Hiking around Upper Kananaskis Lake is spectacular on a bluebird day in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
While many Calgarians are enjoying a pancake breakfast before celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, today's hiking mission requires making the familiar drive west from Calgary on the TransCanada Highway, then south on Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40), to the Kananaskis Lakes.
Although several portions of the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Trail have been hiked or snowshoed in the past, mainly for access to Mount Indefatigable or Rawson Lake, the 16.2 KM (10⅛ mile) circuit around the entire circumference of Upper Kananaskis Lake remains to be achieved. From the parking area in the Upper Lake Day Use Area, the initial views are always inspiring.
Hiking in a counter-clockwise direction, between the lakeshore and the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use Area, while enjoying views of the mountains surrounding the lake, arrival at the boat launch area leads to crossing the first, short, earthen dam near the trailhead for the easy, 2.2 KM (1⅜ mile) Interlakes Interpretive Trail, which will be left for another day.
Outstanding trail, predominantly in forest close to the edge of Upper Kananaskis Lake, passes reflective bays surrounded by driftwood stumps from long ago logging activity. Water levels are low with anticipation of runoff, and forested peninsulas protrude from the shore in anticipation of becoming islands as the reservoir fills.
Memories of snowshoe trips come to mind and the cottages of William Watson Lodge are visible above the east shore of Lower Kananaskis Lake. This hike passe a memorial for war veterans who inspired the naming of mountains above the distant far side of the Upper Kananaskis Lake. Shortly, after the traverse over the gated spillway, the trail swings left past trail-heads for Mount Indefatigable.
Although this trail never ascends more than 61 m (200 ft) above the 1,707 m (5,600 ft) surface of Upper Kananaskis Lake, there is significant undulation over the 16.2 KM (10⅛ mile) circuit, so gross elevation greatly exceeds net elevation. The full circuit around Upper Kananaskis Lake is a long, early season hike. As the trail continues around the circumference of the Upper Kananaskis Lake, there is a broad and interesting variety of excellent trail.
Following a kilometer plus of very pleasant hiking in forest adjacent to the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake, the trail transitions into a large section of rockfall called the Palliser Slide. Although the trail proceeds directly through a massive field of boulders, there are a series of flat spots and steps which make navigation straightforward. The time is ideal for a rest and some lunch in the sun. While enjoying lunch off trail in the rock fall, voices can be heard but there is no-one nearby.
Directly in front to the north, is the steep wall of Mount Indefatigable above a scree slope. While enjoying lunch in the sun with a faint, cool breeze off the lake, it becomes apparent a tiny red dot is moving, high up on the scree slope. The long lens on the camera reveals three climbers slowly working their way up the slope on scree above the Three Isle Lake Trail.
The arduous and ambitious endeavor captures the attention and brings a smile when thinking back to the years when their mission would have seemed like a good idea. The torch has been passed and good memories admire their determination to succeed. Sitting among the boulders and beautiful flowers brings great peace with this beautiful collage of mountains and memories. It is a good place to be.
The hike continues west through rockfall along the north shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake, as the vertical strata of 3,082 m (10,112 ft) Mount Lyautey consumes the view on the approach to The Point Backcountry Campground with 20 camp sites scattered about on the peninsula.
Past the Point Backcountry Campground a beautiful isolated pond beneath Mount Lyautey is a prelude to a broad, dynamic green plain, with stumps standing like soldiers, guarding the twisting journey of the Kananaskis River entering Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The Kananaskis River is running high and strong with an impressive roar of water. An up river trail at the bridge heads into swamp so the attempt to hike up the Kananaskis River is abandoned and return across the bridge continues the hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake.
The final stretch begins with forest trail away from the lake and although the terrain is varied, and there are beautiful sights, the exercise becomes a bit tedious without lake views.
On the west side of Upper Kananaskis Lake, past and south from Lower Kananaskis Falls where water flows from Hidden Lake, there is an unmarked trail, around the west side of Hidden Lake, and beyond, over headwalls to Aster Lake, which would best be done later in the hiking season. Reference your map. This hike continues through forest until the south-west corner of Upper Kananaskis Lake comes into view.
On the home stretch, there is a lot of running water and the number of hikers increases on the approach to passing waterfalls along the most popular, south shore. The trail-head to Rawson Lake is very busy and pounding water at Sarrail Creek marks a single kilometer remaining to complete the loop hike.
This is not an easy hike for beginners because of its length but sections from the North Interlakes Parking Lot, the Upper Lake Day Use Area or the White Spruce Parking Lot would make a wonderful day outing. The views are breathtaking.
My apologies for the large number of pictures. They are in sequence of hiking around the circumference of Upper Kananaskis Lake and are only a small percentage of the photographs captured during the hike. Every few steps offers a new, irresistible, photographic opportunity. It is a series of 'WOW' moments. Remember to breathe!
Note: Weather can be a dynamic wild card here. It is always wise to be prepared for everything. Check at the Visitor Centre on the way for circumstances unique to the day.
There is still time left in this day to hike the short distance around nearby Canadian Mount Everest Expedition Interpretive Trail between Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes.