Chester Lake Snowshoe in Kananaskis Country

Blessed with tons of snow and stunning winter mountain scenery, Chester Lake is one of the best snowshoe trails in Kananaskis. Chester Lake is one of our favorite Kananaskis snowshoe trails and we return year-after-year. Why? Quite simply, we never get tired of it.

The upper meadow on the Chester Lake snowshoe trail provides some of the best scenery in Kananaskis, Alberta

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Chester Lake Snowshoe Highlights

The first half of the Chester Lake snowshoe trail runs through a dense evergreen forest. The snow-covered branches give the trail a magical wintery feeling, while the fluffy snow-covered rocks and tree stumps on the ground complete the winter ambience.

The trail sign where the Chester Lake snowshoe trail splits from the Chester Lake cross-country ski trail

Once you reach your peak altitude, the Chester Lake trail ventures into the heart of a beautiful meadow. This is one of the most fun places to snowshoe in Alberta. The snow in the Chester Lake meadow is so deep and fluffy, it’s incredibly fun to snowshoe in.

When snowshoeing Chester Lake be sure to play in the deep snow in the upper meadow

The wide-open trail through the Chester Lake meadow provides excellent views of the surrounding mountain peaks. If you visit on a day with a clear-blue sky, you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Alberta. We especially enjoy the massive rock wall created by Mount Chester along the right-hand side.

Mt. Chester as seen from the Chester Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis Country, Canada

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.

Chester Lake is one of the best winter hikes in Kananaskis

The Elephant Rocks are a fun thing to see near Chester Lake. These huge boulders are actually especially nice when they are covered with fluffy snow. The side trail to the Elephant Rocks can be found on the north-west side of Chester Lake.

Winter hiking the side trail to the elephant rocks at Chester Lake, Kananaskis

You can enjoy Chester Lake in winter as a snowshoe trail or a winter hike – both options are great fun.

Chester Lake is one of those great snowshoes / winter hikes where you get all the elevation gain out of the way early. You reach your peak altitude after only 2.8km and it’s either flat or downhill for the remaining 4.6km!

Chester Lake – Winter Hike or Snowshoe?

Most people think of Chester Lake in winter as a snowshoe trail, but it’s also possible to do it as a winter hike. So… is it better to do Chester Lake as a snowshoe or as a winter hike? This is a tough question to answer as both methods of exploring Chester Lake in winter are very enjoyable, but each has its pros and cons.

Chester Creek in winter as seen from the Chester Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis Country

Chester Lake Snowshoe – Pros and Cons

The best part of doing Chester Lake as a snowshoe is playing in the deep snow off the main trail in the wide-open meadow near Chester Lake. The Chester Lake meadow often looks like a pile of giant marshmallows and if you enjoy walking through deep snow with your snowshoes on, this is some of the best deep snow snowshoeing you’ll find in Kananaskis.

Snowshoeing is one of the chester lake winter trail options

The downside to using snowshoes at Chester Lake is that it is such a popular Kananaskis winter trail that all the snow on the trail will be packed down, thus making wearing snowshoes mostly unnecessary. You’ll still appreciate the traction that the snowshoe crampons give you, but you won’t need snowshoes to manage any deep snow (unless you play in the meadow, of course).

Chester Lake Winter Hike – Pros and Cons

The best part of doing Chester Lake as a winter hike is having smaller (and lighter) traction devices on your winter boots instead of big, bulky snowshoes. As mentioned above, unless you are the first one on the Chester Lake trail after a heavy snowfall, you won’t need snowshoes to manage any deep snow.

We recommend using traction devices for Chester Lake winter hiking

One of my favorite parts of Chester Lake in winter is playing in the deep snow off the main trail in the upper meadow. Without snowshoes, you’d sink waist deep in the snow, which sucks and it’s very hard to get out. If you aren’t the type to play in the deep snow, skip the snowshoes and use some microspikes for the Chester Lake winter hike.

You can winter hike Chester Lake or snowshoe it

Overall, I’d recommend doing Chester Lake as a snowshoe trail. Snowshoeing in the deep snow in the meadow near Chester Lake is one of the most fun things to do in Kananaskis in winter – it makes wearing the snowshoes worthwhile.

Throughout this post, we’ll refer to the Chester Lake Trail interchangeably as a snowshoe or a winter hike.

Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail Stats

How Long is the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail?

The Chester Lake snowshoe trail follows a different path than the Chester Lake hiking trail in summer. The total there-and-back distance of the Chester Lake snowshoe trail is 7.4km. If you add on a visit to the nearby Elephant Rocks, the total round-trip distance becomes 8.4km.

The Chester Lake winter hike snowshoe is 7.4km long (or 8.4 km if you add the Elephant Rocks_

How Steep is the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail?

The Chester Lake winter hike has the same elevation gain as the summer trail, but it’s shorter, therefore a little steeper.

You will get all the uphill sections of the Chester Lake snowshoe hike out of the way in the first 2.8km. Over this span you will climb 310m. The first 1.7km of this stretch is reasonably steep, but it’s not too bad; anyone who is in reasonable shape will have no issues if they are wearing snowshoes or traction devices on their feet.

