Rawson Lake is a beautiful Alberta lake suitable for a wide range of hiking abilities. 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 to get them. A climb up from Rawson Lake crosses prime grizzly habitat and is a bit of a slog up a steep avalanche shoot.
The hike up to Rawson lake is a great beginner hike in Kananaskis County for those not seeking a ton of adventure. 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 (via Rawson Lake)
8 km return to Rawson Lake (Sarrail Ridge 11.6 km)
3- 6 hours
300 meters to Rawson Lake/ 670 m to Sarrail Ridge
Easy/Moderate (Sarrail Ridge Difficult)
Upper Kananaskis Lake
Rawson Lake Route Description
Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge are often combined as the hike up to Sarrail Ridge goes 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 across the lake.
The first major site comes soon as you cross a bridge over Sarrail Creek and can view 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 to your left.
This section is a slight uphill gain of 300 meters over 2km that winds back and forth through the woods.
It’s a charming section of the old forest that’s peaceful if you have it to yourself like we did. It takes about a half-hour from Upper Kananaskis Lake up to Rawson Lake, maybe an hour if you take your time.
Once you complete the Rawson Lake hike, you’re in for a real treat. The lake is one of the most beautiful Alberta lakes, and the rock wall of Mount Sarrail above is humbling. Several paths lead around the lake with plenty of places to sit and enjoy the views or have a small bite to eat.
If you have hiked to Rawson Lake in the winter, you should stop here, as going further would cross into avalanche terrain. The hike up to Sarrail Ridge from Rawson Lake is typically not dry enough to hike until June.
Continue up Sarrail Ridge
If you’re continuing up to Sarrail Ridge, the trail winds around Rawson Lake to the Southeast before climbing the ridge to the Northeast. The ridge climb is a bit of a slog and goes straight up an avalanche shoot and prime grizzly bear habitat. There is no signage.
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. Last year, someone had to call Search and Rescue as they slid down the trail in improper footwear while it was raining.
The hike up to Sarrail Ridge is not quite a scramble, but those not sure-footed or without proper hiking shoes 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.
The view from Sarrail Ridge is breathtaking and probably one of the best 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.
Gear We Recommend
Many hikers will enjoy the security, comfort, and value in the Merrell Moab II. It’s a great beginner hiking boot.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
Rawson Lake Hike Duration
The Rawson Lake hike 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 2-3 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 Hike Duration
To reach the ridge took us about an hour and 45 minutes 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 Sarrail 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 total for Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge took us about four hours, and we spent over an hour on the ridge enjoying ourselves and taking photos. The hike can be done in under three hours (fast pace), with an average of four to five.
How Hard is the 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 prepared to walk uphill for several kilometers. There are no technical sections along the trail, 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 physically challenging for the short ascent up the avalanche gully, but other than that, it is not technical or tough since it’s a short section of the trail.
One small section requires a slight scramble over a few rocks, but nothing more difficult than the uphill battle itself. We would agree with the difficult assessment. But certainly on the easier side of difficult hikes in Kananaskis.
When Can You Hike Rawson Lake & Sarrail Ridge?
There are a couple of factors at play. Sarrail Ridge and Rawson Lake are best done in the summer months once the snow has melted, to just Rawson Lake that could be as early as late April. The Sarrail Ridge portion is best hiked from mid June to the end of September.
Rawson Lake makes for a great snowshoe 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. Winter hikers should stop when they reach Rawson Lake and not even attempt to walk around the lake itself as this would be crossing avalanche territory.
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 all to ourselves and saw no one else on our way out.
Are Dogs and Kids Appropriate on 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 hiker kids from ten years old and up, maybe even younger depending on the child, will be able to complete the hike. It all depends on the fitness level. Big dogs should handle the trail just fine, while small dogs should be okay on the hike to Rawson Lake.
Wildlife Awareness in Kananaskis
In 2019 Sarrail Ridge closed for the majority of the year, and in 2020 it closed for a portion of the summer. 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 shoots 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, carry bear spray, and know how to use it.
What to Wear On a Hike in the Rockies?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the mountain base and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
Other Great Kananaskis Country Hikes
There are many more great hikes in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park, or you can check out some awesome Banff hikes. Both are home to some of our all-time favorite hikes and scrambles in the region. To learn more, we’ve got a post on our favorite hikes in Kananaskis Country.
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.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- 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.
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