I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to convince my husband Ryan to go on any mountaineering or climbing trips, but he loves camping and backpacking! Let’s be honest, climbing is hard and it takes a certain special (potentially masochistic?!) kind of person to tolerate the mental and physical demands of mountaineering. We also generally only get one or two weekends a month that overlap as well, so for our overlapping weekend in mid-July we set off on a mini one-night backpacking trip to check out Ribbon Lake in Kananaskis.
Neither of us have every been to Ribbon Falls or Ribbon Lake before, despite it being an extremely popular and well-maintained trail. The trail is great for day-hikers, and it’s a lovely backcountry site for those who are just starting to get into backpacking as it is not too demanding.
Distance: ~11.5 km (each way, 23 km round trip) from the Ribbon Creek Day Use parking lot
Elevation Gain: 685 m (according to my Garmin)
Trip time: Approximately 3-4 hours for the ascent and 2-4 hours for the descent
Difficulty Rating: Easy/moderate hike to Ribbon Falls, and difficult with aid climbing/cliff exposure for the last 2 km from Ribbon Falls to Ribbon Lake
We started our hike from the Ribbon Creek Day Use parking lot on a hot Friday evening after work. This ended up being a great decision because we got to hike up in cooler weather and the trail was a lot less busy than it would be on a Saturday or Sunday! There are also alternate starting points to reach Ribbon Lake including Galatea Creek Trail. The first several kilometres of the hike meander back and forth beside Ribbon Creek, crossing several bridges. The trail is very wide and mostly flat, and many mountain bikers also use the first part of the trail. We reached the end of the bike-able part of the trail at around the 5 km mark where there is a spot to lock up your bikes, at which point the trail narrows and begins steadily climbing uphill at an easy to moderate grade.
We passed some lovely smaller waterfalls along the way, and soon reached the Ribbon Falls backcountry campground at the 9 km point, where we took a break to have a quick snack and admire the cascading wall of water that is fed from Ribbon Lake above.
The next section of the hike after the falls became much steeper! At this point we were very sweaty but this is where the views become truly breathtaking! We soon were able to look down across the entire valley that we had hiked up. The most exciting part of the hike is the infamous “chains” – a short but exposed cliff that had bolted chains to provide some assistance to hikers attempting this section. I was expecting this to be really over-hyped and that the chains were there more as a safety blanket. But I was wrong! The chains were very much needed to safely ascent this section, especially since some of the rock has become quite polished! It was a lot of fun to scale the cliff face, and added a little burst of adrenaline to an otherwise simple and straightforward hike.
At the top of the chain section, we were treated to the most stunning view of the valley below. The first thought that came to my mind was that it looks as though we were gazing upon the Canadian Rockies version of Yosemite Valley!
From there, it was a short and easy stroll to Ribbon Lake, and the backcountry campsite is at the back end of the Lake. I was surprised at how many tent pads there were here, and how busy the site was! I suppose it really is one of the most popular “introduction to backpacking” hikes in the area! There were probably 20 tents and there is one main cooking area with shared fire pits and bear lockers. We spend the evening watching the sunset at the lakeshore, and warming ourselves by the fire and visiting with other campers.
We woke up briefly around 2 am (well, honestly because I needed to go to the bathroom!) to stargaze near the lake shore, and were even able to see the Milky Way! It was pretty romantic standing hand in hand, gazing up at the great expanse of the universe with Ryan 🙂 I love stargazing with him, we always end up talking about how amazing and grand the universe is and how it’s so incredible that in this great, vast expanse, we get to live and experience and see the beauty of earth and all that surrounds it every single day. The next morning we slept in, packed up camp, and headed home the same way we came. It took just under 3 hours to get back to our car, the perfect weekend getaway for anyone on a tight schedule!