Mountain over Chester Lake in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta Canada

Hiking Chester Lake in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

If you’re looking for a nice easy hike in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Chester Lake is a great candidate.  Located in Kananaskis Country of Alberta, the trail takes you through a forest to an alpine meadow with a large clear lake. Looming over all of this are huge mountains. It’s an easy day trip from Calgary, Banff, or Canmore and the hike is short enough that you have time to make stops on the drive for photos. Chester Lake is part of Spray Valley Provincial Park and entrance to the trail is free.

Besides being a nice hike, the drive to the trail is gorgeous. A lot of people skip out on this road and just take the direct one to Banff. This road loops from Canmore back past the Nordic Ski Centre in towards the mountains and then to Highway 40 and back to Canmore or Calgary. The road is a bit more rugged in some areas as it is gravel. You have a great chance of seeing some wildlife here, especially sheep. It’s probably my favourite drive near Banff just because it is so easy to access from Calgary and you get away from the crowds. I did the drive as part of my itinerary for three days in Banff.

If you’re heading to Banff, check out these top hikes in Banff National Park, like Johnston Canyon or Grassi Lakes (in Canmore!).

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How to Visit Chester Lake

Location: Chester Lakes is located off of Smith Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742) in Spray Valley Provincial Park. You can access highway 742 from the Trans-Canada Hwy near Canmore. If you’re coming from Calgary you can take Hwy 40 down to Hwy 742. Either way, you will have gorgeous mountain scenery with lots of places to stop to take photos and its a great loop to drive.

Distance/Time: 4.6 km one way (9.2 km roundtrip). The trail is out and back. Elevation gain of 300 m. About 4 hours.

Rating: Easy to moderate. There are some steep sections at the beginning of the trail before it flattens out into a meadow. Dog-friendly. Child-friendly.

When to Visit: Visit from Spring-Autumn for hiking or mountain biking. Winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing

Other Activities: You can use the first 2-km of this trail to mountain bike. In the winter you can ski or snowshoe. Check out trails here: Chester Lake Trails

Bathrooms: Bathroom in the parking lot and an outhouse near the end of the trail before the lake.

Chester Lakes Hiking Trail

Chester Lakes trail is a bit far from restaurants so make sure to pack a lunch for your day hike to eat before or after your hike here. The area can have bears so I would probably eat in the car and make sure the garbage is in the bear-proof bins that are located in the parking area.

The start of the trail takes you up through a forested area. This is the toughest part of the trail as it is straight uphill for a bit. Once it flattens out it is a bit easier to appreciate the forest and scenery around you. Even though there are steep sections, the hike seems to be suitable for all ages as I saw children with their parents who were doing well on the hike. If you are into mountain biking, you can use the first 2 km of the trail, the part that is a logging road to bike on.

Hiking trail through a coniferous forest towards a mountain in Kananaskis Country Alberta Canada
Dead tree in a coniferous forest with leaves changing colour in Alberta Canada

The hike took me 4 hours roundtrip. I did accidentally take a wrong turn at some point because there are two different routes that leave from the parking lot. You can check out maps here, and there is also a map in the parking lot of the walking route. The key is just to always be going uphill at the start. It’s 4.6 km of walking each way up 300 m (1000 ft) of elevation gain. After going through the forest, the view opens up into an alpine meadow where you can see the mountain tops around you. If you are looking for another hike in the Kananaskis, check out my article on gorgeous Grassi Lakes here.

Mountain top view in Chester Lake Alberta

Larch and Autumn Colour at Lake Chester

If you are looking for some autumn colour, Chester Lake has some larch that changes colour to a gorgeous yellow in the fall. Mount Chester makes for a nice backdrop for any season. For wintertime visits, you can snowshoe or ski up to the lake. If you are going in early spring, or fall, you may want to check the trail conditions before you visit.  Checking trail conditions updates also gives you an update on fall colours and any early snowfall.

Mountain above Chester Lake with yellow larch trees infront in Alberta Canada
Yellow larch infront of rocky mountains and lake in Alberta Canada

Chester Lake and the Return Hike

Once at the lake you can walk around to the far side. Some people were scrabbling up some of the gravel at that was above the lake but I didn’t want to risk sliding down it.  There is a large meadow here and lots of places to sit and take in the lake. It would be a nice place to have a picnic. Lots of people had dogs here as it is quite a leisurely walk and is quite suitable for them.

Mountain over Chester Lake in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta Canada

After you reach the lake, you return back the same way you came. You should have enough time in your day to make a few quick stops on the drive back. If you are headed towards Banff, check out my article on hiking Johnston Canyon. It’s probably my favourite hike in Alberta’s Rockies. If you’ve visited here or other places in the Kananaskis, I would love to hear about your experience, leave a comment below!

Dog on a trail in a coniferous forest

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  1. Lake Chester looks gorgeous! I’d definitely want to sit in the meadow and have a little picnic lunch or at least a rest in the middle of that hike. The scenery is pretty breathtaking!

  2. I love the Canadian rockies… the region is like having heaven on earth! Gorgeous pictures too. I could totally spend ‘forever’ there

  3. I just got back from the Italian Dolomites and this looks so similar it’s crazy! This is such a gorgeous place and you totally picked the best time to visit, in the autumn. I have an uncle in Alberta, so looks like I need to make a trip to visit him!

  4. This sounds and looks like such an amazing hike! I’d love to go back to Albert and off the beaten track away from Banff for some hiking!

  5. So beautiful! We spent a couple days around the Rockies this year but we definitely need to go back. This is one spot we missed on our last trip.

  6. Great post, perfect reading for me since I’m planning to make a road trip from Calgary when the weather gets better! 🙂

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