The Aster Lake Trail is one of the most scenic and outstanding backpacking trips in Kananaskis. Aster Lake is located within spitting distance of the Alberta/BC border and offers a variety of terrain including mountains, meadows, steep alpine slopes and placid lakeshore. No wonder it's hard to reserve a camping spot in the summer.
Rating - Difficult due to elevation
Distance - 9.6 kilometers one way
Elevation Gain - 500 meters
Duration - 6 to 8 hours one way
When to go - July, August, September
The allure of backpacking to Aster Lake is:
The trail to Aster Lake starts 4 kilometers along the southern shore of the Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop Trail, from the picturesque day use picnic area. The area isn't crowded compared to Banff National Park; the number of hikers really thinned out once we passed the Rawson Lake trail junction.
The trail to Aster Lake takes you past Hidden Lake. The trail junction is very easy to miss. On my detailed map, the intersecting trail was shown to be near a stream which, as we found out, was actually an underground stream.
After a bit of back-tracking, we got onto the right path and started the ascent to Hidden Lake. The incline was moderate but traversing downed trees and deadfall got the sweat flowing. Hidden Lake is an intermittent lake. The water level changes throughout the year depending on the snowpack and summer rainfall. We were told that if the lake was low, we could easily skirt around the rocky shore (30 minutes). Unfortunately, we arrived when the lake was overflowing and had to bushwhack around the edge (1:30 hours).
At the end of the Hidden Lake, the real ascent starts. The steep path winds through a treed slope, next to a scree slope. At the top of this boulder field, the picturesque Fossil Falls comes into view. Looking at the left valley wall, you can see the thin hiking trail scaling the rocky shelf, almost 400 metres up! This is where I had to slow down. Normally, the elevation gain isn't an issue but the steady incline with steep cliffs to the right made me very cautious of my footing. The trail climbs higher than the Fossil Falls!
After an hour of sweaty exertion, the trail comes over the ridge of the valley into a lush, high-altitude meadow with pine trees. Amongst the rocks next to the trail, we saw many fossils from which the waterfall gets its name.
At the top, we met a couple of people on a day hike to the area but they unfortunately had to head back down, and couldn't experience the quiet solitude and stoic beauty of the Rocky Mountains at night. Looking up, above the tree-line, all of our problems seemed so small.
There are no set campsites at the top but bear lockers and even a Port-a-Potty are provided by the provincial park administrator.
Snow can linger well into July, making the trail impassible. When we called ahead to the Kananaskis Park Office in mid-July to check trail conditions, the park warden said that the trail was still buried under 1.5 meters of snow. We were welcome to venture up but it was going to be slow and grueling, cold and wet.
Distance from Banff - 118 kilometers
Distance from Canmore - 93 kilometers
Distance from Calgary - 140 kilometers
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The Aster Lake trail is one of the best backpacking trips in Kananaskis, Alberta. Try it if you have the opportunity! See you next summer, Aster Lake!