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Fossil Falls is one of the largest and most beautiful waterfalls in Kananaskis and the hike to reach them is one of our favorites in the area. Although most of this hike follows a well-marked trail, the final 2 km to the falls are steep, difficult and involve some bushwhacking. To some this may sound like a deterrent, but we think it adds to the experience and increases the feeling of satisfaction once you arrive at the falls. We hope you enjoy your adventure!
Time Required: 8 Hours
Location: 136km west of Calgary in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Distance: 20km round trip
Highest Elevation: 1980m
Elevation Gain: 811m
Difficulty: 7/10 – Route finding, rapid elevation gain, and bushwhacking.
Season: June to mid-October
Additional Requirements: N/A
From Calgary: Take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) west approximately 70 km to Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) and then follow that 50 km to Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Turn right onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail and follow it for 13 km. Park at the North Interlakes Day Use Area on Upper Kananaskis Lake.
From Canmore: Take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) east approximately 30 km to Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) and then follow that 50 km to Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Turn right onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail and follow it for 13 km. Park at the North Interlakes Day Use Area on Upper Kananaskis Lake.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: Hiking shoes.Make sure your shoes are broken in prior to tackling this hike to prevent unexpected blisters. You could get away with running shoes but having extra grip on the rock surfaces will definitely come in handy!
- Water: This hike is long with lots of elevation gain to reach the waterfall. Be sure to bring enough water for 8-10 hours of physical exertion.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the hike as well as a light lunch for when you arrive at the falls. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice.
- Weather appropriate clothing: You will be exposed to the elements throughout this hike. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Long pants/high socks: The final two km of this hike are through dense brush. Having long pants or high socks for this portion of the hike will save the skin on your legs.
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always hike with bear spray that is easily accessible.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Wildlife: You will be hiking in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. Travel in groups of multiple hikers and make lots of noise to avoid an unexpected encounter.
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: The starting point for this hike is at the North Interlakes parking lot. From there you will travel around Upper Kananaskis Lake to the “Secret Trail” that leads to Hidden Lake. The falls are about 2 km from the south point of Hidden Lake. This final stretch to the falls is the most challenging part of the hike as there is not much of a trail and it is very steep!
From the North Interlakes parking lot you will see Upper Kananaskis Lake directly in front of you to the west. Make sure you are looking at Upper Lake as Lower Lake is nearby on the east side of the parking lot. You don’t want to start off walking around the wrong lake! Start by heading northwest from the parking lot and crossing the dam (Route marker #1 on the map). Follow the clearly marked trail counterclockwise around the lake.
Follow the path around Upper Kananaskis Lake approximately 3.35km to Point Campground (Route marker #2 on the map). You will reach a fork in the path. Do not go left as that will take you to the campground. Instead take the right (west) fork and continue following the trail.
1.6 km further down the Upper Lakes trail there is a small path leading off to your right (southwest), it is marked with a pink tape around a tree (Route marker #3 on the map). This is approximately 30m after the third wooden bridge you will have crossed. This is the “Secret Trail” to hidden lake!
Follow this path for 400m staying left at the one fork you will come across. If all has gone well you should emerge at Hidden Lake. TAKE NOTE OF THE TRAIL YOU EMERGED FROM SO THAT YOU CAN FIND IT FOR THE RETURN TRIP!
The path to Fossil Falls is on the far southeast side of Hidden Lake approximately marked by the arrow on the below photo. We recommend travelling around this lake clockwise (about 1.5km). We went counter clockwise on the way to the falls and there is a difficult stream crossing you would have to make. We do not recommend this. The entrance to the trail up to the falls is marked by two large trees creating a doorway (Route marker #4 on the map).
At this point you are about 2 km from Fossil Falls but the route gets substantially harder. If you are wearing shorts, it is recommended to put on long pants or high socks for the final section of this hike.
Follow the path upwards towards the falls. After gaining around 800m of elevation, you will exit the dense trees and get your first look at the falls. You have the option of staying above the tree line to the left and scaling the shale rocks, or bushwhacking through the trees. We chose the shale to save some of the skin on our legs but from this point forward there is no trail so you choose your own route. Although the final stretch of this hike is difficult the close up view of the waterfall is well worth it!
Have lunch here and spend some time enjoying the falls before beginning the trek back. Follow the same route in reverse to get back to the North Interlakes parking lot where you left your car.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
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Have fun out there!