Hiking and Camping at Kinglet Lake – by Dustin Cressey
The Highway 11 Corridor is home to some of Alberta’s most pristine outdoor spaces. It hugs the edges of the Rocky Mountains and contours the shores of Lake Abraham, creating a cinematic experience for all who venture this way. Most will head to Coliseum Mountain, Allstones Lake, or Siffleur Falls, but the Corridor’s offerings don’t stop there. With all this open air and backcountry, why stop at scratching the surface?
If you’ve done the hikes mentioned above and are an experienced hiker, with the well-worn boots and sock tan to match, then you should consider turning your adventures up a notch. Digging deep into that leg strength and hard-earned cardio opens a massive variety of new trails to explore in this region. And if you’ve hit that point in your hiking career, you might also be interested in dipping your toes into the world of backpacking and overnight hiking.
If this sounds like you, then pack up your GORP, stow your extra socks, and head to Kinglet Lake. This stunning lake will give you a great opportunity to test those legs and make sure your backcountry kits are ready to tackle some of the larger multi-day trails that David Thompson Country has to offer. Disclaimer: This won’t be a free ride, the trail to this alpine lake has several steep sections that will require lots of determination and sweat.
Kinglet Lake is an 11.6 kilometer, moderately trafficked, out-and-back trail, climbing an elevation gain of 787m up to the lake. There’s the option to camp at the lake, as well as to continue onto do Tuff Puff Ridge for some bonus views and an adrenaline kick. As I mentioned before, at only 11.6 km, you aren’t venturing overly far from your vehicle, but there are still some things to remember when preparing to hike or spend the night on this trail.
First things first, we are all equal parts accountable for keeping our backcountry clean, so please remember to practice the leave no trace rule. Pack out what you pack in! Secondly, is wildlife. We are incredibly lucky to have an abundant population of wildlife here in Alberta, be aware of their presence so that our impact is not detrimental to their health or cause bad habits among them. Remember: as hikers, we’re venturing into their home.
Like many trails in the area, the Kinglet lake trailhead is easy to find and starts directly from highway 11. This is the highway you will be traveling on whether you are coming from Rocky Mountain House or via the Ice Fields Parkway. For those travelling from Central Alberta or Edmonton, your best option is to travel to Rocky Mountain House, follow highway 11 west, and along the shores of Lake Abraham for 211 scenic kilometers. For those traveling from Calgary, while you also have the option to drive through Rocky Mountain House, you will find a shorter route by coming through Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway. The drive is approximately 4.5 hours from Edmonton and 3.5 hours from Calgary. There is no sign that signals the parking lot, however, the AllTrails App and Alberta Parks website will show you exactly where to park. Once you arrive, you will see some gravel areas adjacent to the road and a wooden sign signaling where you will start your journey.
Park here and get your gear ready. Remember not to leave any garbage in your truck box or anything else that may attract bears and other wildlife while you are away.
Once you have added the final touches to your backpack, laced up your favourite hiking boots, and made your way to the trail head, you will find a well-maintained doublewide trail leading away from the highway. The first 1.5 kilometers is a perfect warm up for what is to come. You will meander, slowly gaining a little elevation until you meet the first major hill. While easy to follow, the trail turns to a looser and rockier make up, making the ascent difficult in sections. Poles are a welcome aid. You will face two additional steep, loose sections before finding yourself in a gorgeous meadow. This will give you a welcome break from the grind and your first glimpse of the incredible North Saskatchewan River valley below. There is a unique rock formation in this area which is a great spot to take a break, have a snack, and hydrate. This is nearing the 2.3km mark, where you will be able to see the wooden signpost signalling a right turn to Tuff Puff Ridge or a left to Kinglet lake. Continue following the trail to the left here. Be sure to catch a breather along this stretch, as your next objective once you cross the creek is a hefty ascent before you reach your destination.
This next section is the part that may help you decide whether this hike is for you. Some less experienced hikers may run in to difficulties as the trail becomes less apparent, narrows, and steepens significantly. You will be pushing roughly 300m of elevation gain through sections of tight trees and loose gravel during this part of the trail. Part way through this ascent you will find a few scenic lookouts and a crowd of uniquely formed hoodoos. Have your camera ready!
As the trees tighten over the last half kilometer, you will want to keep a look out for trail markers. These are small yellow arrows nailed to trees that will help you follow the main trail leading to the lake’s shore. On the final stretch before you get to dip your toes in Kinglet’s refreshing waters, you will find one last wooden signpost to signify you have indeed made it! Snap your pictures for proof and in a few more steps you will find yourself looking over an emerald green lake surrounded by grandiose ridges and peaks above. Aim to make it here by late afternoon to enjoy the suns warmth before it drops below the mountains.
Kinglet lake has an abundance of beautiful sitting and camping spots to enjoy. Remember that, as there are no reservations, these are all available on a first come first serve basis. If you are looking to overnight, try to use one of the already set up camping areas and aim to limit your disturbances to the environment.
Once again, pack out everything that you bring with you. Even fruit and other items which may seem biodegradable, if you didn’t find it there, don’t leave it there! Protecting and maintaining these spaces falls on all of us.
Whether you are here on a day hike or staying overnight, you have two options for the way down. The first option and shorter of the two is to return the way you came, following the Kinglet Lake trail back down to the parking lot. The second option is to continue around the lakes southern shore following a trail that will climb another 300m to Tuff Puff Ridge and eventually join back to the kinglet lake trail.
Make no mistake, this hike is a grunt. Be honest with yourself about your ability level, there’s no shame in choosing alternate trails and working your way up to this! If you do put in the work, make sure to enjoy all the world class views along the way — you deserve it after that climb!
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