Rawson Lake Hike in Kananaskis

Author: Celine Brewer

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Rawson Lake is one of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis. Hikers going to Rawson Lake will enjoy being lakeside on not one, but two beautiful Kananaskis lakes, with a highly enjoyable, somewhat challenging, forest hike in-between.

Starting along the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the mountain reflections on the lake in the morning. The peacefulness of the Upper Lake in the morning makes you want to take it slow and hang around for a while.

Upper Kananaskis Lake with picnic area

There are benches luring you in to spend more time appreciating the view. While this might sound like the perfect place to stop, we urge you to continue as the payoff at Rawson Lake is well worth it! We love this hike in Kananaskis and we are certain you will too!

A bench overlooking Upper Kananaskis Lake

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Rawson Lake Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: Rawson Lake trailhead

Distance: 7.8 km out and back

Elevation: 320 m elevation gain

Rawson Lake Hike Highlights

As we mentioned above, to get to the Rawson Lake hike, you must hike along the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail for a bit. The Upper Kananaskis Lake trail begins as a very wide gravel trail with many beautiful wildflowers growing alongside. The trail follows the shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake treating hikers to incredible views whenever there is a break in the forest.

Upper Kananaskis Lake trail goes along shores of the lake

On a sunny day, the sight of the turquoise blue color of Upper Kananaskis Lake surrounded by Mount Sarrail, Sarrail Ridge, Mount Lyautey and Mt. Indefatigable is one of the most scenic spots in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Hikers along the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail will enjoy an opportunity to sit on one of the many benches to enjoy the views. Keep your ears open and you just may hear the distinctive sound of a loon out on the lake.

As if the views of the Upper Kananaskis Lake weren’t enough, the surrounding forest is also very beautiful. Tall bushes grow in-between towering evergreen trees and a carpet of glowing green moss.

Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail to Rawson Lake hike

Note the large patches of buffalo berry bushes, a favourite mid-summer food of black bears and grizzly bears. If the buffalo berry bushes have bright red berries on them, be sure to make lots of noise as you hike.

After 300 m of hiking, you’ll cross a tranquil little mountain stream working its way towards Upper Kananaskis Lake. The hiking trail becomes a little less groomed beyond here, with more rocks and roots on the trail.

As you hike along the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail watch for little trails to the lakeshore. There’s often large rocks or tree stumps to sit on while you enjoy the incredible Kananaskis scenery.

Sitting on shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake

Over the next kilometre or so, you’ll cross a few more streams along this easy hiking trail as you walk through the forest.

After 1.2 km of hiking, you’ll reach a bridge on the Upper Kananaskis Lake hiking trail which crosses a large mountain creek. Sarrail Creek Falls is a powerful, double waterfall on the left as you cross the bridge. On a warm day, notice how much cooler this large Kananaskis waterfall makes the surrounding air.

Bridge over Sarrail Creek Falls along Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail

The rocks along the creek downstream of the waterfall is a popular Kananaskis picnic spot. As you leave the creek, take a moment to read the sign across the bridge about the devastation caused by the 2013 floods.

When you reach the junction between the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail and the Rawson Lake hiking trail, merge left and begin your uphill hike. If you go straight, you’ll continue along the upper Kananaskis Lake trail, which circumnavigates the entire lake.

From the moment you leave the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail, you’ll notice the difference in effort level almost immediately. The first 1.5 km of hiking on the Rawson Lake trail is all uphill.

roots on Rawson Lake hike in Kananaskis

The Rawson Lake trail remains wide enough for two hikers, making it a good Kananaskis hike for families or groups of friends. The trail has quite a few roots on it, so we recommend you wear a good pair of hiking shoes.

The forest along this stretch of the Rawson Lake trail is very lush, with brilliant green moss and many different kinds of interesting mushrooms growing in the shade.

The forest floor is home to a large number of fallen and partially decomposed tree trunks, which create important micro-ecosystems for the critters of the forest. Up higher, keep your ears open for sounds of woodpeckers finding a meal in the bark of the trees.

Rawson Lake hike in the forest

The uphill section of the Rawson Lake hike can be challenging, with several switchbacks along the way. It’s not uncommon to see hikers taking a break on one of the many fallen trees or trailside boulders.

It’s not long before hikers get some relief on the Rawson Lake hiking trail. Just 2.8 km after leaving the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot (1.5 km of hiking the Rawson Lake trail) the trail finally levels out. The tough uphill hiking section of the Rawson Lake trail is over.

