Once the snowshoers pack it down, the Rawson Lake trail turns into a great winter hike. We ventured out to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis on New Year’s Day and found many others starting 2021 right. The crowd wasn’t surprising, as Rawson Lake is one of the short but mighty Kananaskis trails, with spectacular lake views that are worth the slog!

Frozen Rawson Lake in Kananaskis Country in Alberta
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Impressive mountains surround the frozen Rawson Lake.

About the Rawson Lake Hike

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Walking on the frozen Rawson Lake.

Location: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
Distance: 7 kilometres out and back
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (slippery in the winter)
Elevation: 320 metre gain
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes
Features: This Rawson Lake hike begins next to the Upper Kananaskis Lake, so you can expect nice views of the lake and the mountains towering above. The route soon deviates from the Upper Kananaskis trail to head toward Rawson Lake. This short trail gains over 300 kilometres, so be prepared for some uphill. As the hike name suggests, the picturesque Rawson Lake is a fitting reward at the end.

Finding the Trailhead

Hiking at Rawson Lake in Alberta
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The Rawson Lake trailhead is found at the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use Area.

What better way to spend the first day of 2021? This winter wonderland is a popular area, with families and solo hikers flocking from Calgary and elsewhere for the Rawson Lake hike. Even so, the trail didn’t feel overly crowded, but you likely won’t find total solitude here.

The Rawson Lake trailhead is at the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking area. The trail starts on the Upper Kananaskis loop route and quickly branches off toward Rawson Lake after about a kilometre.

There were a few folks wearing snowshoes, but the trail was nicely packed so trail crampons did the trick for us. However, if there’s a dump of snow, wait a day or two for this pristine trail; or strap on your snowshoes and head out!

Read more: The Chester Lake Hike in Winter Is One of the Best

Rawson Lake hiking trail
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Packed down snow on the Rawson Lake hike.
Frozen Upper Kananaskis Lake
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Nice view of the Upper Kananaskis Lake and the mountains in the distance.
The bridge on Rawson Lake trail
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Cross the bridge and soon take the trail left toward Rawson Lake.

Turn Onto Rawson Lake Trail

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The Rawson Lake hike sign where the trail splits from Upper Kananaskis.

After enjoying the nice views of Upper Kananaskis Lake, stay left for the Rawson Lake hike. It’s hard to miss the turn-off with an official sign, but if you do you’ll continue on the hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake (…but it’s much longer!). The Upper Kananaskis loop can be done in winter as well, but there are sometimes avalanche warnings near Mount Indefatigable.

For beginner backpackers, you might enjoy the entry-level trip to Point Backcountry Campground near the Upper Kananaskis North Interlakes Day Use. If car camping is more your thing, Boulton Creek Campground is a wonderful spot in the summertime.

Read more: 5 Easy Hikes for Rocky Mountain Rookies (Plus a Bonus!)

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Most of this hike is in the forest.

Arriving at Rawson Lake

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The trail leading to Rawson Lake.

Lakes always seem to make popular hiking destinations. I love a good hike with a lake the finish line. In the summer, brave hikers dip into glacier-fed lakes for a refreshing mountain bath. In contrast, winter months bring snow and a frozen lake field to walk across. Whatever the season, the Rawson Lake hike offers an incredible reward waiting at the end of the trail.

After reaching the lake entrance, we decided to turn back for the downhill journey to our car. But the trail continues along the lake to for those who’d rather add more distance to the day.

The Rawson Lake hike was quite a beautiful way to start the year. I know I’ll be finding many more Alberta trails in 2021!

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The frozen solid Rawson Lake is a stunning destination.

Surprise Visitor on the Trail

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I was thrilled to meet Leigh McAdam (creator of Hike Bike Travel) on the trail. Bella was, too!

At the beginning of our Rawson Lake hike, I thought I recognized this other Bernese mountain dog bumbling toward us. So I looked up: “Are you Leigh?” I blurted. And, sure enough, it was Leigh McAdam from Hike Bike Travel!

I’ve been following Leigh’s work for some time now. Hike Bike Travel is my go-to resource for trails and other adventures in Alberta and across Canada. So much so, that I recently bought her book: Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures (it’s simply fantastic!). Leigh’s work is an inspiration and example for this amateur blogger. She gives me hope that I can live an adventure-filled life if I choose to… and you can, too!

All this to say, this short visit meant a great deal to me. I started my blog in early 2020, and I got to meet (and take a physically-distant photo with) one of my local heroes on New Year’s Day! This seemed like a sign to keep going with the blog in 2021. Like Rawson Lake, maybe it’s mostly uphill from here?

Have you done the Rawson Lake hike in the wintertime? What are your favourite trails this time of year? I’m always looking for new ideas. Leave a note below.

Frozen Rawson Lake in Kananaskis Country in Alberta
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