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Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country
Fond thoughts and memories

August 30, 2020
Standing at Elbow Lake

 

As summer comes to an end, I wanted to share a memory! Last summer, my sister and I went on a short overnight backcountry camping trip + hike. Callum and Griffin joined us, and we all had a wonderful time: we played card games, took so many photos, and for dinner, ate the most delicious rice. We also drank hot chocolate ft. Peppermint teabags. I'm obsessed with that combbo!

It was around March of 2019 when Griffin and I were talking about our upcoming summer plans. Having already visited Calgary and Banff a few times in the recent year, we wanted to continue that tradition into the new one. We had seen Kaitlyn and Callum in December and discussed the possibility of hiking and camping together.

Standing at Falls on Tombstone Trail

 

Griffin and I like doing many recreational things and wanted to share in the love of the outdoors with another couple that enjoyed the same! I think I have mentioned this before: Kaitlyn and Callum are experts when it comes to recreation and outdoors. They were both campers at overnight camps around Kananaskis growing up and moved up in success at Camp Chief Hector pretty quickly into young adulthood. They were a great source of help and support throughout the entire trail experience and were excellent guides for traveling in the Kananaskis area. You can check out Kaitlyn’s blog post on what to pack on a day hike for some useful info re: the basics of packing for a day in the mountains.

While the weather was hot and we were thankful for shorts and bathing suits, we were glad to have packed extra under armor and fleece this time!

The weather was unpredictable (although, it made for a range of lighting and tones for photography), and the wind picked up so much on the night we camped that we had trouble keeping our small trail stove lit!

We finally did get a hot meal.

However, we decided to play cards in Kaitlyn and Callum’s tent to combat the windy weather slightly; it was much larger than the tent Griffin and I had.

Hiking Tombstone Trail

 

As I am sure is the same for many people, this summer—of 2020—was a little bit unusual. We decided to stay home with the pandemic and not travel at all unless it was necessary and didn’t get to visit my home area or family. Reflecting on some memories and experiences has been a welcome practice for me.

For 2019’s summer, we talked to Kaitlyn and Callum and decided to try Tombstone Lakes for our first backpacking trip. I felt pretty lucky to be hiking with Kaitlyn and Callum on our Kananaskis trip, though, since bears and cougars are pretty lively in the region. Callum and Kaitlyn do this hilarious “Hey-OH!” shout every few minutes to ward off any chance of an encounter.

Upper Tombstone Lake

 

We chose Tombstone Lakes because it combined length and ease. The trail was a shorter one (approximately 10-15 km one way and 20-30 km round trip, depending on how far one wants to head beyond the campgrounds). But... I want to mention that there are steep inclines for the first couple of km as well as along the trails past the campgrounds and up to the lakes.

Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country

 

My favorite part of the entire experience was the awe Griffin and I shared the whole time. It was like we were hiking our way through a majestic J.R. Tolkien novel. The trail was also super wide, and so we were mostly able to walk side-by-side. If there was ever a stretch where we were walking one behind the other, one of us was always turning back and giggling with excitement.

On our first day’s lunch break, I spent my time roaming in a large meadow that backed onto a spectacular mountain-scape before eating. I felt very loved and special, surrounded by some of my favorite people in a place I’ve grown up. We ate bagels with cream cheese + jam or cream cheese + hummus + pickles/cucumbers for the first day’s lunch and had the same fillings with wraps the second day (since packing out wraps for the entire time is much more space-conscious).

Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country

 

Around a quarter of the way through the hike from Elbow Lake to Tombstone Campground, we found a waterfall. The signage sits on the trail’s left side: keep a lookout throughout the first half of the hike and talk to other hikers if you’re comfortable. Many people travel to Tombstone Lakes regularly because it’s so beautiful and can tell you where the wooden sign that marks the beginning of the falls is located.

On the night of our stay, we met some folks who had tried desperately to locate the falls but couldn’t, so if you want to find the waterfalls on your trip to Tombstone Lakes, keep in mind that it’s a relatively moderate-difficult task!

 

Standing at Falls along Tombstone Lakes Trail

 

We stayed at the falls for a short while because the weather was getting pretty chilly. If you are camping on this trail overnight and plan to travel down to the falls' base, a great recommendation is to hike down without a big backpack, so the steep and narrow path doesn’t cause someone to topple over.

A couple of times, we had to climb over or through parts of Tombstone Creek. In these cases, Kaitlyn helped us to remember to remove our large packs and hand them off to one another so that there was no risk of getting injured.

We also made sure to wear our waterproof hiking boots. Trudging through deeper water is always very fun, especially if you have been walking on a rocky trail for a long time.

Falls at Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country

 

I want to mention for anyone who loves photography that the entire trip is one photo opportunity, and I think no matter where you stand on the trail, you will get a spectacular image. I had so much fun taking pictures on my camera.

Tombstone Campground in Kananaskis Country

 

Since the four of us hiked the ~9 km, got to our campsite, and set up our respective two-person tents quite early (around 1 pm), we set off to check out the Tombstone Lakes around midday. By the time we got to Upper Tombstone Lake, we had only experienced excellent visibility and good hiking weather. We managed to keep hydrated very quickly.

Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country

 

There are two lakes you will find on a trail with a pretty steep incline around 30 mins beyond the Tombstone Campground. It got frigid by the time we made our way up to the lakes, and it looked like there were a lot of vacant backcountry campsites due to the cold weather.

We stayed for a short while and then headed back down to the campground to make a yummy dinner. I am not sure how far you can take this trail, but I know we hiked 2-3 km in before turning around.

We had our favorite hot drinks to tide us over while we prepped and cooked. We made rice with cheddar cheese, salsa, beans, chopped peppers, and salt + pepper. It was a super simple but delicious dish and was a welcome meal after a long day’s hike. The meal filled us up enough to tide us over nicely into the morning.

Elbow Lake in Kananaskis Country

 

On the way back, we noticed as many families at Elbow Lake near as we had our first day out. Kananaskis is a popular area to go with kids, and I think many people are happy with the spectacular views after only a couple of kilometers of (steep) hiking on this trail.

Who doesn’t love an immediate but earned reward?

Elbow Lake in Kananaskis Country

 

Kaitlyn and Callum knew literally over 20 people throughout our journey: this was hilarious! It got to the point where, when we saw other backpackers on the trail, Griffin and I just assumed Kaitlyn and Callum were friends with them.

We had the best time ever—especially on the last day. It was perfect summer lunchtime weather (sans wind)—and I even got some photos of a glassy Elbow Lake. We returned to Kaitlyn and Callum's car at around 2 pm, sweaty and a little bit tired.

We enjoyed an extra day in Kananaskis at the Nordic Spa, spending all of our time in the cold and hot pools resting our sore feet + muscles. There were hammocks and sunrooms where we read and slept. It was all pretty dreamy.

Elbow Lake in Kananaskis Country

Thanks for following along! We have lots of DLTK's summer activities, and be sure to check out one of our other hiking posts: