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My Favourite Hikes in Kananaskis (So Far!)

Updated: Jan 4

All photos taken by lotzacurls (unless otherwise credited)


Kananaskis Country is probably my preferred hiking spot in Alberta, Canada; its mountain ranges literally creep into my backyard and its beautiful, sweeping vistas just never get old.


Part of the Canadian Rockies, K-Country is made up of several small provincial parks. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy its plunging glaciers, green meadows filled with wildlife and alpine flowers, towering mountains and peaks, but won't miss the stifling crowds of the much larger Banff and Jasper National Parks.


These are my favourite hikes in K-Country; the best bang-for-your-buck trails, where the rewards surpass (or at least match) your efforts. The times and difficulty levels are subjective and approximative (I’m in decent shape and exercise on a regular basis), so don’t take it for gospel. Just strap on your boots and get hiking!


Oh, carry bear spray and know how to use it!

 

North Kananaskis Pass Map

(or Turbine Canyon via Maude-Lawson Trail)

* Overnight hike (2 days, 1 night)

* 16 kms one-way to Turbine Campground, 18 kms one-way to North Kananaskis Pass

* Trailhead: North Interlakes Parking Lot (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park)

best hikes in Kananaskis Alberta Canada North Kananaskis Pass Canadian Rockies
One of many sweeping vistas on North Kananaskis Pass

This hike takes you out of Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and just into BC, so you leave footprints in two provinces in one day, which is kinda fun. North Kananaskis Pass is a rewarding, fun and relatively easy-going hike, as far as long hikes in the Canadian Rockies go.


From the North Interlakes Parking Lot (in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park), take the path around Upper Kananaskis Lake towards Forks Campground (signs might also indicate South Kananaskis Pass). The trail rambles through beautiful and diverse terrain; the going is pretty good so far. Once you hit Forks campground (at 7.2 kms), you’ll head North toward Turbine Canyon.


Eventually, you’ll head into some steep switchbacks and sustain a slower pace for at least one good hour. Keep huffing and puffing; this is the only real challenging part of the entire hike. Look up from time to time to catch the beautiful views of Mount Lyautey.

Kananaskis Mount Lyautey North Kananaskis Pass Turbine Canyon hike Alberta
Mount Lyautey is the small ridge in the middle with the glacier resting at its foot.

The switchbacks are done after about 1-1.5 hours of effort -- woop woop, you can breathe normally again! At roughly 11.5 kms, the trail meanders through a forest before breaking onto a plateau with a lovely watering hole called a tarn, Putnik Pond. (This water is for animals, not for humans; never drink stagnant water!) Keep walking along the plateau and enjoy the sight of larch trees and mountain ridges reaching up into the sky.

Putnik Pond North Kananaskis Pass Turbine Canyon Alberta
Putnik Pond

You’ll reach Turbine Campground after roughly four hours of walking (16 kms). This campground boasts 12 sites, an eating area with tables, bear-proof food storage and an outhouse.


After you pitch your tent and set up camp, check out nearby Turbine Canyon. It’s a cool spot and quite a sight to behold but man, it’s a long drop! Guys, don’t be punks and give your girlfriend a heart attack by showing off and jumping over the narrow gaps; there’s absolutely no way to survive the fall.


The next morning, I woke early and walked the remaining 2 kms to Maude Lake and North Kananaskis Pass, instant coffee in hand, to get a beautiful shot of the rising sun shining on the surrounding peaks. It’s a slightly uphill trek through meadows and small trees; not a problem, even at 7am.

Maude Lake North Kananaskis Pass Turbine Canyon hiking Alberta
Maude Lake in the early morning

North Kananaskis Pass Turbine Canyon hiking Alberta
North Kananaskis Pass, just over the border between Alberta and BC.

I returned to Turbine Campground to pack up my tent, then walked all the way back to the car in a few hours of easy rambling. Much more chill on the way back. This hike was the highlight of my summer!


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If you’ve got extra time, you might want to consider doing this trip in two nights and three days

(both nights at Forks Campground).


Day 1: Short hike from car to Forks Campground (7.2 kms), set up tent.

