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Finding Gold in the Rockies

While cooler temperatures at night have most people thinking of curling up with a good book and cozy sweaters, true outdoors enthusiasts know that these cooler temperatures bring about the perfect conditions for fall hiking and photo-worthy views: light dusting of snow on the mountain tops, lingering twilights, and best of all? Changing leaves on mountain slopes.

While Alberta doesn’t have the autumnal reds that you can find in Eastern Canada, we are pretty fond of the colours that we do have: the flaming orange/reds of fireweed, living up to their name; yellow aspen leaves that tremble in the fall winds and, our favorite, the feathery gold of larch trees, the only conifer tree to shed its needles!

Larix Lyallii, or more commonly, the Alpine Larch, can be found at elevations of 5900 feet to 7900 feet in the Rocky Mountains. These trees look like your average needled conifer for the spring and summer, but when fall rolls around, the tree turns golden and drops its needles, sitting bare all winter long.

While only found at higher altitudes, these golden trees are well worth the hiking that it takes to see them in person. They are usually dispersed throughout a mixed conifer forest, lighting it up with chunks of gold.

So where does one go to witness this miracle of nature? Here in Kananaskis, we are lucky to have easy access to many trails with fantastic larch views. Here are some of our favourites:

Rawson Lake

Distance: 7.8km, Out and Back

Elevation: 320m

Location: This trail starts at the Upper Kananaskis Lakes Day Use area and climbs above the lake.

Highlights: Aside from the larch trees, this trail takes you to a scenic alpine lake.

Chester Lake

Distance: 9.2, Out and Back

Elevation: 300m

Location: This trail starts at the Chester Lake trailhead, on highway 742.

Highlights: This hike meanders and climbs through a spectacular forest before taking you across an open alpine meadow and to Chester Lake, beneath a towering Mt Chester.

Our absolute favourite hike for viewing the larches is Ptarmigan Cirque. The trail is our favourite for several reasons: its located at the top of Canada’s highest paved road, so the hike starts at 7000+ feet above sea level, there is a series of beautiful waterfalls and rock features that make the hike down breathtaking; we also love exploring the cirque feature at the top of the trail. Since this hike is one of our absolute favourites, we offer it daily, with a shuttle ride from the Kananaskis Village and a certified interpretive guide to make the most of every moment along the trail. 

Ptarmigan Cirque

Distance: 4.5km loop

Elevation: 210m

Location: This trail starts at the Highwood Meadows trailhead, crosses highway 40, and climbs between Mt Rae and Mt Arethusa

Highlights: Diverse and scenic forest, wildlife viewing opportunities, waterfalls, rock features, and a beautiful mountain Cirque.

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  • Phone:

    +1-403-591-7000

  • Address:

    1-279 Mt. Sparrowhawk Crescent,
    Kananaskis, AB, T0L 2H0

  • Current hours of operation :
    9:00AM to 5:00PM DAILY
In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge that we live, work and play on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Îyâxe Nakoda Nations, the Métis Nation (Region 3), and all people who make their homes in the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is your cancellation policy?

Cancellations or changes made to bookings more than 72 hours away: We will fully refund your purchase, less a $10 admin fee, onto the card that was used for payment. You can cancel your booking by calling 403-591-7000 or emailing info[at]kananaskisoutfitters.com . Please allow 3-5 business days for the refund to process.

Cancellations made 71- 12 hours of start time: No refunds will be provided, but we will provide a 50% credit to use towards a future booking. You can cancel your booking by calling 403-591-7000 or emailing info@kananaskisoutfitters.com

No shows: A booking is considered a no-show if we aren't notified about a booking cancellation at least 12 hours prior to the start of the booking. Arrive on time, as departures will be leaving on schedule. No refunds or credit will be given for no shows or late arrivals.

Should I tip my guide?

If you enjoyed your experience and would like to show your appreciation, our guides will be grateful.

Do I need a reservation?
While reservations are not necessary all the time, we do advise making them as we frequently book all of our gear out in a day. With a reservation, you will know that your gear is here waiting for you. Payment is taken in full when the reservation is made.
How do I rent gear?
Come into the shop and fill out waiver; we will then take a credit card imprint (Visa and Mastercard accepted) as a damage deposit until you return with the gear, at which point we will check it over and then you may pay for your rental with credit, debit or cash.
Do I need bear spray?
If you are going to be hiking, walking, biking, running, camping, or pretty much anything else outside in Kananaskis, you should definitely carry bear spray. We do. It's more effective than a gun, and doesn’t require a special permit to carry.
What kind of tours do you offer?
We offer hiking, mountain biking, stargazing, snowshoeing, canoeing (and voyageur canoeing) tours as well as XC ski and stand up paddleboard lessons.
Can I book a private tour?
Any of our activities can be booked for a private group. Click here for more information.
What if I have a big group?
We regularly host large corporate or family groups; we can book individual activities for you or we can plan out a full day or multi-day adventure. Click here for more information, or give us a call: +1-403-591-7000.
Are there trails near you?
On foot, you can access mountain biking, hiking, XC skiing and snowshoe trails from our shop (season dependant). If you want to drive, then the options in Kananaskis are endless.
How do I rent a canoe/kayak/SUP?
During peak Summer season, we offer lakeside rentals at Barrier Lake. Hourly rates are in effect when a staff memer is present. During this time boats can not be reserved they are rented on a first come first served basis.

During quieter times, the boats will still be located at Barrier Lake, however you will need to come to the shop to fill out waivers and pick up the safety gear. Gear will also need to be returned to the shop when you are finished. For self serve boat rentals, full day rental rates apply and reservations are possible.

Paddles, PFDs and safety kit are included in the rental rate. Should you need to transport a boat, tie down kits are also available.
Do you rent downhill or touring equipment?
No, sorry we just rent XC skis.

Nakiska is a great place to rent downhill ski stuff. Go to Gear Up in Canmore or MEC in Calgary for touring gear.
Can we take the gear that we rent somewhere else?
Yes, you may transport the gear elsewhere as long as you can do so safely. We have tie down kits available for boats. Ask about our multi-day prices.
When do you sell off your used rental gear?
At the end of every season, we sell off select gear. So in the Fall, we sell off bicycles, in the Spring we sell off fat bikes, XC skis, and snowshoes, etc. Want to know all the details and get notified when the sale is happening? Join our email list. Sign up on our home page.
Where can I buy groceries, firewood, propane, etc.?
Some groceries and camping supplies can be bought at the Mt. Kidd Campers Centre, or at Fortress Gas Station. Hours are seasonal, call before you go.
Where is the closest gas station/liquor?
Fortress Gas Station (20 km south on Highway 40) is the closest place for gas and liquor/beer, although offsale beer is also available at Woody’s Pub at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis.
Are there lakes near you?
Yes; Barrier Lake is about a 15 minute drive north on Hwy 40 and is where we keep our boats for summer rental. There is also Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lake a 40 minute drive South on Highway 40 in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.
Can I bring my dog?
Dogs must be on a leash at all times in Kananaskis; dogs are allowed on all trails except groomed cross country ski trails. If you are confident paddling with your dog you are welcome to do so at your own risk.

Dogs can be brought on tours only it all of the other participants on the tour are agreeable. We can not determine this until right before the tour departs.
What is the meaning of life?
We’re still trying to figure that out, but Kananaskis is a great place to look for it. No wait…it's 42.