Tombstone Lakes {Peter Lougheed Provincial Park}

Tombstone Lakes {Peter Lougheed Provincial Park}

Tombstone Lakes

  • Distance – Approximately 21 kilometres roundtrip
  • Elevation – 880 meters
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • TrailheadElbow Lake parking lot
  • Logistics – Pack a bathing suit if the day is hot!

Sometimes you find a hike where the journey is as good as, if not better than, the destination. Tombstone Lakes are not only beautiful, but the hike in is worthy of mention as well. You will find yourself stopping along the way to enjoy the views and even possibly jump into Elbow Lake with all your clothes on if the day is hot enough!

I don’t mind hikes where you have to spend the first few kilometres in the trees as you climb to a shoulder when the destination or last 30% of the hike is worth the grind. But I do not love spending 90% of a hike in the trees. What makes Tombstone Lakes special is that along the way, there is a gorgeous lake, a stunning valley, and a lot of places to explore along the way.

Tombstone Lakes Like
This is my happy place! A beautiful trail to a beautiful place. There is no better way to spend the day when hiking!

If you want to spend a whole day hiking and enjoying the views, the journey to Tombstone Lakes should be put on your list. AND, it is easy to find the trailhead and park, which makes it even more enjoyable!

Getting to the trailhead.

Drive to the Elbow Lake parking area in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. From Calgary, drive west on Highway 1 and from Canmore drive east on Highway 1. Take exit 118 for Kananaskis Country/Highway 40 and go south for 62 kilometres (go past the junction for Spray Lakes Road / Highway 742) and the parking area will be on your left (east side of the highway). From Longview, take Highway 541 west and follow it as it turns into Highway 40. The total distance should be 84 km on Highways 541 and 40 out of Longview. Destination will be on the right.

The easiest thing is to just put Elbow Lake into Google Maps and follow the directions!

Note: Highway 40 is closed every year from December 1 to June 14 just south of the Highway 742 junction to Highwood House Junction.

Hiking details.

After you park (either in the lot or on the side of the highway if the lot is full), start up the trail to Elbow Lake. You are going to climb for about 1.5 km and then suddenly emerge on Elbow Lake. The first 1.5 km is uphill the whole way. You will gain about 150 meters of elevation, but then it evens out into a rolling valley for quite some time after this.

Elbow Lake
Your reward after 1.5 km and some decent climbing. Glorious!

Stop and enjoy the lake – it is beautiful! It is also a great place to cool down on your way back to the car if the day is a scorcher.

Once you reach the lake, go left around the lake. The trail is wide and obvious and has some wonderful views of the lake. People will most likely be swimming as you hike by. When you reach the end of the lake, cross over the inlet stream using a simple bridge and then look for the wide path that heads away from the lake and into the valley (left after you cross the inlet stream).

Tombstone Lake Hike
These are your views for the next 4 kms.

This is your main mode of transportation for quite some time. It is wide enough for an ATV to go tearing down and is the way to several other hikes such as Rae Lake, Piper Pass, and a few others. Hike along the valley on this path until you reach a T-intersection at 6.8 km from the parking lot. There will be several other cairns and trails leading to other hikes, which all should be explored at some point, but if you want to get to Tombstone Lakes, keep going straight until you reach the very clear, T-intersection at 6.8 km (another book stated 6.5 km, but my watch read 6.8 km). A sign at this intersection will tell you that it is 8 km back to the parking lot, despite the fact that you haven’t even hiked 7 km at this point.

At the T-intersection, go left.

You will descend into the valley, cross over the river, and pass the Tombstone backcountry campground. At 8.1 km, you will see a sign for Tombstone lakes on your left. Take this single-track trail and start ascending again. You will gain about 250 more meters of elevation in the next 1.7 km.

tombstone lake sign
Look for this sign on your left after passing through the campground and starting up a hill. When you see it, take this trail!

At 9.8 km, you will reach a fork in the trail. Keep going straight to reach the lower lake. You should be able to walk around the lakeshore and enough the views – a great spot for a snack.

Once you’ve had your fill of the lower lake, head back to the fork and take the other trail, it will lead to the lake in about 500 meters. If you find yourself suddenly climbing on the last little leg to the upper lake, you are headed towards Tombstone Pass. The short trail to the upper lake forks a few meters after the fork, go left to find the lake. The two lakes are quite close together.

Upper Tombstone Lake
This is your final destination – Upper Tombstone Lake.

After craning your neck to see Tombstone Mountain reflected in the lake, head back the way you came.

The day we hiked this was during the massive heatwave and +31 Celsius when we started. Needless to say, once we got back to Elbow Lake, we jumped in with all our clothes on.

Swimming in Elbow Lake
It felt amazing to just jump into the lake. Sometimes, you just have to have the last 2 km back to the car be a bit drippy!

Tombstone Lakes are pretty, but the journey to find them is beautiful.

I give this hike a solid 8 stars.

Have you done the Tombstone Lakes hike? I am looking forward to going back to this valley to hike Piper Pass and Rae Lakes one of these days!

hike to tombstone lakes
A pretty nice place to spend the day!

This gorgeous place hasn’t seen the last of me!

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