Day 2: Long day hike from Forks Campground to North Kananaskis Pass and back again (roughly 20 kms return), spend night 2 at Forks.

Day 3: Short hike from Forks Campground back to car (7.2 kms).


Forks Campground in a forested spot with 15 pads, outhouses, tables and benches as well as a metal food cache. Site #15 is the most coveted one.


The main advantage to this route is the climb through the switchbacks without your large backpack, as your tent was set up at Forks the night before. So it’s a much quicker run and much less of a puffer. Just bring your camera, water and snacks!

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North Kananaskis Pass is one of the easiest and most accessible multi-day treks I’ve ever done. Kids who are in reasonably good shape could easily do it. The views are great, and the only minor slog is made a bit more tedious by the weight of your backpack through the switchbacks. Overall, this is a fantastic overnight hike that I strongly recommend.

 

Sarrail Ridge (via Rawson Lake) Map

* Day hike (half-day for Rawson Lake). Out-and-back. Well-signed trail.

* Distance: Roughly 4 kms one-way to Rawson Lake (1.5 hrs), an extra 2 hrs for Sarrail Ridge

* Elevation gain: 300m to lake, a very steep 355m extra to ridge

* Trailhead: Upper Lake Day Use Area, use southernmost of the 3 parking lots

Mount Sarrail Saddle ridge hike Rawson Lake Alberta
The stunning reward from Sarrail Ridge (saddle).

This is one of my favourite summer hikes, as well as a great option for snowshoeing in winter. You can do it with kids if they’re used to hiking and with leashed dogs, but expect the trail to be very busy on summer weekends. This hike is less accessible during shoulder seasons, where slushy conditions and melting snow make it an awkward choice. I would completely avoid Sarrail Ridge in the winter.


Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out, and check the Kananaskis Country Trail Report beforehand (this trail does close often due to grizzly activity). Hike in a group and bring your bear spray.


Make sure you’ve packed properly and don’t rely on cell service in this area of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. OK, now let's get going!


RAWSON LAKE TRAIL DESCRIPTION:

The trail to Rawson Lake is part of the Upper Kananaskis Lake circuit, a chilled-out walk through forests of fir and spruce. About 1 km in, you’ll cross Sarrail Creek bridge over (you’ve guessed it)... Sarrail Creek Falls.


After the fork, stride onwards for about 1.5 kms on wide switchbacks. You’ll gain an impressive amount of elevation here, but you’ll know you’re getting close to the lake once the terrain levels out and the climbing becomes less laborious.

Rawson Lake Kananaskis area Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada
For all you fisherman out there, you can catch-and-release for cutthroat fish in this lake from July 16th to October 31st.

Roughly 1.5 hours after leaving your car, you should happily break through to beautiful Rawson Lake. The majestic headwall of Mount Sarrail rises an impressive 1200m above the lake.

Rawson Lake and Mount Sarrail Kananaskis hiking hike Alberta Canada Canadian Rockies
Rawson Lake and Mount Sarrail

This magnificently calm body of water lies in a spectacular glacier-carved cirque. But DON’T make the mistake of stopping here. Go left and follow the trail around the southeastern shore for beautiful views of meadows lying below the impressive 1200-meter headwall.

Stay away from the boggy shore, especially in winter, and watch out for avalanches. Even on busy summer days, there are tons of spots for everyone to sit and admire the views without feeling crowded.

Photo taken by Catherine Gagnon

At the 4km mark, you’ll see the trail scramble upslope towards the saddle right of Mount Sarrail. If the walk to Rawson Lake failed to satisfy your lust for hearty hiking, the very steep climb to the saddle outta do it.


SARRAIL RIDGE TRAIL DESCRIPTION

Now, be warned. The trail leading to Sarrail Ridge is the most precipitous bit of dirt that I’ve ever hiked. It’s sandy and slippery and I wouldn't recommend it in the rain. If you’re willing to endure the cardiovascular slog, I heartily encourage you to push upwards, as the reward far outweighs the effort.


