Guinn’s Pass via Galatea Creek

August 22, 2018. A long hike in smoky weather to a picturesque pass in Kananaskis Country.

  • Distance: 19.2 km round trip
  • Total ascent: 991 m
  • Elevation of objective: 2443 m
  • Hiking time: 5h 49m


I had a free day to go hiking without the kids during our Kananaskis vacation, so I decided to explore the Galatea trail and head up to Guinn’s Pass. The Galatea trail follows Galatea Creek up a valley to Lillian Lake. It then continues and climbs out of the trees to the 2 Galatea Lakes. A branch trail once departed from the main trail before it reached Lillian Lake and headed up to Guinn’s Pass. The 2013 floods wreaked havoc on the Galatea trail, apparently destroying many of the small bridges crossing the creek along the route and leaving debris strewn everywhere. During the rehabilitation of the route one of the changes made was a closure of the old trail to Guinn’s Pass and the creation of a new one, this one departing from the main trail beyond Lillian Lake and making a picturesque, ascending traverse up to the pass.

The Galatea trailhead is accessed via Hwy 40. There’s a clearly signed turn-off to the parking area a short distance south of the Mount Kidd RV Park (ask Google to drop a pin here: 50.861552, -115.175732). The entire route is along a very good trail with ample signage.

Off the start, there’s a descent from the parking area down to creek level. After crossing a suspension bridge, the trail sets off into the trees, occasionally crossing back and forth over the creek on small, sturdy bridges. There are still debris piles everywhere which give some lasting idea of the destruction in 2013. The southern spur of Mount Kidd is visible from time-to-time through the trees. This was an impressive sight, even with smoke shrouding the view somewhat. Most of the interest was from the up-close terrain, though. Creek crossings are always fun.

After a little under 5km, the trail starts to climb more steeply, but it remains in the trees. Before reaching Lillian Lake I encountered a sign the near turn-off to the old Guinn’s Pass trail notifying of its closure. 6.1 km from the parking area, the trail arrives at Lillian Lake. It took me about 1h 45m to get to this point.

Lillian Lake is closely surrounded by trees, so the arrival there is rather sudden – you’re suddenly beside a lake. Views are initially a little hard to get because of the trees, but eventually you can get a good look at the lake from the trail. Lillian lake is a tranquil green colour, and sits below the rocky face of The Tower’s eastern spur (The Tower is the unofficial name of a 3117 meter peak farther to the west). A campground sits at the western edge, and the lake seems to be popular with anglers. Once the trail reaches the west end of the lake, there will be signs directing you towards Galatea Lakes and Guinn’s Pass. The distance information on these signs (particularly higher up the trail) may not be entirely accurate. There’s already some graffiti on them from irate hikers.

Beyond Lillian Lake the trail climbs even more steeply and finally breaks free of the trees, proceeding over a rubble field towards the Galatea Lakes. Just as lower Galatea Lake comes into view, the turn-off to Guinn’s Pass is reached. The Guinn’s Pass trail abruptly switches back from the Galatea trail and starts a prolonged ascending traverse heading east towards Guinn’s Pass. Views start opening up quickly. Unfortunately, on the day of my hike, the smoke was obscuring what must have been some stunning views to the south, east and west. Finally, the trail reaches the saddle of Guinn’s Pass. I climbed a short distance up the ridge line to the west of the saddle and sat down a rocky outcropping to eat lunch. I was 9.6 km from the parking lot. Hiking time to that point was 2h 54m.

Even with the smoke obscuring distant views, I found this to be a worthwhile outing. As I climbed higher I very slowly made my way out of the thickest of the smoke, which was gratifying in and of itself. There are some options for extending this hike, either by climbing up either side of the saddle to the nearby high-points or by crossing the pass and descending to follow the trail as it carries on to Ribbon Lake with its backcountry campground. I had had enough of the smoke, though, so after my lunch I turned around and traced my steps back to the parking area.

Click on the pictures below for full-sized images.

route overview 1.jpeg
Route overview. GP = Guinn’s Pass; GL = Galatea Lakes; * marks the start of the old Guinn’s Pass trail, which follows the avalanche gully.
Craggy Mount Kidd overlooking the suspension bridge at the start of the trail.
One of the many sturdy little bridges allowing the trail to criss-cross the creek.
There’s some data-gathering equipment set up at the confluence of these two streams.
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was very cool looking up the path of the creek and seeing a cave in the cliff beyond.
An example of the massive piles of detritus left in the wake of the 2013 flood.
It was a very nice morning, despite the smoke.
The southern ridge of Mount Kidd, looking like a fortress.
The trail doesn’t get above tree line for a long time, but it’s still very pleasant walking.
Lillian Lake.
Beyond Lillian Lake the trail climbs more steeply and finally gets clear of the trees.
The view back down to Lillian Lake. More smoke was rolling in at this point.
Just before the first Galatea Lake (visible beyond the trees at the lower left), the trail up to Guinn’s Pass branches off.
Not everybody agrees with the distance information on this sign.
The Guinn’s Pass trail gently ascends over a long west-to-east traverse.
The view back down to the first Galatea Lake. The Tower (3117 m) rises in the background.
The trail eventually moves out of the rocky rubble and around this outcrop.
Guinn’s Pass finally comes into view.
Across the valley, the decommissioned trail is still visible.
Looking back down towards the valley, standing at the spot where the old trail (left) and new (right) converge. They’ve laid some stones across the branch to the old trail, and it looks like they’ve either taken rocks off, or laid soil down on, the old trail.
Guinn’s Pass.
Looking across the rocky face of an un-named high point towards Buller Pass.
Looking north towards Mount Boggart and Ribbon Peak
Looking south at The Fortress, Gusty Peak and Mount Galatea. I imagine the view is quite spectacular without the smoke.
A short walk up the ridge rising west from the saddle there’s a rocky outcrop that made a good place to sit and eat. The summit of this ridge is an un-named high point.
As I started back down, the smoke cleared very slightly before accumulating again. Lillian Lake was visible. The big peaks from left to right: The Fortress, Gusty Peak, Mount Galatea and The Tower.

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