Rawson Lake is a beautiful glacier lake suitable for a wide range of abilities and when combined with Sarrail Ridge it makes for a quick classic hike in the Canadian Rockies. The views in particular from Sarrail Ridge are stunning, but you’ll have to put in plenty of work. A climb up from Rawson Lake crosses prime grizzly habitat and is a bit of a slog up a steep avalanche shoot.
For the less adventurous the hike up to Rawson lake is a great beginner hike in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. It skirts around Lower Kananaskis Lake and crosses a waterfall before ascending 300m to the enchanting Rawson Lake. If the bugs aren’t bad it’s the perfect spot to enjoy lunch before heading back down.
Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge Hike
Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge are often combined as the hike up to Sarrail Ridge go around and up above Rawson Lake. It’s a gorgeous hike and one of the most rewarding views in the region for the amount of work required. This makes it one of the most popular hikes around Kananaskis and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks.
The hike starts at the Upper Kananaskis Day Use Parking lot. From there you walk through a wooded trail along the lake, catching glimpses of the stunning water and nearby Mount Indefatigable. For the first major site come soon as you cross a bridge over one of the better waterfalls in the region. Not long after the waterfall you depart from the loop around Upper Kananaskis Lake and head for Rawson lake.
This section is a slight uphill gain of 300 meters over 5km that winds back and forth through the woods. It’s a really lovely section of the old forest that’s peaceful if you have it to yourself, we did. It takes about a half-hour from Upper Kananaskis up to Rawson Lake, maybe if an hour if you take your time.
Once you reach the Rawson Lake you’re in for a real treat. The lake is one of the most beautiful we’ve seen in Kananaskis and the rock wall of Mount Sarrail above is humbling. There are several paths that lead around the lake with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the views or have a small bite to eat.
If you’re continuing up to Sarrail Ridge the trail winds around the Lake to the Southeast before climbing the ridge to the Northeast. The ridge climb is a bit of a slog and goes straight up avalanche shoot and prime grizzly bear habitat. It’s a steep section and a pole is highly recommended. We climbed late in the afternoon and saw multiple tracks from ill-prepared hikers sliding down the trail. It’s not quite a scramble, but those not sure-footed may find themselves on their hands at a few sections as it is very steep.
At the top of the path, you reach the ridge which provides unreal views. Once you reach the top of the pass you can look out over Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes and Mount Indefatigable. It’s a breathtaking view and probably one of the best for the in Kananaskis for the amount of energy involved. We spent over an hour on the ridge exploring, taking photos, and enjoying the view. Altogether it made for another beautiful evening in the mountains.
Rawson Lake Duration
Rawson lake took us just under 45 minutes from the car park and a half hour back down. That was at a pretty good pace with some miles under our legs this summer. Most people should expect a two hour to three-hour round trip hike with a bit of time at Rawson Lake. It’s a really nice outing and combined with a larger day or for a nice morning/evening.
Sarrail Ridge Duration
To reach the ridge took us about an hour and a half from the parking lot. You climb around 670m in elevation over 5 kilometers. The majority of the hike up to Rawson Lake is pretty easy, but the ascent up to the ridge is a steep climb. I’d say the average time from car to summit is a little over two hours, but it all depends on the hiker.
The round trip took us four hours and we spent over an hour on the ridge enjoying ourselves and taking photos. I would say the hike can be done in under three hours (fast pace), with an average of four to five.
How Hard is Rawson Lake Hike?
The Rawson Lake hike is easy to moderate and should be appropriate for hikers of all levels. There is some elevation gain at around 300m so you should be able to walk uphill for several kilometers. Along the trail are no technical sections and it is in good condition.
How Hard is Sarrail Ridge?
This is rated as a difficult hike from many of the Apps including Alltrails. We found it to be very physically challenging for the short ascent up the avalanche gully, but other than that it is not technical or particularly hard since it’s a short section of the trail. There is one small section that requires a slight scramble over a few rocks, but nothing more difficult than the uphill battle itself. We would agree with the difficult assessment.
