Complete Guide to Chester Lake Hike in Kananaskis Canada

Chester Lake hike is located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and is one of the stunning Kananaskis hikes. The 9.3-km out-and-back trail takes you through dense pine and larch forests, along stunning alpine meadows and breathtaking mountain views once you approach Chester Lake. In autumn, the larch trees around the lake transform into a vibrant golden-yellow color, making Chester Lake one of the best larch hikes in Kananaskis. We had the pleasure of hiking Chester Lake Trail on a beautiful, sunny autumn day, and share in this guide all the necessary info you need about the Chester Lake hike. 

Chester Lake Hike Overview 

Distance: 9.3 km return / 5.8 miles return
Elevation gain: 315 m / 1,033 feet elevation gain to Chester Lake
2-3 hours return
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, easy if you’re an experienced hiker
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash
Best time to hike to Chester Lake: July until mid-October. It’s a great larch hike!
Annual seasonal trail closure: From May 1 – June 29th Chester Lake Trail is closed to allow the trail to dry from snow and prevent damage
Kananaskis Conservation pass: You need a Conservation pass to park at provincial parks and public use lands in the Kananaskis Country and Bow Valley region, which includes Chester Lake parking.


How to get to Chester Lake Trailhead 

Chester Lake trailhead is located along the Smith Dorrien Trail road that connects Canmore with the Bow Valley, Spray Valley, and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. While the road is gravel, you don’t necessarily need a 4×4, however, it will make the journey more comfortable to drive. 

Our rental RV parked along the road toward Chester Lake trailhead

From Canmore, it takes about an hour to drive to Chester Lake trailhead. Take the Three Sisters Drive to the Smith Dorrien Spray Trail along the Canmore Nordic Centre and follow this unpaved road for 41.5 km until you reach the Chester Lake parking lot.

From Calgary, it’s a 2-hour drive to Chester Lake trailhead. You can either go via Highway 40 or drive to Canmore first and then follow the Smith Dorrien Trail south to the Chester Lake parking.

While the parking lot is huge, it might fill up quickly because there are many other trails departing from this point. Chester Lake Trailhead is clearly marked, so check the signs to make sure you start on the right trail. 


Chester Lake Trail description 

From the parking lot Chester Lake Trail follows a wide gravel road surrounded by pine trees for the first 2.5 kilometers. Because of the gradual incline you won’t feel much of the elevation you gain. The hiking trail is very obvious, just make sure to stay left at all intersections. 


While the view in front of you isn’t the most exciting, you do have some nice mountain views if you look over your shoulder. This is also the view you can enjoy on your way back to the car park. 


After about 45 minutes of hiking the trail narrows and goes in and out of the forest before the path breaks open to a breathtaking alpine meadow. 


Especially during the fall months, the alpine meadow is stunning with the golden larch trees and first dust of snow on the mountain peaks. 


While you follow along Chester Creek toward Lake Chester you’ll have stunning views of the 3,054-meter-high Mount Chester and other surrounding peaks. This was our favorite part of the hike and totally made up for the slightly boring part in the forest. It’s only one more kilometer until you reach the beautiful alpine lake sitting under Mount Chester. 

Stunning views on Mount Chester

Approaching Chester Lake

Upon entering Chester Lake a beautiful space opens up. You will have unobstructed views at Mount Chester which is composed of sedimentary rock from the Jurassic periods. The beautiful alpine lake is surrounded by pine and larch trees with crystal clear water reflecting the mountains on a calm day.


You will see upon reaching Chester Lake that you can walk around the lake, either clockwise or counterclockwise. Just cross the small bridge and keep walking along the lakeshore. There are many places scattered around the lake shore to find a nice picnic spot for a lunch break. It’s so tranquil and beautiful here!


If you have enough energy left you can continue walking to the Elephant Rocks. Head left on the trail upon entering Chester Lake and follow this path until you reach the Elephant Rocks. From here, you can even continue further toward Three Lakes Valley which is another beautiful Kananaskis Lakes Trail. 

Other trails to extend the Chester Lake hike 

If the 9.3 km out-and-back trail to Chester Lake sounds too easy for you, then there are other options to extend the hike. From Chester Lake, you can continue to the Three Lakes Valley Trail which adds another 4 km and 220 meter incline. 

Another option is to carry on from Chester Lake to Headwall Lakes which is a wilder and more challenging trail than Chester Trail. This trail adds an extra 5 km to Chester Lake hike and only 120 meter of extra incline. 

Other things to know about Chester Lake Trail

  • There are toilets at the parking lot but not near the lake
  • Swimming is allowed at Chester Lake 
  • Bikes are allowed on the first 2 km of the trail
  • Chester Lake is for day use only. Camping is not allowed along Chester Lake
  • Chester Lake Trail is open in the winter months for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

Wildlife along Chester Lake hike Kananaskis 

If you’re like us, visiting Canada as a traveler and outdoor lover, you might be new to bear country. Please be aware that Kananaskis is prime grizzly territory. This is not to scare you but to make you very aware of the wildlife that can be around. There are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars in this region.

While these wild animals are mostly in a calm state of mind,  they will feel easier threatened by humans in case they have offspring around. Or when a human comes too close, either to their food source or accidentally startles the animal. Therefore you should be very aware of your surroundings during the hike and make noise so an animal can hear you coming.