Wildflowers blooming in summer along Rawson Lake trail

The Rawson Lake hiking trail gets very close to the stream at the 3.3 km mark. The forest thins out a bit here, allowing wildflowers to thrive in the resulting meadows. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of flowers enjoying the humidity from the stream and the sunshine from the openings in the evergreens.

summer wildflowers in bloom on Rawson Lake trail

The Rawson Lake hike then transitions to a series of narrow wooden boardwalks at the 3.5 km mark. Some of these boardwalks are very long. Kids of all ages enjoy ‘balancing’ on these boardwalks. It’s a fun little reward along the Rawson Lake trail after the uphill slog.

Wooden Boardwalk on Rawson Lake trail

You’ll finally reach the shores of the stream at 3.7 km. Take a moment to soak in the beauty of the stream and then smile… you’ve reached Rawson Lake. Walk a few meters beyond the stream and you’ll see your first glimpses of Rawson Lake though the trees ahead.

Rawson Lake views as approaching through the trees

After 3.8 km of hiking along the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail and the Rawson Lake trail you’ll be standing on the shore of Rawson Lake. A towering 800 m tall rock wall from Mount Sarrail wraps around Rawson Lake on the far shore, while the summit of Mount Sarrail towers over 1,000 m overhead. This mountain amphitheater is a truly amazing scene; no wonder Rawson Lake is one of the most popular hikes in Kananaskis Country!

Rawson Lake - best Kananaskis hikes

Many people will make the shores of Rawson Lake their turnaround point, but the Rawson Lake trail continues for just over 1km along the shores of this beautiful Kananaskis lake. With the last kilometer of the Rawson Lake trail mostly along the lakeshore, it’s often lined with people fishing.

The final stretch of the Rawson Lake trail is all flat, although the second half is over some large rocks, which may cause some footing challenges for some hikers.

kids on Rawson Lake hike

The beautiful deep green color of Rawson Lake is complimented by the explosion of wildflowers along the open meadows near the trail. Be careful not to trip on this leg of the Rawson Lake hike as the views of the Mount Sarrail cliff ahead are mesmerizing.

Rawson Lake Trailhead

The Rawson Lake trailhead is accessed at a junction 1.2 km along the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail. The Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail starts from the Upper Lake Day Use.

sign for Rawson lake hiking trail

The Upper Kananaskis Lake Area Parking is an hour and 45 minutes from Calgary and an hour and 23 minutes from Banff. Take the TransCanada Highway 1 to Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail) for 50 km. Turn right onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail and follow it for 12.6 km. There is a sign for a left turn towards Upper Kananaskis Lake, follow the road to the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking area.

The hiking trails start in the southwest corner of the parking lot (to your left when you are facing Upper Kananaskis Lake).

Rawson Lake Hike Stats

How Long is the Rawson Lake Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Rawson Lake trail is 7.8 km (one-way distance of 3.9 km) from the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking area.

It’s 1.2 km from the start of Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail to the junction for the Rawson Lake trail. From there it’s another 2.6 km to the end of the official Rawson Lake hike.

It’s possible to either continue the hike to the other side of the lake and turn back or continue up the Sarrail Ridge trail. If you continue to the far end of the lake, the total distance will be closer to 9.5 km.

View of Rawson Lake and Sarrail Ridge

How Hard is the Hike to Rawson Lake?

Due to the length and incline, we rate the Rawson Lake hike as “easy”.

While there are some sections of the Rawson Lake trail that will have you sweating and needing to catch your breath, that’s a very short section of the switchbacks. The Rawson Lake hiking trail starts along the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail with very little elevation gain.

Rawson Lake Hike with Kids

Shortly after the junction that takes you off the Upper Lake trail on to the hike to Rawson Lake, the switchbacks start with a few steeper sections. You’ll gain most of your elevation in that first 1.5 km of the official Rawson Lake trail.

As you near the top, the trail levels off and there are even fun boardwalks to finish up the forested section of this Kananaskis hiking trial.

It is a consistent climb during the switchback section on the way up, so if you are a beginner hiker or don’t hike frequently then this will probably feel much more like a moderate hike. The trail is well groomed and there are plenty of spots to take a break along the way.

How Long Does the Rawson Lake Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult 2-3 hours to hike to Rawson Lake. We did this hike with our two kids (8 and 6 years old) and it took us 3.75 hours including lunch at Rawson Lake and stopping for pictures.

Upper Kananaskis Lake Alberta

Rawson Lake Trail Map

The Rawson Lake trail is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the Alltrails app while hiking to Rawson Lake, but the trail is popular enough that you’ll have plenty of people to follow.

To find the Rawson Lake trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “Rawson Lake trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.

Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Rawson Lake Trail

A paper map isn’t required for this Kananaskis hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.

The Rawson Lake trail map is found in the “Kananaskis Lakes” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Hiking Rawson Lake Trail with Kids

We’ve been hiking to Rawson Lake with kids for years. While we’ve most often done Rawson Lake as a winter hike in Kananaskis, it’s so much more stunning in the summer.

