Sarrail Ridge: The Gem beyond Rawson Lake

One of the popular beginner day hikes in K-Country is Rawson Lake, a beautiful hike or snowshoe up to a perfect alpine lake. The lake is deep and its colour is beautiful. The hike to that point is not too long or demanding, and it starts along the rolling shoreline of another Kananaskis gem: Upper Kananaskis Lake.

The Rawson Lake trail doesn’t require much skill, other than the ability to carry water, a picnic lunch, bear spray (always bear spray in the spring-summer-fall months), and have the fitness level required to get your heart pumping a little more as you head up, ever up (it is the mountains, after all!) through the forest.

Surrounded by mountains on three sides, hemmed in by scree and steep avalanche slopes, and full of fish, Rawson Lake is a popular mountain destination. And deservedly so. Even in August, there’s still snow at the end of the lake, and it’s an easy ramble around to its far side on relatively flat ground for a summer-shorts-and-t-shirt-snowball fight. Who can deny the appeal of that, I ask you! It’s the ultimate carrot-on-a-stick for families with young children to convince them to hike up through the steep forest.

However, go beyond the end of the lake, cross the remnants of snowy avalanche debris, trudge up a steep, loose dirt avalanche path, and you can gain the lofty heights of Sarrail Ridge with its spectacular vistas out over the massive Upper Kananaskis Lake. You can look across to incredible mountains like Mount Indefatigable (locals call it Mount Fatty) along with the hike-in campground near Hidden Lake, and beyond.

It’s a short ridge, with a steep asking price in that it challenges the youngest, most fit hearts, knees, calves & quads, but it’s payoff picnic views are tremendous. Come along and see for yourself….

On the way to the trail head, a bear crossed the road in front of us… always a great start to a day!
Initially, the trail starts out along the shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake. That’s Mount Fatty, a mountain whose trails have been decommissioned to preserve prime grizzly habitat, across the way.
The trail intially follows the shoreline, rolling up and down little hills in the woods and passing this waterfall. This is often the turn around/play/picnic spot for families of young children as there are great boulders to scramble on where this water enters the lake, and it’s not too far from the day use parking area.
Looking out across the lake from the bridge at the base of the falls. You can see that forest fire smoke is still an issue, obscuring the distant views.
In what seems like no time, you’re at the turn off to Rawson Lake. As you can see, it’s well signed and a very distinct trail.
The Rawson Lake Trail spits you out up here. Talk about a dramatic introduction to a spectacular landscape! If you are heading to the snow site across the lake, go along the left side of the lake from here. Sarrail Ridge is behind this tree… on the right side of the end of the lake.
Heading left around the lake, there’s a distinct, boot worn, braided path.
That snow patch that’s touching the water on the left is the PERFECT snowball fight place for young families.
The end of the lake is a beautiful landscape with dramatic cliffs and a beautiful stream entering the lake. The avalanche slope we were heading up is to the right in this photo, but first we’d have to cross the debris-strewn snow field at its base.
This is a good place for a snowball fight too… and it’s two against one! Look carefully and you’ll see the snowballs from Bill & Monika coming my way.

Avalanche snow is amazing. As it pours & catapults violently down the mountain slopes, the edges get sheered off its crystals. The result: the snow packs in like cement and takes a very, very long time to melt. I will never forget what we had to do in our avalanche safety course: to learn proper digging techniques, should someone in our party get buried by an avalanche, they had us practice digging in the snowbank furrow left by a snow plough. It was next to impossible! AST1 essentially taught us to be afraid… to be very afraid of avalanche terrain in winter. It gave us just enough healthy fear to learn and practice avoidance!

Along the edge of the avalanche snow, beautiful alpine flowering plants were poking up as if it was early spring!
There were tons of alpine lilies in bloom… and tons… and I mean TONS… of bear diggings all around the alpine meadow there!
As we climbed up the loose dirt of the slope, Rawson Lake, ever farther down below, developed more and more of that gorgeous alpine colour.
There was one tricky spot where you had to climb up and over a small cliff band. You can do it two ways… from the creek bed and from the more “main” trail. We did both: one on the way up and one on the way down (pictured here). They’re both equally bad.
While still steep, the trail got a bit better up near the top. We were heading to the ridge top, just out of sight in this pic, and then up and over the rocky outcropping up top.
Views from the ridge at the top of the trail up. Smoke was a bit of an issue up there.
A little trail beta: Once you reach the ridge, turn right, go up and over the rocky outcrop, and continue heading up the ridge.
We settled in with views all around us… cliffs dropping dramatically to the massive Upper Kananaskis Lake behind us, and a beautiful & steep wildflower meadow in front, plunging steeply and dramatically to sparkling Rawson Lake far below.
Seamus was hot, but happy… with his typical no-fear of heights, he huddled in behind us at lunch, trying to find shade, staying close to the magic treat pocket of my backpack, ever hopeful.
Maps out, lunch in hand, it was a fun picnic & rest spot.
Seamus tried to find a bit of shade… and that’s Hidden Lake down behind him, off in the smoky distance.
The views down to Rawson Lake… with lots of wildflowers and…
… TONS of bear diggings, too! This trench is over a foot deep. Imagine the power of the claws that dug this with such ease!
All good things must come to an end. We were hot & exposed up there, and the forest fire smoke was getting thicker. It was time to head back down the steep, slippery dirt of the avalanche path.
Once we were back down, Monika tried to show Seamus what to do to cool off. Mr. Dainty Paws wasn’t having any of it!
Then it was back out along the edge of Rawson Lake…
… and down the main trail once again. Seamus happily walks along boards over the muddy bits. (He’s part cat, I swear!)
And on our way out, we were treated to this view of bighorn sheep. An animal sandwich, when you include the bear at the beginning, on a wonderful day.