We didn’t see any bear while hiking the Chester Lake trail. But as always, it is a must to carry bear spray on hikes in Canada. Also make sure to educate yourself and read plenty of articles or watch YouTube videos about bear encounters. Because both grizzly and black bears are completely different animals, they need a different approach in case of an encounter. Please be bear aware and do your own research

Conservation Pass for Chester Lake Parking 

To park at provincial parks and public use lands in the Kananaskis Country and Bow Valley region, a Conservation pass is mandatory. Two options are available for purchase: a daily pass or a yearly pass. Regardless of the number of passengers, only one pass per vehicle is needed. If you enter on foot, horse, or bike, there is no fee.

For additional details on the pass, including how and where to purchase it, visit the Kananaskis Conservation Pass website.

Other amazing Kananaskis hikes 

There are plenty of other amazing hikes in Kananaskis Country Provincial Park. We did quite some research and can recommend the following epic hikes.

Smutwood Peak

Smutwood Peak is one of the most beautiful hikes in Kananaskis. The 18 km out-and-back trail with almost 1000 meters of incline isn’t for beginner hikers. But the views are extraordinary with the sharp Mount Birdwood and Birdwood Lakes as the centre of attention. The trail takes you through a stunning alpine meadow up Smutwood Pass where the last part towards the summit includes a bit of scrambling.

Read in our complete guide everything about Smutwood Peak hike


East End of Rundle

East End of Rundle hike offers spectacular views of Ha Ling Peak, Bow Valley and Spray Valley. With the trailhead being closely located to downtown Canmore, EEOR hike (Eeyore as locals say) is a great day adventure for the experienced hiker. The technical terrain of EEOR trail includes very steep, rocky sections and scree slopes. And with only 3 kilometer one way to the summit at 2,545m (8,350 ft) height, you gain 880 meters of elevation. But, you can also choose to only go to the photo spot with the best views on Ha Ling Peak, where you can get in less than an hour hiking. In that way, the East End of Rundle is a short hike with huge rewards. 

Read in our complete guide all the details about East End of Rundle hike


Ha Ling Peak 

Ha Ling Peak is the most popular hike of Kananaskis and is closely located to Canmore. Therefore you can expect Ha Ling Peak to be a busy day hike. The 7.8 km (4.6-mile) round trip gains 750 meters on the way to the summit. This means it’s quite a strenuous hike. The 360-degree views from the summit overlook the town of Canmore, Rocky Mountains and Spray Valley. Because Ha Ling Peak is facing east, it is a great sunrise hike as it can also be easily accessed from the town of Canmore. 

Where to stay near Chester Lake Trail

The nearest town to Chester Lake is Canmore located on an hour’s drive. It offers a range of facilities and accommodation choices, making it the most convenient option. However, one drawback we experienced during our stay in Canmore was the persistent sound of train horns echoing throughout the town, both day and night.

For a more quiet and off-the-beaten-path experience I highly recommend Kananaskis Village which is only 50 minutes away from Chester Lake. We stayed in Kananaskis Mountain Lodge which is a stunning luxury accommodation with beautiful rooms. The only downside is that this village doesn’t have as many facilities as Canmore. But it’s a fantastic quiet stay.

If you want to stay inside Spray Valley Provincial Park then the only accommodation option is Mount Engadine Lodge on a 10-minute drive from Chester Lake Trailhead. This is the perfect option if you want to do more hikes in Kananaskis.

Coast Canmore Hotel

The spacious and newly refurbished rooms of Coast Canmore have stunning views of the surrounding mountains. With comfy big beds, it is the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring. With an on-site restaurant and bar, indoor pool and meeting rooms, Coast Canmore has a great price-quality ratio.

We really enjoyed staying in Coast Canmore Hotel, especially the views on Ha Ling Peak from bed!

Check here current availability and prices for Coast Canmore


Kananaskis Mountain Lodge – Autograph Collection

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is a beautiful 4-star resort nestled in the mountains. With 5 on-site restaurants, a full-service spa, an indoor heated pool and stunning walking trails right outside of the property, Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is the perfect place to unwind after a day of exploring. We loved the spacious and cozy rooms, extensive breakfast and free S’mores by the campfire at night!

Check here current prices and availability for Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

kananaskis Mountain Lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge in Spray Valley Provincial Park

Mount Engadine Lodge is the only accommodation in Spray Valley Provincial Park. Surrounded by breathtaking mountain peaks, this is truly a unique, off-the-beaten-path stay. With all the best Kananaskis hikes at your doorstep, staying at Mount Engadine Lodge provides you with plenty of outdoor activities. With their onsite bar and restaurant and all-inclusive meals, you don’t have to worry about anything else after booking your mountain view room or glamping tent at Mount Engadine Lodge.

Check here current prices and availability for Mount Engadine Lodge

Mount Engadine Lodge

More Canada travel inspiration

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about the Chester Lake hike in Kananaskis. For more travel inspiration about Alberta and British Columbia, head over to our other Canada travel guides. See below our Canada guides per National Park and area for more travel inspiration. 

Read here our incredibly extensive guide about RVing in Canada

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