In case you haven’t heard the news yet, Kananaskis Provincial Park is the new Banff National Park. It’s home to some of the most eye watering hikes, lakes and views in the world and we’ve been preaching it as the must-see destination in the Canadian Rockies for years.
Quite honestly, it’s the jewel in Alberta’s crown. It’s just as stunning as Banff, but because it’s a little more remote and undeveloped, it has a fraction of the crowds. Somehow the bus tours haven’t made it out there yet, so any adventures into K Country (as we all like to call it here) are like a breath of fresh air; a complete escape into what the Canadian wilderness should actually feel like.
Hiking in Kananaskis Country
Hiking in Kananaskis is much like hiking in Banff, except you’re a little more remote and you’ll bump into fewer people (with the exception of Larch season). Before we get to the list though, there are a couple of things to know:
Prepare trail information beforehand
The main thing to know about Kananaskis is that many of the trails are very hard to find (or follow), so good preparation beforehand is paramount.
Any information you can prepare beforehand will serve you extremely well. That means, download maps or trails before leaving home. There is virtually no cell service in Kananaskis, so downloading more information on the fly isn’t going to work.
Apps and equipment for maps
I recommend using the Topo Canada app to download maps before hand, and to also get a GPS (I use the Garmin InReach Mini and it’s awesome – read our product review here)
The hikes in Kananaskis seem steeper
Maybe it’s the topography in Kananaskis, but many of the hikes we’ve done just seem much steeper than those in Banff. They seem to rise straight out of the ground, straight up to the heavens.
Be prepared to grind it out and to work hard for any summits you’re aiming for! I promise you they’re worth the effort!
You’ll see fewer people but more wildlife
Because there are less crowds, the trails tend to be quieter. As a result, you may encounter more wildlife on the trails. I have to say that we’ve seen far more grizzlies on the trails in Kananaskis than Banff.
For that reason, you should always carry bear spray with you in Kananaskis. I’d also recommend not travelling alone unless you really have to.
Kananaskis is Huge
Lastly, Kananaskis spans a huge area, so it’s generally divided into smaller provincial parks that are divided by natural features like valleys, mountains and rivers. Even though a hike may technically be in Kananaskis, it may be mentioned in the context of the smaller park it’s in; such as Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Don’t worry, it doesn’t make much of a difference in real life, but it may help avoid a little confusion during your research.
The best hikes in Kananaskis
We only started hiking in Kananaskis a few years ago (once we were sick of battling the crowds in Banff), but have quickly grown to love it for its stunning views and variety.
We haven’t even nearly done all the hikes, but here are 12 that we think you’ll love.
In no particular order, these are the absolute must do hikes in Kananaskis:
Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge hike
- Distance: 11.3 km out and back
- Elevation Gain: 1,066m
- Difficulty: Hard (very steep after Rawson Lake)
This is one of my favourite hikes of all time, but it’s also one of the hardest. Not because of the distance, but because after Rawson Lake you have to scramble at an almost 45 degree angle straight upwards towards the ridge, sometimes on very slippery, dusty scree.
I’ve done this 4 or 5 times now and don’t think I’ve ever successfully made it without slipping over!
But, if you can make it to the top of Sarrail Ridge, you’ll be greeted by one of the most incredible and unexpected views of Upper Kananaskis Lake.
Be warned though, you don’t get this view until the last two steps of the hike, when you finally reach Sarrail ridge.
There was a time when you might have been the only person on this hike, but now during peak season there are hundreds of people swarming the trail. I think this is where most of the locals hike in Kananaskis these days.
This trail is often closed for bear activity. Make sure you check the trail report for updates!
Mt. Indefatigable hike
- Distance: 9km loop
- Elevation: 1,090m
- Difficulty: Moderate
Known as Mount Fatty to locals, this is one of the top hikes in Kananaskis, and is officially in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The trail has officially been decommissioned as it’s a high activity area for bears. Hundreds of hikers still do this hike every year, but we encourage you to find a different trail if possible.
From the top you’ll have beautiful panoramic views of Upper and Kananaskis Lakes.
Mt. Indefatigable is a grind and generally is completed in a loop along the ridgeline. Generally speaking, people complete the loop in a counter-clockwise direction, as the descent is much easier this way.
Grizzly Peak hike
- Distance: 5.6km
- Elevation: 875m
- Difficulty: Moderate
Grizzly peak is challenging for two reasons
- The trail is not easy to follow. If it wasn’t for my trusty Topo Canada app, I wouldn’t have spotted that we’d gone off trail.
- The last 10-20% of the hike is a steep scree slope. Several people in our group took tumbles.
Grizzly Peak is a short trail that rises directly above the main highway running through Kananaskis. The trailhead isn’t easy to spot, but it basically rises straight up from Grizzly Creek (which is signposted).
Make sure you pack decent rubber soled boots with decent ankle support. Make sure you read our post on packing for the mountains if you need a bit more advice!
Pocaterra Ridge hike
- Distance: 10.3km one way
- Elevation: 727m
- Difficulty: easy but long
Pocaterra Ridge has become one of our all time favourite hikes. It’s a relatively long hike (around 13km), but you get to walk along a stunning ridge for virtually the entire hike.
It’s also a one way hike, meaning you need to bring two cars with you (leave one at the finish). Otherwise you’ll end up hiking 26km!
This hike has become increasingly popular with hikers during Larch season (September).
Not surprisingly, that’s because Pocaterra Ridge is a Larch hike, meaning the leaves change colour during the Fall. It gets seriously busy during larch season, so I’d recommend doing it earlier in the summer if you want to avoid the crowds.
