Chester Lake Hike in Kananaskis Country

Author: Dan Brewer

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Blessed with stunning mountain scenery, the Chester Lake hike is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis. It’s certainly one of the Kananaskis hikes we have done most often in our lives.

We have hiked and snowshoed the Chester Lake trail in all seasons and keep returning due to its raw natural beauty. Quite simply, we never get tired of the Chester Lake hike.

Mount Chester in Kananaskis Country, Canada
A flat portion of the trail to Chester Lake.

Chester Lake Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: Chester Lake Trailhead

Distance: 9.0 km out and back

Elevation: 414 m elevation gain

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Chester Lake Trail Highlights

Unlike typical single-track mountain hiking trails, the Chester Lake hike has a nice wide trail allowing groups of people to easily socialize along the way up. The wide hiking trail makes this an excellent Kananaskis hike for group outings such as a family hike, a stag party hike, team building etc.

Hiking with Kids in Kananaskis
Hiking Chester Lake in Fall with Kids

The Chester Lake Trail is one of those great hikes where you get the elevation gain out of the way first. You reach your peak altitude after 3.5km and it’s either flat or downhill for the remaining 6.2km.

Once you reach your peak altitude, the Chester Lake Trail ventures into the heart of a beautiful alpine meadow with rocky mountain peaks towering above on all sides. We especially enjoy the massive rock wall created by Mount Chester along the right-hand side.

The upper meadow on the Chester Lake hike provides some of the best scenery in Kananaskis, Alberta
Hiking to Chester Lake with dogs.

Having a picnic lunch along the shores of Chester Lake is one of our favorite things to do in Kananaskis. When you reach the lake, watch for a small log bridge which crosses Chester Creek. This leads to a nice little patch of forest alongside the lakeshore.

Kananaskis hiking with a toddler - crossing the Chester Creek bridge for a family picnic
Hiking Chester Lake with a toddler.

There is a modest cluster of larch trees along the shores of Chester Lake. If you enjoy larch trees, consider adding on the Elephant Rocks side trail where you will find larger patches of larch trees. The timing varies from year-to-year, but typically the larch trees change color in late-September to early-October.

There are better larch hikes in Kananaskis, but Chester Lake has some larch trees in very scenic locations
Larch tree at Chester Lake.

If you have some energy left after reaching Chester Lake, we highly recommend extending your hike to see the elephant rocks. The elephant rocks are a collection of massive rocks which have tumbled from a nearby mountain long ago – based on their location, we’re guessing these boulders fell from Gusty Peak.

a child stands on top of an elephant rock on the Chester Lake hike in Kananaskis
Our daughter on the Elephant Rocks near Chester Lake.

The elephant rocks are great fun to walk around, admire and explore, especially with kids who will absolutely love the adventure of climbing on these amazing rocks.

two kids enjoy climbing the elephant rocks near Chester Lake, Alberta
Our kids climb the Elephant Rocks at Chester Lake.

To get to the elephant rocks, walk along the western side of Chester Lake until you see a well established trail heading into the forest. This is the Three Lakes Valley Trail and the elephant rocks are only 300 m away from the lakeshore.

If you are feeling extra energetic, the Three Lakes Valley trail continues on beyond the elephant rocks into the valley between Mount Galatea and Gusty Peak. Hiking to the third lake extends the round trip distance of this amazing Kananaskis hike to 13.5 km.

Chester Lake Hiking Trail Stats

How Long is the Chester Lake Trail?

The total there-and-back distance of the Chester Lake Trail is 9.0km.

the chester lake trail distance is 9 km and the hike time is approximately 2 hours
Hiking to Chester Lake in the fall.

How Steep is the Chester Lake Hike?

You will get all the uphill sections of the Chester Lake hike out of the way in the first 3.5km. Over this span you will climb 310m. The middle 1.5km of this stretch is reasonably steep, but it’s not too bad; anyone who is in reasonable shape will have no issues.

Once you reach the top, you’ll enjoy 6.2km of flat and/or downhill trails!

How Hard is Chester Lake Trail?

We have done the Chester Lake hike with a wide variety of people, ranging from our kids (aged 4 & 6) to grandparents. The 310m incline over the first 3.5km can be a bit tough on people who aren’t accustomed to mountain hiking.

That said, everyone we’ve hiked with has made it to the lake and back, so it’s definitely do-able for most people. We’d rate the Chester Lake hike as a “moderate” Kananaskis hiking trail.

a reflection image of a girl sitting on rocks at Chester Lake, Alberta
Our daughter sits on a rock at Chester Lake in Kananaskis.

