Kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake

Highlights from our paddle around Upper Kananaskis Lake include beautiful reflections, an island stop and a chat with another kayaker. We paddled 15 km (9 miles) in four hours, with a boost from whitecapped waves pushing at our stern as we returned to the boat launch.

Getting There

We drove HIghway 40 south, turning onto Highway 742 at the winter gates in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Two cars were parked at the winter gates. That number increased to hundreds of vehicles along Highways 742 and 40 by early afternoon because it was the last day to cycle Highwood Pass before it opened to vehicles for the 2021 hiking season.

overflow parking to cycle Highwood Pass
SO many vehicles parked along Highway 40 and the turn-off into Peter Lougheed Provincial Park because it’s the last day to cycle Highwood Pass before it opens to vehicles

We opted to park in the Upper Kananaskis Lake Day Use area, near the boat launch. The other option would be the Interlakes parking area (no boat launch). Arriving a few minutes before 7:30 am, we were the fourth car in the lot. NOTE: starting June 2021, you need to purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to park anywhere in Kananaskis Country.

Because we had a lot of space, we opted to spread our tarp right behind our car, and inflate/set-up our kayak in the parking lot.

inflating the kayak
Mr GeoK monitors the pump during the set-up/inflation process

It worked really well, and saved a bit of time because we didn’t have to haul our crate of gear down to the lakeshore and then haul the pump, tarp, etc. back to the car. And we confirmed that 15 minutes to set up at Two Jack Lake was not a fluke!

Heading Northeast (Counterclockwise)

GPS track of kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake
GPS track of our paddle around Upper Kananaskis Lake

We headed out to paddle counterclockwise, mainly so that we wouldn’t be shooting photographs directly into the sun. It worked really well. We got a ton of amazing mountain reflection photos as we paddled along, keeping the shore fairly close off our starboard (right) side.

lake reflection
Emerging from the sheltered area where the boat launch is situated, to see all the mountains surrounding Upper Kananaskis Lake perfectly reflected
Mount Sarrail reflection
Reflection of Mount Sarrail in Upper Kananaskis Lake

Approaching the Channel to Interlakes

Approaching the inlet to the channel to the Interlakes parking area, we spotted another kayak! It was a new-to-us variety, powered by pedaling. An hour or so later, we ended up chatting with Brian – a conversation that led to a photo swap. And Mr GeoK is busy researching Hobie kayaks, with a view to doubling our fleet at some point! 😉

Hobie kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake
We ended up chatting with this pedal-powered kayaker and swapped photos

Further down the channel to the Interlakes we spotted some TransAlta infrastructure – a visual reminder that Upper Kananaskis Lake is the result of a manmade expansion of a natural lake. A minute of research back at home revealed it’s the Interlakes Hydro plant, one of TransAlta’s smallest power plants at just 5 MW.

hydroelectricity infrastructure
Part of the hydro infrastructure, between Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes

Stop at Hogue Island

Without a drone (not permitted in Alberta’s provincial park, nor Canada’s national parks), it’s pretty tough to get a photo of yourself kayaking. So Mr GeoK packed a tripod, thinking we’d find a deserted stretch of shoreline to set up a time lapse of us paddling. Reality was better! We stopped at Hogue Island – one of two islands to survive the damming of Upper Kananaskis Lake (more details on the lost islands and the islands’ names here).

setting up a time lapse
Mr GeoK sets his tripod and iPhone to record a time lapse of our kayaking adventure

While Mr GeoK set up the tripod and iPhone to record a time lapse, I checked out some of the tree stumps created when clear cutting was done before the newest dam raised the lake level.

I also took a photo of Mt Indefatigable with the camera half submerged in the lake.

above and below shot Mount Indefatigable
Photo of Mount Indefatigable from half-submerged camera, which is why you can see underwater rocks in the foreground

Once the camera was all set up, we climbed back aboard and kayaked in and out of the frame. Here’s a snippet from the timelapse.

Another snippet is included in Mr GeoK’s Relive video recap of our kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake adventure.

When we pulled back ashore to retrieve the tripod and phone, I couldn’t resist this shot of blue water, blue sky, puffy white clouds with a red kayak.

red kayak on lakeshore
Stopped to stretch our legs after finishing a time lapse sequence – does it get more beautiful than this?

Hawke Island and Point Campground

We paddled right on by Hawke Island, opting to save a stop here for our next outing on Upper Kananaskis Lake.

Hawke Island Upper Kananaskis Lake
Hawke Island, with Mount Sarrail in the background

Continuing towards the head of the lake, we spotted a stump graveyard along the eastern shore. With a small, hard-sided kayak and somewhat higher water level, this could be an interesting skills course.

stump graveyard
Tree stumps, from the clear cutting done before Upper Kananaskis Lake was enlarged by damming the Kananaskis river for hydroelectricity production and water flow control.