It’s a steep, 350m climb to the saddle, with no switchbacks to dumb down the grade; allow yourself a good hour to get up there. Hiking poles would be an asset here. I'm fairly certain I panted like a bear in heat the whole way up.

Rawson Lake Mount Sarrail saddle ridge Kananaskis hike hiking Alberta Canada
Rawson Lake far below us on a gorgeous fall day

You might have to use your hands on the path (Yes! Let’s get our hands dirty!) and the scramble down will seem even steeper; most people did it on their bums or backwards while holding on to the stunted trees. There is a rope in one section to assist people going down (don’t let your ego interfere here; grab the damn rope). Don’t let any of these details deter you - I assure you it’s 100% worth it. Keep at it, my friend!


Once you euphorically reach the col, I strongly recommend that you keep heading upwards in either direction (left or right) for stunning views of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes waaaay below and Mount Indefatiguable straight ahead.


Kick back and enjoy your well-earned snack in one of the most stupendous sitting areas of the Canadian Rockies.


 

Pocaterra Ridge Map

* Day hike (challenging ridge walk)

* Roughly 10 kms one way (point to point) Give yourself 5-7 hours.

* Roughly 550 m elevation gain; 875 m elevation loss

* Option 1: Shuttle hike (point-to-point), roughly 10 kms, South to North. (Start at Highwood Pass (South), end at Little Highwood Pass (North). Two vehicles are necessary.) Pocaterra Ridge (Point to point) - AllTrails site

* Trailhead for both options: Highwood Pass parking lot

Pocaterra Ridge Kananaskis K-Country hiking hikes Alberta Canada
Standing on the first bump on Pocaterra Ridge. Wildfires were unfortunately ravaging Alberta this autumn, but I did love the hazy effect the smoke had on the far-away peaks.

Option 1: In my honest opinion, the best way to hike Pocaterra Ridge is as a shuttle hike (point to point); this will give you more time on the ridge itself without having to retrace your steps. Park your 1st vehicle at Little Highwood Pass, then drive your 2nd car to Highwood Pass to start the hike. Once you finish at Little Highwood Pass, drive your 1st vehicle back to Highwood Pass to pick up your 2nd car.


Option 2: Park and start at Highwood Pass parking lot, turn around at any point in the hike and go back the way you came. That easy! I’d recommend going at least as far as the 3rd or 4th bump on the ridge before turning back, in order to see as much landscape as possible. You'll want hiking poles to descend that first steep hill that you slogged up earlier !

Highwood Pass is the highest point in Canada accessible by a public road - so you’ll get bragging rights even before starting this hike. Keep in mind that the road is closed every year between December 1st and June 15th.



Trail-finding is a bit tricky in the beginning, as there is lots of trail braiding but it’s difficult to get lost. In the beginning, make sure you don't follow the trail across the highway (that one's for Ptarmigan Cirque), but turn left at the sign in the meadow. You won’t be the only person there, as this is one of the premier hikes in Kananaskis (although it is not an official hike and consequently, not always well-marked).


You'll eventually find yourself following a stream and come to a (non-signed) fork in the road. The left trail goes up to Grizzly Col and Grizzly Ridge; you want to keep going straight, as the first hill is the big beautiful green one to your right and you'll want to slowly wind your way around it before eventually ascending it.


That first uphill climb (about an hour into your trek) is the only significant slog on this entire hike, but it’s such an incredible investment in your upcoming reward that skipping this hike because of it could never be justified. The steep incline only lasts about 30 minutes, so suck it up! And drink your water!


The cool thing about ridge hikes is that once you ascend that first hill, your views will be uninterrupted. On Pocaterra Ridge, that means roughly 10 kms (5-6 hrs) of happy tramping up and down gentle lumps, almost like traipsing along the rolling spine of a gigantic brontosaurus. You gain and lose quite a bit of elevation as you hike over its bumps, and a very steep descent through the forest awaits; hiking poles are strongly recommended. The path is usually very well-indicated; that is, until the last 5 minutes (300m) of your hike.