The Chester Lake snowshoe trail is only steep for the first 2km

Once you pass the first 2.8km of the Chester Lake snowshoe trail, the rest is either flat or downhill trails!

Visiting the Elephant Rocks will add an additional 30-35m of elevation gain to the overall Chester Lake snowshoe.

How Hard is the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail?

We have done the Chester Lake snowshoe trail with a wide variety of people, ranging from our kids (aged 4 & 6) to grandparents. The 310m incline over the first 2.8km can be a bit tough on people who aren’t accustomed to mountain hiking.

winter hiking Chester Lake trail with kids

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

How Long Does It Take to Snowshoe Chester Lake?

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

When we recently did Chester Lake with our kids we were a bit slower, completing the full distance in 3.5 hours.

The consistently deep snow makes Chester Lake one of the best snowshoe trails in Kananaskis

Chester Lake Trail Location

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 Chester Lake 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 almost 2 hours.

chester lake hike winter

Google Maps Directions – Calgary to Chester Lake Trail

Chester Lake Trailhead Location

Spend the Weekend at Mt. Engadine Lodge

Given the drive from Calgary to Chester Lake is nearly 2 hours, consider treating yourself to a weekend at the outstanding Mount Engadine Lodge. This remote mountain lodge is the only place to stay for miles around, but it is remarkably close to a lot of our favorite Kananaskis winter activities.

Beat the crowds by staying at a hotel for a larch tree getaway

If you drive out Friday night, you’ll enjoy a short 8 minute drive to the Chester Lake Parking lot on Saturday morning. In addition, some of our favorite winter activities in Kananaskis are only minutes away from the Mt. Engadine Lodge:

Click for prices and availability at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Chester Lake Trail Map

If you’re like me, you’ll want to have a map of this snowshoe trail on your phone. We use and recommend the AllTrails app. Within the AllTrails app, the trail called “Chester Lake and Elephant Rocks” correctly shows the winter snowshoeing / winter hiking trail. (The other trail map called “Chester Lake Trail” shows the summer hiking trail). Be sure to download the snowshoe map for offline use as you will not have a cell signal anywhere along the trail.

The Chester Lake winter hike / snowshoe trail is well marked with the familiar bright orange triangle signs found on most Kananaskis snowshoe trails. These orange signs are posted at frequent intervals, but there are a few unmarked intersections, so having a map on your phone helps you stay on track.

Orange diamond snowshoe signs are found on most Kananaskis snowshoe trails - shown here: Chester Lake snowshoe trail

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.

Gem Trek maps are the best 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 Trail appears in the Gem Trek map entitled, “Kananaskis Lakes”.  

Be ready for winter conditions if you hike Chester Lake to see the larch trees in fall

Snowshoeing Chester Lake with Kids

Chester Lake isn’t on many lists of kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis due to its moderate difficulty, but if your kids are active then they will enjoy it, just budget a little more time.

hiking Chester Lake with kids - a good Kananaskis fall hike

Our experience snowshoeing with kids is that they tend to get bored faster vs summer hiking. This is likely because they can’t run wild and most of the things they find interesting on a hike (finding treasures etc.) are now buried under the snow.

If you can keep your kids motivated on the first 2km of this Kananaskis snowshoe trail, then you’ll have it made. The first 2km is the steepest part and it’s relatively easy from then on. Once you reach the open meadow at the top near Chester Lake, they’ll have a ball snowshoeing in the deep snow.

Things to do in Kananaskis with kids in winter - Chester Lake winter hike

Another fun activity to do while snowshoeing Chester Lake with kids is to look for animal tracks in the snow – find as many different kinds as you can and try to guess which animal made them.

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 Chester Lake, our favorite spot can be found by crossing a little wooden bridge on the right. Here you’ll find a patch of trees along the shores of the lake where you can stop and soak in the majesty of this special place.

Our favorite lunch spot on the Chester Lake snowshoe trail is just across this bridge over Chester Creek

There are no picnic tables or benches around Chester Lake, so a winter picnic blanket is a nice treat if you have room in your pack. We always seem to forget ours and we end up with cold butts every time!

Chester Lake Trail Safety

Kananaskis Wildlife Safety

In the dead of winter, the bears around Chester Lake should be hibernating (be careful in early winter or early spring though!) But that’s not a reason to let your guard down as wolves, cougars, elk, etc. still provide a safety risk to Kananaskis visitors. Take a few minutes and read “Living with Wildlife” by Alberta Parks.

Wildlife Spotting - winter Banff Activities

Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail Report

It’s always a good idea to check the Chester Lake snowshoe trail conditions before you leave home. Alberta Parks actually publishes a separate Chester Lake Trail Report in the winter for the snowshoe trail which details any area closures, known animal risks, etc.

check the Chester Lake trail report before leaving home

Chester Lake Avalanche Risk

One of the top reasons why the Chester Lake snowshoe is so popular is the incredible mountain scenery around the lake. The rugged mountain peaks of Mt. Chester (3,054m), Mt. Galatea (3,185m3) and Gusty Peak (3,000m) look so beautiful with snow-covered peaks. Being up-close to these beautiful Kananaskis mountains has a flip-side though – avalanche danger.

