Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Family Snowshoeing Adventures - Elbow Lake

Elbow Lake is a very popular place for backcountry camping, hiking, and even mountain biking but very few people visit this magical place in winter.

The main reason?  The highway leading to the Elbow Pass Day Use Area closes on December 1st each year.  Meanwhile, in November when Hwy 40 is still open over Highwood Pass, most people aren't thinking about snowshoeing yet; It just seems too early for some reason. 

Approaching Elbow Lake

Last year, we had an early winter with lots of snow in the mountains and thought we'd try snowshoeing up to Elbow Lake at the end of November - just to see what it was like at this time of year.  We were blown away by how beautiful it was, how much snow the area had in November, and how perfect the trail was for snowshoeing! 

At only 1.4km one way and with only 150m of height gain, the trail is very accessible for most families.  Yes, it's steep, but you can make it to the lake in an hour at a reasonable pace and then spend as much time as you want walking around the lake or exploring further up towards the Rae Glacier.

Winter Paradise (Photo:  Cam Schaus)

We headed up to Elbow Lake again last weekend for what will certainly become an annual tradition in late November. 

We were relieved to see that there was less snow this year and that the trail had been packed down already.  I love powder and don't mind breaking trail through knee deep snow for an hour but when you are pulling sleds it's a lot harder!  Last year we carried our son but this year he was going to be pulled in his ski pulk. 

Using a Chariot with skis is an excellent way to transport kids in winter

We also had three other families coming with us who planned to transport their kids in Chariots with skis and one family was bringing a toboggan.  We had no problems pulling the sleds on the wide packed trail this year but I'm most certain we wouldn't have made it last year.  It will be interesting to try this trail again next year at the same time to determine what snow level is the norm for this area in November.

Two kids are bundled snug and warm inside the Chariot
Our son has a ski pulk that we love for off-trail adventures.  It too has a cover for cold days or nap time

 We had hoped that the children would try snowshoeing up to the lake and we brought several pairs of junior snowshoes with us, but in reality, the trail is really steep for preschoolers in winter. 

I'm sure they all could have hiked the trail in summer with a bit of motivation (read - Candy!) but winter is a different ball game.  This will be a great family snowshoe adventure in another year or two when our son will definitely be able to hike in on his own without the sled. 

For the moment however, Thank God we all have sleds or Chariots because it opens up the possibilities for how far and where we can go on our adventures.  It also helps with nap time as many of the kids fell asleep on the way back down the trail, our son included.

We at least got a couple of the kids on their snowshoes for a few minutes.  :)

We got to the lake and found a great spot to have lunch in the campground.  Benches and tables make for a great resting spot.  Just make sure you bring insulated bum pads if you want to sit down.  I sadly had forgotten and had to sit on my mittens since I was wearing every extra layer I'd brought while we weren't moving.  We left most of the kids in their sleds to eat - another great reason for having sleds or Chariots with you.

Elbow Lake at the backcountry campground
Lunch break
Trying out my new snowshoes in the deep snow surrounding the lake
Mom and daughter have fun tromping through the deep snow

 Beyond the lake, the snow was less packed down so we didn't go too far with the sleds and Chariots but we did hike to the back of the lake for the spectacular views not seen as well from the campground.

Hiking around the lake
Enjoying the views

So, if you haven't already added this trip to your winter bucket list, I highly recommend the experience!  The bad news though - you have 4 more days left this year to get up there.  So grab those snowshoes or backcountry skis if you prefer and get going.  :)

If you can't make it up to Elbow Lake before Saturday when Hwy 40 closes past the Peter Lougheed junction for the Upper and Lower Lakes, then put a reminder on your calendar for next November. 

For more information on the Elbow Pass Trail or Backcountry Campground, visit the Kananaskis Website.


  1. Look at that beautiful Canadian snow! You know, you're making those to the south jealous with all of those great winter photos! And you're so right about the Chariot with ski attachments, we love ours.

  2. Thanks for the tip about this trip. Took my five year old son on his first snowshoe adventure here yesterday. Couldn't have been more perfect.

    1. Thanks for letting me know that you had a good time. Good to hear.