After a very steep final descent through forest, the trail seemingly stops. This is where many hikers seem to get lost; multiple trails have been created by people attempting to find the right path. You can hear traffic on Hwy 40, so you know you are frustratingly close. Here are precise directions that I would have appreciated having for this very last part of the hike: When you emerge from your steep descent through the forest, you will see a white ribbon hanging from a tree just past a dry creek of white rocks. Do not cross this dry creek: rather, take the very poorly-marked trail on your right (just before the dry creek, running alongside it), indicated by two worn orange ribbons. This will lead you to a small brook. You must cross this brook (you'll get your feet wet, but you're done your hike anyway), and then the trail will reappear towards the right on the other side of the brook (you can't see the trail until after you cross this brook, which can be really frustrating). After two minutes of walking through forest, you'll reemerge directly across Little Highwood Pass parking lot. Drive your car to Highwood Pass to pick up car #2.

Pocaterra Ridge Kananaskis K-Country hiking hikes Alberta Canada
For a good sense of perspective, take a look at the two hikers at the right. You can also spot 3-4 hikers on the saddle (bottom middle of photo).

Pocaterra Ridge does get wonderfully green in the summer, with lots of wildflowers in June and July. It's also a beautiful fall hike due to the many larches in the area.

 

EEOR (East End of Rundle) MAP

* Day hike, in-and-out

* 3.2 kms to summit (one-way), 1043 m elevation gain (rated as difficult)

* Also known as South Summit of Mount Rundle


This challenging hike offers beautiful views from the very beginning right up until the summit. It gets rather technical toward the top, and hiking boots (not running shoes), as well as hiking poles, are strongly advised. Microspikes or crampons are recommended in late spring/early summer or fall.


The trail starts out between the double telephone poles along Spray Lakes Road and immediately heads steeply into the forest. The views will be captivating from the get-go, but don’t walk distractedly; there isn’t much room for error on the rocky and sometimes exposed path. Pay attention to markers, which will guide you mostly toward the right flank of the mountain.


The path skirts the edges of cliffs on a few occasions; small ledges allow for stunning views of Ha Ling Peak and Whiteman’s Pond. Take advantage of this opportunity to take stunning photos, sneak in a bit of food and chug some water.


After grinding your way up for at least 60 - 75 minutes, the path relents a bit above the treeline and opens up into vast meadows. You’ll see the rockwall ahead of you (up on your left).



Keep climbing through the meadows toward the grassy bench and false summit (to the right). You’ve worked hard to get here; take time to refresh yourself and enjoy the far-away peaks beyond. Many people are satisfied and end their hike here, but it would be a shame to turn around now.


To tackle the final ascent, follow the trail that runs all along the bottom of the huge rockwall. Don’t make the mistake of trying to shortcut your way up; there aren’t many ways up the imposing wall of limestone and it would be folly (or even suicidal) to improvise it. You’ll eventually see a black rockband on the wall; here the trail clambers over some large boulders. After about 10 minutes of scrambling (use your hands to steady yourself, as the path narrows but retains its steep incline), you’ll suddenly see the summit promontory. Congrats; you’ve reached the top of one of the most imposing mountains in the Canadian Rockies!

Stunning view of Ha Link Peak below us (thanks for the pic, Tanya!). And no Mom, we are NOT sitting on a high cliff ledge.

On the way down, before you hit the tree line, the scree is tricky and sometimes frustrating to navigate; this is the time to take out those hiking poles. Lots of hikers were unsettled, as rocks and pebbles inevitably dislodged under their shoes from the steep incline. Naturally, it's easy to get off-trail here, as you concentrate on your steps - try to stop and look ahead to ensure you're on the proper trail, as you wouldn't want to backtrack or traverse on the scree.


When you reach the meadows, stick to the trails going left, hugging the mountain’s edge as you near the tree line. There are lots of trails braiding through the forest, but the main trail bears generally left throughout the descent.


Once you reach your car, dip your tired feet into Whiteman’s Pond for a cool treat. You’ve certainly earned it!


