Rather than culminating atop a true summit, this hike tops out along Mount Sarrail’s northeastern ridge. A Kananaskis classic, the hike to Sarrail Ridge offers a stunning look at some of the most beautiful scenery in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. With views looking out over Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, framed by Mt. Indefatigable, Sarrail Ridge makes for a gorgeous little outing.
Beginning from the Upper Kananaskis Lake Area Parking Lot, a roundtrip out-and-back to the ridgeline clocks in at just over 7.5 miles (12 km) with roughly 2,500 feet (800 m) of vertical gain. The trail from Rawson Lake to the top of the ridge is more challenging – not so much a scramble as it is a steep slog up a gully of slick dirt. However, a roundtrip hike from Upper Kananaskis Lake to Rawson Lake would be suitable for most abilities. Totaling about 5 miles (8 km) with around 1,000 feet (300 m) of vertical gain, an out-and-back to Rawson Lake could be rated easy to moderate.
The trail to Sarrail Ridge begins along the eastern shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake. Here, a few lakeside picnic tables make for a gorgeous little lunch spot, with the rugged peaks of Mt. Lyautey, Mt. Putnik, and Mt. Indefatigable surrounding the sapphire pool.
For the next three-quarters of a mile (1 km), a flat trail skirts the southeastern shore of the lake, with a small wooden bridge crossing Sarrail Creek alongside Turret Falls. Just past the small cascade, the trail then forks to the left toward Rawson Lake. If you continue straight, the trail stays lakeside until it reaches Hidden Lake (an 11 km return).
After branching left, the trail finally begins to climb gradually up the hillside. About 2.2 miles (3.5 km) from the trailhead, the path reaches the eastern side of Rawson Lake. The lake is quite scenic, nestled beneath Mt. Sarrail’s imposing eastern headwall.
About a third of the way around the lake, there’s an ‘End of Trail’ sign marking the end of the park’s official, maintained trail. Looking up to the right from here, you can see the vegetated slope of Sarrail Ridge running along the north side of the lake. You can also faintly make out the avalanche gully you’ll use to gain the ridge (hiker’s left when looking at the saddle).
From the ‘End of Trail’ sign, a social trail skirts the southwestern shore of the lake to the bottom of the grassy ridge. There’s a short section of boulder hopping and a brief walk through a sparce, mixed-conifer forest before beginning the final ascent to the ridge. While the hike to Rawson Lake is appropriate for most levels, the climb to the ridge is more challenging. It’s only a half mile (0.8 km) to the top, but the unmaintained path is quite steep – quickly gaining around 1,100 vertical feet (340 m). Additionally, the gully is mostly loose dirt. While there’s no exposure through here, the route is pretty slick even under dry conditions.
To assist with the scramble to the top, a few sections of rope have been installed along the trail. Personally, I found them shockingly helpful in a few places, and I’m pretty sure they saved me from falling flat on my ass in a couple spots on our descent. Poles are certainly useful to have with you, but you may find the rope more advantageous in sections.
While all the loose dirt makes it kind of a tedious grunt to the top, the views are certainly worth it. Looking north, the open ridge offers a sweeping view of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, Hidden Lake, and across to Mt. Indefatigable. To the south sits Mt. Sarrail’s impressive 3,170-meter (10,400-foot) summit. While the craggy crown is quite striking, towering above Rawson Lake, this south-facing vista is not at all favorable for photography on a bright, sunny day.
Atop the ridge, a well-worn footpath allows you to wander for about a quarter mile (0.4 km) east (hiker’s right) along the steep escarpment. A small flag marks the saddle’s highpoint, which is accessible via a short, easy scramble up a bit of rock. Although it only took us 1 hour 45 minutes to reach the top of the ridge from the parking lot, we spent a solid hour up there eating lunch, exploring, and soaking up the seriously gorgeous views. Since it was a Monday, we saw just three other pairs of hikers; but I’d imagine weekends would see much more foot traffic.
For such a short outing, we were pretty impressed with the scenery this one had to offer. The lakes in Kananaskis Country are some of the prettiest we’ve seen, with Upper Kananaskis being no exception. We found ourselves particularly taken with the lake’s larch-flecked islets, as well as Mt. Indefatigable’s mirror-like reflection. This ended up being our final hike in K Country for the year, and it was nice to go out on such a high note.
Total distance: 7.6 miles (12.2 km)
Elevation gain: 2,550 feet (780 m)
Know before you go
- Access to this trail and the rest of Kananaskis Country requires a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. For personal vehicles, you can get a day pass for $15 CAD (one vehicle) or an annual pass for $90 CAD (registers up to two vehicles). Passes can be purchased either online or in-person. If purchasing online, there is no physical pass to hang in your vehicle; rather you simply provide your license plate and vehicle information to the park service. If you’ve registered for an annual pass, you can add a second vehicle (of the same residential address) by calling 1.877.537.2757.
- Be bear aware. The trails to Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge cross prime grizzly habitat. It’s not uncommon for the trail to close due to bear activity, so be sure to check trail conditions before heading out. Also, as with any trail in the Canadian Rockies, be sure to respect wildlife, maintain a safe distance, and carry bear spray at all times.