All photos taken by lotzacurls unless otherwise credited.
* Dayhike, in and out. Sign at trailhead. Dogs must be leashed.
* Distance: 9 kms return (roughly 4 hrs)
* Elevation gain: Roughly 320 m
* Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
* Trailhead: Chester Lake Parking Lot, on hwy 742 (Smith-Dorrien Road), 45 kms from Canmore (although hikers from Calgary may prefer to drive along hwy 40).
Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out; the fine for parking without one is 180.00 $. Check out Peter Lougheed's Trail Report website beforehand (this trail goes through grizzly territory). Hike in a group, bring your bear spray and don’t forget your hiking poles.
Chester Lake is the quintessential Canadian Rockies hike. It’s beautiful in the summer, exceedingly scenic during the fall, and easily doable with snowshoes or spikes in the winter. You can even do it on Nordic skis, although the skier's trail is a different one from the hiker’s trail.
You will not be alone here it’s a relatively short trek that’s well worth the effort. Due to its easy grade and kid-friendly terrain, it’s easily the most popular hike in Kananaskis. As a local, I tend to avoid it on summer weekends.
If you've got kids, or are just starting to hike/snowshoe, Chester Lake is the trail for you!
Even though Chester Lake tends to be most people’s turn-around point, there are options to keep going to Elephant Rocks (add one hour) and even to Three Lakes Valley (add 2-3 hours and 240 m of elevation gain).
The trail is easy to follow throughout and begins at the sign near the washrooms in the corner of the parking lot.
The first 2 kms wind through forest on a broad logging road; don’t let this discourage you. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself surrounded by spruce and alpine fir. Keep to the left at all intersections.
The path is moderately steep for the first few kilometres, but nothing that a reasonably active child or adult could not tackle. What’s nice about this hike is that you’ll get the steepest parts over and done with at the beginning. The road will start to narrow after about 30-40 minutes.
At 3 kms, the trail opens up a bit into small clearings strewn with yellow lilies and alpine buttercups in late June and early July.
Just another kilometre until you reach the larger meadow, which will give you your first glimpses of Mount Chester (along with Mount Galatea and The Fortress).
The last part of the hike, through the meadow and approaching the lake, is mostly flat; you’ll get increasingly better views as you get closer. Breathe in that fresh air; the hardest part is behind you!
Mount Chester looms over the lake with sharp, serrated cliff edges; the whole thing is quite dramatic and lovely (especially with fall colours or a light dusting of snow), and more than worth the effort you’ve put in to get there.
When you approach the lake, there are a few nice spots off to the right (over a small bridge) to enjoy a snack or to rest.
Please remember to leave nothing behind and to pack your garbage and dog droppings with you.
Try to spot a pika amongst the large boulders and enjoy your lunch along the lakeside. Strike up a conversation with your fellow hikers, as you certainly won’t be the only one enjoying the scenery.
If you’ve got more energy after snacking and admiring the lake, make your way up the small trail at the left (leading up into the forest at the far end of the lake) to Elephant Rocks. It’s just another kilometre (10 minutes) of steep walking; the kids will thank you as the rocks are oddly shaped and offer lots of space for hiding and playing.
As I haven’t actually made the trek to Three Lakes Valley, I’ll offer just a brief description here and no photo. The first lake (reportedly the prettiest of the three) is a good 15 minutes from Elephant Lakes along rocky steps. The second lake is along a rocky path and could be reached after an additional 30 minutes (1 km). The third lake is reportedly often dry but is worth the effort due to the massive peaks surrounding it.
When you’ve had enough, retrace your steps back to the Chester Lake parking lot.
See ya on the trails!
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