How Long Does it Take to Hike Chester Lake?

It should take a typical adult about 1.5 – 2 hours to hike the full there-and-back distance of Chester Lake.

We most recently did this hike with our kids, so we were a bit slower, completing the full distance in 3.5 hours.

We enjoy the Kananaskis Chester Lake hike with our kids
Our son hiking to Chester Lake in the fall.

Chester Lake Trail Location

Calgary to Chester Lake

The Chester Lake Trailhead leaves from the Chester Lake parking lot in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park area within Kananaskis Country.

The fastest way to get from Calgary to the Chester Lake parking lot is to turn south on Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40) and drive all the way to the winter gate, where you turn right on Kananaskis Lakes Trail. In a few minutes you’ll make another right onto the Smith-Dorrien Trail Highway (AB742). This very scenic drive should take you about 2 hours.

Google Maps Directions – Calgary to Chester Lake Trail

Chester Lake Trailhead Location

Chester Lake Trail in Kananaskis

Banff to Chester Lake

The fastest way to get from Banff to the Chester Lake parking lot is to turn off the TransCanada Highway in Canmore and take the very dusty Smith-Dorrien Trail Highway (AB742). This very scenic drive should take you approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Along the way you’ll pass the Canmore Nordic Centre (home of the Nordic events for the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics). As you climb the steep, winding road past the Nordic Centre, watch for groups of Bighorn Sheep which love to cling to the rocky slopes next to the highway.

Once the highway stops climbing, you’ll pass a few parking lots for some of the most popular Canmore hikes: Ha Ling Peak, Miners Peak and EEOR (East End of Rundle). Much of the remaining drive is through a dense forest along the shores of the beautiful Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Google Maps Directions – Banff to Chester Lake Trail

Chester Lake Trailhead Location

Chester Lake Trail Annual Closure

As part of an ongoing Kananaskis trail closures program, the Chester Lake hike is closed every year from May 1 to June 29 to allow the area to dry and prevent damage.

Mount Chester - Kananaskis Alberta
Hiking to Chester Lake after a snowfall.

Biking on Chester Lake Trail

Biking is only allowed on the first 2km of the Chester Lake Trail.

Chester Lake Trail Map

kananaskis hikes - Chester Lake
Winter hike to Chester Lake.

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a map of the Chester Lake Trail on your phone. We use and recommend the AllTrails app. Within the hiking app, search for “Chester Lake Trail”. Be sure to download the hiking map for offline use as you will not have a cell signal anywhere along the trail.

Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Safety experts recommend having a paper backup and compass on hand just in case your phone battery dies. If this idea appeals to you, I highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps.

They are the gold standard for Banff & Kananaskis hiking trails maps and we own the entire set. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration. The Chester Lake hiking trail appears in the Gem Trek hiking map entitled, “Kananaskis Lakes”.  

Hiking Chester Lake with Kids

Due to its moderate difficulty, Chester Lake isn’t found on many lists of kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis, but if your kids are active then they will enjoy it, just budget a little more time. The wide trail at the start of the Chester Lake hike is great for families as it allows easy side-by-side conversation.

Chester Lake is a kid-friendly hike in Kananaskis Country
Our daughter crosses the rocks along the edge of Chester Lake.

Being largely in a dense pine forest, your kids will have endless fun balancing on fallen tree trunks, finding treasures, etc. The flat stretch along the top to and from the lake is easy and often prompts a game of tag or hide-and-seek.

kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis - Chester Lake is a little hard, but most kids will enjoy it
Best dressed kid in Kananaskis!

If you are considering hiking Chester Lake with a baby, we would not recommend a stroller due to the steepness and the presence of tree roots and big rocks in the trail. When we hiked Chester Lake with our babies, we really enjoyed hiking with our Deuter hiking baby carrier.

hiking Chester Lake with a Baby
Hiking to Chester Lake with baby in hiking backpack carrier.

If you made it all the way to Chester Lake with your kids, we highly recommend continuing on the Three Lakes Valley Trail for another 300 m to reach the elephant rocks. Your kids will love the adventure of exploring and climbing on these massive boulders. Be warned – your kids will not want to leave the elephant rocks!

With the larches around Chester Lake and the stands of larches near the elephant rocks, we’d consider this one of the best larch hikes for kids.

