The Canadian Rockies do not fall short on beautiful lakes, and Kananaskis Country is no different. Some of the most beautiful lakes in Kananaskis require a long hike to reach, while others are just off the side of the road.
While Grassi Lakes, Elbow Lake, and Spray Lakes hold a special place in our hearts, there are many other Kananaskis lakes to explore. If you’re looking for a serene place to enjoy a drink as the sun sets, or looking to hike to a swimming hole, we have you covered!
Beautiful Kananaskis Lakes You Need to See
Goat Pond has the name “pond” in it, but it’s a very, large pond that most would refer to elsewhere as a lake.
If driving up the Smith Dorrian Road from Canmore, you’ll pass that parking area for EEOR and the parking area for Ha Ling, before coming across Goat Pond just 10 minutes after. I like to go here on a warm summer day and paddle as it’s not super wind-affected, and it’s hardly ever busy – even on weekends!
If you keep your eyes open, you may even spot a few moose as they hang out in the marshlands around the pond.
In the winter, Goat Pond is a fun place to ice skate. It’s fairly shallow, meaning you can see all the watery wonders beneath your skates if you catch it right.
Spray Lakes is right next to Goat Pond along the Smith Dorrien Highway. It’s a popular spot for boaters in the summer and ice fishers in the winter. While we think there are better lakes in the Rockies to lounge on, we can’t deny that the view above Spray Lakes is one of the best.
Kananaskis Lakes are some of my favorite lakes to enjoy in Alberta. The Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes are surrounded by colossal peaks that visitors can hike around or enjoy from the shore.
A large beach area is here to come on a nice summer day with the family. Bring a blanket and a cooler with some treats for a beautiful day out.
Bring your paddleboard or canoe here and enjoy the serenity of the towering peaks like Mount Sarrail and Mount Fox. If you really want to get a great vantage point of the lakes, we recommend hiking up Sarrail Ridge; it’s one of the best hikes in Kananaskis!
Speaking of Sarrail Ridge, if you intend to do this hike, you’ll pass one of the most beautiful Kananaskis lakes on your way up. Starting at Kananaskis Lakes, the trail to Rawson Lake is popular in the summertime. The trail to Rawson Lake is exciting as it skirts Upper Kananaskis Lake for its beginning, passing by waterfalls and streams. The elevation starts around 1.3 km and continues climbing until reaching Rawson Lake.
Once you make it to Rawson Lake, you can walk around the lake and pick a nice spot to sit and relax. I suggest bringing some picnic supplies and enjoying the scenery under the mountains. Although we’ve never done it, some people hike their inflatable paddleboards up with them to enjoy the views from the water.
For those looking for a more extended and challenging day, consider hiking the steep trail to Sarrail Ridge. Keep an eye on the Alberta Parks website. This trail frequently closes as there are many grizzly sightings.
Chester Lake is a popular lake to hike to year-round. However, it’s especially notable in the winter as there is a fantastic snowshoe trail and a cross country ski trail, and it also makes an excellent winter hike. It’s also a beloved hike during the fall as the area has many amazing larches.
Most of the trail is pretty boring, but eventually, it will open up as it takes you to Chester Lake. Here, you can walk around the entire lake and the surroundings and take in all the colors! Take your time at the lake to enjoy the views of Fortress Mountain, Mount Chester, and Little Chester!
Depending on your route, Barrier Lake is one of the first lakes you’ll come upon when driving into Kananaskis Country from Calgary, making it a popular one in the summer months. In the summer, you can expect a bright blue lake that sits right under Yates Mountain, and from its shores, you can get a great view of Mount Baldy.
Albertans really love this lake as there is a small beach area to relax at, easy parking, and a fun lake to paddle around on. It’s also easily accessible requiring no hike to enjoy. Although if you want a great vantage point, make your way for the Prairie View Trail that sites above Barrier Lake. In the winter, if the conditions are right, it’s also possible to ice skate on Barrier Lake!
Grassi Lakes is a well-known hike near Canmore and one of the easiest hikes in all the Canadian Rockies. No matter the season, it’s a quick area to hike to and provides a fantastic reward or relatively low effort.