We highly recommend consulting the Kananaskis Avalanche Danger Report published by Avalanche Canada before you go. The area around Chester Lake and the Elephant Rocks are “Below Treeline”, but just barely so pay close attention as there is “Alpine” territory just beyond the trees.

Be aware of Chester Lake avalanche risk when snowshoeing or winter hiking to the Elephant Rocks

Take a look at this Google Maps satellite shot and you’ll see evidence of avalanche tracks on the NW slope of Mt. Chester which reach all the way to the eastern shore of Chester Lake. You can also see avalanche tracks on Mt. Galatea (NW of Chester Lake) which have taken out large chunks of forest.

Educate yourself on avalanche risk and safety before enjoying the Chester Lake snowshoe trail or winter hike

We are not avalanche experts, so please educate yourself and make smart decisions while enjoying the beauty of Chester Lake in winter.

Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail Logistics

  • There are toilets at the trailhead. There is also a porta-potty along the trail as you near Chester Lake. It’s about 100m away from the lake on the left-hand side.
  • There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your hydration packs before you leave home.
  • There is no camping or fires allowed in the area.
  • Fat biking is not allowed on the Chester Lake snowshoe trail, but there are other fat biking trails in Kananaskis that leave from the Chester Lake parking lot.
  • Dogs are allowed on-leash.
Dogs are allowed on-leash on the Chester Lake snowshoe trail

What to Bring for Hiking Chester Lake in Winter

It’s really tough to decide how to dress for winter hiking or snowshoeing in Kananaskis.

The first 3km of the Chester Lake snowshoe trail is hard work, so you’ll get hot and will likely want to shed some layers of clothing. You’ll also generate a ton of internal heat if you play around in the deep snow in the upper meadow.

How to dress snowshoeing in Kananaskis in winter

On the flip side, the remainder of the Chester Lake winter hike / snowshoe is relatively flat and easy, so you won’t generate a ton of your own heat. If you shed some layers earlier, you’ll probably need to put some back on.

How to dress in winter in Banff and Kananaskis

The sun is low in the sky during the winter months which creates some beautiful atmosphere as some of the mountain peaks are cast in shadows. But, if this shade finds you it will be noticeably colder (and likely windier) without the sun. You’ll be adding layers quickly to keep warm!

We recommend dressing in layers while snowshoeing in Kananaskis and having a good daybag to store your unused layers in.

Chester Lake Foot Traction Recommendations

The first 3km of the Chester Lake winter hike / snowshoe trail climbs up the lower slopes of Mt. Chester. The trail in this section can be very steep in spots and when the snow gets trampled down it can get icy & very slippery. If you wish to hike or snowshoe Chester Lake in winter, you will need some form of traction device on your feet.

Chester Lake Snowshoes

If you are going to snowshoe Chester Lake, make sure you have multiple crampons underneath your snowshoes – some on the front toe and a pair under your heel. Also, if possible, look for a pair of snowshoes with double-ratchet bindings and avoid snowshoes with any form of buckle bindings – they tend to come undone, which gets annoying quickly.

Shop for snowshoes

Chester Lake Winter Hike Traction Devices

If you are going to winter hike Chester Lake you will need some form of traction device on your feet.

We own and highly recommend Kahtoola MICROspikes. Look at the steel spikes on the bottom of the Kahtoola MICROspikes and you’ll see why we love these traction devices so much. They are a scaled-down recreational version of the crampons you’ll see on mountain expeditions.

micro spikes are better than yaktrax for a Kananakis ice walk

Yaktrax are another popular multi-purpose traction device used around Banff for winter walking or running. They are popular as they are very comfortable for walking on winter hikes or snow-covered walking trails in Canmore or Banff. The lack of spikes makes them comfortable to walk on, but they are not great for ice walking.

Shop for traction devices

Trekking Poles

No matter which traction device you use for your feet, you should consider using trekking poles to help your balance. We’ve tried trekking poles and to be honest, we don’t like them nor use them, but we seem to be in the minority. Trekking poles are widely used around Banff and Kananaskis in winter.

It makes sense… winter hiking on snow or ice in the mountains is often very slippery and trekking poles add two more points of contact with the ground, thus greatly reducing your odds of slipping.

Shop for trekking poles

Hiking Chester Lake in Summer

Chester Lake is not just a winter destination, it’s also one of the best places to visit in Kananaskis all-year around. It’s absolutely beautiful in the summer and you’ll even find some golden Larch trees in the fall. We’ve got some great into about hiking Chester Lake in summer and where to find the best larch hikes around Banff.

Note: The Chester Lake Trail is closed from May 1 to June 29 every year.

The Rocky Mountain scenery on the Chester Lake hike in summer is incredible

Chester Lake is one of the best snowshoe trails in Kananaskis. We hope you love it as much as we do!

Interested in other winter trails around Banff and Kananaskis? See our list of Easy Kananaskis Snowshoe Trails and Easy Winter Hikes around Banff

Kananaskis & Banff Winter Activities

Banff Trip Planning Resources

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