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My Favourite Winter Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

Updated: Mar 19


Wilcox Pass Columbia Icefield Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada

Are you looking for cool winter hikes, but you dread the thought of trekking through three feet of snow? Wanting to get out there without getting stuck up to your eyeballs? Well, look no further!


Snowshoes are one of my favourite ways of getting around in the winter. I strap them onto my backpack until I need them (hence the importance of buying a light pair of snowshoes), and I usually carry microspikes and even YakTrax if I’m expecting hard/packed-down snow. And don’t forget your poles!


A friendly word of advice: Leave a note on the dashboard of your car stating your name, phone number, name of hike and date of expected return. If your car/note is discovered, it can get search and rescue personnel going so much more quickly.

Let’s explore a few of my favourite hikes in different areas of the Canadian Rockies.


Kananaskis - Hikes off Hwy 40

Kananaskis Country is my preferred hiking spot in Alberta; its ranges creep into my backyard and its beautiful sweeping vistas just don’t get old. 


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


Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out; the fine for parking without one is 150$ per vehicle. Always check the Kananaskis Country trail reports beforehand (especially in the summer when bears become very active here). 


Remember to leave nothing behind and to pack your garbage and dog droppings with you. Hike in a group, don’t count on cell service and come prepared.  



Here are my favourite Kananaskis hikes accessible via Hwy 40.


Rawson Lake

MAP 

* Day hike, out-and-back. Well-designated trail. Dogs must be leashed.

* Distance: Roughly 8 kms return (approx 4 hrs)

* Elevation gain:  300m to lake

* Difficulty:  Moderate/intermediate (no avalanche danger to lake, stay cautious within cirque)

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


This winter hike leads you to a serene lake dwarfed by a massive glacier-carved bowl. It is a great year-round hike and can be done with kids if they’re active, but expect the trail to be very busy on summer weekends.


Rawson Lake is less accessible during shoulder seasons, when muddy conditions and melting snow make it a slushy, awkward choice. Stunning Sarrail Ridge should be COMPLETELY avoided in the winter, but definitely put it on your summer bucket list!


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; soon after, fork left toward Rawson Lake. 


Stride onwards for about 2 kms on a wide trail. You’ll gain an impressive amount of elevation here. You’ll know you’re getting close to the lake when the terrain starts to level out and the climbing becomes less laborious.

Rawson Lake flyfishing Canadian Rockies Kananaskis region Alberta Canada
For all you fishermen out there, you can catch-and-release cutthroat fish in Rawson Lake from July 16th to October 31st.

Roughly 1.5 hours after leaving your car, you should happily break through the trees and spot beautiful Rawson Lake.


Rawson Lake lies in a spectacular cirque carved out by glaciers long ago. Go left and follow the trail clockwise around the shore for beautiful views of that gargantuan 1200-metre headwall. 


Stay away from the boggy shore (unless the lake is very obviously frozen in winter) and watch out for avalanche spots when approaching the cirque. Even on busy summer days, there are tons of spots for everyone to sit and admire the views without feeling crowded.


When you’ve had enough, simply retrace your steps back to the parking lot.





Rawson Lake Sarrail Ridge Kananaskis Region Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada
The majestic headwall of Mount Sarrail rises an impressive 1200 metres above Rawson Lake.

Wanna hike Sarrail Ridge this summer?  Click here


 

Prairie View Trail


MAP 

* Day hike, out-and-back. Dogs must be leashed. Obvious trail with several signs.

* Distance: Roughly 12 kms return (approx 4 hrs)

* Elevation gain:  Roughly 550m

* Difficulty: Moderate/intermediate

* Trailhead: Barrier Lake Day Use parking lot (off Hwy 40) 


This very popular route follows the Prairie View Trail to a few lookouts, as well as an option to summit Yates Mountain at the fire lookout station. The hike to Yates Mountain is sometimes referred to as Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. You can also return via Jewell Pass rather than retracing your steps.

Prairie View Trail is another good year-round hike in the Canadian Rockies. Try to arrive early in order to secure a parking spot (parking on the highway risks a hefty fine).


