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Rockies ::  Kananaskis :: Rae Lake

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 Panoramic view of Rae Lake from north side.  Main camping area is by lake outlet just left of center of the photo

Abstract

Overall Difficulty D3 Mostly easy trail hiking. Steep section to Elbow Pass and some muddy bits around Tombstone Pass. 
Snow Factor S2 Route stays well away from avalanche slopes.  Would be very good moderate x-country ski objective
Scenery Elbow and Rea Lakes. Scenic Tombstone Pass. Picture perfect Edworthy Falls.  Far reaching views into Sheep area
Trail/Marking Very Good Initially wide and shared with horses to Sheep/Little Elbow junction.  Shortcut marked by cairn.  Some indistinct section afterwards, but way is obvious
Suggested Time 6-7 hrs Round trip with loop return via Sheep trail and side trip to Edworthy Falls
Elevation Start: 1950m     Max: 2200m     Total: ~600m Round Trip: ~20km
Gear Day hikers or full hiking boots.  x-country skis or snowshoes in winter
Water Elbow River and Rae Lake outlet.  Carry 1L
Dog Friendly Yes Standard back-country travel precautions

 

 

Gallery

Panoramic view of Elbow Lake

Elbow River with views to South Tombstone Peak

Tombstone PassTombstone Pass Tombstone Pass Panorama

South Tombstone Peak from larch slopes below Rae Lake

Descent to Rae Lake.  Trail vanishes at this point

Main camping area near Rae lake outlet

Road to Sheep on optional loop return

Edworthy FallsEdworthy FallsF12, ISO160, 1.5 sec exposure, handheld Edworthy Falls - well worth side trip from Tombstone road


 

Summary

Rae Lake is still infrequently visited destination in Tombstone Area.  Most visitors just flock to Elbow Lake, but In 2nd half of September when larches shed their golden needles on approach slopes below Mt. Rae it becomes very scenic -and recommended- trip. It can easily be done as day-hike, but backpack is well-worth considering.  Although not official, there are many flat camping spots around the lake.  There are several options to extend the day -  loop return via Sheep road, Sheep Lakes, 'mandatory' side trip to Edworthy Falls or even additional hike to Tombstone Lakes (well-worth trip on its own).   Parties sometimes use Rae lake as first stop on multi-day backpack to Rae Creek Hills/Burns Lake. The only drawback is that east aspects below Mt. Rae lose sun fairly early in the day; in the fall cirque that holds Rae lake is usually completely in shade after 3 pm.

 

Parking is at Elbow Lake trailhead, few kilometers north from Highwood Pass along Hwy 40 (Kananaskis Trail).  Elbow Lake is very busy and parking spot fills fast on weekends.  It has unfortunately seen several break-ins in the past; do not leave anything valuable in the vehicle.  Follow wide trail/road to Elbow Pass and down to Elbow lake, easily reached in less than 1/2 hour. This is the steepest part of the day.  Back-country campground is at right (south) side of the lake; continue on left side around the lake, then down the Tombstone road shared with horses.  This part can be muddy as it is shared with horses.  Tombstone Pass is very scenic and expansive meadows grant fantastic views -- well worth a break.  From the pass road descends towards Little Elbow / Sheep junction. It is not necessary to descend all the way -- watch for cairn on right (south) side of the road some 15-20 minutes past Tombstone Pass.  Follow this side trail; soon it emerges at open meadows dotted with larches.  Side ridge is well worth hiking up for far reaching views.  Trail forks;  left branch descends to Sheep road -- this is where you will come back if you elect to do loop return.  Continue on right branch that rises through thinning stands of larch and pine trees to obvious wide ridge above.  Trail is indistinct at several places, but even if you lose it general direction is obvious.  Finally you top out on ridge and start gentle descent to the lake.  If you are camping, main spot is near the lake outlet but if busy more quiet option can also be found by contouring the lake on right side to meadows on far end.

 

Return the same way (shorter), or to extend the day find trail on south side of lake outlet.  This trail descends to Sheep road in about 30 minutes from the lake.  Make noise here as there have been grizzly encounters.  Once on Sheep road, if you have time it is worth hiking a bit south for good views from the shoulder just before road starts descent.  Otherwise turn left and hike back.  Sheep lakes on east side are another side-trip option;  there is back-country campground there as well, but more often used by hunters.  Just before road starts descent to Little Elbow junction watch for cairn - shortcut back to Tombstone road.   Do not miss visit to Edworthy Falls;  trail descends to the base of falls, but best viewpoint is from above when falls first come into view (did you bring the tripod?)