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North to South Kananaskis Pass Hike via Turbine Canyon

If you’re a serious hiker and you’ve spent a lot of time in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country, chances are high that you’ve heard about or considered doing the North to South Kananaskis Pass hike via Turbine Canyon, Beatty Lake, and Three Isle Lake.

I have thought about the hike for years, but worried about the route finding on the trail. Fortunately, it wasn’t an issue at all. Over the years enough people have hiked between North and South Kananaskis Pass that the trail is boot-beaten and either dead simple to find or in places where it’s overgrown, the way forward is obvious.

There is no signage on the trail once you leave Turbine Canyon Campground heading to North Kananaskis Pass or Three Isle Lake heading to South Kananaskis Pass. With a hiking app like Organic Maps, and a good topo map to keep you oriented, experienced hikers should not have a problem, but this is not a hike for novices.

You can do the hike in either direction but as you’ll see below, if you read the post, I recommend doing it from North to South Kananaskis Pass. I was tired at the end of every day, but I’m happy we did it as three day hike. If you wanted something epic, you could add on an out and back on the Northover Traverse from Three Isle Lake.

The North to South Kananaskis hike is exceptional – and on par with many backpacking trips in Banff and Jasper National Parks.

If you stay at Beatty Lake and  Turbine Canyon Campgrounds, you’ll have more leeway in dates – and you should be able to book last minute (Turbine Canyon had 3 of 15 spots taken on a beautiful July weekend!) when you know there’s a good weather window. 

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North to South Kananaskis Pass via Turbine Canyon summary
Distance: Approximately 40 km (25 miles), primarily as a loop hike with an out and back section from the parking lot to the Forks Campground.

Elevation gain/loss: Approximately +1,426 m (4,678 feet)/-1,370 m (4,495 feet)

Best time to hike: Mid-July until sometime in September. There is a long stretch filled with larches on the final few kilometres to Turbine Canyon Campground. They would be magnificent come mid to late September.

Time needed: Two nights and three days or three nights and four days for an easier experience.

Difficulty: Hard

Backcountry campgrounds: Yes, including the Forks Campground, Turbine Canyon Campground, Beatty Lake Campground, and Three Isle Lake Campground.

Dogs: Permitted on a leash.

Permit: You need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to do the North to South Kananaskis Pass hike.

Bears: You’re in bear country so always carry an easy to access can of bear spray. I recommend keeping it in a bear spray holster so you don’t accidentally set it off.

Backcountry campgrounds: You can make online reservations for backcountry campgrounds 90 days in advance of your visit.

Please: Practice Leave No Trace principles. Be sure to let someone know where you’re going and when you are due back.

Trail conditions: Before you head out on any of the North to South Kananaskis Pass hike, check the trail reports for closures on the trails you’ll be hiking. All it takes is a bear moving into the area, and a trail can be closed for the short term.

Trailhead location for the North to South Kananaskis Pass hike
You’ll find lots of parking and washrooms for the North to South Kananaskis hike at the North Interlakes Day Use Area in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

To get there take the Trans-Canada Highway to Highway 40. Drive south for 50 km. Turn right or southwest right (if you’re coming from the Trans-Canada) onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail.

Stay on the paved Kananaskis Lakes Trail. (Ignore the turnoff on your right onto the Smith Dorrien Trail.)

Pass the turnoff to the Canyon Creek Campground, William Watson Lodge and Boulton Creek. (But go here after your hike if you want cold drinks and ice cream!) Do not take a left towards the Upper Kananaskis Day Use Area. Instead, continue past the turnoff to the Interlakes Campground to reach the North Interlakes Day Use Area, basically at the end of the road.

From the turnoff at Highway 40, it’s approximately 15 km to the parking lot.

If you’re driving north on Highway 40 from Highwood Pass, the only thing you need to do differently is turn left onto the Kananaskis Lakes Trail by the winter gate.

Backpacking itinerary options for the North Kananaskis – South Kananaskis Pass hike
There are lots of options for the North to South Kananaskis Pass hike. You could hike it in the other direction from South Kananaskis Pass to North Kananaskis Pass but there are three reasons for not doing that.

The climb up the headwall to Three Isle Lake Campground with a loaded backpack is physically taxing. 
I think the hike down the steep scree slope after Beatty Lake is harder than the hike up – unless it is stinking hot and you’re out of water.
The hike up to North Kananaskis Pass is long and very steep.
We elected to backpack the 48 km North to South Kananaskis Pass hike over two nights and three days, but you could add a night, especially if you’re coming from afar.

It’s not difficult to get a reservation for Turbine Canyon Campground, but Three Isle Lake Campground is more popular and therefore harder. That’s the beauty of a night at the Beatty Lake campground. It’s also free and first come, first served. There are 4 tent sites and another couple of tents could be squeezed in if necessary. 

There are four options if you’re hiking from North to South Kananaskis Pass.
Itinerary 1: Turbine Canyon Campground – Beatty Lake Campground – parking lot (this is described below)

Itinerary 2: Forks Campground – Turbine Canyon Campground – Beatty Lake campground – parking lot

Itinerary 3: Turbine Canyon Campground – Three Isle Lake Campground – parking lot

Itinerary 4: Forks Campground – Turbine Canyon Campground – Three Island Lake campground – parking lot

There are also four options if you choose to hike from South to North Kananaskis Pass.
Itinerary 1: Forks Campground – Beatty Lake Campground – Turbine Canyon Campground – parking lot

Itinerary 2: Forks Campground – Three Isle Lake Campground – Turbine Canyon campground – parking lot

Itinerary 3: Three Isle Lake Campground – Turbine Canyon Campground – parking lot

Itinerary 4: Beatty Lake Campground – Turbine Canyon Campground – parking lot

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