TRAIL DESCRIPTION

From the parking lot, head past the gate towards Barrier Dam and walk on the path skirting it. This section is always very windy (hence cold), so cover up for this flat section of the trail.

After the first km, you’ll cross the power lines; consult the trail map and stay on the main Prairie View walking trail. You’ll start gaining elevation quickly and steadily. 


Prairie View Trail Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
The most exciting part of our hike through the forest was when the sun momentarily broke through the trees.

The hike switchbacks through the forest for a few kilometres and is relatively uninspiring. You’ll get your first grand views to your left as you skirt McConnell Ridge.

Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
The views start opening up as you skirt McConnell Ridge.




Not long after McConnell Ridge, you’ll break out onto flat ground and glimpse the first lookout.







Prairie View Trail hiking Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
The first lookout affords glimpses of Barrier Lake and the double summit of Mount Baldy.

After this first lookout, keep ascending the path for another kilometre as it narrows and steepens through rocky terrain. There’s no exposure or real danger, but as you near the top, you’ll clamber over several large boulders and hang on to some trees for balance. In the winter, spikes or ice cleats will be immensely helpful here, as this area gets icy and very slippery. You’ll eventually land atop the flat rocks at Prairie View.


Prairie View Trail hiking Kananaskis Country Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada

Once you’ve gotten your fill of this beautiful vista, retrace your footsteps back down to the Barrier Lake parking lot. 


 

Galatea Lakes via Lillian Lake


Lillian Lake, Galatea Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
The second Galatea Lake in winter



* Day hike, out-and-back. Dogs must be leashed. Obvious trail with many signs.

* Distance: Roughly 6.5 kms to Lillian, an extra 2.6 kms to second lake (16 kms total return, approx 5-6 hrs)

* Elevation gain:  Roughly 650m to 2nd Galatea Lake

* Difficulty: Moderate/intermediate

* Trailhead: Galatea Lakes parking lot (32 kms down Hwy 40 from the Trans-Canada Hwy) 




This is a very popular hike, so try to get here early to grab a parking spot (you'll get ticketed if you park on the highway). For those looking to do this hike in the spring/summer, keep in mind that Galatea Lakes trail is closed from May 1st until late June every year. 


Lillian Lake, Galatea Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Coming up to Lillian Lake


The trail starts with a descent to a suspension bridge. You’ll soon cross a 2nd bridge; turn left at the sign after crossing. The hike is mostly through mossy forest and is rather uneventful, although I am always surprised at its grade. It always seems a bit steeper than I remembered; it’s steady in its incline, but steepens about a kilometre before reaching Lillian Lake.


Lillian Lake is a pretty jade colour and there are campgrounds here if you’re so inclined.  Take a break here before your final push to Galatea Lakes.





The last 1,5 kilometres to Galatea Lakes is steeper than the trail to Lillian Lake. You have to walk through the campground to find the trail up to the lakes. Poles and microspikes will come in handy here. Look back from time to time for nice views of Lillian Lake down below, with the mountains in the background.


Galatea Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Looking back down onto Lillian Lake from the path leading to the first Galatea Lake.

The first lake comes after a good push uphill. It’s a lovely turquoise lake surrounded by huge peaks. 


Galatea Lakes Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
The first Galatea Lake


You can walk along the trail (to the right of the lake) if you’re interested in peaking in on  the second lake. It’s shorter and easier than it looks; you can reach it within 15 minutes of spotting the first lake.



Come back the way you came; you’ll be surprised at the elevation you climbed earlier. From the 2nd lake, there is an alternate trail that passes behind the first lake down the hill, but it’s an extremely steep descent and I wouldn't recommend it.






Galatea Lakes, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies Alberta Canada
Checking out the second Galatea Lake.

 

Coming soon (other hikes off Hwy 40)

-Lilian Lake/Galatea Lake

-Ribbon Falls

-Baldy Pass (South Approach)

-Wasootch Ridge

-Point Campground

 

Kananaskis - Off Smith-Dorrien Road


Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before setting out on these hikes; the fine for parking without one is 150.00 $. Also, check out Peter Lougheed's Trail Report website beforehand.


Chester Lake


Chester Lake, hiking, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Chester Lake can be enjoyed in all seasons.

