Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop Hike

A loop hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake
Beautiful lake scenery around the Point Campground

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. 

Dogs: Permitted if on leash.

Backcountry campgrounds: Yes. Hike 3.4 km one way to the Point Backcountry Campground and spend the night. We kayaked to the campground and enjoyed a one- night stay in summer.

Map needed: Gem Trek Kananaskis Lakes

A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
The start of the Upper Kananaskis hike also provides nice views of Lower Kananaskis Lake

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.

Take a picture of the map on your phone as a backup – so you always have it with you
Take a picture of the map on your phone as a backup – so you always have it with you

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.

One of the campsites at the Point Campground
One of the campsites at the Point Campground

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.

A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
It’s a windy day and Upper Kananaskis Lake is nothing but whitecaps
A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
For most of the hike you’re in close proximity to Upper Kananaskis Lake

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.

A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
Part way around the lake you reach the Palliser Slide and nothing but mountain views
A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
Check your mileage with this map on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike
A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
A pretty forest section with mountain views
A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
The Point Campground is close by
Group area to sit and enjoy the scenery that is close to the water
Group area to sit and enjoy the scenery around Upper Kananaskis Lake
The Point Campground has been completely redesigned
The Point Campground has been completely redesigned

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.

A waterfall you pass on the loop around Upper Kananasksis Lake
Pass a couple of waterfalls on this hike
Cool off in this small waterfall in the summer
Cool off here in the summer
The mossy beauty of the forest
Enjoy the mossy beauty of the forest
Sign pointing to Rawson Lake
If you’ve got the energy you could add on an out and back to Rawson Lake
Rawson Lake in mid-June when the ice is leaving
Rawson Lake in mid-June when the ice is leaving
Spectacular view of Upper Kananaskis Lake
Don’t mind if I do stop and admire the view on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike
Off trail exploring on log strewn beaches
There’s some off trail exploring to do as well – especially in summer
Masses of dead logs along Upper Kananaskis Lake
So much driftwood
Practicing bagpipes along this trail
I guess practicing bagpipes along this trail is a good a place as any – probably keeps the bears away
A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananasksis Lake
Back full circle on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike – 15.8 km later

Where to stay near the trailhead

There is lots of camping available in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Campgrounds can be reserved 90 days in advance. Check out my post – A Complete Guide to Camping in Kananaskis.

If you want a roof over your head, I highly recommend either Mount Engadine Lodge or Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.

Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate
Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate

What to take on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hike

Don’t forget something like Compeed or Leukotape if you get a blister.

I like something comfortable to sit on at lunch time and swear by my inflatable seat cushion

I like using hiking poles (that are collapsible and pack up well) for stream crossings and to save my knees.

No matter how the day starts I always carry rain gear. I find a brim hat with a chin strap invaluable in the rain or on a hot, in your face sunny day.

I pack a buff – as they are great on windy days to keep the hair out of your face or on a cool day to warm your neck.

Another nice addition for those of you who love wildflowers is the book Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.

Nearby day hikes you might enjoy

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The moderate Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop hike in Alberta

 

 

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