finding the Elbow Lake trailhead

From Calgary take the Trans-Canada Highway west to the Highway 40 turnoff. Turn south on Highway 40 and follow it for about 62 kilometres. The well-signed trailhead is on the east side of the highway. Note that Highway 40 is closed from December 1 – June 15th every year beginning just past the junction with the Smith-Dorrien Road. There is a winter gate.

Map showing Elbow Lake & Rae Glacier

Map showing Elbow Lake & Rae Glacier in Kananaskis Country

Further reading about nearby hikes in Kananaskis Country

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The hike to Elbow Lake & Rae Glacier in Kananaskis Country

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 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 One Comment
  1. The views are breathtaking. It’s amazing we have such beautiful places to explore. Thank you for the detailed explanations of the route, I’ve been meaning to visit it for some time, but couldn’t find the time.

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