Rawson Lake is an emerald gem above Upper Kananaskis Lake in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
Rawson Lake is an incredibly beautiful, jade, alpine lake buried in the mountains above the south side of Upper Kananaskis Lake in the shadow of 10,414 ft, (3,174 m) Mount Sarrail. The trail-head is at the farthest end of the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking area which offers amazing views across the Upper Kananaskis Lake to its earth dam and Mount Indefatigable. This hike will proceed on a gorgeous sunny day.
The first 1.2 KM (¾ mile) of this easy hike is along the south shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake on relatively flat, excellent-quality trail.
A short distance past the bridge over Sarrail Creek Waterfall, the trail continues to circle Upper Kananaskis Lake until branching off to the left to initiate a fairly steep ascent of 1,000 vertical feet (305 m) on switchbacks over good trail through 2 KM (1 ¹⁄₃ miles) of forest trail. At the top of the hill the trail elevation gain reduces gradually to level for the final kilometer to Rawson Lake. The initial view of the lake is breathtaking.
The official trail continues along the east shoreline of Rawson Lake on good gravel trail. Note: With snow above, this lakeside trail can pose significant avalanche risk.
Past the official end of the trail, a good path at the bottom of a scree slope tracks the shoreline, below towering cliffs, to a beautiful pond partially surrounded by patches of snow. Hiking to the far end of the lake and beyond continues further around the end of the lake to steep passage to the col viewpoint for a spectacular view down to Kananaskis Lakes from high altitude. Specifically, this day is intended to be more leisurely so photographs will be captured from the far end of the lake.
This incredibly beautiful place at the end of Rawson Lake, where the base of Mount Sarrail looms large behind and above, offers virtually limitless photographic opportunity. There are still deposits of snow clinging to the steep scree slopes. The east side of the huge cirque holds snow which is partially hidden behind a large scree head-wall. Curiosity demands knowing what else may be lurking behind that head-wall. This needs to be investigated.
Climbing scree is punishment. One step forward; slide back two. The ascent is an arduous but mercifully short, off-trail grunt up the slope. At the top of the head-wall ridge the view into the large bowl reveals a tiny deposit of water at the bottom of the bowl but otherwise it is just a huge parabolic floor of scree. The real advantage is that from this slightly higher elevation it is easy to capture amazing photos of the entire length and breadth of Rawson Lake.
The vigorous ascent route on scree is substantially less attractive for the descent. A traverse along the ridge reveals an alternate route which will allow making the steepest part of the descent on larger, more stable talus.
Below the talus there is a pronounced sound of melt water flowing underground to emerge into a maze of moss-bound streams which eventually merge and flow into Rawson Lake. For most of the hike at the end of Rawson Lake, attention is focused on a very large boulder adjacent to an impressive field of pink flowers so the off-trail retreat includes visiting this incredible location above the pond. This is home. These are my gardens.
The afternoon sun is supporting marvelous photographs as retreat proceeds along the shoreline. At the end of the lake, another off-trail diversion across scree slopes reveals interesting features including a vaulted outhouse/sauna. All the modern conveniences! Be sure to remove your pack before entering. There is barely enough room inside to change your mind.
The return hike to the parking area is swift and the day is completed with images of spectacular views across Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The outstanding, perfect-weather day which began with the discovery of George Pocaterra’s Cabin is embellished by the hike to Rawson Lake. The lake is an alpine gem and a very popular snowshoe trip in the winter. Note: There is dangerous avalanche terrain in winter past the near end of the lake.