Watridge Lake Trail in Winter

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

Looking for a fun winter activity in Kananaskis Country? No matter what winter sport you are into, chances are you’ll find it on the Watridge Lake Trail in the Mt. Shark Day use area. You can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking and much more on this popular, easy trail in the Spray Valley Provincial Park.

Watridge Lake Trail is a very wide trail, allowing for excellent mountain views and for a wide variety of winter activities to live in harmony. If you are up for it (and properly equipped) you can even add on the short, but steep Karst Spring hike at the end. Karst Spring is one of our favorite summer Kananaskis hikes and it takes on a special, icy beauty in the wintertime.

The cross-country ski trail to Watridge Lake is good for beginners
Watridge Lake

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Watridge Lake Trail Winter Activities

Many of the best winter activities in Kananaskis can be enjoyed on the Watridge Lake Trail. From cross-country skiing to snowshoeing to fat biking, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on this Kananaskis winter trail. The wide variety of approved activities does mean this is a very popular Kananaskis trail, so plan to arrive early to get a parking spot.

Cross-country skiers share the Watridge Lake Trail with snowshoers, winter hikers and fat bikers

1. Cross-Country Skiing Watridge Lake Trail

Cross-country skiing at Mount Shark is a very popular Kananaskis activity in winter. Including the Watridge Lake Trail, there are seven Mount Shark cross-country ski-trails to choose from:

  • Watridge Lake Trail:  Easy – 7.7km return (to the shores of Watridge Lake and back)
  • Blue Loop: Easy – 2km
  • Red/Black Loop: Intermediate – 5km
  • Red/Purple Loop: Difficult – 5km
  • Red Loop: Difficult – 5km
  • Yellow Loop: Difficult – 10km
  • Green Loop: – Difficult – 15km

All seven Mt. Shark cross-country trails are groomed and track-set except for the final section of the Green Loop.

Cross country skiing at Watridge Lake Trail is a fun winter activity for families in Kananaskis Country

If you love cross-country skiing in Kananaskis, be sure to check out our list of Easy Kananaskis Cross-Country Ski Trails.

2. Skate-Skiing Watridge Lake Trail

The 15km Mount Shark trail is one of the few approved skate-skiing trails in Kananaskis. Other skate-skiing trails in Kananaskis include several at the Canmore Nordic Centre and the Terrace Trail near Kananaskis Village.

3. Skijoring Watridge Lake Trail

Wait… what? What is Skijoring? Skijoring is a winter sport where a cross-country skier is pulled by a dog, horse or motor vehicle. We’ve seen several people and their awesome dogs skijoring at Mount Shark and it looks like a ton of fun. In fact, Mount Shark is the only approved location for Skijoring in Kananaskis (dogs only – sorry, no horses or cars!)

According to the Alberta Parks website, Skijoring at Mount Shark is approved on all trails except the Red Trail. I expect this exclusion is an oversight as skijoring is approved on the Green Trail, which shares all the same trails as the Red Trail…

Mt. Shark is the only approved location for Skijoring in Kananaskis, Alberta

4. Snowshoeing Watridge Lake Trail

The Watridge Lake Trail is really wide, making it a shoo-in for our list of Kananaskis Hikes for Social Distancing. The trail width makes Watridge Lake great for social distancing in winter as well, but it also means that a wide variety of winter sports, including snowshoeing can share the trail. The groomed cross-country ski tracks typically take up approximately 2/3 of the width of Watridge Lake Trail. This leaves the remaining 1/3 on the side for other winter sports.

The Watridge Lake Trail is groomed, meaning you won’t need snowshoes to navigate in deep snow, but you’ll appreciate the extra traction the spikes on the snowshoes give you on the rolling hills, especially the final descent to the shores of Watridge Lake.

If you love snowshoeing in Kananaskis, be sure to check out our list of Easy Kananaskis Snowshoe Trails.

snowshoeing kananaskis
(photo not from Watridge Lake)

5. Winter Hiking Watridge Lake Trail

Given the snow on the trail is groomed in winter, you could easily go on a winter hike on the Watridge Lake Trail instead of using snowshoes. Traction is always important when winter hiking, so be sure to bring along micro-spikes, especially if you intend to tack on the Karst Spring hike at the end.

If you love winter hiking, be sure to check out our list of Easy Winter Hikes in Banff and Kananaskis.

