Mount Rae is located in the Misty Range of Kananaskis Provincial Park just south of the Opal Range on the east side of the Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40). Kananaskis encompasses over 4,000 square kilometers of foothills and mountains bordering Banff National Park in the central Canadian Rockies. Mount Rae was officially named in 1859 after Dr. John Rae who conducted major expeditions into the uncharted Canadian Artic and became the first European to survive an Arctic winter living solely off the land. His greatest accomplishment was establishing the final link (Rae Strait) in the long search for the Northwest Passage.
Mount Rae serves as the head of the main watershed to Calgary, Alberta by way of the Rae Glacier flowing into Elbow Lake, source of the Elbow River. At 10,558’, Rae is the highest mountain viewed on the front range from Calgary. In my opinion, this Highwood Pass area serves up the most scenic and accessible high alpine foliage in all of the Canadian Rockies.
The only published route to the summit of Mount Rae that I am aware of is the moderate scramble. Although there are no published alpine ski routes to the summit, skiing the Rae Glacier is a winter objective in Kananaskis. The summit affords good views of the prairies to the east and the larger Kananaskis peaks to the west. This was a smoke filled hazy day, my photos are a disaster. Hopefully somebody will add some from a better day.
Take the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40) exit off of the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Canmore. Drive to the Highwood Pass day parking area at 7239’ (Highwood Pass Interpretive Trail). Kananaskis Trail is closed from December 1 through June 15, and I do mean with a gate. The closure is at Kings Creek (Canyon), meaning no access to any of the Highwood area mountains prior to June 15th. (except by ski)
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Provincial Park. This is active grizzly country however. Take bear spray. You drive by the park headquarters on the way in on Highway 40. Any recent notices will be posted on the bulletin board outside. If they are open, check in with the ranger staff, they have tons of beta and are always friendly.
When To Climb
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Rae in August and the route was free of snow on ascent. There are no published backcountry ski routes on Mount Rae, but the mountain is open to skiing on the Rae Glacier.
The closest camping is a backcountry site at Elbow Lake, 1.3 km in on Big Elbow Trail back north a few kilometers off of Hwy 40. There are tons of camping options further north at Kananaskis Lakes. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas in Kananaskis. Refer to the Kananaskis Provincial Park website for more information regarding camping and/or lodging.
The Kananaskis Provincial Park website is a very thorough park website, including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions, camping permits, whitewater conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to spend any time here and comparable to any National Park website I have used. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel.
""You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.""