Traipsing Around Upper Kananaskis Lake

Shoulder season is a tricky time in our northern mountains. The days are too short for long hikes, unless you plan to use headlamps. The snow is not good enough to ski or snowshoe, and yet there is too much snow to safely hike to the peaks of the mountains that beckon, tug on your heart strings and taunt your sense of adventure.

Until this week, we’d had unseasonably warm temps here, so we decided to take advantage of those conditions with a long hike at lower elevation. Something nice and rolling, with good views; something to stretch our legs.

Circumnavigating Upper Kananaskis Lake seemed to fit the bill. A rambling 19.21km hike, it takes you around a lake that is stunningly beautiful, even if man-made. Created by a dam that was built in 1938, it is a large lake in the southern part of K-Country in the fantastic multi-use Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (the ultimate outdoor playground).

We began our hike on the shoreline, heading in a counter-clockwise direction from the Interlakes Trailhead parking lot, walking out across the damn that lies between the Upper, and the much larger Lower, Kananaskis Lakes, and then into the forested path along the lake’s shore.

At the beginning of the hike, the sun played with the early morning clouds, sometimes hiding, sometimes highlighting the contours of the steep mountains, dramatic valleys and beautiful rocky shoreline of the lake that lay below.

The sun was just rising as we set out.
The ice along the rocky shoreline was incredibly beautiful. Wherever waves had splashed, kicked up by those ofttimes howling winds that come barreling through the mountain passes, rocks and driftwood were covered in sheer blankets with gorgeous icicle tassels.
A lot of the rock along the western shore was made of black, polished slate bits that made a beautiful sound as they rubbed together, pushed by the early morning’s gentle waves.
Rocks, polished smooth by wave action, had once tumbled from the mountain slopes, high above.
The forest along the lake’s western shore was made up of a stand of lodgepole pines… one look and you can see how they got their name… they are perfectly straight, making for excellent beams and poles for the lodges and teepees of the indigenous people who worked with them, in the days of old.
Our trail rolled its way along the shore, undulating up and down with occasional breaks in the trees that gave us window views onto the scene below.
Mount Fatty is in the background… that’s the name the locals give to the hard-to-pronounce Mount Indefatigable. Named after a World War I battle cruiser, it is a favourite haunt for grizzlies, and its trails are now permanently closed to use to protect their habitat.
There was some snow on the trail as we approached the Palliser Rockslide below Mount Fatty. And with the sun just beginning to poke through, it lit up a spectacular landscape to explore. Mount Sarrail ahead of us beckoned… even though this photo makes it seem close & attainable, it is so far away!
Looking back on the lake from the height of the rock slide area, the sun played with the clouds, highlighting a tuft here and there as they moved through the valley.
The rocks of the slide area were quite something. A huge sheet of rock slide down from Mount Fatty long ago, long before the Palliser Expedition went through the area seeking routes through the Rocky Mountains, mapping it in 1858. If you look carefully in this photo, you can see the way our trail goes straight ahead, through the debris.

That slide deposited 90×106m3 of debris on that slope! That makes for quite an area of gigantic boulders to traverse on foot.

The great sheet of bedrock that broke off to form the Palliser Rockslide came from here. It was a super thick, massively weighted sheet that broke off with tremendous force to cause all the fractured rubble that we found ourselves walking through, over and around on the trail.
The shelves of harder rock along the south shore of the lake made for some beautiful waterfalls. This is Upper Kananaskis Falls.
A perfect spot to sip tea, munch on chocolate, rest and take in the scenery (from a cushy seat on a frozen boulder).
As we headed around the south end of the lake, the light changed dramatically, lighting up the slope of Mount Fatty with a warm glow, and making the deep water of the lake a very menacing shade of blue.
The cold wind and choppy waves on the lake didn’t stop this canoeist from getting a last paddle of the season in! Imagine, we saw this canoeist as we passed someone on snowshoes on the trail! Such a contrast… one outdoor enthusiast desperately prolonging the season & one eager to get the next one started already!
This was our trail along the south west and south side of the lake. Smaller trees perched on rocky debris and occasionally we’d cross the alluvial fans made by the streams filtering down from above.
And this…
As we came along the east side of the lake, the light was playing with the landscape again, dousing it with cool shades of blue.
In 2013, a tremendous flood came through this area, bringing tons of branches and entire trees into the lake. Over time, this deadfall has been pushed by the currents and winds to the northeast shore of the lake, to mingle with the tree stumps of logs that were felled to make way for the damn back in ’38…. two catastrophic environmental events that have left this shoreline thick with deep piles of white washed debris.
This debris has made for excellent fort-building material, and the shoreline has lots of little shelters like this one along it. I love human ingenuity & creativity!
Some of the driftwood forts along the shore were quite large!
Looking up through the roof of one of the shoreline’s driftwood forts made for an interesting pattern and play of light.
Looking out from a driftwood fort, our dog, Seamus, watches out for signs of trouble as the waves pound the shore, pushed by howling winds that block out all noise to our human ears.
One of four islands that rise up through the lake’s surface, this one looks like it belongs in a Group of Seven painting.

All in all, this was a very satisfying hike, good for a shoulder season day, late in November, when attaining a peak or hiking along a ridge line up above the tree line was no longer possible. Because it was gently rolling, and at times virtually flat, you could make good time along this shoreline trail. And though the views were not the stunning views that always get my heart racing of mountain tops spreading out, like undulating waves as far as the eye can see from a great height, the views here were beautiful in their own way on this short, dark, atmospheric day.

Click here for more terrific hikes in Kananaskis Country (Canmore Area). And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

9 Comments on “Traipsing Around Upper Kananaskis Lake

  1. I see you’re true Canadians – don’t let a little snow or ice slow you down. All the pics are good, but I think I like the shot from inside the fort the best.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry! In my head you were a Seattle native! We went to Portland years ago and loved it. Even did voodoo donuts. Loved the food truck scene (at the time that scene was just starting to heat up here in Edmonton and I was working hard to get them to come be a part of our local farmers’ market that I was involved with, so I found that aspect of Portland really interesting). Loved the drive along the coast, even though it poured buckets enough to miss the pod of whales migrating by. Your scenery in the area is breathtaking. The rainforests, the mists, the ocean… and those Pinots! We need to get back there!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing Pics! My friends and I actually built that fort in 2001. We were all around 20 years old working in K-country. Brought my wife there on our first date in 2012. So happy to see its still standing


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