 

Tent Ridge Horseshoe Map

* Day hike, horseshoe loop (to be hiked clockwise)

* 10 kms round trip, 657m in elevation gain (Some exposure and scrambling - read warning in article below)

* Trailhead: Down Mount Shark Road (off Spray Lakes Trail). The parking lot is on the right, about 2 kms passed Mount Engadine Lodge. 1h 15mins from Canmore.

* Recommended reads : HikeBikeTravel, 10Adventures and Alltrails


Tent Ridge is definitely one of the most rewarding hikes I've ever done and one of my all-time favourites. Average hikers will feel challenged but will be able to complete it, and it's tough enough to keep the crowds at bay. You'll walk through a mossy larch forest, cross an alpine meadow, trudge up loose exposed scree, then return via a steep hillside. Oh, and did I mention you'll see absolutely stunning views throughout? Yeah.

I love feeling small and humbled in the grandeur of the mountains. This is the view from the communications cabin, about 2 hours into the hike: The Fist (shadowed mountain, front right) and Mount Smuts (back right).


To find the proper trailhead (you don't want to accidentally take the return path, which is signed), walk back from the parking lot to the trail heading up a grassy hill. About ten minutes in, you'll be guided onto another path to your right, indicated by rocks placed in the form of an arrow and bright ribbons in a tree (photo, left). You'll head up into a steep, dense forest; enjoy the lushness, but make lots of noise.


After an hour of hiking, you'll enter a large meadow/basin. Tent Ridge Horseshoe looms ahead; the horseshoe's two arms straddle you on either side. Go left from the meadow, into another forest, which will begin the steep ascent onto the rockslide. This is where some short but adventurous scrambling begins.


Warning: On this ascent of the left arm, there will be a few exposed spots, where a fall could mean a helicopter ride to the hospital. There will also be a 15-foot vertical wall to climb up, so minimal rock climbing skills will help here. If you're not used to scrambling or are afraid of heights, you might want to reconsider this trail. Don't let more experienced hikers tell you that it's not really dangerous; sheer exposure doesn't lessen with experience, cockiness or comfort with heights. That being said, there is always a spot to place your feet or a ledge to hold onto with your hands. I am afraid of heights and found that I was nervous but capable. Do make sure you secure your hiking poles in your bag (tucked in the side pocket of my backpack, they caught the rock wall a few times, throwing me slightly off balance -- didn't help my nerves).


From the meadow, it took about an hour to scale the first arm and arrive at the communications cabin, and what an incredible sight awaited us there! This is an excellent spot for lunch. Descend the horseshoe saddle and climb back up, for about 30 minutes, to the 2nd peak (high point) for more stunning views. I found the saddle to be the most beautiful part of the hike.

At the 2nd peak

The right arm stretches out in front of you and there's some exposure if you walk too close to the ledge. Stick to the left side of the slope. This is the most chilled-out part of the hike; you'll make your way back the second arm with unimpeded views of the Spray Valley. At the end of the arm, a very steep descent into an open gulch awaits you; lots of trails intersect here, but they all pretty much lead back to the main trail. Once you catch it, it's about an hour back to the parking lot through forest and a right turn onto an old 4x4 track.

Looking back at Tent Ridge Horseshoe. At left, the steep pitch of the scree wall (with the green forest at its base) takes about an hour to scale. Then you walk down, across and back up the heel of the horseshoe and return via the path you see on the right.

Your view of the Spray Valley grows more and more stunning as you approach the end of the hike, before descending.

This hike offers continual, unimpeded views, thanks to its horseshoe shape. There are a few places where one can lose track of the trail, so pay attention. But all in all, this ridge walk is an absolute gem and 100% worth the effort on a clear day.


 

Sparrowhawk Tarns Map

* Dayhike, in-and-out

* 7 kms one-way, 700 m elevation gain (roughly 6 hours)

* Trailhead: Across the Smith-Dorrien road from Sparrowhawk Day Use Parking Area



The trail to Sparrowhawk Tarns starts off a bit steeply through forest; it follows the same path used for Read's Ridge and Mount Sparrowhawk, so there are many trails continuously branching off.