As we passed Point Campground, we spotted a couple of kayaks pulled up on the rocks below one of the tent spots. As well, two campers were hanging out along the shoreline.

kayak camping
Spotted two kayaks pulled up on the rocks below a yellow tent at Point Campground – kayak camping?

Abrupt Turnaround

Just after our pass by Point Campground from the main lake, we spotted the pedal kayaker coming out of the channel that leads to the outlet of the Kananaskis River into Upper Kananaskis Lake. We chatted a bit and got his email address so we could send him some photos. And he reciprocated! 🙂

In addition, he advised that if we had the time, paddling down the channel to see the Kananaskis River flow into the lake was worth the detour.

kayaking on Upper Kananaskis Lake
Paddling away after a chat with the pedal-powered kayaker

The water in the channel was more turbid (opaque due to silt/dirt particles) – not a surprise during spring melt.

Then, as we paddled along the eastern row of tent sites at Point Campground, a sustained wind gust blew in, rippling the water. We made an abrupt 180 turn and started back towards the boat launch, aware that the day’s forecast called for winds up to 50 kph by early afternoon.

kayak on sparkly turquoise water
We were halfway down the channel to where the Kananaskis River flows into Upper Kananaskis Lake when the wind picked up about 45 minutes earlier than forecast, so we immediately turned around and headed back towards the boat launch

Return to Launch

From turnaround back to the boat launch we moved at a pretty steady clip, averaging 5 kph (vs 4.4 kph moving average speed to our turnaround point). But we did slow a few times, turning the kayak to look behind us to the storm clouds popping up.

kayak photographer
Mr GeoK shooting a panorama from the front of the kayak on Upper Kananaskis Lake
Upper Kananaskis Lake reflection
A storm cloud bubbles up behind Mount Indefatigable, both reflected in the still water of Upper Kananaskis Lake
storm cloud behind mountain
Another storm cloud bubbling up

Looking forward, ripples came and went. At one point, the ripple line converged with the reflection of the Pocaterra Ridge line.

Pocaterra Ridge reflection
I framed this one carefully, so that the Pocaterra Ridgeline was reflected in the ripple line on the water

Last Stop

Our final pause before returning to the boat launch was at the outlet of Sarrail Creek Falls. We first had to navigate between a fly fisherman on the shoreline and a fly fishing boat (which lead to a shouted conversation about how far they could cast).

Anyhow, I did my best to hold the kayak relatively steady while Mr GeoK got the shot.

Rawson Creek waterfall
A hiker on the bridge over Sarrail Creek, shot from the bow of our kayak

By this time, the wind was a little more steady. And during our last 10 minutes of paddling for shore, we were chased by whitecaps. A couple of other kayakers near the shore gave up paddling and let the waves sweep them towards the beach.

kayakers on choppy water
Two of six single kayakers near the boat launch, these paddlers were farthest from shore and struggling with the chop

After nosing safely into the shore, Mr GeoK did get wet after losing his balance while disembarking. The alternate version is that I paddled a stroke just as he climbed out. Whatever happened, he got pretty wet. So note to self: leave a change of dry clothes in the car. Also, one benefit of being the one in the rear seat is that I get to climb in first and out last, so there’s a person holding the kayak steady, rather than a paddle.

Summary

Total paddling distance: 14.8 km
Total time: 4 hours, including 45 minutes for snacks and photography

We’d definitely kayak Upper Kananaskis Lake again, next time with a stop at Hawke Island and with the aim of seeing where the Kananaskis River outlets into the lake. But only on a calm day. This lake is large enough that we’d be concerned about high waves on a windy day.

Epilogue

After safely passing through the hundreds of cars parked on either side of Highways 742 and 40 (cyclists riding Highwood Pass), we spotted two blondish grizzly bears further north along Highway 40. A short pause to grab a couple of photos and we continued home.

grizzly bears
Two blond-ish grizzly bears spotted just off Highway 40
grizzly bear
One of two blond-ish grizzlies just off Highway 40, this one is bear-ly tolerating our attention, so we moved along

3 thoughts on “Kayaking Upper Kananaskis Lake

  1. Pingback: Kayaking Lake Minnewanka - Out & About with the GeoKs

  2. Susan

    I look forward to reading your posts and thoroughly enjoy your photos! The perspective from a kayak is so different. Tthe reflection pictures are stunningly beautiful. Your accompanying text is really interesting and captures the thought process behind each shot. Love this!

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