Rae Glacier hike in Kananaskis near Canmore, the Canadian Rockies
Rae Glacier hike in Kananaskis near Canmore, the Canadian Rockies

Rae Glacier hike

Kananaskis Trail
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Elbow Lake on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreWalking up a steam bed on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreThe stunning Elbow Lake on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreViews from the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreThe path of the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreAutumn views of the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreTrail up the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreLots of rocks on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreViews towards the Opal Range from the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreSun on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreLooking up towards the Tombstone Mountain near Elbow Lake on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreReflections near Elbow Lake on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmorePaddleboarding on Elbow Lake on the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreView from the Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, near Canmore

Rae Glacier hike

Distance: 5.8mi
Elevation: 1,394ft
Time: 3-4h

Difficulty Rating:

User Ratings:
8.9 Overall Rating
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The hike to Elbow Lake is a wonderful, family-friendly hike in the Highwood Area. Adventurous types will want to continue and explore the area beyond Elbow Lake, and we love the hike to the Alpine that explores the Rae Glacier.

Rae Glacier hike Map

Getting there

From the Stoney Nakoda Casino on the TransCanada, take Highway 40 south for roughly 38.5mi. Turn left into the Elbow Pass Parking lot.

I’ve done this 32 people have done this
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About

When to do

June 15 to October

Backcountry Campsites

Elbow Lake

Toilets

At trailhead

Family friendly

No

Route Signage

Poor

Crowd Levels

Moderate

Route Type

Out and back


Rae Glacier
Elevation Graph


Route Description for Rae Glacier

The hike to Elbow Lake is a classic family hike, with great scenery for limited effort. There is a backcountry campground, and for many families this is the first backpacking trip they do.

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 0.6mi. At the 0.6mi mark, you’ll find yourself in a wide-open cirque 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, this 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.

To head up to Rae Glacier you’ll want to go around the right side of the lake. And follow a path that goes off at the NE end of Elbow Lake.

At roughly the 1.4mi mark you’re going to come upon a smaller creek bed coming down from the Rae Massif. This creek bed is often dry later in the year. Follow along the right side of the small creek bed for a short while, trying to keep your eyes on the trail.

Soon you’ll come to a spot that looks as though the path splits: stay left. From here on out you’ll want to keep an eye out for where the path is, as it’s hard to follow. Also keep your eyes open for red or yellow tape on tree branches, as these roughly follow the route.

In a couple hundred metres you’ll come upon a much larger, dry streambed. Follow the streambed to the right. As you follow it, keep to the right of the streambed. You might have to stroll into the dry streambed to find an easier path at times. You’ll ultimately gain the right side of the bed to follow the path.

Here is where the elevation gain begins. The dirt path will eventually fade into rocks. By about the 2.2mi mark you’ll be picking your way through a rock field with a wonderful view giving you a 270-degree view of the surrounding peaks and the Rae Glacier. The Rae Glacier is not the most impressive glacier in the world, in fact it’s pretty small as it quickly recedes as the climate in this part of the Rockies is rapidly changing. While the Rae Glacier is not what it once was, the view back is what makes this hike worthwhile.

The rise to a vantage point is rocky but manageable, though a bit treacherous in snow. Go slow and watch your footing.  The lookout point is an obvious plateau marked with a little cairn. The view looking back is amazing.  You can see Elpoca Mountain across the valley floor as well as Tombstone Mountain to the right of it.

After you start descending, you’ll see on your right a little stream’s waterfall that has carved its way into a rock cliff. It stems from another high-valley and there’s a little plateau you can reach. We recommend hiking up there too, if you have the energy.

You should be able to make out a path after you cross over the dry stream bed. From that plateau you’ll get the great views again but from a slightly different angle.

After you descend the second vantage point you’ll want to find the path you took up. You can always look for the ribbons to help you find the route.

Eventually you’ll reach a junction at the edge of Elbow Lake. From here we recommend walking around the lake. Go right on this path and follow the path taking you around the other side of the lake. You’ll have to cross over a shallow creek at the tail end of Elbow Lake. The views from this side of the lake are even better than the side you hiked out on.

Finish circumnavigating the lake. You’ll find the same wide path that took you up to the lake in the first place. Follow this back to the trailhead.

Would you like to do a similar level hike? Check out the Pocaterra Ridge.

Insider Hints

  • Elbow Lake is a great first backpack for families. Due to the elevation make sure you do it on a warm night, ideally in late-July or early August.

  • The Rae Glacier is one of the sources for Calgary’s Elbow River.

  • Often you can have wonderful sun at Elbow Lake however cloud and rain will linger around the Rae Glacier.

  • The entire Highwood Pass area, including the southern portion of Highway 40, is closed from December 1st to June 14th each year. This hike can only be reached via a long bike ride while the highway is closed.

Comments

Linby SK. 1 year ago

This is a wonderful hike in the Highwood area. We really love the hike to the Alpine that explores the Rae Glacier. It's a must-do hike in Kananaskis.

10.0 Overall Rating
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Ewen P. 1 year ago

Easy hike with few challenges. You can also ride a bike on this trail.

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Allanhoward 1 year ago

Walking around the lake is my favorite part of the hike.

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4h 25m Time Taken
Richy_travels 1 year ago

Ascending to the vantage point is quite challenging, but it was a nice experience!

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4h 00m Time Taken
JohnCan 1 year ago

The deep emerald and blue tones of water look surreal in person.

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4h 00m Time Taken
mroxman 1 year ago

Nice hike. Pretty manageable with a baby backpack until very close to the glacier,

9.0 Overall Rating
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3h 15m Time Taken
Nigel F. 1 year ago

The shape of the Mount Rae massif is reminiscent of a breaking wave. Stunning view of the surroundings. Also, Elbow Lake looks magnificent.

10.0 Overall Rating
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ddelaloye 1 year ago

Great 'bang for the buck' hike! Two talented women were skiing the glacier on July 24th!!

9.0 Overall Rating
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Mike Kowalcyzk 2 years ago

Great views with modest effort required. Most of the crowd falls off closer to the glacier thankfully.

Heidon 2 years ago

Great hike with scenic alpine lake and meadow. This hike is the perfect distance, not too long or short, with a great variety of forests, lakes, mountain water falls, and a rocky creek.

9.0 Overall Rating
Technical Difficulty
Physical Difficulty
4h 30m Time Taken
20 Comments Show all

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