Elk Lakes and Petain Basin
- 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.
Petain Basin, just past Elk Lakes, is a wonderfully remote and isolated meadow lying at the base of some of the tallest peaks in the Rockies. Backpacking to Petain Basin gives you access to one of the largest waterfalls in the Rockies, just a short hike from the campground!
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- Map Data: ©OpenStreetMap
- Tiles: ©CyclOSM
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Route Description for Elk Lakes and Petain Basin
This trip begins at the Elk Lake or West Elk Pass Trailhead near the Kananaskis Interlakes campground. The hike to Elk Lake Campground is quite easy.
From the trailhead, follow the wide road towards the powerlines. When the trail forks at Fox Creek stay to the right. Continue to the next fork in the trail where you will stay to the right and shortly after, cross into Elk Lakes Provincial Park (B.C.) at West Elk Pass. This is Lower Elk Trail and will follow beside Elkan Creek for a short time. The trail will eventually come to another fork where you can see the Alpine Club of Canada Elk Lakes Cabin. You will continue right, along the creek to reach stunning Lower Elk Lake and the campground along the shore.
The Lower Elk Lake campground is a walk-in site that requires users to pay by envelope or payment can now be done online. The campground is equipped with toilets, fire rings etc. near Elk Lakes Cabin. There is a walk in campground located 1km from the parking lot on the north eastern shore of Lower Elk lake, which provides pit toilets, fire rings, food cache, and tent pads. The camping fees are collected by the Alpine Club of Canada. Please fill in a self-registration envelope provided and deposit payment into the drop box. Retain your permit for presentation to the ACC custodian during routine campground check. Note: this area can also be reached via 67.0 km of rough road north from Elkford, B.C.
Day 2 is a bit of a longer day with more elevation so be sure to start early! Hike past the Lower and Upper Elk Lakes along the Elk Lakes/Petain Creek Trail following flagging tape and paying attention to your route-finding. At a fork, stay right as you pass the Petain Creek Campground that washed away in the floods of 2013. An easy kilometre beyond the old campground is Petain Falls - definitely go at least this far. A signed junction before the falls will lead you to Petain Basin. This trail is incredibly steep, climbing close to 400 m in a kilometre. The steep sections, however, travel through stunted and crowded trees so despite the fact that the trail is ridiculously steep it's not particularly difficult. As it gets the full sun before the campground, start early to avoid roasting.
The wardens and signs along the way warn that route-finding and stream crossing skills are necessary to proceed from the head of the Upper Lake onward, but at least at this time of year it was easy. Only one channel of the braided creek wasn't bridged (boot deep) and metal poles with orange flagging marked the route over the gravel flats.
An easy and flat kilometer beyond the campground is Petain Falls.
Once you crest the lip of the basin and can see a waterfall in the basin in the distance, look to your right. The grassy knoll you see extends to the back of the basin. Hike up here and stroll to the back this way to get full views of Petain glacier, which is almost completely hidden from the bottom of the basin. With minimal route-finding you can descend from the knoll near the back of the basin and head over to the base of the falls, which are equally spectacular as Petain Falls.
Despite the elevation gain, the trip into Petain Basin from Lower Elk Lakes campground takes only a half-day, even with lots of exploring, resting, and pondering.
Day 1: Elk Pass Trailhead to Elk Lake Campground (10.4 km / 235 m)
Day 2: Day Trip to Petain Falls and Basin Return (15.0 km / 806 m )
Day 3: Elk Lake Campground to Elk Pass Trailhead (10.4 km / 235 m)
Insider Hints for Elk Lakes and Petain Basin
- If you want to have a more secluded campsite there is random camping in Petain Creek Valley and Petain Basin and even an old food cache and pit toilet from the old Petain Creek Campground that was washed away in 2013.
- Elk Lakes Cabin run by ACC is a wonderful base for exploration of the area.
Getting to the Elk Lakes and Petain Basin Trailhead
Take Highway 40 south from the Trans-Canada Highway for 63.4 km. Turn right at the “winter gate” onto Highway 742. Keep straight at the junction with the Smith-Dorrien Trail and follow this road for roughly 12.5 km, turning left at the “Elk Pass” sign.
Elk Lakes and Petain Basin Elevation Graph
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Elk Lakes and Petain Basin Reviews
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