Winter in Kananaskis is beautiful - image from the Watridge Lakes Trail

6. Fat Biking Watridge Lake Trail

There’s tons of great fat biking trails in Kananaskis Country, including the Watridge Lake Trail. The only approved fat biking trail at Mt. Shark is the Watridge Lake Trail (only to the lake, and not beyond to Banff National Park).

As fat biking is still a reasonably new winter sport in Kananaskis, please be a good representative for the sport and do not cross over the cross-country ski tracks. Fat bikers are also expected to yield to all other trail users.

7. Karst Spring Trail in Winter

We love hiking in Kananaskis! Of all the excellent trails around, the Karst Spring Trail is one of our favorite Kananaskis hiking trails of all time. It’s a short add-on hike which begins along the shores of Watridge Lake.

The Karst Spring hike is a short, but steep hike along an incredibly beautiful cascading waterfall. The snow and ice formations along the waterfall are so beautiful in winter. At the top is a viewing platform where the water appears out of nowhere from the side of Mt. Shark, gushing from the rockface at tremendous force, creating the waterfall below.

The Karst Spring Trail in Winter is especially beautiful with snow and ice along the semi-frozen waterfall

Given the steep nature of the Karst Spring trail, we highly recommend you don’t use cross-country ski boots (as we did above), but use real traction devices on your winter boots such as snowshoes or microspikes. Trekking poles will be very useful for the slippery descent back down to Watridge Lake.

A winter hike up Karst Spring Trail is a fun add-on to the multi-sport Watridge Lake Trail

Learn more about hiking the Karst Spring Trail.

Kananaskis Parking Pass

Note, that starting in 2020, Kananaskis cross-country skiers are encouraged (but not required) to buy a Kananaskis Parking Pass to help offset public funding cuts for trail grooming. It’s a voluntary program, but we gladly bought a parking pass to support ski trail grooming in Kananaskis.

Watridge Lake Winter Trail Stats

Watridge Lake Trail Distance: The return-trip distance of the Watridge Lake trail from the Mt. Shark Day Use parking lot to the shores of Watridge Lake and back is approximately 7.7 km / 4.8km.

Watridge Lake Trail Elevation Gain: In our summer hiking blog post, we described the Watridge Lake Trail as “very flat”. The first time we tried cross-country skiing Watridge Lake, we realized it wasn’t as flat as we thought. In fact, there are a series of small hills to navigate along the Watridge Lake Trail, but they should be manageable by cross-country skiers of all skill-levels.

The total elevation gain we recorded round-trip cross-country skiing Watridge Lake Trail was 194m / 636 ft.

The wide groomed trail to the left of the cross-country ski tracks on Watridge Lake Trail is for fat biking, snowshoeing and winter hiking

Watridge Lake Trail Difficulty: No matter which Watridge Lake winter activity you choose, the trail is considered an easy, beginner trail.

There are two hills on the Watridge Lake cross-country ski trail which may be a bit scary for very new skiers. The first is at the 0.4km mark, there’s a hill where you lose 50 ft of elevation over 200m of distance.

The second hill is at the end of the trail. The final 200m from the junction down to Watridge Lake is quite steep on a windy trail. If you can control your speed and direction on cross-country skis going downhill, this is a super-fun stretch of the Watridge Trail. If you’re a bit leery, don’t sweat it – just take off your cross-country skis and walk down to the lake.

A woman cross-country skiing uphill in the Mt. Shark day use area of Kananaskis, Alberta

Watridge Lake Trail Conditions

It’s always a good idea to check the official Watridge Lake trail reports the night before and the morning of your outing. Kananaskis trail reports include important information such as trail conditions, area closures, dangerous animal warnings, etc.

Alberta Parks publishes a Watridge Lake Trail Report as well as a Mount Shark area report. Check both trail reports for a good idea of what to expect on your winter Kananaskis adventure.

The scenery on Watridge Lake Trail in winter is incredible

How to Get to Watridge Lake Trail in Winter

The Watridge Lake Trailhead leaves from the Mt. Shark Day Use area in the Spray Valley Provincial Park part of Kananaskis Country.

Getting to Mt. Shark from Calgary

The drive to Mt. Shark from Calgary is a decent one, taking about 2 hours and 15 minutes. According to Google Maps you are indifferent time-wise between these two options:

  • Highway 1 to Highway 40 south to the Kananaskis Lakes turnoff, then north up the Smith-Dorrien Highway (AB742) to the Mount Shark Day use area. (158km)
  • Highway 1 to Canmore, then south on the Smith-Dorrien Trail highway. (146km)

Getting to Mount Shark from Banff / Canmore

The fastest way to get to the Mt. Shark Day Use area from Canmore or Banff is take the Smith-Dorrien Trail Highway (AB742). This very scenic drive should take you approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes from Canmore or 1h 26m from Banff.

