Tombstone Lakes

- 10 Kilometers
- Intermediate to Difficult
- Full Day

Hiking, Biking and Camping permitted


Tombstone Lakes

Access: Hwy 40, Elbow Lake (closed between Kananaskis Lakes Trail turn-off and Highwood Junction from December 1 to June 15).
Camping: Elbow Lake, Tombstone Creek backcountry

- Bike 'n Hike, approx. 2.5 hrs
- Fish winter-killed in 1996, but has since been replenished

Once a very popular destination for fishing it appears this lake will now have to settle for just being picturesque. At the time I made this trip in 1995 I could scarcely believe my eyes as the Lake was teeming with cutthroat, jumping out of the water every few minutes as if eager to be hooked. Upon dragging a couple of my friends there the following year however, we were confronted mid-trail by hikers who informed us of the winter kill that appeared to have decimated the Lake. Quite a shame really, especially after having regaled my friends with tales of the Fishing utopia that had once been Tombstone ... and Lake Rae certainly wasn't going to be an adequate substitute.

Being situated on the Elbow loop there are 4 trails that lead to Tombstone. Of almost equal distance are the Lilttle and Big Elbow trails, together forming the Elbow loop to the north (20+ km's ea. from Little Elbow campground), the Sheep River Trail coming in from the east (20+ km's from Bluerock campground), or the easier route via Elbow Lake from the south (approx. 10 km's). Each one flush with their own merits, coming in from Elbow Lake was the most effective when planning a day trip around fishing. Elbow Lake is only 1.3 km's from Hwy 40 and has a primitive campground which on my last visit I noticed now has lockers for you to store food and such. I was already impressed by the fact they supplied an axe, chained up at the woodpiile. Need I be fearful that one day I'll be greeted by the sight of a Starbuck's adjacent to the cooking area ?

The trail from here on the southern leg of Big Elbow is awe inspiring as it follows the Elbow river through an enormous valley between the Opal and Misty mountain ranges, and it becomes apparent rather quickly that you're in horse country as the stone infested road is truly unforgiving on a Mountain Bike with no front suspension. The fear of becoming permanently limp wristed in the long term was a real one I can assure you. Keep to the left at every junction, steering past Tombstone creek campground (camping is no longer permitted at the lakes) and then crossing the creek before beginning your ascent up the east bank to the Lakes. Below towering Tombstone Mountain is the Lower lake which once held such immense promise as a fishing destination, and climbing the large rocks at the far corner of the lake gains you access to the Upper Lake, which is small and dark green in color. Suffice it to say the fishing and camping on the Lower Lake was a big draw, however the combination of deep spruce forest, rolling alpine meadows, the soaring cliffs of Mt. Tombstone and the majesty of the lake itself is all woven into a rich fabric that has a profound effect on your soul ........... ahhhh, but all those trout !

UPDATE: Since this writing it appears the cutthroat have made a comeback in Tombstone Lake, although not with the abundance that once made it legend ...