Consequently, route-finding can be tricky; it’s easy to mistake the proper trail or to pass it altogether. There’s a cairn about 1 km in; make sure to keep going straight, as the trail to Read’s Ridge-Mount Sparrowhawk goes left and it’s easy to take it by accident. Better yet, bring a map; this is one hike where I’ve found a map to be quite useful.


A pika takes a break from nest-building to check things out.

Once out of the forest, the trail meanders uphill through fields of boulders and scree. The path isn’t always easy to see, but the valley is narrow; keep walking up the valley and you can’t go wrong. Look for fossils, as there are quite a bit strewn about in the rocks. You'll have to negotiate a path through many boulders, so good hiking boots will be a definite plus today. Have fun with it; you can't get lost!


The path eventually gives way to beautiful meadows of moss, intercut with narrow ribbons of glacier water. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be there when the wildflowers are out.



Where’s my flask of wine when I need it?


The best thing about this trail is that it eventually leads to multiple tarns, small ponds of turquoise glacier water. At this point, a good part of your day will be spent hopping from tarn to tarn and exploring the ridges between them. On a hot summer day, the water will be shockingly refreshing; take your socks off and dip your feet in!


My only regret about doing this hike was NOT taking a photo of the lovely little tarns. I was too busy enjoying the sunshine and the cold water on my swollen feet. Definitely recommended.






 

Burstall Pass Map

* Dayhike, in-and-out

* 8 kms one-way, 470m elevation gain


Burstall Lake is one of the most well-travelled trails in Kananaskis, and for good reason. The relatively moderate path allows for splendid views of mountain peaks (including Mount Assiniboine) and beautiful open meadows. Do not let the crowds deter you.


Burstall Trail hike starts out casually; a logging road, then a single track, winding its way through forest for a few kilometres until you reach the Burstall plateau. You’ll have to cross this plateau to continue the hike But first, I suggest taking a short deviation left (south) into the obvious valley to take a quick peek at Robertson Glacier (not pictured). It’s kinda cool.

This majestic plateau is what greets you as you emerge from the forest path (about 4 kms in). Crossing this plateau is always fun but muddy, with ribbons of glacier streams to hop over or wade through barefoot. Embrace the adventure!

Back onto the plateau, you’ll have to cross many small, braided streams to continue to Burstall Pass. Depending on the time of year and the volume of melting water from the glacier, you’ll have to either skip and hop over stones or logs, or remove your socks and shoes and wade barefoot. The water is cold and ankle-deep, and the bottom is muddy, but none of it is even remotely dangerous. Have fun with it!


After the meadow, 4 kms in, the trail ascends up a steep footpath through forest, then open meadows. Beautiful, razor-sharp peaks across the valley pierce the sky, to the right of the trail as you’re ascending.

Looking behind us as we head up Burstall Pass. Mount Birdwood is the peak at left.

Eventually, at 7.5 kms, the trail arrives at Burstall Pass. You can continue on as far as you’d like before turning around, or find a cool spot to eat and enjoy the view. The boundary of Alberta and British Columbia is near, and on a clear day, you’ll be able to spot beautiful Mount Assiniboine, the tallest mountain in the Southern Canadian Rockies (about 20 kms away).


Once you’ve had your fill of beautiful Kananaskis countryside, simply turn around and head back down the way you came in. As with all hikes, bring bear spray, lots of water and food, as well as a chilly flask of wine to celebrate a beautiful day!

 

Wind Tower (via West Wind Pass) MAP

* Dayhike, in-and-out

* 6 kms to the top of the tower, 920m in elevation gain

* 5 to 8 hours (times vary enormously according to different cardio abilities)

What a hike this was! The one-hour hike to West Wind Pass is worth it on its own, but I promise that your hard efforts (and probable frustration) will be rewarded with absolutely stupendous views if you push yourself up to the tower! This hike is easily one of the most underrated hikes in the Rockies, and its difficulty keeps many hikers at bay.



I’ve divided this hike into 3 parts. The first part is the walk up to West Wind Pass. You’ll wander up a steady and steep pathway through the forest; make sure to take a right at the homemade sign about 4-5 minutes in (photo at left). There’s a lot of trail braiding throughout the trek; I tend to stick to the paths on the right. Be careful near the cliff bands; watch your step and use your hands if necessary.








