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Sarrail Ridge Hike in Kananaskis

If you are a seasoned hiker in good shape and crave some of the best scenery in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, you should add the Sarrail Ridge hike to your list of must-do Kananaskis hikes.

You reach the Sarrail Ridge hike via Rawson Lake trail. The Rawson Lake hike is one of the best Kananaskis hikes and for good reason. Hikers get to enjoy hiking along scenic Upper Kananaskis Lake before joining the heart-pumping switchbacks up the Rawson Lake trail.

As you near Rawson Lake, you’ll enjoy the trail leveling off which is ideal to give those legs a break before continuing up the Sarrail Ridge trail, found at the far end of Rawson Lake.

You may not enjoy the steep climb (and by steep, we mean straight up!), but the views at the top of Sarrail Ridge will have you forgetting all about your burning legs.

Sarrail Ridge Hike - Kananaskis

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Sarrail Ridge Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: Upper Kananaskis Lake Trailhead

Distance: 11.3 km out and back

Elevation: 675 m elevation gain

Sarrail Ridge Trail Highlights

To get to the Sarrail Ridge hike, you must first hike along a 1.2 km portion of the Upper Kananaskis Lake Trail then hike to far end of Rawson Lake.

Upper Kananaskis Lake trail goes along shores of the lake

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.

Shortly after reaching the bridge with views of Sarrail Creek Falls, you’ll find the junction to continue on the Rawson Lake trail to your left.

The first 1.5 km of hiking on the Rawson Lake trail is a series of switchbacks with a moderate climb. From the moment you leave the Upper Kananaskis Lake trail, you’ll notice the difference in effort level almost immediately.

roots on Rawson Lake hike in Kananaskis

The tough uphill hiking section of the Rawson Lake trail is over after approximately 1.5 km. Enjoy the effortless hiking from here until the start of the Sarrail Ridge trail.

After 3.8 km of hiking along the Upper Kananaskis Lakes trail and the Rawson Lake trail you’ll be standing on the shore of Rawson Lake. A towering 800m tall rock wall from Mount Sarrail wraps around Rawson Lake on the far shore, while the summit of Mount Sarrail towers over 1,000m 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 to Sarrail Ridge hiking trail

Continue past the shores of Rawson Lake to your left for the last kilometer of the Rawson Lake trail and to reach the far end of the lake.

There are plenty of spots to stop and rest along the shores of Rawson Lake. Large rocks, which have fallen from the Mount Sarrail cliffs on the left make nice seats for a well-deserved lunch. There’s even a bench along the shore if you’re lucky enough to find it empty. You’ll want the energy for the remainder of this hike.

The trail seems to disappear towards the end of Rawson Lake, but as you continue on the rocks you’ll see it reappear in the grass at the end of the boulder field.

Plenty of places to stop at Rawson Lake for lunch

The Sarrail Ridge Trail begins at the end of the Rawson Lake hike, at the far western edge of the lake. There’s a partially forested green meadow running up the northern side of Rawson Lake; the Sarrail Ridge Trail runs nearly straight uphill up this meadow.

Always look for grizzly bears feeding in this area before continuing on. This area is frequented by grizzly bears.

The Sarrail Ridge hike is not for the faint of heart – it is a short, but seriously steep Kananaskis hike. From the shores of Rawson Lake to the top of Sarrail Ridge, you’ll gain close to 400 m of elevation in just over 1 km of hiking – that’s an average slope of 40%!!  For every 10 feet you walk, you’ll gain 4 feet of altitude – that’s steep and you’ll be doing that for a full kilometre.

Close up of steep Sarrail Ridge hike

The ascent up the Sarrail Ridge Trail is very difficult but successful hikers are rewarded with one of the best views in Kananaskis Country, and perhaps even the entire Canadian Rocky Mountain parks. Standing atop Sarrail Ridge, you can seemingly see forever.

Behind you, you’ll savor views of Rawson Lake well below, while in front of you Upper Kananaskis Lake and Lower Kananaskis Lake are on full display, separated by the highly recognizable Mt. Indefatigable. The grassy meadow along the top of Sarrail Ridge is the perfect spot to stop for a break and savor these incredible Kananaskis vistas.

View from Sarrail Ridge hike

As difficult as the hike up Sarrail Ridge is, the descent is just as hard, if not harder. This is a very steep descent, tread carefully and be sure you are wearing proper hiking shoes or boots with excellent traction.

I’ve known seasoned hikers to not summit Sarrail Ridge. Do not attempt hiking Sarrail Ridge this unless you are a very strong hiker.

Sarrail Ridge Trailhead

There is no official Sarrail Ridge trailhead, instead it is a continuation of the Rawson Lake trail from the end of the lake.

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.

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).

View of Rawson Lake from Sarrail Ridgehike

Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake Hike Stats

How Long is the Sarrail Ridge Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Sarrail Ridge trail is 11.3 km (one-way distance of 5.6 km) from the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking area.

taking a break on Sarrail hike

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. You’ll complete the final 1.8 km along the shores of Rawson Lake then straight up to Sarrail Ridge, for a total of 5.6 km.

How Hard is the Hike to Sarrail Ridge?

Due to the length and incline, we rate the Sarrail Ridge hike as “difficult”.

The Upper Kananaskis Lake trail is an easy trail undulating through the forest with views of the lake.

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 then again on the final section up Sarrail Ridge.

Hiking to Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake trail

The final 1 km up to Sarrail Ridge is up the dirt beside the gully. You’ll find footholds to help it to be more like steps, but this section is difficult and steep. Unfortunately, this type of incline doesn’t get any easier on the way down. But once you reach Rawson Lake, the remaining descent will be easy.

How Long Does the Sarrail Ridge Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult 3.5-5 hours to hike to Sarrail Ridge. This time includes stopping at Rawson Lake, lunch at the top of Sarrail Ridge and stopping for pictures.

Sarrail Ridge Kananaskis

Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake Trail Map

The Rawson Lake trail is easy to follow and is well marked. Once you get past the end of the lake, look for the trail that ventures into the forested area then continues up to the gully and up the slope to the ridge.

If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the Alltrails app while hiking to Sarrail Ridge.

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

Hiking to Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake

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 with a continuation called “Rawson Ridge”. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Hiking Sarrail Ridge Trail with Kids

While Rawson Lake trail is a fun hike with kids in Kananaskis, we would only recommend continuing on to Sarrail Ridge if your kids are extremely strong hikers. They would need to be fairly determined and capable of hiking on the loose dirt and shale.

Our kids are 8 and (almost) 6 years old, yet despite them being strong hikers this is one we aren’t ready to attempt with them yet.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The obvious place to stop for lunch is at the Rawson Lake. As 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 are a couple of benches near the end of the official Rawson Lake trail too.

Alternatively, save your lunch for the top of Sarrail Ridge, where you can take the time to enjoy the views and celebrate the efforts you put in to get to this point.

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. This all changes when you get to Sarrail Ridge as the trail is on loose dirt and shale. Be prepared for this difficult section of the hike.

Hiking up Sarrail Ridge trail

Take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety. 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.

Sarrail Ridge Trail Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Rawson Lake hike, though we don’t recommend it for Sarrail Ridge. The descent won’t be easy holding on to a leash.

  • 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.
Hike to Sarrail Ridge via Rawson Lake hike

What to Bring for Hiking Sarrail Ridge Trail

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 Sarrail Ridge trail is a difficult Kananaskis hike, and here are 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 then there’s the grueling final 1 km on the Sarrail Ridge trail. 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 challenging 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.

  • For this hike we recommend trekking poles, as they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
hiking boots are a must for steep Sarrail Ridge hike

Sarrail Ridge Footwear Recommendation

A proper pair of hiking shoes or boots is a must for hiking up Sarrail Ridge.

Other Kananaskis Hikes

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If you have the physical ability, hike past Rawson Lake up Sarrail Ridge for some of the best views in Kananaskis. The Sarrail Ridge hike isn't for the faint of hear but you'll love the jaw-dropping views!

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