When can you hike Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge?
There are a couple of factors at play. Sarail Ridge and Rawson Lake are best done in the summer months once the snow has melted which is around April to November. Rawson Lake makes for a great snowshoe hike in the winter, as the area takes on a different look. Sarrail Ridge is not safe in the winter as there is a high avalanche risk.
How Popular is Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge
This is well known as one of the most popular hikes in the region. If you’re going to visit on the weekend I’d suggest you arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon. We knew we could do the hike fast and went for the ridge at 5:00 p.m. midweek. As a result, we had Sarrail Ridge and to ourselves and saw no one else on our way out.
What About Dogs and Kids in Sarrail Ridge & Rawson Lake?
The trail to Rawson Lake is appropriate for anyone that can walk up a slight incline and it’s a great hike for families. Sarrail Ridge is the more difficult objective and I’d say from ten years old and up, maybe even younger. It all depends on the fitness level. Big dogs should be able to handle the trail just fine, while small dogs should be okay on the hike to Rawson Lake.
Want Another Great Hike?
If you enjoyed Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge and you’re looking for another popular hike. Only a few kilometers away is Tent Ridge, it’s a hike that is more technical with a small scramble and mild exposure. The views from Tent Ridge are some of the best in Kananaskis Country. You need to check this hike out!
Wildlife Awareness On Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge
In 2019 Sarrail Ridge has been closed for the majority of the year. The area is prime habitat for grizzly bears. As two sets of sows and cubs have decided to call the ridge home for the summer it’s been difficult to access. If the trail is open practice extreme caution and wildlife awareness.
The climb up to Sarrail Ridge is the most dangerous as it goes through dense avalanche shoot lined with wildflowers and thick brush. Visibility is not great in the shoot and it would be easy to come upon a grizzly, be mindful.
Before any hike or walk around Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country, you should pack bear spray, check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. Stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and carry bear spray and know how to use it.
What To Wear On A Day Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike.
So the goal of clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system. If you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike you can see ours.
Our Outfits On Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge
Outdoor Research Ferossi Pant
The pants are really lightweight but similar to a softshell pant with great water resistant and windbreaking capabilities. With that in mind, it keeps you warm in cool weather, but the breathability of the pants keeps you cool in hot weather. They also have a lot of water resistance and are more comfortable than a pair of rain pants.
Outdoor Research Shirt Echo Series
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking it traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody
On Sarrail Ridge it was a cool overcast day with a slight chance of rain so I tried out a new item the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody. It was perfect for the weather and did an excellent job with a light sprinkle of rain and keeping the wind off my body. However, it’s lightweight and breathable nature allowed me to keep it on during the steep ascent of Sarrail Ridge.
Goretex Shell Jacket
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx. Any jacket can do the job, but the top-dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather.
I bring a Buff on every trip in case my ears get cold or I want to have one to cover my face (which I did on this trip). We have a collection of buff headbands and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
If you’re not on a long hike a large multiday hiking backpack may not be necessary. Expect to still carry several pounds of gear on your pack so it’s important to have a backpack that sits well on your back with good suspension. However, you don’t need a 50L+ backpack instead opt for a size around 35L that should be enough to carry all of your necessities.
We have a large number of hiking backpacks and they range in sizes. If you have plans for other short treks that may or may not have a porter you can go with a 50L that will lend more versatility without being so large it’s unnecessarily cumbersome on the trail.
We personally like to use between a 30-40L pack for most day hikes in the mountains as it allows for us to carry everything we could need. Major plus side is a large bag means we can bring things like a stove to make coffee or a hot meal for a nice rest. As far as our recommendation on smaller backpacks we love the Traverse from REI and the Exos/Tempest from Osprey.
While I like having a water bottle on my hikes I like having a bladder even more. A bladder keeps me drinking regularly since I never have to stop hiking and take out my bottle. It’s always readily available for when you need it.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the mountains, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows for you to carry extra water if needed.
Most hiking backpacks and even daypacks designed for hiking have a sleeve for carrying your extra water.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
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