Limestone lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial park is without a doubt one of the most incredible backcountry venues I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. It’s remote and difficult to get to location also keeps the flocks of tourist and backcountry users away. For good reason too. Route finding and proficient GPS knowledge and experience is required to get to Limestone Lakes.
Welcome to Limestone Lakes In Height of the Rockies Provincial Park
It’s called limestone lakes because of the incredible limestone rocks and ridges in the area. The large ridge like hill separating the alpine lakes from the glacial lake to the west is entirely limestone.
The entire area is simply magnificent. As a photographer, it really is an alpine oasis. There’s almost no way to take a bad photo here. The exciting part is that so few photographers have been here so it really is a blank canvas. There are just so many incredible compositions waiting to be discovered!
A Little Bit About The Trail to Limestone Lakes
The trail is about 20 kilometers of backcountry travel from the trailhead to the lakes. The trail runs parallel along the adjacent river most of the way up the valley. Our group opted to camp around the halfway point. There aren’t a lot of good spots for “cowboy”. We ended pitching our tens close to a wildlife trail unknown to us at the time.
The following morning we had a very scary grizzly encounter as a direct result of our proximately to this wildlife trail hidden in the trees. After a few minutes of having a 900+ lb grizzly pushing us back down the trail. He decided to let us carry on to the lakes.
The second day we ascended above the tree line. There’s an option to navigate around a large ridge line, but w-e opted to gain the ridge and then loose elevation on the other side. We thought the views might be worth it, and we were rewarded for our optimism.
Next time I think I will go to the lakes in a straight shot in a single day and avoid camping half way. I’ll also avoid the detour along the ridge – only because I’ve done it now though. If it’s your first time visiting, I highly recommend the ridge.
My 900lb Grizzly Scare On Day 2
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Getting to Limestone Lakes Trailhead
As a bird flies, Limestone Lakes is only just behind the Kananaskis Range so close to Calgary. However, you’ll need to drive all the way around and down the Highway 93 south into Kootenay National Park. The trip is about 5 hours total from Calgary. 3 hours 15 minutes to East Kootenay and then about an hour and a half down settlers road.
Settlers road is basically a logging road through a recreational area in the BC backcountry. I saw a few FWD cars make the journey but I’d recommend having some kind of 4×4 vehicle take you there.
Bring some chicken wire to keep the critters out of your vehicle while you’re gone. There was some chicken wire left there when we arrived but better to be safe than sorry!
Photography Tips For Shooting Limestone Lakes
I don’t often regret this decision on backcountry trips… However this was a huge exception and one of the biggest regrets of my photography career. I left my tripod at home. I didn’t want the extra weight on my pack for the hike in. We ended up having 3 nights of totally clear skies and the milky way was incredible. I could have taken some really incredible photos if I had brought my tripod. Since then I invested in a lightweight carbon fiber tripod so I don’t make the same mistake of leaving it behind next time.
I recommend bringing a nice wide-angle lens. It’s a massive area to capture in a single frame and a wide-angle is the only way to do it. Bring something fast like a 2.8 or 1.4 so you can also use it at night for those milky way shots!
Don’t bring anything you aren’t going to use. You’ll have it on your back the entire way in and out so pack wisely. I regretted leaving my tripod at home but I didn’t regret bringing only 2 lenses, 1 body, and just 1 filter, a few cleaning supplies, and spare batteries.
Best Time of Day for Photography
Sunrise is by far the greatest time of day for photos here. The sun rising to the east of the lakes over Kananaskis country and into BC is nothing short of breathtaking. The orange mountain peaks, the reflections in the water. Sunrise is worth waking up for!
Sunset is great but not as amazing as sunrise in my humble opinion.
Astrophotography would be incredible here if the skies are clear. There is no light pollution in any direction. Bring that tripod!
What Camera Gear to Bring
- Fast Wide-angle lens
- Tripod for astrophotography
- Polarizer and ND filters for long exposures and to cut any glare from the lakes
What Outdoor Equipment to Bring
- Bring a good camera backpack, it’s a long hike in and out
- Bring extra layers, you’re high in the alpine up there and the evenings are cold compared to the days
- Consider safety communications like SPOT or InReach
Technical Photography Tips for Limestone Lakes
The scale of the mountains here are impressive. The surrounding peaks are giants by Canadian Rockies standards. Don’t compress them and shrink them too much by shooting “too wide”. They wide-angle is important to fit it all in, but you shoot too wide here and really loose the true sense of scale if you’re not intentional.
A good trick for shooting wide and keeping your mountains in the background larger, is to have the mountains closer to the middle of your composition. The closer your mountains are to the edge of your frame, the further your lens will distort them and push them away. Use the lens distortion to your advantage.
The closest place to get food, water, or cell phone service is in the Columbia valley near the turn off to Settlers road. This is wild, wild, wilderness country.
Where to stay
I drove back to Calgary same day hiking out of Limestone Lakes. You could choose to stay in Windemere or Fairmont Hot Springs.
Where to eat
Same as where to stay. I’m always a big fan of stopping in Banff on the way back to Calgary for a meal at Park.
Limestone Lakes is truly one of the most incredible backcountry places I’ve ever seen. It’s quiet and remote, and clean! Let’s keep it that way forever. It’s a rare gym in the Canadian Rockies where it’s beauty still feels undiscovered. Be vague with you social media posts on locations, and if you share this place with others also share the responsibility of what it means to be a good steward of it.