Watridge Lake Trailhead Location

Cross-country skiing to Watridge Lake in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

Spend the Weekend at Mt. Engadine Lodge

Given the Mt. Shark area is a 2+ hour drive from Calgary, 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 very close to a lot of great Kananaskis winter activities.

If you drive out Friday night, you’ll enjoy a short 7 minute drive to the Mount Shark Day Use area, where you can enjoy all the winter sports described in this post. In addition, some of our favorite winter activities in Kananaskis are only minutes away from the Mt. Engadine Lodge:

  • Rummel Lake snowshoe – 1 minute drive
  • Shark Lake snowshoe – 3 minute drive
  • Hogarth Lakes snowshoe – 8 minute drive
  • Burstall Pass snowshoe – 8 minute drive
  • Chester Lake snowshoe – 8 minute drive

Click for prices and availability at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Staying at Mt. Engadine Lodge will make the most of your long drive from Calgary to Mt. Shark Day use area

Watridge Lake Trail Map

Alberta Parks publishes a great pamphlet with all the Mt. Shark winter trail maps on it. Pamphlets are nice and all, but I prefer to have a digital map on my iPhone so I can follow along and track my progress and stats, etc.

My favorite activity tracking app is AllTrails. This version of the Watridge Lake Trail map includes the add-on hike up to Karst Spring.

A snow-covered, nearly frozen Watridge Lake in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

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

Mt. Shark Day Use Area Logistics

  • There are toilets in the parking lot near the Watridge Lake trailhead.
  • There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your water bottles or Thermos before you leave home.

Kananaskis Winter Safety

The most important thing about winter activities in Kananaskis Country is to know the terrain, stay safe and be prepared for the elements.

  • Always check the Kananaskis weather forecast and be prepared to turn back if the weather changes. The weather can change quickly in the Kananaskis mountains and blowing snow can cause zero visibility.

  • Be aware of the terrain you are venturing into and only venture into avalanche terrain if you know what you are doing. Learn the avalanche basics from Avalanche Canada.
  • Dressing in layers is the best way to stay warm and make sure to avoid getting wet. This includes removing layers to keep from getting too sweaty and protecting your feet from getting wet. Make sure to bring a good day bag to store extra layers in when not in use.
    • Your layers should include a wool or wool blend base layer to wick the moisture away from your body. The wonderful thing about wool is that is stays warm even when wet. Your mid-layer is a warmth layer which can be a down jacket or fleece. Finally, use a soft shell jacket as your third layer that’s waterproof and windproof.

      Shop for base layers
      Shop for mid-layers
      Shop for soft shell layers
      Shop for day bags

  • Days are short in the winter and it gets darker much earlier than expected especially when the sun ducks down behind the mountains mid-afternoon. Plan your winter activities earlier in the day.
Karst Spring hike in winter is very beautiful with snow covered rocks and logs and many interesting ice formations
Karst Spring in Winter
  • Bring plenty of snacks and water. Pack snacks that won’t freeze (or are still easy to eat when they get cold). For drinking water, you might need to use water bottles instead of a water reservoir, as the water in the tube can freeze easily.

    Shop for high energy snacks
  • Shop for water bottles and reservoirs

  • Don’t forget the bear spray. Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean the bears are tucked in sleeping for the winter, especially early season. Not to mention, cougars are active in Kananaskis year-round.

    Note that most airlines will not allow you to fly with bear spray, so you are better off buying or renting a bottle while in Banff. Oh… and take a second to learn how to use bear spray before hitting the Watridge Lake Trail.

  • Hiking poles are also a good option for winter hiking or snowshoeing. Trekking poles can help reduce strain on your knees, help with balance and can be useful when the trail is icy.

    Shop for trekking poles
Cross-country skiing to Watridge Lake then winter hiking Karst Spring Trail is a fun day trip to Kananaskis in winter
Karst Spring Trail in winter

We hope you enjoy the Watridge Lake Trail in winter as much as we do!

Even More Fun Things to do in Kananaskis in Winter

More Banff Resources

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Looking for some of the best winter activities in Kananaskis? Try out the Watridge Lake Trail - from snowshoeing, winter hiking and cross country skiing, the Watridge Lake trail in winter has something for everyone.

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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.