At 4 km in length and only 200 meters of elevation gain it’s a small price to pay to see clear blue lakes under Ha Ling Peak. During the summer weekend days, this trail is insanely busy. It’s best to go on a midweek day in the early morning or toward sunset if you want to try and stay away from the crowds.
In the summer, you can take the “hard” or “easy” trail with the hard trail passing by a waterfall (not to worry, it’s not that difficult). The easier trail follows a long path with mild elevation gain the whole way. To avoid the crowds, we recommend taking the hard trail.
Carnarvon Lake is one of the best hikes near Calgary and has been making the rounds on social media, and for a good reason – Carnarvon Lake is stunning. However, to reach the lake, you must put in the effort. Meaning a 20 km round trip hike with nearly 900 meters of elevation gain. That’s not all, though; there’s also a creek crossing, a chain rope section, and some pretty boring hiking involved.
However, you’ll realize it’s all worth it when you reach that shimmering brilliant blue lake. Technically speaking, it is just outside of Kananaskis on Alberta Crown Land at the foothills, meaning you can also wild camp here if you want!
It’s certainly not a lake you can enjoy right from the roadside, but if you’re willing to hike it, it will shoot to the top of your favorite lakes in Kananaskis. We have a full hike guide available to those interested!
Galatea and Lillian Lake
If you love alpine lakes, the hike to Galatea and Lillian Lake might be just up your alley. With three alluring lakes nestled below jagged peaks, Lillian and Galatea Lakes via Galatea Creek is one of the most beautiful hikes in Kananaskis County!
Rushing streams, an easy-to-follow route, and stunning views make this lush out-and-back trail a great hike that offers a range of intensity options for different hiking ambitions.
It’s a 12 km round trip hike to Lillian and 16 km to Galatea which can easily be completed one day. Though camping at Lillian Lake is one of the best backcountry trips in Kananaskis. Consider booking a campsite at Lillian Lake as an easy backpacking trip to extend your stay in this alpine oasis.
Elbow Lake is a beautiful lake that can be seen via a short hike in Kananaskis. This short 4km hike follows a well-maintained trail for those with small children. Around Elbow Lake is the Elbow Lake campground, so if you are new to camping or want to test out some gear, this is a tremendously easy Kananaskis hike to walk to with a load on your back for the night.
If you want to keep trekking past Elbow Lake and long for a long, strenuous day, consider hiking up to Piper Pass in the summer. There’s no lake up this way, but trust me when I say it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Kananaskis Country.
A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is Needed to Hike in Kananaskis
Visitors are required to hold a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. The area covered in the pass includes Kananaskis and the Bow Valley corridor. Passes may be purchased online and are attached to a license plate number. Requirements are around vehicles and parking, not the individual. This includes parking at the Canmore Nordic Center or Grassi Lakes.
Kananaskis Conservation Pass Prices
- Daily Pass: $15 (registers one vehicle)
- Annual Pass: $90 (registers two vehicles)
Where to Stay in Kananaskis
Camping – There are plenty of front and back-country camping sites in Kananaskis. A few of our favorites are Spray Lakes West and Mount Kidd. We break down all the best camping spots in Kananaskis here.
Kananaskis Hotels – There aren’t a plethora of accommodation options in Kananaskis Country, and only a limited number of hotels. Our favorite in the park is Kananaskis Mountain Lodge at the base of Nakiska.
Want To Go Hiking?
Hopefully, this helped you determine which of these lakes in Kananaskis to enjoy a day at!
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Tours (New in 2024): The Banff Blog is partnering with one of the leading tour companies in Western Canada so readers can experience the magic of the Rockies with other travelers – without having to think about a thing. See all our 2024 tour offerings here!
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Get to Banff or Canmore Without a Car: The Banff Airporter provides fantastic service that will connect you right from YYC to the town of Banff or Canmore.
- Get Around: We suggest renting a car to get around. You can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip. We like to compare prices on Motorhome Republic and Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Hop On, Hop Off: This tour is taking Banff by storm. It’s exactly what it sounds like, hop on and off a bus bound for all the best attractions at your own pace!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.