Distance: 11.3km to the ridge

Elevation: 655m elevation gain (300m to the lake; 355m more to gain the ridge)


A little trail beta: the day we went we were shocked at the number of people attempting to go up to Sarrail Ridge. Really shocked. We saw about 60 hikers on that avalanche trail. And we were more amazed by how unprepared many of them seemed.

Rawson Lake’s shoreline is a terrific destination, in and of itself. There’s lots to do and explore there. There’s no need to go up to the ridge if you don’t have the experience to back you.

Don’t venture beyond Rawson Lake and head up to the ridge if you have no poles (you need them to go down), don’t have at least 2L of water on a hot summer day, aren’t wearing hiking boots (this is an easy ankle twisting trail), and have little experience on seriously steep terrain (practice somewhere else, first). I think that many of the unprepared people were doing the hike spontaneously, with a “What’s up there?” sense of adventure.

This is no Parks Canada trail with carefully crafted switchbacks. It is unrelentingly straight up on loose dirt. It is a steep and slippery avalanche path. And down is always far more challenging than up: please, please remember that, if you attempt this.

We passed, and checked in with quite a few people, young and old, who were physically struggling with the demands of this hike. There is a wee bit of scrambling and it is heart-poundingly steep and can stress your heart and leg muscles and play havoc with knees and ankles.

We were shocked to hear that the day after we did this trail, Kananaskis Country Public Safety rescue personnel responded to a hiker in distress, and that that person died of a heart attack, part way up the slope to the ridge, on the trail. Our hearts go out to the family of this person. That doesn’t mean that that unfortunate soul was unprepared, it’s simply another pertinent reminder to carry an InReach or Spot beacon device in the back country to send out distress calls, as there is no cell phone service in there.

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.


8 Comments on “Sarrail Ridge: The Gem beyond Rawson Lake

  1. Beautiful and a useful safety reminder. The walks I do are less demanding than this but even on those I am amazed with people’s lack of appropriate footwear and water, in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill and I joke that the extra stuff we carry (first aid kit, electrolyte snacks, tarp, fire starting things, compass, first aid kit, etc.) that we pretty much never use is weight that we call “training.” It’s the water that kills you though… it’s so heavy. But you can do some pretty dry hikes in these mountains! Especially on a ridge. And there’s nothing that zaps your energy (and your ability to think clearly) more than becoming dehydrated on a strenuous hike!


      • I totally agree with you in the extra but necessary items you carry with you. Although a first aid kit might never be used, it is mandatory to have it with you in case you need it.

        The “ultra light” approach of hikers is good, but is always important to not leave back important items like the ones you have listed.

        Concerning the water, indeed, that is one of the heaviest items carried in a backpack. Personally, I have tried to train my self with as less water as possible, but I never leave camp for longer hikes without at least 3 lt. of water. This water is not only for me, but also if I encounter someone that might be in need of water.

        Now, a comment about the post …what beautiful location you have been again. I wish we had such kind of places here in Greece too. Nevertheless, we have other kind of beautiful landscapes.

        Liked by 1 person

      • There is beauty the world over, and something special about getting to it, when it is tucked away in difficult to reach places, on your own two feet. Your mountains in Greece are very different from the landscapes we explore here, but there’s a stark beauty to them. I’ve enjoyed reading about your recent trip… and had a good chuckle over that cow! That’s something you wouldn’t find here, up in our high mountain areas (even though the province of Alberta, where we live, is known for its beef!)!!


      • You are absolutely right on that, and I’m pleased to know you liked to read about my recent trip on Mount Tymfi in Greece.

        Exploring Canada by my own feet is part of my long term trekking goals and hopefully I will materialize sooner rather than later.

        For the time being, I will be reading and learning from your blog (and other blogs) about the nice areas of your countries.

        Thanks for sharing and happy hiking.

        Liked by 1 person

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