Elk Lakes Provincial Park: Hiking
There are a great number of fine hiking opportunities in this park. Elk Lakes Provincial Park and Peter Lougheed Park share a common boundary along the Continental Divide. As the old powerline road to Peter Lougheed is closed to all motorized traffic, trails are provided to link the parks together. For your own safety and to help in the maintenance and preservation, please keep to designated trails. Shortcutting, switch backing and the trampling of meadows destroy the plant life and soil structure.
- Trail Report [PDF] (July 30, 2021)
In the trail information, all distances quoted are for one-way and not return trips.
Elk Lakes Trailhead to Lower Elk Lake: Distance, 1 km. Suggested hiking time, 20 minutes. No elevation change.
Lower Elk Lake to Upper Elk Lake: Distance, 1 km. Suggested hiking time, 20 minutes. Elevation change: 30 metres. This hike brings you to the north end of Upper Elk Lake and Fox Lake Trail Junction.
Viewpoint Trail: Distance, 1.2 km. Suggested hiking time, 1-1.5 hours return. Elevation change, 122 metres. The trail begins on the west side of Upper Elk River where it enters Lower Elk Lake. It skirts the lakeside, then climbs steeply to a prominent viewpoint. Trail is short but strenuous and does travel above steep cliffs. Stay well back from the edge, and use extreme caution with children.
Upper Elk Lake to Petain Creek Waterfall: Distance, 3 km. Suggested hiking time, 1-1.5 hours. Elevation change: 30 metres. This is an easy hike, and it rewards the visitor with beautiful views of the Petain Creek waterfall and the Castelnau Hanging Glacier. It passes through an area immediately West of Upper Elk Lake that becomes a route for 500 metres most early summers due to flooding.
Elk Lakes Trailhead to West Elk Pass Trailhead: Distance, 4 km. Suggested hiking time, 1-1.5 hours. Elevation gain, 240 metres. The trail starts near the Public Cabin and heads north towards the provincial boundary between Elk Lakes Park and Peter Lougheed Park. At this point hikers can complete a loop via Fox Lake Trail to Upper Elk Lake (see next write-up).
Fox Lake Trail: Distance, 3.9 km. Suggested hiking time, 1.5-2 hours. Elevation change, 250 metres. The trail climbs from Upper Elk Lake, crossing several open avalanche chutes that offer scenic views of Elk Valley and Neville Basin. It then continues past Fox Lake and joins the West Elk Pass Trailhead. This route is not recommended for winter travel due to avalanche hazard.
Elk Pass Trail (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park): Distance, 5 km. Suggested hiking time, 1-1.5 hours. Elevation gain: 250 metres. The trail starts at Elk Pass parking lot (in the Peter Lougheed Park) and follows Powerline Road to the first bridge crossing of Fox Creek. Hikers should continue on the right fork of road (look for signs bearing the symbol of a hiker) and keep going approximately 100 metres past Blueberry Hill Trail. At this point there will be the next “hiker” symbol; take the trail to the right which leads to West Elk Pass Trailhead and the provincial boundary.
A Special Word about “Routes”: As well as many designated trails, Elk Lakes Park also has several informal “routes” that are not maintained and, at best, include intermittent stretches where a beaten path is available. Moderate scrambling and travel through fairly dense undergrowth and occasionally through tangled slide areas is required. These routes offer excellent scenic opportunities; however, they are not recommended for small children. Hikers travel these routes at their own risk. Route-finding skills and an aptitude for orienteering are essential, and it is recommended that hikers obtain the appropriate topographical maps prior to arrival. Off-trail travel increases your chances of encountering a bear – travel cautiously!
Upper Elk Lake to Coral Pass: This is a very demanding hike, but is eminently worthwhile. The Neville drainage offers superb views and some fine examples of fossilization. It is illegal to gather and remove fossils. Please leave them where found for future visitors to enjoy. From Petain Creek, follow an old trail through timber. After crossing Neville Creek travel is easy along the outwash plain. At the base of the Neville headwall is a snow-filled canyon – avoid the snow. Travel on the left side of the creek. Access is possible up an avalanche chute approximately 500 metres before you reach the headwall/canyon, then traverse between rock bands and follow a goat trail through the upper band on the east end to treed benches above. Coral Pass is located at the west end of the basin. Access to Cadorna Lake is possible.
Lower Elk Lake to Frozen Lake: This moderate hike offers fine views of alpine vistas and a superb look at Mount Fox and Frozen Lake – it’s a very worthwhile outing. Follow either of the trails that take you to West Elk Pass. A hundred metres west of the Pass boundary the cutline is apparent. This is the most distinct route to Frozen Lake.
Petain Creek Waterfalls to Petain Basin: Distance, 4 km. Estimated hiking time, 2 hours. Elevation change: 520 metres. This strenuous hike gives access to either mountaineering opportunities or else a pleasant amble throughout the Petain Basin. There are great views of the Castelnau icefall and the Petain Creek waterfalls. Follow the Petain Creek Waterfall Trail until it breaks out of the trees and the Petain Waterfall is first visible. At this point a faint trail leads to the right and follows the east side of an avalanche chute. At a small waterfall, the trail crosses to the west of the chute and follows it up until it breaks away to the left in a meadow near the treeline. From this point, watch for rock cairns marking the route into the basin.
Cadorna Trailhead to Pass in the Clouds (access to Height of the Rockies Provincial Park): This is a historic route used by natives and early visitors to access the Elk and White rivers. It is not recommended for horse travel as there is exposure on a steep scree talus slope in the pass area. Follow the Abruzzi Trail description. Continue on the seismic trail past the junction up to the lake. At the end of the valley the trail becomes obscure. It may be found north of the main creek. Climb steeply to the northwest to a high point on the trail. Strike off through the brush west by northwest, at which point you may intersect another trail. Approach the Pass from the north as there is a steep, scree-filled draw directly below the narrow pass.