Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Rawson Lake is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis for easy and quick access to a beautiful lake in the woods that pretty much any age and skill level can do.
Growing up in the Kootenays was growing up camping and hiking. Even as young as the single digit years, we would drive up logging roads and hike into remote sites to camp. It's not as easy in Alberta, to drive up a logging road or camp anywhere, pop open your rooftop tent like we do nowadays in BC, so instead we head out to Kananaskis. Along with the rest of Calgary, but whatever.
You're like never going to get a camp site out in Kananaskis, not near the lakes anyways, unless it's raining cats and dogs or you put a tent out on Tuesday morning. A few places will take reservations, otherwise your best bet is just to head out early in the week and suck up the extra days. Alternatively you can choose a walk-in tenting campground like Mount Sarrail, which puts you in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and closer to the trailhead for the Rawson Lake hike.
The hike into Rawson Lake isn't bad. It has some steepness but lots of switchbacks and it's only about 4km each way. Even with 55lb stand-up paddle board packs on our backs we managed to pass a lot of people and didn't get passed once. It's obviously a race, duh.
Hikes like this (by "this" I mean super touristy), are better with boards. You get to this awesome place and while you can walk half way around the lake, you are walking, sitting and hanging out with the hundreds of other people that you just passed on the trail.
That's why I recommend a packraft or inflatable paddle board so you can head out to the middle of the lake for a swim and to explore what you can't on foot. But you don't have to stop there. Sarrail Ridge is about another 45 minute climb and a wicked place to view the Upper Kananaskis Lake and the pretty green waters of Rawson Lake.
I would do this hike again for sure and definitely recommend it. Try it early in the morning, when there are less people, and you can catch the sunrise over the mountains. This gives you time to hike Sarrail Ridge and still come down and enjoy the lake, with the rest of Calgary. ;)
Rawson Lake Trail Details
Level: Like the high end of easy
Distance: About 8km roundtrip
Time: I'd guess about 3 hours just for the return trip hike
Elevation Gain: 305 m (1,000 ft.)
Beer Pairing: Keep it low key with a crisp Pils like Fernie Brewing Co.'s Project 9