(here’s a list of our favourite Larch hikes in Banff and Kananaskis if you want to read more!)
If you’re only going to see the larches, however, and don’t want to do the full hike, I’d recommend starting at the north end and doing a short out and back hike instead. Most of the larches are close to the finish at the North end.
Conventionally though, most hikers start at the south end.
You can read our full account of Pocaterra Ridge in Fall here
Ptarmigan Cirque hike
- Distance: 4.3km loop
- Elevation: 355m
- Difficulty: easy
If you’re looking for a short one on this list, Ptarmigan Cirque is going to be your best bet. It’s easily the shortest on this list and as far as hikes go, pretty straightforward.
Ptarmigan Cirque is also another Larch hike, although it’s not really as good as Pocaterra or many of the other Larch hikes we’ve mentioned.
This one gets quite busy because it’s so easy. The trailhead is easy to find, just across the road from the Pocaterra trailhead. This is another trail that frequently closes because of bear activity.
Tryst Lake hike
- Distance: 7.2km out and back
- Elevation: 397m
- Difficulty: easy with a couple of steep sections
Tryst lake is a fantastic hike that you’ll walk right past if you’re not paying attention! Start the trail to Smutwood Peak and then take a hard right turn into the trees. If we hadn’t had a tracker on us, we’d easily have blown right past it.
This is a relatively short but steep hike up to a stunning lake directly below Tent ridge. It’s a stunning lake surrounded by Larch Pines, and the great thing is that most people don’t even know it exists! It’s definitely a hidden gem in K-country.
There are one or two steep ish sections, so bringing grippy boots is a must.
Smutwood Peak hike
- Distance: 17.9km out and back
- Elevation: 961m
- Difficulty: Difficult
Smutwood Peak is easily my favourite hike in Canada. We hiked this in the dark, setting off from the trailhead around 2am. We reached the peak just as the sun poked through, illuminating one of the most breathtaking views of my life.
It’s a beast of a hike at around 18km round trip (although our gps said 22km), but it means you escape most of the crowds and have the place mostly to yourself! The remoteness means you’re more likely to see some wildlife too, and we ran into 2 grizzlies on the trail!
Mist Mountain hike
- Distance: 9.8km out and back
- Elevation: 1,265m
- Difficulty: Difficult
This is a grinding, steep scree hike buried in Kananaskis. Hardly an appealing concept, right?
But it is. For one very good reason..
Mist Mountain has the only natural, undeveloped hot springs in either Banff or Kananaskis. If that’s not a reason to go hiking, I don’t know what is.
Finding these springs are like looking for a needle in a haystack, so bring your GPS. Also, there’s only space for about 4 adults, and the springs are getting busier every year. If you time your visit badly, don’t be surprised if you have to wait your turn.
Absolutely worth though it if you time it right!
Read’s Tower hike in Kananaskis
- Distance: 6.8km out and back
- Elevation: 855m
- Difficulty: moderate with some challenging scree
We weren’t sure what to expect from Read’s Tower. It was a bit of an unknown, but we hit the trail anyway and hoped for the best!
The trail winds up through the trees, until eventually you punch through the tree line and hit a few hundred feet of scree. It’s a bit of a slog, but turn around and you’ll see a stunning view of Spray Lakes beneath you.
Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike
- Distance: 10km loop
- Elevation: 831m
- Difficulty: Moderate but long
Tent Ridge is another ultra popular Kananaskis hike that follows a Horseshoe shape around the Smith Dorian Provincial Park. It offers views of Spray Lake as well as Tryst Lake from above.
We haven’t actually done this hike ourselves, but are looking forward to checking it off and updating this post in 2020.
Mt. Yamnuska hike
- Distance: 6.5km loop
- Elevation: 545m
- Difficulty: Moderate with challenging scree
Mount Yamnuska, or Yam to locals, is another absolutely fantastic hike that offers something a little different from your average hike. We’ve done it a few times, so here’s the full report from one of those adventures!
Yamnuska is famous for two of it’s features:
- The chain. This is the crux of the hike, and requires holding on to a chain and shuffling across a narrow ledge. Not for the faint hearted!
- The scree field. For the last part of the descent, the trail enters a thick scree field with a soft layer of rocks. The great thing about this is that you can virtually run down it and lose hundreds of feet of elevation while barely breaking a sweat!
Yam is also an extremely popular climbing spot, as Yamnuska has a sheer vertical rock face which is perfect for climbing.
Rummel Lake hike
- Distance: 11.1km out and back
- Elevation: 441m
- Difficulty: easy
Rummel Lake is another extremely quiet and underappreciated hike in Kananaskis. It’s a hike that doesn’t get much attention, so it’s a great place to escape the crowds. It’s also a great winter hike!
The vast majority of the hike is spent in the trees, so the views aren’t particularly interesting until right at the end.
In the last few metres you’ll emerge from the trees, with a beautiful lake stretching away in front of you.
Probably not the first hike I’d choose on this list, but if you’re looking for alternatives to the usual popular spots, this is a great option!
Mt. Engadine Lodge
Smutwood, Rummel Lake and Tryst Lake trails all begin just seconds from Mt. Engadine Lodge, meaning you’re within staggering distance of a hot chocolate, beer or charcuterie board at the end of your hike.
So as you can see, Kananaskis is absolutely full of spectacular adventures. If you haven’t been out there yet, I strongly suggest you get your skates on and go!
Finally, as we mentioned, ther are still many more beautiful hikes in Kananaskis, and we’ll certainly update this post as we keep exploring. For now though, hopefully these 12 hikes will keep you going!