  MAP 

* Dayhike, out-and-back. 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 (Calgarians may find it better to drive along Hwy 40).


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 skis in the winter (without avalanche dangers).


You will not be alone on this trail. Due to its mild grade and kid-friendly terrain, it’s easily the most popular summer hike in Kananaskis and keeps its popularity throughout the winter. The trail is often packed down and snowshoes aren’t always necessary on the ascent; however, wear them on your way back down to prevent postholing and its potential consequences (faceplants/possible injuries).


What’s nice about this hike is that you’ll get the steepest parts over and done with at the beginning. If you've got kids, or are just starting to snowshoe, Chester Lake is the trail for you!


Trail description

The trail 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. Keep to the left at all intersections. The path is moderately steep for the first few kilometres, and the path will narrow after 30-40 minutes. 


At 3.5 kms, you reach a large meadow, which will give you your first glimpses of Mount Chester. The views get increasingly grander as you approach the lake; the elevation gain is behind you now. 


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

There are lots of great spots to enjoy a snack once you arrive; follow the trail that goes right around the lake. Please remember to leave no trace of your presence; pack your garbage and dog droppings with you. 




If you’ve got energy, make your way up to Elephant Rocks by following the small trail leading up into the forest at the far end of the lake. It’s another kilometre (10 minutes) of steep walking; the kids will thank you as the rocks are oddly shaped and offer lots of cool hiding and playing spots.


When you’ve had enough, retrace your steps back to the Chester Lake parking lot.


Click here for a more thorough description of the Chester Lake hike.





 

Rummel Lake


Rummel Lake hiking, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Rummel Lake, another classic Kananaskis hike.

* Dayhike, out-and-back. Signed trail. Dogs must be leashed.

* Distance:  11 kms return (roughly 4-5 hrs)

* Elevation gain:  Roughly 420 m

* Difficulty:  Intermediate/moderate

* Trailhead: Across the road from Mount Engadine Lodge turnoff (park along the west side of the hwy)


This is another quintessential hike in the Canadian Rockies, although you won’t be fighting off the crowds as you might on Chester Lake or Tunnel Mountain in Banff.


There’s no actual parking lot at the Rummel Lake trailhead, but you can park along the highway without worrying about getting ticketed (although you need your Kananaskis Pass). It’s about 35 km from the Canmore Nordic Centre or 35 km from the intersection of Hwy 40/Kananaskis Lakes Trail. 


The trail starts off next to the highway on a good incline and stays steady throughout. You’ll wind your way through trees and come upon a bench after about 30 minutes of walking. This is where the Rummel Lake trail crisscrosses the High Rockies bike trail. 


Rummel Lake hiking, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
Take a break at the bench to admire Spray Lake far below.

From the lookout, we searched out Tent Ridge across the valley. If you are an experienced hiker, this would be a good one to add to your summer bucket list. Don’t attempt Tent Ridge if you’re not used to scrambles or long hikes. 


Rummel Lake hike, Kananaskis Country, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Canada
You’re on the right track; keep going up through the trees.


Continue following the trail; look for the sign telling you that Rummel Lake is another 3.1 kms. 


As you approach the lake, you’ll cross four steep but shallow gullies. The last gully is immediately followed by a bridge crossing a small stream. From here, it’s only about 1km to the lake.


As you finally spot the lake, the trail heads slightly downwards; break through the trees to admire the huge wall of Mount Galatea rising above the lake.








In the summer, you can skirt the lake (go left) and continue on to Rummel Pass. Don't attempt it in the winter, as there are avalanche risks.


When you're done enjoying your snack and the stupendous views, turn around and retrace your steps. It should take you about an hour and a half to get back to your car.


 

Coming soon (other hikes off Smith-Dorrien road):

-Burstall Pass

-Marushka (Shark) Lake

-Ha Ling Peak

-Warspite Lake / Black Prince Cirque


 

Banff

Coming soon (hikes in Banff)

-Stoney Squaw

-Sulphur Mountain


 

Icefields Parkway / Jasper


Coming soon (hikes on the Icefields Parkway/Jasper)

-Parker Ridge

-Wilcox Pass

-Bald Hills

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