While Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies is popular for scrambling or hiking to the mountain tops, a few other hikes are offering different scenery. Galatea Lakes and Lillian Lake Hike is one of the most popular for a reason.
A short drive west of Calgary is the gate to the Canadian Rockies called Kananaskis Country. With only an hour drive from the city, it’s a favourite hiking spot for locals looking for a scenic day trip.
You can make the hike as easy or challenging as you’d like. The trail to Lillian Lake is easy following a Galatea Creek with very little elevation and reaching Galatea Lakes requires some uphill hiking with a stunning reward at the end.
For longer enjoyment of the area, you can book a backcountry campsite at Lillian Lake and stay overnight.
I’m going to share with you all the info about Galatea hike, and of course, a lot of pictures so you can plan your trip to Galatea Lakes.
For more activities, read our post 20 fun outdoor things to do in Canmore
More hiking ideas in the Canadian Rockies:
- 20 best hikes in Banff National Park
- Hiking in Yoho National Park
- 17 best hikes in Jasper National Park
Pros & Cons of the Galatea Lakes & Lillian Lake Hike
- Easy elevation gain
- Well trodden and marked trail
- No cliffs or dangerous parts
- Three lakes, and two of them great for swimming
- Option to stay in the backcountry campground
- A very popular trail with lots of hikers
- Most of the hiking trail is tedious through the forest
Where are Galatea Lakes & Lillian Lake
Lillian Lake and Galatea Lakes are located in the Spray Valley Provincial Park in Kananaskis.
The trailhead is accessible from the Kananaskis Trail, 107 km from Calgary or 65 km from Canmore. After you pass Kananaskis village on the right and Wedge Pond on the left (great for ice skating in winter, by the way), look for the Galatea Lakes sign is on the right side of the road.
I suggest arriving before 10 am in the summer. The parking lot is big but fills up very quickly.
Galatea Lakes & Lillian Lake Hike
- Distance: 6.2 km to Lillian Lake; 1.5 km more to Lower Galatea Lake; and 1.6 km more to the end of Upper Galatea Lake;
TOTAL 9.3 km one-way return ( ̴ 5 hours, it took us 7 hours including lunch and swimming breaks)
- Elevation gain: 806 m
- Maximum elevation: 2,230 m
- Difficulty: moderate (most of the trail is easy, but it’s long with a few steep sections)
- Best time to go: late June to October (annual trail closure is May 1 to late June)
- Gear: running/hiking shoes, swimming suit, water bottle with filter (several creek crossings along the way)
On a hot August day, we’ve decided to take our special guests visiting us from Slovakia to a new hike in Kananaskis. The drive from Calgary was quick and easy, and we parked before 10 am at the trailhead. It was freaking hot already and I refreshed in the first creek just minutes into our hike.
The good news is, the trail goes through several wooden bridges across the Galatea Creek. It provided us with a quick cool off as well as drinking water (through a filter, of course). Most of the trail goes through the forest following the creek. We were glad to be sheltered from the scorching sun.
Shortly into our hike, we started the meet hikers going the opposite direction. They were returning from an overnight trip back to the parking lot and shared important info. A black mama bear with cubs is grazing along the trail. Everyone we’ve met reported the same.
When they announced their presence, bears moved away a bit from the trail. But because the bear was moving around and sticking close to the trail, we’ve met hikers who returned back saying they’re scared to continue.
At this point Michal and I carried our bear sprays in hand and most importantly, we kept speaking very loudly and shouting every now and then so the bears can hear us approaching. We were very observant and kept scanning our surroundings.
There were quite a lot of hikers on the trail, and everyone was doing the same. I guess because the bears heard a lot of loud human noises, they retreated further to the forest and we haven’t seen them the whole day.
After an hour and half of walking through the forest and 500 meters of almost non-noticeable elevation gain, we’ve arrived to the Lillian Lake. A pristine green lake surrounded by mountains and benches. We had a quick break and contemplated jumping into the lake but the bottom of the lake was too muddy.
Following the trail around the lake, we’ve continued through the Lillian Lake backcountry campground and onwards to Galatea Lakes. This is where the trail steepened significantly. Two hundred meters of elevation gain in one kilometer. After the single-track through the switchbacks we arrived at a hill of rocks. We had the leveled horizon in sight and continued straight up, enjoying Indian paintbrush flowers along the way.
The Lillian Lake was way down below us as we climbed higher and higher on the mix of rocks and traces of the trail. Once we got to the top, the trail become more visible with hikers and almost flat. There’s a visible sign for Galatea Lakes trail and another trail up the mountain to Buller Pass or Mount Kidd.
After 8 km and through the sea of wildflowers, we arrived at the Lower Galatea Lake. The lake kept changing its colour based on the angle of sun rays but remained absolutely stunning.
However, we haven’t reached our final destination yet. Following the trail along the lake for around 700 meters, we reached the Upper Galatea Lake. We left the hiking crowds behind and enjoyed the lake having it for ourselves.
Another 500 meters to the end of the lake and we set up a lunch picnic by the lake. The rocky beach, light mountain breeze and the beating sun made a perfect scene. But it was the lake changing its colours with each stronger wind gust that stole the show.
After lunch, we headed back to the Lower Galatea Lake, which was better sheltered from the wind for a quick dip. We noticed another trail which goes around another side of the lake. Because we wanted to go down to the lake, we went back the same way.
With hikers along the shore, I quickly changed into my swimming suit and jumped into the lake. It felt like my whole body froze right at that moment. It was unbelievably cold and refreshing. After the long hike on a hot day, it was a great reward. And while many people looked exhausted from the heat, I was feeling fresh for the next two hours.
We had another small break by Lillian Lake for a quick snack before heading back to the parking lot. I always wish for the return trip to be fast. When the fun is behind us, and all it is left is get back to the car. My body was overheating again so when we reached the last creek crossing before the parking lot, all of us jumped into the creek with a big sigh of relief.
Galatea Lakes and Lillian Lake is the best hike in Kananaskis for a hot summer day, thanks to so many options for a refreshing dip!
Know before you go
- Road closure
For accurate road conditions (or seasonal road closures due to wildlife presence or avalanche dangers) in Kananaskis, check out this website.
Read our recommendation: Hiking packing list for summer in the mountains
- Trail report
- Bear country
If you’re hiking in the Canadian Rockies, you’re hiking in a bear country. You should always carry a bear spray (can be purchased at Visitor’s Centre or outdoor stores), know when and how to use it and make noise while hiking (to let bears and other wildlife know that you’re there, so you don’t scare them)! Carefully read these instructions on how to behave around bears.
Our favourite hikes in the Canadian Rockies
Banff National Park:
- Sulphur Mountain
- Johnston Canyon in summer and in winter
- Rockbound Lake
- Aylmer Lookout
- Glacier Lake
- Mount St. Piran
- Healy Pass
- Boom Lake
Jasper National Park:
Yoho National Park:
Kootenay National Park
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