Memorial Lakes {Kananaskis Country}

Memorial Lakes {Kananaskis Country}

Memorial Lakes

  • Distance – 17.5 km roundtrip
  • Elevation – 816 meters
  • Type of Hike – Out and back
  • Difficulty – Moderate to the first lake, hard to the second and third lakes
  • TrailheadRibbon Creek day-use area
  • Logistics – be prepared for some steep, possibly wet and slippery sections hiking up to the second and third lakes

The wonderful thing about Memorial Lakes in Kananaskis Country is that there are three distinctly different, beautiful lakes to explore and it is a bit of a hidden gem. It is not heavily trafficked and you will definitely have the place to yourself for large chunks of time. If you are looking for a medium-distance hike with beautiful lakes and a bit of technical terrain, this hike is for you!

If you want to make it past the basin of the first lake, you will have to wait until the snowpack is melted, so put this on your list for mid-July. The terrain past the first lake becomes steep and most likely both muddy and full of loose rocks. Make sure to wear sturdy trail shoes!

Memorial Lakes Hike
At the third lake, you are standing next to Ribbon Mountain. It is a wonderful place to spend some time … highly recommend this hike!

At the third lake, there is a cairn with a plaque on it that talks about why this hike is called Memorial Lakes. Two planes went down in this area in 1986 and 13 people lost their lives. The first plane was a passenger plane and the second was the search and rescue plane.

Getting to the trailhead.

The hike starts from the Ribbon Creek day-use area and is easy to find. Take exit 118 from Highway 1 towards Kananaskis Country/Boundary Ranch/Mt Kidd R.V. Park (turn south). This is Highway 40.

Follow this road for 22.8 km and then turn right (west) onto Mt. Allan Drive. This is the same exit for Kananaskis Village.

In 850 meters, turn left onto Centennial Drive and then in 250 meters turn right onto Ribbon Creek Road. Follow this to the end, about 600 meters and park. Your trail starts from the end of the furthest parking lot.

Hiking details.

Start your hike from the end of the parking lot and head towards Ribbon Falls to start. Follow the main trail for 3.5 km (most websites say 4.0 km, but my watch read 3.5 km when I found the trail for Memorial) and look for a cairned single-track trail on your right. This single track is your trail for Memorial Lakes.

Until you reach the single track, you will be on a wide, very well-travelled path. There will be families and a lot of people hiking and even biking.

Once you turn onto the single track, expect to be alone and not see too many more people during the day. The trail hops over the creek a few times. Keep your eyes peeled for ribbons in the trees to ensure that you are on the correct side of the creek.

Memorial Lake Trail
And you don’t have to bring a ton of water as most of your hike is along this creek.

At about 6 km, the hike suddenly starts to gain elevation steeply. Be prepared to do some climbing to get to the first lake; everything to this point is quite moderate and easy.

After a steady climb for about 750 meters, the trail will suddenly flatten out and you will find yourself on the lakeshore of the first lake. This lake is pretty, but also hard to see as it is huge and in the trees. Continue onto lakes two and three, they are worth the work!

First memorial lake
Your first lake is nice, but keep going, it only gets better!

You should be at about 7.5 km at this point.

Follow the trail around the lake and make sure not to get off the trail here. I found myself rock hopping to a small waterfall shortly after the first lake. Rather than going back to where I came from, I followed a small single-track path that scrambled up to the creek. This put me on the wrong side of the creek and unable to cross. Luckily, I saw a couple on the right side of the trail and they directed me towards a crossing up the creek where I was able to do some massive rock hopping and find myself back on the trail. Stay to the worn path! If you do rock hop to go see the falls, return back to where you came from and stay on the main trail.

Second Memorial Lake from above
Always remember to look back to see where you came from! This is looking back on the second lake from above the third lake.

It is only another 700 meters to the second lake, but there is a lot of climbing to get up to the lake. It is a huge, wonderful blue-green lake and worth stopping at for a lunch break. To continue on to the third lake, head around the left side of the lake and start climbing up. This is where it gets dicey.

Expect some scrambling and slippery sections. It is less than a kilometer from the second to the third lake, but expect this to take some time. If you are hungry, make sure to stop at the second lake for a snack and to take on some water!

If you are feeling fit, climb above the third lake, up to the amphitheatre carved out by glaciers. It is simply spectacular and the views of Ribbon Mountain are first-rate.

Memorial Lakes Hike
Amazing views that are totally worth the additional climbing. Note the elevation gain is to the third lake, not the hills above the lake. Add on an additional 150 meters of elevation if you decide to keep going up.

Once at the third lake, circumnavigate the lake, read the memorial plaque, and go back the way you came.

DO NOT take the other trail leading down the backside of the mountain and decide to make it a loop.

I had read that it was possible to make it a loop, but DO NOT do this.

We did this and found out that the loop is a terrible idea. And when I say terrible, I mean TERRIBLE. Go out and back the same way as this is not really a route. It is straight down and you will not have a good time.

If you do decide to go this route, you will:

  • slide rocks onto your hiking partner’s head
  • glissade on your bum
  • nearly fall off the mountain
  • do a lot of crab walking
  • bushwhack through dense forest and have to play Marco Polo with your hiking partners in order not to get separated from them in the dense forest
  • encounter creek crossing without a good way to cross
  • take just as much time to go this way and travel much less distance.
  • freeze up and be in a terrible situation if you suffer from vertigo
  • get scratched up and have dead sticks pierce your legs as you slide down the mountain

Have I convinced you yet? Do not do the loop! At the third lake, make a complete 360 of the lake and will hook up with the main trail again and go back the way you came.

memorial lake hike kananaskis
The amphitheatre carved by glaciers above the third lake is a wonderful place to stop and have lunch or a ginormous snack.

Besides, if you decide to do the loop, you miss out on going past the first and second lakes again, which is the whole point of the hike.

Memorial Lakes is a wonderful hike. You get to see amazing views of Ribbon Mountain and enjoy three wonderful lakes, I highly recommend it!

Kananaskis is full of wonderful hidden gems and this is one of them!



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