Black Prince Lake - Kananaskis Country - Hiking Alberta

 

Black Prince Lakes rest high above Warspite Lake in Kananaskis Country, SW from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Photo courtesy of Justin Howse

Access to the trail-head is south via paved Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) to a right turn onto Kananaskis Lakes Road just north from the Winter Gates.  Within a short distance, near the Pocaterra Day Use Area, the clearly signed right turn onto Smith-Dorrien Trail heads north, climbing past a short paved section onto gravel road and soon into the clearly signed Mount Black Prince Day Use parking area on the left, west side of the road.

Driving south from Canmore will expose the vehicle to nearly the full distance on potentially sketchy, gravel road which can be damaging to the vehicle, particularly the destruction of windshields and suspension components.  Paving of Smith-Dorrien Trail is long overdue.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

On this Thursday afternoon, the large parking area is nearly empty.  The trail-head is well signed and obvious.  Initial trail along the river reveals the ongoing damage from 2013 flooding and a sturdy bailey bridge soon provides dry crossing over Warspite Creek.  Mercifully, the trail is limited to foot traffic only.  Take a full kit with extra food, clothing for any weather, and emergency and first aid kits.

Total hiking distance between parking and Black Prince Lakes is near 9.3 KM (5.8 miles) return with net elevation gain near 625 m (2,005 ft) to a high point near 2,323 m (7,620 ft).  So, a reasonably aggressive hike on an interesting variety of terrain with plenty of opportunity to increase distance and elevation for exploration of fascinating, high elevation terrain.  An outstanding opportunity for seasoned legs with experience.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Initial trail past the bridge proceeds onto old road with a steady but gradual incline.  As trail narrows into more dense and lush forest, occasional footbridges cross predominantly dry stream beds which host rich and colorful moss carpets.  The walk is very beautiful, almost reverent.

Trail adjacent and rugged rock outcroppings are complemented in the distance by spectacular vistas of Mount Warspite and Mount Black Prince consuming the far horizon beyond Warspite Lake.  The lake no longer contains water.  Apparently this has been true since 2013 when massive flooding altered the flow systems to prevent water retention in the bowl.  Water continues to flow beneath the lake.  We choose crossing the dry lake bed to connecting trail on the far side as the alternative to using longer established trail around the east and north sides of the lake.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Trail continues through lush grassland saturated with a wide variety of wild flowers.  Elevation is gained gradually on the approach to crossing a very large rock slide area.  The route across the the rockfall is marked with cairns and the good soles on quality hiking boots reduce the impact of the rugged terrain on the feet as well as reducing the real potential for injuring an ankle.

Continuing trail on the far side of the rockfall passes through spectacular meadows saturated with wildflowers.  A long, cascading waterfall on the left provides notice the current gradual elevation gain will be replaced with aggressive elevation gain required to achieve the next plateau into the valley above.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The magnificent waterfall, known as Warspite Cascades, hosts adjacent, steep trail rendered wet by spray on the relentless ascent to the top of the waterfall.  Surrounding sights and sounds saturate the aggressive ascent of tight, frequently muddy, spray adjacent trail switchbacks.

At the top of the magnificent, cascading waterfall, continuing trail into the bowl requires a short one or two step scramble to trail which continues a moderate grade ascent past fields of wildflowers punctuated by brush and trees.  This next valley with a backdrop of close range mountain peaks is a magnificent walk in cooler air complemented by spectacular, up close and personal mountain scenery.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

On the hike through the upper valley, framed by Mount Warspite on the left, and Mount Black Prince on the right, trail has been significantly braided by previous hikers, climbers and resident animal populations.  It is very important to pay close attention to find the correct ascent trail.

Look for these two rocks in the photo below.  Time to pay close attention.

Trail here is on a narrow, stony, creek bed.  Within a short distance past the two large stones, there is a trail junction.  The stony creek bed swings right.  Good gravel trail heads left and up.  Stay on the stony creek bed.  The route up to the right continues on aggressive trail clearly marked by cairns which are obvious if you are looking for them.  Bits of flagging tape may also be helpful.

It is very important to head right and climb multiple switchbacks on rugged trail to final aggressive ridge ascent up and over to the magnificent view of Black Prince Lakes enclosed in an austere, scree bowl beneath mountain slopes still hosting protected patches of snow.  

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The breeze accentuates the experience and mellows the exertion of the ascent.  Everything is peaceful and calm.  The heartbeat begins a return to normal rhythm as the surrounding ambiance soothes the soul and relaxes the muscles.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Photo courtesy of Justin Howse

Following adequate appreciation of this lofty mountain gem, the return hike is via the same route used for ascent.  Alternatives exist.  A scree hike from the lakes, towards the scree bowl, allows a loop around a large, separating rockfall for alternative exit and spectacular scenery on more gradual and civilized ascent along the opposite side of the valley.  There are many opportunities to customize the experience in this spectacular alpine bowl.

Descent for us on this day, from the top of the waterfall, is via the same route taken in with one exception.  We hike established trail to the left around Warspite Lake instead of crossing the lake.  The trail is more beautiful, with several running water sources to cross but simply crossing the rugged rock, dry lake bottom is far shorter and more expeditious.

Mother quail and one, nearly adult chick exit the forest to visit for a few magic moments during the continued descent.  They seem very comfortable in our presence.

 

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Photo courtesy of Justin Howse

Black Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, CanadaBlack Prince Lake, Smith Dorrien, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Photo courtesy of Justin Howse

Vistas across the meadows and the valley separating the Spray Mountains from the Kananaskis Range are breathtakingly spectacular.  The hike is extended to a very full day by taking the time to pause and appreciate many opportunities for enjoyment of the peace and tranquility within long range mountain vistas.

Today, I have enjoyed hiking with friend and ACMG Guide Justin Howse.

Black Prince Lakes are enjoyed on this aggressive hike in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, accessed near the south end of Smith-Dorrien Trail, on Thursday, August 22, 2019 in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

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