Spray Lakes Reservoir will be visible through the trees throughout your climb. You’ll reach West Wind Pass in about 60 - 75 minutes. Enjoy the views from both sides of the pass and take advantage of the lovely meadow to eat and energize.




When facing Spray Lakes Reservoir, you’ll see the trail to Wind Tower continue up the slope on your left (ignore the sheep trail going down into the forest). For the next hour, this second part of the hike curves wide all around the mountain; you’ll need your hands frequently to scramble over rock faces and small cliff bands. I loved walking through these trees, scrambling over the boulders and getting increasingly better views of the lake below. Watch for cairns when the path fades; the route isn’t always super obvious but it’s nevertheless difficult to get lost.

The third part of the hike starts when the earthy and rocky trail becomes a scree slope. The path follows a steep scree path straight up to the top, with small switchbacks here and there.


Mount Lougheed to your right will loom larger and larger as you ascend, and the iconic Three Sisters mountain will gradually emerge from its hiding place to your left. Many hikers I crossed here complained of the interminable upward slog, but keep at it. You’ll reach the summit of the tower in about another 60 - 90 minutes.


Enjoy the incredible 360 views from the top; it’s taken you roughly 3-3.5 hours to get up here and the views are unparalleled. Watch for the sudden, sheer vertical cliffs; it’s an unsurvivable fall. Bring a good wind jacket and hold on to your belongings; Wind Tower has earned its name.

The return down is a steep slide down the same way you ascended; hiking poles and hiking boots (as opposed to running shoes) are a tremendous help here. It will take you 1.5-2 hours to descend. Don’t let the loose scree intimidate you; lead with your heel and slide down. Once you get back down to the wildflowers and the trees, the trekking feels pretty breezy again.

 

Chester Lake MAP

* 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


You will not be alone on your hike to Chester Lake. It’s a relatively short trek that’s well worth the effort, albeit less rewarding in terms of grand sweeping views than neighbouring Burstall Pass (the two parking lots are on opposing sides of the Smith-Dorrien Road).


Due to its easy grade and kid-friendly terrain, Chester Lake is easily the most popular hike in K-Country. As a local, I tend to avoid it on weekends, but you can decide for yourself whether or not it's worth the crowds.  It's fantastic in the fall (larches!) and a great snowshoeing spot in the winter as well.


If you've got kids or are just starting to hike, Chester Lake is the trail for you.

Chester Lake, Peter Lougheed, Kananaskis region, Canadian Rockies, Alberta
Beautiful Chester Lake

Trail description

Even though Chester Lake tends to be most people’s turn-around point, there are options to keep going to Elephant Rock (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, 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 kilometer until you reach the larger meadow, which will give you your first glimpses of Mount Chester (along with Mount Galatea and The Fortress).

Mount Chester, Chester Lake, Kananaskis region, Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada
Mount Chester dominates the skyline as you approach the lake.

The last part of the hike, through the meadow and approaching the lake, is mostly flat; you’ll have increasingly better views as you get closer.  Breathe in that fresh air; the hard work is done!


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.

Approaching Chester Lake

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.

Chester Lake, Kananaskis area, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Chester Lake seen from the opposite bank (up the rock cliff).

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 10 minutes and the kids will thank you as the rocks are oddly shaped and offer lots of space for hiding and playing.

Elephant Rocks, Chester Lake, Kananaskis area, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Elephant Rocks

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 is a good 15 minutes from Elephant Lakes along rocky steps. The second lake is along a relatively flat but rocky path and could be reached after an additional 30 minutes. 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.

 



This well-loved copy of Kathy and Craig Copeland's book, The PREMIER Trails in Kananaskis Country; Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies, is one of my hiking bibles. Not only is it well-written and dotted with beautiful photographs, I trust their taste and opinions implicitly. I have all their books.


I do not receive money from them and have never met them, though they supposedly live nearby. I'm just a big fan that strongly recommends this awesome resource.





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I want to see more beautiful photos of the Canadian Rockies !

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