Things To Do: The Scenic Elbow Lake Hike

Kananaskis Country, Alberta

Elbow Lake, K-Country (Kananaskis)

Elbow Lake is a short but steep hike in Kananaskis, Alberta. It's scenic beauty is well worth the effort to get here! This hiking trail tends on the difficult side, but it's short is suitable for most people. I've seen families with small kids and grandparents navigate the trail as well as eager anglers hauling up their fishing gear. It makes for a perfect hike when taking a day trip from Calgary.

   Rating - Difficult due to the steepness
   Distance - 1.3 kilometers one-way
   Elevation Gain - 125 meters
   Duration - 0.5 - 1 hours
   When to Go - July, August, September

The Hiking Trail

The hiking trail is along an old logging road and the path is wide and well groomed. The steepest part of the trail is at the beginning as you leave the parking lot. The lung-burning ascent climbs about 50 meters, through a pine forest and past an ancient rock slide. Take a rest and look out for marmots and picas that like to enjoy the open sunny area.

Just past the landslide, the trail levels out for a short distance and then starts to climb again. The views aren't great amongst the trees but once you get to the lake, the beauty and silence is astounding.

The small lake is nestled at the base of two mountains. It's the headwater for the Elbow River which eventually weaves its way through the Rocky Mountains and into the City of Calgary. In fact, the Elbow River feeds the Glenmore Reservoir and is the drinking water for south Calgary.

For those seeking an outdoor adventure, you can hike and camp all the way to Elbow Falls.

This is a short day hike, so we extended our trek to include a glacier hike to the Rae Glacier, one of the few and shrinking snow packs on the eastern slopes.

Camping in Kananaskis

The campground has about 15 spots tucked in the surrounding trees. There is a nominal nightly fee for backcountry camping in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Food lockers and a tall wooden structure are provided for food bags (this is bear country). Reservations are necessary in the summer months as this is a popular back-country campground for families.

Grizzly bears like to frequent this area. Travel in groups of at least 4 people to help avoid or deter meeting up with a bear.

Check the Kananaskis Trail Report before heading out for wildlife warnings and trail conditions.

Getting to Kananaskis Country

Access to the Elbow Falls hiking trail is only available so long as Highway 40 is open (usually mid-June to November). The snow pack lingers on the trail well into late June. The best time to hike in Kananaskis is from mid-July to the end of September.

Distance to Calgary - 140 kilometers (1:45 hours)
Distance to Canmore - 92 kilometers (1 hour)
Distance to Banff - 115 kilometers (1:15 hours)

View Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada in a larger map


Elbow Lake is 10 minutes from the larger and more popular Kananaskis Lakes recreation area, just beyond the jagged peak of Gap Mountain. The hike is on the harder side, but since it's so short, it's suitable for most people. Check out other great hikes and outdoor adventures in Alberta, or visit scenic stops or roadside attractions.