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.
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 Hike & Sarrail Ridge
8.7 km (Sarrail Ridge 11.6 km)
3- 6 hours
630 m (Sarrail Ridge 1,066 m)
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.
The first major site comes 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 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 up to Rawson Lake, maybe if 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.
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 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 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 a 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
The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.
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 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 Hike 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 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 took us 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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 from ten years old and up, maybe even younger. 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.
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 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.