Peter Lougheed Provincial Park – Easy Hikes
By: Graeme Pole
Chester Lake, 4.0 km
Trailhead – East side of the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Road 742), 44 km south of Canmore
Lakes abound in the limestone high country of Kananaskis. Many are set in remote valleys. This well-beaten path through forest and meadows leads to a beautiful tarn in a more open setting. It’s a great hike for birding and for botany. The wild flower displays of early summer can be superb, especially the blooms of glacier lilies near the lake.
Rawson Lake, 3.9 km
Trailhead – In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, at the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use Area
Two lakes bookend this outing; one a massive reservoir, the other a jade gem nestled in a deep limestone pocket. Between them you climb through a tract of dense subalpine forest. Split log boardwalks span wet areas as you near the lake shore. Snow sometimes lingers until mid-July – which makes this a great place for wildflowers that prefer the cool and damp: white globeflower, alpine buttercup, and evergreen violet. Mt. Sarrail (3174 m) is the backdrop at the lake.
Elbow Lake, 4.0 km loop
Trailhead – East side of Kananaskis Trail (Hwy #40),
61.7 km south of Hwy #1
Elbow Pass is a gentle break in the ragged limestone wall on the east side of the Kananaskis Valley. The road-width trail makes a quick ascent, crossing the pass to where you make the circuit of Elbow Lake. Mt. Rae (3225 m), named for a 19th century Arctic explorer, rises to the southwest. Listen for the calls of all three of the Rockies’ thrush species: Swainson’s thrush, hermit thrush, and varied thrush. You may also hear white-crowned sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers.
Ptarmigan Cirque, 4.4 km loop
Trailhead – West side of Kananaskis Trail (Hwy #40), in Highwood Pass,
66.9 km south of Hwy #1
Ptarmigan Cirque is a miniature version of hundreds of other glacial valleys. Plants and animals cling tenaciously to life; the hallmark of ice is everywhere. The bedrock reveals the fossilized remains of lifeforms that lived in ancient seas. Walk north from the parking area on a wide, gravelled path through Highwood Meadows. Look for bighorn sheep. Cross Hwy #40 and climb through an upper subalpine forest of spruce, fir, and larch. A cirque is a bowl-shaped valley eroded by a glacier. The white tailed ptarmigan (TAR-mih-gan) is a ground-dwelling grouse-like bird. Its feathers change colour from mottled brown, gray, and black in summer; to white in winter.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park straddles Hwy #40 and #742 and boasts some of the finest camping and wilderness hiking experiences in the Canadian Rockies. Hundreds of kilometres of hiking, interpretive, and mountain biking trails, as well as paved bike trails await your summer exploration. In the winter, you can rediscover many of these same trails on snow shoes or on cross-country skis.
Spray Valley Provincial Park has a variety of recreational opportunities. Try your luck fishing for lake trout or cut-throat trout. Hike trails that take you to scenic heights and great backcountry camping. In the winter, the park offers some fine ice fishing, cross-country skiing and dog sledding. Mount Engadine Lodge is located on Hwy #742, about 40 km south of Canmore, at an elevation of 6,050 feet. A place that celebrates nature and adventure, the lodge is an ideal escape for couples. However, guests are often distracted while dining, by the appearance of moose in the meadows below.