This is an excellent hike for the entire family. It may be challenging for some kids, with the moderate climb section, but it’s well worth it to make it to the top. Even kids can appreciate a view like the one you get at Rawson Lake.

Hiking Rawson Lake with Kids

Along the way there are plenty of opportunities to stop for a break on a log or a large rock.

Our kids, who are 8 and 6 years old, are decent hikers and they really enjoyed this hike. This hike has so many great things to keep kids interested: the bridge, the Sarrail Creek Falls, stopping to play along Upper Kananaskis Lake, the boardwalks at the top, and finally the incredible Rawson Lake.

When we walked the section around the lake, there were plenty of people enjoying Rawson Lake while fishing. They were more than happy to talk to the kids about the fish and called them over when they caught one.

We highly recommend this family-friendly hike in Kananaskis!

Kids hike along wooden boardwalk on Rawson Lake hike

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The obvious place to stop for lunch is at the Rawson Lake. If you continue to walk along the side of the lake towards the far end, you’ll have no trouble finding a place to stop for lunch or a break.

There is at least one bench near the end of the official Rawson Lake trail too.

Plenty of places to stop at Rawson Lake for lunch

Rawson Lake Hiking Safety

There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Rawson Lake hiking trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the Rawson Lake.

Easy Kananaskis hikes - Rawson Lake

Take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety. At a minimum, carry bear spray and make lots of noise as you hike to alert the bears of your presence. Grizzly bears are known to frequent this area and you’ll frequently see closures due to the grizzly bears.

Cougars also live in Kananaskis Country. Learn more about Cougar Safety.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Kananaskis are very low, but you never know what will happen with wildlife, so be prepared.

We recommend you check the Rawson Lake trail report for the Rawson Lake trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

Rawson Lake Trail Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Rawson Lake hike.

  • Mountain biking is not allowed on the Rawson Lake trail.

  • There are toilets in the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use area and there’s one porta-potty up at Rawson Lake (continue the trail around the left of the lake and it will be on your left).

  • Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.

  • You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
hiking to Rawson Lake Kananaskis

What to Bring for Hiking Rawson Lake Trail

This isn’t a very long hike, so you don’t need to be as prepared with all the proper hiking gear. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.

The Rawson Lake trail is an easy/moderate Kananaskis hike, but there are still a few items that we recommend bringing:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.

  • Water – the Rawson Lake trail has a section with a consistent uphill climb and on a hot summer day you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Kananaskis, no matter the season. For hiking in Kananaskis, we typically wear convertible hiking pantsT-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
hiking boots for Rawson Lake trail conditions

Rawson Lake Footwear Recommendation

The Rawson Lake trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but it does have quite a bit of roots as you leave the junction and start to climb the switchbacks. We recommend a pair of hiking shoes, though if necessary, you could do this Kananaskis hike with trainers on.

If you choose to continue along the lake and up Sarrail Ridge, then you’ll want a proper pair of hiking shoes or boots.

Rawson Lake Snowshoe or Winter Hike

Rawson Lake is one of the best Kananaskis snowshoe trails or winter hikes. Rawson Lake is especially beautiful in the heart of winter. Hiking here is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate both Rawson Lake and Upper Kananaskis Lake in winter.

Upper Kananaskis Lake in Winter

Snow and ice can make the Rawson Lake trail a much more challenging winter hike, especially on the moderate climb up the switchbacks. However, given that this is a popular Kananaskis winter trail, often the snow will be packed down. Both the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail and Rawson Lake trail conditions in winter will be slippery so we do recommend some form of traction device for your winter boots.

micro spikes are better than yaktrax for a Kananakis ice walk

We love our Kahtoola Microspikes for winter hiking traction. Take a look at the spikes on the bottom and you’ll see why they are so great for traction while winter hiking on ice or snow.

Yaktrax are another popular option for winter hiking in Kananaskis. Their spike-less design makes them more comfortable when walking on pathways and sidewalks, but less effective on uphill icy trails.

Snowshoeing Rawson Lake is another fun alternative, especially if there has been a recent snowfall. Snowshoes are less necessary if the trail has been hard packed by other snowshoers or hikers. We do still recommend having snowshoes along in case the snow is deeper than expected.

Rawson Lake - Kananaskis winter hike

When deciding how to dress for the Rawson Lake hike in winter, we recommend dressing in layers. It’s always a good idea to have a large daybag to store unused layers in.

As a final precaution, only hike up to the lake and never hike past the beginning of Rawson Lake in the winter or spring, as there is extreme avalanche danger in this area.

This is a “must-do” Kananaskis hike! You’ll find every step worth the effort when you see the views!

Other Kananaskis Hikes

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The Rawson Lake hike is one of the most popular Kananaskis hikes and for good reason! This hike takes you by two stunning Kananaskis lakes. It's a family-friendly Kananaskis hike too with a wide trail.
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.