Kananaskis Provincial Park: Ribbon Creek to Ribbon Lake Campground (20 km / 2 days)
The Ribbon Lake Backcountry Campground is one of the backcountry campgrounds located in the Kananaskis region of Alberta. This campground can be accessed via 3 different routes. The routes are:
- via the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area
- Galatea Creek Trail/Guinn’s Pass Trail from Galatea Day Use
- via Buller Pass Trail from Buller Mountain Day Use
This trip report focuses on the route through the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area.
This trail is considered beginner level for backpackers; however, there are vertical chains to access the lake. In this trip, there were two first-time backpackers and with a team effort, everyone was able to successfully conquer the chains.
The trail remains flat up until the last 2-3kms where the elevation kicks in. The trail is easy to navigate through, so one won’t get lost on the trail. Great points of reference are the Kananaskis maps that are stationed at the Day Use Area.
The campgrounds are well maintained with wonderful outhouses, bear bins, a fire pit, and tables to play games/eat dinner.
Trip Completed: June 2018
Starting Point: Ribbon Creek Day Use Area
Ending Point: Ribbon Creek Day Use Area
Total Distance: 20 km
Elevation Gain: 625 m
Duration: 2 night / 3 days (with 1 rest day)
This route takes place in Kananaskis Provincial Park, which is an hour southwest of Calgary.
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Niitsitpiis-stahkoii (Blackfoot/Niisitapi) (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: Paper maps are available at Day Use Area or online at AllTrails
Campsite Reservations: You can make bookings through Alberta Parks Online Reservation. Search under Backcountry Camping for Ribbon Lake Backcountry. Backcountry camping can currently be reserved up to 90 days in advance of your scheduled arrival time. Each permit represents 1 tent pad. Rates are based on the number of individuals, not the number of permits.
Permits: Permits for the campsite are provided via email or can be accessed through your Alberta Parks login. One will also require a Kananaskis Conservation Pass when entering the Provincial Park. They are also available at the customer service centres inside the Park.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Outfitter: We didn’t need an outfitter for this trip, as we had all our backpacking gear.
Shuttle: A shuttle isn’t necessary either, as the trail starts and ends at the same parking lot.
Day 1: Trailhead to Ribbon Lake (10 km)
Driving to the Trailhead: We left Calgary around 3:00pm and headed straight for the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area and arrived around 4:30pm. At the trailhead, everyone lased up their shoes, put on their packs, had a cold one, and headed toward adventure.
Trailhead to Ribbon Falls: Find the labelled path Ribbon Falls Trailhead and start walking. The first 7-8km are easy, on flat terrain, with a straight path towards Ribbon Falls. The hiking path follows the river all the way to the falls. There are minimal viewpoints along this way, with a lot of forest coverage. We stopped a few times along the trail to grab a bite to eat. Despite the uneventful first few kilometres, it is nothing compared to what lays ahead.
Note: If this is your first backpack trip, or are with small children and are thinking 8 km with a heavy pack and young children is enough, there is an option to camp at Ribbon Falls that can be reserved on the Alberta parks reservation website.
Ribbon Falls to Ribbon Lake: Now here is where the fun begins. Take a stop at Ribbon Falls, rest and enjoy the beautifulness of mother nature. From the falls, you will start your climb up the 625m elevation gain. About 1km into your climb, you will come across the chains. Using teamwork, we were all able to successfully make it through this challenging part. There is a series of 3 – 4 chains with small rest stops in between. Once over the chains, all your hard work is almost done! There is about 2km to go. Once over most of the elevation, you will come over this hill and start to see the wonderous lake before you. It is then a flat little jaunt to get to the other side of the lake where you will find the campsite.
The best part when we arrived, was seeing a mother moose with her 2 cubs walking around the lake. It was certainly magical!
Teamwork makes the dream work – going over the chains: In our scenario, we had 2 individuals that were comfortable going over the chains with the packs, as such they made multiple trips up and down the chains carrying the packs one by one. We also had spotters for whomever was climbing so that they felt safe. Other options to haul the packs up, is to bring a rope and set up a rope system.
Campsite: We camped at the Ribbon Lake Backcountry Campground. These camps are well maintained, with bear bins, pit toilets, a fire pit, and tables to cook and eat your food. You can expect to have an axe and firewood provided at these campsites, most of the time. The campsites are directly by the lake which makes waking up in the morning glorious. We had cooler temperatures, with no bug problems. However, on warm days, the area can be infested with bugs and mosquitos. What can help is to bring along mosquito coils to burn, bug spray and mosquito net for your face.
At camp, we started setting up one of our tents and found out that the wrong poles were brought along! This made things a bit more challenging, but thankfully a little Gerry rigging, and we had cover over our heads so no bugs and rain can get in. All in a days adventure.
Day 2: Adventures at Ribbon Lake (0km)
This was a day of relaxation, games, and a cold dip in the lake. As the weather was a bit cooler with some rain, all 5 of us squeezed into a 2-person tent and played exploding kittens for a large portion of the afternoon.
Once the sun came out, we were bold and changed into our swimsuits to take a dip in the glacial water! It was certainly refreshing. We quickly bundled up in our warmest outfits to ensure we don’t freeze.
During the evening, we sat around the fire with warm beverages, and chatting with all the other backpackers that were there.
There are options to do some day hikes up to Buller and Guinn’s Pass on this relaxed day. This might be a good way to see how an adventure through these passes would have been if decided to take the other routes.
Campsite: Stayed at Ribbon Lake Backcountry Campground.
Day 3: Ribbon Lake to Trailhead (10 km)
Ribbon Lake to Trailhead: In the morning, we cooked our breakfast, packed up and headed out. As it was the same way we came in, there were no surprises. Climbing down the chains was much easier and felt more comfortable with a pack on. Teamwork is still crucial for this part as you want to ensure all party members are feeling safe and comfortable so that everyone’s trip is enjoyable. We hiked out the rest of the way with minimal stops. When we got back, we grabbed some drinks and celebrated.
This trip went really well with some new backpackers to the group. The individuals that went along made it all worthwhile.
What Went Well
Teamwork: The trip over the chains was possible as we made a group effort for everyone to go over the chains.
Card games: Having some card games to play at camp is an easy way to pass the time when the weather isn’t always in your favour. A few I recommend are:
- Exploding Kittens
- Tichu (require 4 players)
- A deck of cards for any simple card game you may know
- Up and down the river (Trick taking game – using a normal deck of cards)
Chicken Stock (Bouillon Cubes): This is a must-have for all my camping trips. I tend to lose a lot of electrolytes with no great way to gain them back. However, these cubes have made things so much better! After a long days’ worth of hike, heat up a pot of boiling water and melt the cube in the water. It’s a tasty, salty treat for all your hard work. I find this also helps with my appetite and ensures I eat each meal.
Having a day in between before going home: I prefer some relaxation when backcountry camping, especially when the campsite is pristine, like Ribbon Lake. Having a day in between to just enjoy the sites and surroundings adds some peace and well-needed rest before heading back out. This might also be a good way for beginners to ease into the backcountry experience.
What Didn’t Go Well
Having the wrong tent poles: Make sure to double-check you put the correct tent poles in your tent bag. Not having the right poles, makes setting up your tent a little bit more interesting. Thankfully we were still able to have a roof over our heads!
Sonya is an accountant by day and an adventurer by night. She is an outdoor enthusiast and has learned various techniques by trial and error in the back country. She is currently working through some chronic pain and has taken a break from adventures for the meantime. She is hopeful and excited to resume adventures soon. For now, you can hear about some of the past adventures she has had!