Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge - Family Hiking in Kananaskis

We're usually busy climbing mountains and chasing summits, but Sarrail Ridge has been calling out to me for a few years with its stunning vantage point over Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes.  My son had also never hiked to Rawson Lake in summer before, easily one of the most popular hikes in Kananaskis Country.

Sarrail Ridge, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis

Hiking from Upper Kananaskis Lake to Rawson Lake

Quick Stats:

Parking Lot and Trailhead - Upper Lake Day Use Area

Distance to Rawson Lake - 3.9 km one way

Height gain to Rawson Lake -  320 metres

Sarrail Falls en route to Rawson Lake

Rawson Lake, Kananaskis
The hike starts with an easy walk around a short section of the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit (in a clockwise direction lest you take the wrong trail and end up at the Point backcountry campground instead.) En route you'll pass by Sarrail Falls and a new bridge, recently built since the last flood.

The waterfall is reached in a short 1.2 km walk on a very easy, relatively flat, well marked trail. After this, you come to the junction with Rawson Lake where you'll leave the lakeshore trail.

From the junction with the Rawson Lake trail, you begin to climb on a well switch-backed trail with tons of zigs and zags. It is steep to begin with, but rest assured, it does level off a bit after the initial switchbacks.

Beyond the description above, there's not much else to say because this is an official, well marked trail. It would be near impossible to get lost, and you'll share the trail with many other users most of the year (including winter when it's a popular snowshoe trail.)

Gorgeous Rawson Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Hiking around Rawson Lake to the Slopes of Sarrail Ridge

We stopped to have lunch beside the lakeshore before continuing our hike. From here, we followed a good trail around the left hand side of the lake (always accompanied by dozens of other hikers,) until we reached the far end.

Hiking on a narrow rock trail around the left hand side of Rawson Lake

It became quickly apparent what our objective was for the day as we looked up at Sarrail Ridge at the far right side of the lake.

Hiking around Rawson Lake with Sarrail Ridge behind us

If you start hiking around the lake and realize that the ridge looks too steep, too far away, or just too much of an undertaking, you can always stop at the back of the lake, and still have had a lovely hike up to this point. - That's one of the best parts about this hike! You don't have to make it to the top to have enjoyed some quality scenery.

Hiking to the far end of Rawson Lake
No bad scenery as you hike around Rawson Lake

Climbing Up Sarrail Ridge from Rawson Lake

Quick Stats:

Distance from Rawson Lake to the top of Sarrail Ridge: 1.4 km one way

Height gain to the top of Sarrail Ridge: 366 metres

Climbing straight up the steep dirt slopes of Sarrail Ridge
Climbing up Sarrail Ridge

You will know you're in for a slog when you see the people ahead of you climbing up the slopes of Sarrail Ridge, on a trail that goes straight UP. There are no pretty little switch backs, no meandering trail through the trees, and the trail is far from maintained or official.

I honestly hated this part of the hike and was never so glad as when I reached the top of the ridge. The trail was loose, dirty, slippery (even worse on the way down,) and plain nasty! There is nothing fun about the slog up Sarrail Ridge.

The only good thing about the climb is that it's quick and dirty, meaning you'll be at the top in less than an hour. And then the views quickly make up for the work you just went through.

I highly recommend bringing hiking poles (useful for both the way up, and down,) and some light  gloves in case you fall. They also help keep your hands clean because there are several hands-on moments as you claw your way up steep parts on your hands and knees.

Looking down on Rawson Lake way below you

 Sarrail Ridge in all its glory!

The views are what you've climbed up here for, and they do not disappoint!

Looking  down on the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes from Sarrail Ridge

It's quite surprising to look down on Upper Kananaskis Lake and to realize that you were hiking around that lake at the beginning of the trip. And, that's where your car is parked! Way down there.

No better view in Kananaskis

From the top of the ridge there's nowhere to go really, but I do recommend hiking along the ridge a ways to the right as you chase better and better viewpoints. Just keep a close eye on little kids because the ridge drops straight off into the lake. (and there are no guard rails!)

It's not an easy hike but we got 5 mighty kids up here

Spend as much time as you want on top of the ridge and then slowly, very slowly, make your way back down again. And sadly, it's not much easier on descent. The slope will feel even steeper as you go down.

Not a bad destination for a hike!


The Cool Down! Swimming in Rawson Lake

No words necessary for this part. Except one: BRRRRRR...

And no, I didn't jump in here! I left that to the kids.

Cooling off in Rawson Lake at the end of the hike

For more information on the trailhead or the hike, please visit the Alberta Parks website

Also, please know that while Rawson Lake is a popular snowshoe trail in winter, Sarrail Ridge is NOT. There is avalanche danger as soon as you start walking across Rawson Lake to the far side. Please enjoy this hike responsibly and either head out this fall before the snow comes, or plan to visit next summer.

And, know that you are in prime grizzly habitat on the slopes of Sarrail Ridge. Bring bear spray, make lots of noise, and travel in a tight group of 4+ people. (This isn't the place to let the kids run wild and free.)


  1. Great article, love your sharing so much, thank you!

  2. Probably worth mentioning that the grassy slopes you crawl up on Sarrail Ridge are uber, super prime grizzly habitat.

    1. good point. Thanks. Will add.
      Tanya, Rockies Family Adventures.