Southfork Lakes


Trip Details
Mountain Range: 
Mountain Subrange: 
Attained Summit?: 
Trip Date: 
Monday, September 19, 2016
Summit Elevation (m): 
Elevation Gain (m): 
Total Distance (km): 
Difficulty Notes: 

Crossing the West Castle River and finding the start of the trail is likely the crux of the day.

Trip Report

When I scrambled Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge in September of 2016, I was very pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous approach hike to the three Southfork Lakes and the sublime upper alpine meadows around the lakes themselves. Also unknown to me, was the fact that there's a great backcountry camp site at the Lower Southfork Lake.


The only caution I have for anyone attempting this trek is twofold. First of all, the trailhead is somewhat tricky to find and there are many ATV and horse trails in the area which can also be confusing. Using my GPS track, you should have no problems. You cannot see the trailhead from the parking area as it's across the West Castle River. Secondly, don't underestimate the steepness of the approach! This is not a hike for the timid! If you're lugging overnight gear, make sure you tighten your boot laces for the steep grind up the west slopes of the north ridge of Southfork Mountain.


[The is the West Castle River from near the crossing. Southfork Mountain rises at upper right here.]

[The lower trail isn't always as obvious as you'd like, but there are markers around and for me there was this small, white sign in a clearing just after crossing the river.]

[The small blue sign says "Southfork" on it.]


The trail starts out innocent enough, and it's not until crossing a narrow, steep drainage that it finally turns sharply uphill and starts meandering up through fairly open forests on a very obvious trail. From here the trail eventually climbs very steeply up the west face of the north ridge of Southfork Mountain, offering stunning views of Syncline Mountain to the west.


[The obvious trail that stars gaining height through open forest.]

[The trail is surprisingly well maintained.]

[Now things are about to get interesting! The open west shoulder of the north ridge of Southfork Mountain provides great views, but the cost is a very steep grunt.]

[Looking ahead towards the north end of Southfork Mountain. Eventually the trail winds it's way left of that ridge.]

[I told you the views were good. This is looking back from the steep shoulder towards Syncline (C) and St. Eloi (L). ++]

[Nothing beats fall hiking on a gorgeous day in September. The trail makes it's way towards the alpine bowl containing the three lakes in the far distance.]


From the top of the steep grunt to the north ridge, the trail slowly starts trending south towards the distant alpine bowl containing the three lakes. There are a few more dips and rises, including a surprising walk through pretty mature forests just before the first lake. Don't be discouraged by the height loss here - it's not as bad as it first seems. Just before a small headwall to the first lake, I came across a fishing survey box that was empty. Apparently the Middle and Upper Southfork Lakes are home to one of Alberta's rarest fish - the Golden Trout. Please be familiar with strict fishing regulations if you do plan on fishing for these beautiful and rare creatures.


[The trail re-enters a pretty dark forest just before finally breaking through to the first lake.]

[A fishing survey box just before the first lake.]


I must admit, the first glimpse of the Lower Southfork Lake was surprising. I wasn't expecting such a large lake. The camping area was surprisingly clean and free of any trash or litter. This was a very pleasant surprise. If you do use this spot, please follow this excellent example of proper stewardship so that we can all enjoy a pristine wilderness experience. The lower lake is quite bushy compared to the two upper ones, which makes for a better campsite but not as good for views. For the best views, you should definitely continue on the trail around the right (west) side of the lake towards the obvious headwall to the south.


[A gorgeous place to spend some time camping in the backcountry.]

[The Lower Southfork Lake from part way alongside it's west shoreline. The campsite at left in the trees and the headwall to the upper two lakes at right. ++]


The headwall between the Lower and Middle Southfork Lakes is a bit bushier and steeper than I expected, but there are several trails punching through it and you should have no issues picking your way through scratchy Krummholtz and low shrubs to the gorgeous alpine bowl containing the Middle and Upper lakes. The terrain around the two upper lakes is wide open, allowing you to wander around freely. Continuing up slopes to the west to the summit of Southfork Mountain will offer some fantastic views for the more adventurous and energetic. See my Southfork Mountain trip report for more details.


[The trail winds it's way to the headwall between the Lower and Middle Southfork Lakes.]

[A telephoto looking over the Lower Southfork Lake from the way up the headwall.]

[The bushes are low and the terrain opens up around the headwall.]

[A small waterfall tumbles down the headwall from the Middle to the Lower Southfork Lake.]

[Looking up at Southfork Mountain's north end from just above the headwall.]

[The Middle and Upper Southfork Lakes from the slopes to Southfork Mountain. As you can see, the terrain is pretty open around them, allowing for free explor8ion. ++]

[The views from Southfork Mountain are worth the energy you'll spend getting there! Middle Southfork at lower right. ++]

[Middle (L) and Upper (R) Southfork Lakes from the Southfork Mountain ridge. That ridge in the background would make another great side trip.]

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