We have some great resources for hiking with kids on our Family Can Travel website. Check out our best tips for hiking with kids, the best hiking gear for kids and the 9 Best Hiking Songs for Your Family.

Chester Lake Larch Trees

It may sound funny to those who are not familiar, but larch trees are the rock stars of the Canadian Rocky Mountain forests. Larch trees look like normal evergreen trees, but their needles turn a beautiful golden color in the fall, before falling off like a leaf. Seeing a cluster of golden larch trees on a sunny fall day is nothing short of breathtaking.

larch trees on the Chester Lake hike in Kananaskis
It can snow on the Chester Lake Trail during Kananaskis larch tree season

There are better Alberta larch tree hikes such as the Valley of the Larches (Larch Valley) or Saddleback Mountain in Banff, Ptarmigan Cirque or Arethusa Cirque in Kananaskis, but they get so crowded that the parks often place limits on daily hikers, making Chester Lake a good alternative. Check out our list of great Alberta larch tree hikes for all the info!

A golden larch tree in Kananaskis Country

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

There are a few good spots to stop for lunch or a break along the way, but the best spots are found around Chester Lake. Once you reach the lake, our favorite spot can be found by crossing a little wooden bridge on the right.

This takes you to a patch of trees along the shores of Chester Lake where you can stop and soak in the majesty of this special place.

The Chester Lake hike in fall provides nice colors through shrubs and larch trees
Chester Lake in the fall with changing leaves & larch trees.

There are no picnic tables or benches on the Chester Lake hike, so a compact picnic blanket is a nice treat if you have room in your pack. We always seem to forget ours and regret it every time!

Chester Lake Trail Safety

Kananaskis Bear Safety

Kananaskis Country is bear country. We love bears and would hate for any harm to come to them or you, so please take the time to educate yourself on How to Be Bear Smart.

Keep Your Dog On Leash

Although you will see lots of people with off-leash dogs on the Chester Lake Trail, please keep yours on leash. Besides being the law, an off-leash dog can very easily draw a bear or cougar back to your group. This happens far too often and puts your life and the life of the animal in danger. It’s just not worth it. Here’s a recent example of a person who was lucky to walk away from a Kananaskis grizzly attack.

Always use a leash when hiking with dogs in Kananaskis
A refreshing dip in Chester Creek

Chester Lake Trail Report

We recommend checking the latest Chester Lake Trail Report for trail conditions and possible closures before you head out.

Consult the Chester Lake trail report before you go for trail closures, etc
Chester Lake is one of the fall hikes in Kananaskis.

Chester Lake Trail Logistics

  • There are toilets at the Chester Lake trailhead. There is also a porta potty along the trail as you near Chester Lake. It’s about 100m away from Chester Lake on the left-hand side.

  • There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.

  • There is no camping or fires allowed in the area, instead find the best Kananaskis camping here.

  • Chester Lake is a dog-friendly hike in Kananaskis. Dogs must be on-leash at all times.
Chester Lake is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis

What to Bring for Hiking Chester Lake

You don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Kananaskis. In addition to bringing bear spray, check our list of hiking essentials for the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.

Chester Lake Footwear Recommendation

The Chester Lake Trail climbs up the side of a mountain through a pine forest, so the trail surface is a bit challenging at times. The trail is often rocky with protruding tree roots, so we recommend you wear a proper pair of hiking shoes.

The first half of the Chester Lake hike is through a beautiful evergreen forest

Chester Lake in Winter

Chester Lake is a popular winter activity in Kananaskis. There are separate trails for people on snowshoes or on cross-country skis, so please follow the signs for your activity.

chester lake in winter

If you are considering visiting Chester Lake in winter, you may wish to consider putting a traction device, such as ice cleats on your winter boots instead. Chester Lake is so popular that the snow on the trail will almost always be hard packed, making snowshoes unnecessary. When on popular winter Kananaskis trails, I find hiking with ice cleats on preferable to using snowshoes.

We have a full post on the Chester Lake snowshoe trail with all the information you need to enjoy Chester Lake in winter.

Interested in other Kananaskis snowshoeing trails? See our list of Easy Kananaskis Snowshoe Trails.

Chester Lake is one of our all-time favorite hiking trails in Kananaskis Country. We hope that it is one of the highlights of your visit!

Kananaskis Hiking Trails We Recommend

Banff Hiking Trails We Recommend

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One of the best hikes in Kananaskis! It's popular for the reason! The moderate climb has a big payoff with a beautiful meadow and incredible mountain views. This trail is a great winter hike too!
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.