The Upper Kananaskis Lake loop hike is a beautiful hike that offers lake side walking along with beautiful and expansive mountain views. I’d classify the 15.8 kilometre hike as easy if it weren’t for its length. You never have to climb more than 60 metres above turquoise-blue Upper Kananaskis Lake, but the trail is undulating and there is a surprising amount of vertical over its length. It’s a fantastic hike to do at any time of the year but winter – on account of avalanche chutes that cross the trail.
Spectacular Upper Kananaskis Lake was turned into a reservoir to help provide some of Calgary’s water reserves. You’ll see hundreds of dead tree trunks attesting to the damming that went on.
Don’t expect to see many people on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike, unless it’s the height of the summer. The water is very cold so swimming isn’t recommended. I like to cool my feet down on a hot summer’s day, but I personally wouldn’t go in any further than my knees.
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Upper Kananaskis Lake hike summary
Distance: 15.8 km (9.8 miles) loop hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake but if you don’t want to hike that distance simply do and out and back hike from one of the trailheads. It doesn’t matter what direction you hike the loop.
Elevation gain: 295 metres or 968 feet.
Level of difficulty: Easy but moderate for some because of its length.
Time needed: 4 – 5.5 hours for the full loop hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake.
Trailhead: Park at either the North Interlakes Trailhead or the Upper Lake trailhead.
There are toilets at the trailheads and also at the Point Backcountry Campground – if you make the short detour.
Upper Kananaskis Lake hike starting point
Reach the trailheads in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park after approximately a two hour drive from Calgary. Take Highway 40 and then Highway 742 and follow the signs. We started our hike from the parking lot near the North Interlakes picnic area. The other option is to park at the Upper Lake Trailhead. (See photo at the bottom of the hike description.)
We opted to hike Upper Kananaskis Lake in a counter clockwise direction though I don’t think it really matters. We did the hike one year in November before the snow arrived. It’s also a great early season hike and it would be an awesome hike in summer if you don’t want a lot of elevation gain. There’s often a breeze and it’s always a treat to be beside a lake.
Upper Kananaskis Lake camping
Hike counterclockwise around Upper Kananaskis Lake. Once you’re through the rockfall reach The Point Backcountry Campground. This is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve come across in Alberta. Campsites are scattered across the peninsula and some overlook the lake. All have tent pads and are private. Book campsites early online, especially for summer weekends.
Upper Kananaskis Lake hike description
The loop Upper Kananaskis Lake hike is described going counter-clockwise.
Cross the dam if you’ve parked at the North Interlakes area and enjoy a pleasant walk through the forest. Early on in the hike there is an option to choose an upper or a lower trail. Both trails take you to the same place. I have hiked the upper trail on several occasions and prefer it.
You come out at a rocky section of rockfall called the Palliser Slide. Look up to your right and you’ll see Mount Indefatigable. Other mountains views you can see include Mount Lyautey, Mount Sarrail, Mount Foch, and Mount Fox from portions of the trail. On a bluebird day, this is one pretty area.
When you reach the intersection where there is an option to continue to Three Isle Lake or to descend to the trail around Upper Kananaskis Lake, be sure to choose the second option. After the rockfall there’s a long stretch of hiking along the south shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake – past a couple of pretty waterfalls. For the most part the views are still excellent and there’s even the rare bench to rest your by now weary body.
Look for the trail to Rawson Lake. If you have the energy it would be a very worthwhile detour. You can continue even further up to Sarrail Ridge. Otherwise come back on another day and hike to Rawson Lake from the Upper Lake Trailhead and enjoy it as a much shorter day hike.
The final section of the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike hugs the shoreline of the lake. I was in awe of the number of old tree trunks with a new life as driftwood.
All told allow approximately five hours to hike the full loop. An out and back hike especially starting where we did would also be a great way to spend a few hours.