* Day hike (half-day for Rawson Lake). Out-and-back. Well-designated trail.
* Distance: Roughly 8 kms return to Rawson Lake (roughly 4 hrs), an extra 5 kms one-way (2 extra hrs) from front of lake to Sarrail Ridge
* Elevation gain: 300m to Lake, a very steep 355m extra to Ridge
* Difficulty: Moderate to Lake, challenging to Ridge
* Trailhead: Upper Lake Day Use Area, use southernmost of 3 parking lots
Rawson Lake is a great year-round hike, as it’s also a good option for snowshoeing in winter. You can do it with kids if they’re used to hiking and with leashed dogs, but expect the trail to be very busy on summer weekends.
Rawson Lake is less accessible during shoulder seasons, when muddy conditions and melting snow make it a slushy, awkward choice. Avoid Sarrail Ridge COMPLETELY in the winter.
Be sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out (the fine for parking without one is 150$ per vehicle), and check the Trail report beforehand (this trail is often closed due to grizzly bear activity). Hike in a group; bring your bear spray and hiking poles.
Make sure you’ve packed properly and don’t count on cell service in this area.
OK, now let’s get going!
RAWSON LAKE TRAIL DESCRIPTION
The trail to Rawson Lake is part of the Upper Kananaskis Lake circuit, a chilled-out walk through forests of fir and spruce. About 1 km in, you’ll cross Sarrail Creek bridge; soon after, you’ll fork left toward Rawson Lake.
After the fork, stride onwards for about 2 kms on a wide trail. You’ll gain an impressive amount of elevation here, and you’ll have to walk onto halved logs that serve as step bridges over boggy terrain. You’ll know you’re getting close to the lake when the terrain starts to level out and the climbing becomes less laborious.
Roughly 1.5 hours after leaving your car, you should happily break through the trees and spot beautiful Rawson Lake. The majestic headwall of Mount Sarrail rises an impressive 1200m above the lake.
Don't make the mistake of stopping here. Go left and follow the trail clockwise around the shore for beautiful views of small meadows lying beneath that gargantuan 1200-metre headwall.
Stay away from the boggy shore, especially in winter, and watch out for avalanches. Even on busy summer days, there are tons of spots for everyone to sit and admire the views without feeling crowded.
At the 4km mark, you’ll see the trail scramble upslope towards the saddle right of Mount Sarrail. If the walk to Rawson Lake failed to satisfy your lust for hearty hiking, the steep climb to the saddle outta do it.
SARRAIL RIDGE TRAIL DESCRIPTION
Let’s get real. The trail leading to Sarrail Ridge is one of the most precipitous bits of dirt that I’ve ever hiked. It is far more vertiginous than the trek to Rawson Lake. It’s sandy and very slippery; if it’s raining, turn around and head back with plans to return on a sunny day.
However, if you’re willing to endure the cardiovascular slog, I heartily encourage you to push upwards, as the reward far outweighs the effort.
It’s a steep, 350m climb to the saddle, with no switchbacks to dumb down the grade; allow yourself a good hour to get up there. Hiking poles would be a major asset here. I’m fairly certain I panted like a bear in heat the whole way up.
You might have to use your hands on the path (Yes! Let’s get our hands dirty!) and the scramble down will seem even steeper; most people did it on their bums or backwards while holding on to the stunted trees. There is a rope in one section to assist people going down (don’t let your ego interfere here; grab the damn rope). Don’t let any of these details deter you - I assure you it’s 100% worth it. Keep at it, my friend!
Once you euphorically reach the col, keep heading upwards and to the right for stunning views of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes waaaay below and Mount Indefatigable straight ahead.
Kick back and enjoy your well-earned snack in one of the most stupendous sitting areas of the Canadian Rockies.
See ya on the trails!
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