- Physical DifficultyThis is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
- Technical DifficultyThis is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
A family backpacking trip to Elbow Lake is one of the best backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies. Elbow Lake is a stunning lake, access is just over 2.0 km from the car and there is a nice easy walk along the Elbow River as a daytrip. If you’re looking for your first backpack with your kids, this is it!
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Route Description for Elbow Lake
The backpack to Elbow Lake is a classic family backpack, with fantastic scenery with very limited effort. If you want to see if your kids can enjoy backpacking, this is one of the best options.
You’ll be staying at the Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground, which has 15 campsites, firepits and a pit toilet. You’ll need to get your water (and treat it from Elbow Lake) as well as bring your own firewood. Some families end up doing a 2nd trip to get back to their van for some firewood.
From the Elbow Pass Parking lot, take the signed path that heads out from the parking lot. You’ll follow this wide path for about 1.0 km. At the 1.0 km mark, you’ll find yourself in a wide-open area with views all around you. On your right, you can see a peak from the Mount Rae massif, its shape reminiscent of a breaking wave.
In a few hundred metres you’ll reach Elbow Lake. With deep emerald and blue tones, Elbow Lake is as beautiful as they come. A mountain from the Elpoca massif on the left slides right into the lake. If you’re camping here, the campsite is to your right.
Go to your right at Elbow Lake and come to the backcountry campground.
Once you’ve set up your camp, you can do a wide variety of trips. We love to continue along Elbow Lake and then follow the path out along the Elbow River for about an hour, until little legs get tired, then we can return.
Note that on your return to Elbow Lake, you can circumnavigate the lake. You’ll have to cross over a shallow creek at the tail-end of Elbow Lake. The views as you round the other side of Elbow Lake are even better than the side you hiked out on.
Day 2 and 3
It’s your choice what to do on day 2 and 3. Many families are happy with one night in the backcountry and take it slow in the morning and pack-up and return to their car.
You could also do a few different daytrips on Day 2, such as taking another walk out along the Elbow River or trying a more challenging hike, like the one up to Rae Glacier or farther along to Rae Lakes. You could also just enjoy relaxing by Elbow Lake.
Insider Hints for Elbow Lake
- If you can, drive the southern approach to the hike, which goes through Longview and has much less traffic, though absolutely incredible views.
- The entire Highwood Pass area, including the southern portion of Highway 40, is closed from December 1st to June 15th each year. This hike can only be reached via a long bike ride while the highway is closed.
- Check out our YouTube video on this great family hike.
Getting to the Elbow Lake Trailhead
From the Stoney Nakoda Casino on the TransCanada, take Highway 40 south for roughly 62.0 km. Turn left into the Elbow Pass Parking lot.
Elbow Lake Elevation Graph
Weather ForecastCheck Area Weather
Elbow Lake Reviews
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