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Hiking to Ribbon Lake and Ribbon Falls is a moderately difficult trek in the backcountry of Kananaskis. The hike follows Ribbon Creek Trail (an old logging road from the 1940s) and is surrounded by mountains and beautiful forest. Ribbon Falls is enormous and a great location for beautiful photos. Passed the falls another 2km is Ribbon Lake. That final 2km stretch includes steep elevation, exposure, and climbing up chains tacked into the mountain side. Once you get to the top you get an incredible view looking back into the valley you just conquered.
Time Required: 8 hours round trip or overnight.
Location: 98km west of Calgary in Spray Valley Provincial Park
Distance: 24km round trip
Highest Elevation: 2125m
Elevation Gain: 800m
Difficulty: 7/10 – Long distance and steep chain assisted climb up to Ribbon Lake
Season: June to mid-October
Additional Requirements: Camping permit
From Calgary: Take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) west approximately 70 km to Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) and then follow that for 27 km and turn right (west) onto Mt. Allan Drive (Same turn as Nakiska Ski Resort). Take your first left onto Centennial Drive and then your next right onto Ribbon Creek Road. Follow Ribbon Creek Road until you reach the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area parking lot.
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 and the final section of the hike to Ribbon Lake is steep. Be sure to bring lots of water. Purification tablets aren’t a bad idea to pack as well. Water is fairly clean in the Rockies, but purify it just to be safe.
- 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. If you are planning on camping overnight you will need to bring food for dinner and breakfast as well.
- Camping Equipment: This can be done as a day hike but we recommend camping overnight at Ribbon Lake. This is one of our favorite camping spots and we highly recommend it. If camping, be sure to bring the appropriate camping equipment and food.
- Weather appropriate clothing: You will be exposed to the elements throughout this hike. If you are camping overnight, we recommend a toque, hoodie, gloves and warm pants. Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Lighter/matches: The mountains get chilly at night so make sure you can start a fire.
- 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.
- Backcountry Permit: If you are planning on camping overnight, either at the falls or the lake, you will need a backcountry permit as there are limited campsites. Don’t forget to bring it.
- 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.
Permits: Permits are necessary for overnight campers. Visit this website to purchase one. http://www.albertaparks.ca/spray-valley/information-facilities/camping/ribbon-lake-backcountry/
Overnight Campers: Hammock/tent, WARM sleeping bag, pillow, lighter/fire starter, warm clothes, food for supper and breakfast, flashlight and toilet paper.
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:Starting at the parking lot (Route marker #1 on the map), you will head down a well-travelled trail to the west. This trail that use to be an old logging road. The trail is relatively flat and will follow the creek to Ribbon Falls (Route marker #2 on the map). After ascending the cliffside of Ribbon Falls you will arrive at the Ribbon Lake Campsite (Route marker #3 on the map).
From the Ribbon Creek Parking Lot (Route marker #1 on the map), head west through a tall grass meadow. There are signs labelling the trail, it’s tough to miss. Not long into the hike, you’ll cross a couple of bridges over Ribbon Creek. Continue up the north side of the creek following the trail.
There a lots of trail signs along the way. Basically, keep straight at any intersection. You want to stay on the logging road as long as you can. It will curve left, heading southwest. The logging road ends at about the 4km mark. If you want to save time you can bike to this point and lock your bike up at the end of the road. From this point on, the trail narrows and is more winding.
Keep trucking along the right side of the creek over a rolling single track trail. There are some smaller waterfalls along the creek as you make your way up to Ribbon Falls. Follow the trail until you see the Ribbon Falls campground. Just passed the campground is the waterfall (Route marker #2 on the map).
The trail continues past the falls and then backtracks away from the cliff before it switchbacks towards the falls again. The trail then heads up the cliff face with chains to assist you. Use caution on these chains as there is extreme exposure while climbing up.
At the top of the chains there is a rocky overlook of the valley. The stream that feeds Ribbon Falls is right there too. Get your camera out as this is one of the best spots for photos on this hike!
Keep following the trail until you reach the lake. Walk around the right side of the lake until you reach the campground on the other side (Route marker #3 on the map). If you’re staying overnight, unpack and relax. There is a site map that illustrates which campsites are located where. There is also a convenient mound of firewood there to help keep your fire going. Don’t start any fires outside of the fire pits and make sure the fire is put out before leaving your campsite.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
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Have fun out there!