Snowshoeing in Kananaskis – The 10 Best Trails

Rawson Lake covered in snow
Rawson Lake covered in snow

Snowshoeing in Kananaskis Country is a rewarding way to spend a winter day. Many of the Kananaskis snowshoeing trails are just an hour from Calgary, while others can be closer to two hours depending on road conditions. There’s a huge amount of variety – with respect to difficulty and terrain.

Many of these snowshoe trails fall into the dead easy category, but still they’re very beautiful. If you want a workout with some mountain splendour, you’ll have to gain some elevation. Chester Lake and Rawson Lake, as examples, reward with a fantastic mountain backdrop.

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Check the following before you go snowshoeing in Kananaskis

Trail conditions: Check Kananaskis trail reports online or stop in at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre on Highway 40 near Barrier Lake to get the most up to date information on the snowshoe trails.

Weather: It’s a good idea to have a look at the weather forecast before you make the drive to Kananaskis. It’s not a lot of fun snowshoeing on a bitterly cold day.

Permits: Buy your Kananaskis Conservation Pass or risk a hefty fine. You can purchase online or in person at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre. It’s $15 for a daily pass and $90 for an annual pass – good for two cars at the same address.

Go prepared: Carry the 10 essentials along withextra hand warmers– warm clothes and a thermos of something hot to drink.

Avalanche awareness: Avoid avalanche terrain unless you have the know how and equipment. Check avalanche conditions.

Check road reports: Knowhow to survive a winter driveas the roads in this part of Alberta can be treacherous in winter.

My three favourite snowshoe trails in Kananaskis

  • Chester Lake – because it’s exceptionally beautiful, views are excellent and you get a good workout. 
  • Rawson Lake a beautiful setting and a good workout.
  • Evan Thomas trail – a great one when I don’t want to drive too far from Calgary because you’re rewarded with the “Green Monster” – a cool looking frozen waterfall.
It doesn't get much better than snowshoeing to Chester Lake on a bluebird day
It doesn’t get much better than snowshoeing to Chester Lake on a bluebird day

Guided snowshoe tours in Kananaskis

There are two companies I am aware of that offer snowshoe tours in Kananaskis.

Kananaskis Outfitters offers daily 2-hour snowshoe tours at 10 AM and 1:30 PM. A certified guide, snowshoes, cookies and hot cider are all included in the tour.

White Mountain Guides offers a snowcat – snowshoeing experience at Fortress Mountain with pickups at hotels between Banff and Canmore. See #5 under moderate snowshoeing in Kananaskis.

The snowshoeing is spectacular at Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis
The snowshoeing is spectacular at Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis

Where can you rent snowshoes and other gear?

Check out Kananaskis Outfitters near Nakiska Ski Resort for snowshoe rentals.

In Calgary, Sport Rent is a convenient place to pick up snowshoes as it’s on the way out of the city. Splitboard HQ also rents a snowshoe package.

In Canmore you can rent snowshoes from Gear Up Sports and Chateau Mountain Sports.

Easiest snowshoe trails in Kananaskis

The easiest snowshoeing trails in Kananaskis are Troll Falls (plus Hay Meadows), Ribbon Creek trail, Hogarth Lakes, Canyon and the Lower Kananaskis Lake Trail, Marsh Loop and the snowshoe up Highway 40 from the winter gate in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. 

1. Ribbon Creek Trails

The Ribbon Creek multi-use winter trail (snowshoeing, walking and fat biking) is perfect for an easy half-day outing. It’s only 3.7 km one way with 60 m of elevation gain.

For much of its length it follows the creek, crossing numerous bridges (five alone in the first kilometre all built since the 2013 flood) but it moves off into the woods away from the creek a couple of times as well.

There is also a section of trail, about 2 km into the outing that you must share with cross-country skiers. Stay out of their tracks and yield to them.

Once you reach an open area with a set of bike racks you’re at the turn-around point. If you go beyond you’re into avalanche country.

As you can see in the photos below, dogs are permitted as long as they’re on a leash and you pick up after them.

Finding the Ribbon Creek Trailhead

Take Highway 40 South from the Trans-Canada, turning right towards Nakiska Ski Resort on Mt Allan Drive. Take the first left onto Centennial Drive and continue to a parking lot at the west end of the Ribbon Creek day use area.

The Ribbon Creek Snowshoeing trails are dog-friendly
The Ribbon Creek Snowshoeing trails are dog-friendly
Ribbon Creek snowshoeing in a winter wonderland
Ribbon Creek snowshoeing in a winter wonderland

2. Troll Falls

Snowshoe to Troll Falls after there has been a big dump of snow. Otherwise, it’s an easy winter walk and a great one in particular for families, especially as there is only a 60 metre elevation gain.

Enjoy a surprising amount of variety over its 1.7 km one way length. Start off snowshoeing through dense evergreen forest. When you reach a pretty open section filled with aspens it’s time to look for the narrow trail that follows the left bank of Marmot Creek. Go to the end where you’ll find the beautiful Troll Falls.

As you’re facing the falls look for the figure of a troll in the rocks to the left of the falls. 

You only need an hour or two to do this snowshoe trip. It would combine well with the snowshoe along the Ribbon Falls trails. 

Finding the Troll Falls trailhead

Take Highway 40 S to the Kananaskis Village turnoff – also called Mt. Allen Drive. Turn right or west and follow it for about a kilometre. Turn right again and descend to the Stoney Trail parking lot. It can get very busy here on a weekend! Go early or late in the day if possible.

Read: Kananaskis Hikes: Don’t Miss Family-Friendly Troll Falls

Troll Falls in winter
Troll Falls in winter

3. Hogarth Lakes Loop Trail

The Hogarth Lakes snowshoe trail in Kananaskis Country is a great half day outing (and a half day might be pushing it). It’s short, easy and family-friendly, coming in at just 4.5 km with little in the way of elevation gain.

The Hogarth Lake Loop rambles through woods and skirts one of the lakes before making a return to the wider, busier trail that heads to Burstall Pass. 

Finding the Hogarth Lake Trailhead

See the information for Chester Lake as the trailhead is across the highway. There is a good sized parking lot. This is the same trailhead used for Burstall Pass. Return to the parking lot from here to complete the loop.

The Hogarth Lake loop trail is accessed from the same trailhead as Burstall Pass
The Hogarth Lake loop trail is accessed from the same trailhead as Burstall Pass
Peaceful easy snowshoeing at Hogarth Lakes
Peaceful easy snowshoeing at Hogarth Lakes

4. Canyon – Lower Kananaskis Lake Trail with option of adding the Marsh Loop

It’s 1.7 km with 24 metres of elevation gain to snowshoe from the Peter Lougheed Discovery Centre to the parking area at the Canyon Day Use Area. From there you can pick up the Lower Lake Trail and snowshoe south either along the shoreline or in the woods – if its a windy day. It’s an 3.3 easy kilometres to reach the Marsh Loop Trail. The Marsh Loop is 1.8 kilometres long and will take you up to William Watson Lodge. Then retrace your steps. 

From the parking lot at the Canyon Day Use Area you can also access the 4.7 km Penstock Loop if you head north. On that option you will cross the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail Road twice – but you do get lovely views of the Opal Range.

Trailhead location for Canyon and Lower Kananaskis Lake

Park either at the Peter Lougheed Discovery Centre or drive down the road to the Canyon Day Use Area, accessed off of Kananaskis Lakes Trail (the road.)

Snowshoeing in the woods parallel to Lower Kananaskis Lake
Snowshoeing in the woods parallel to Lower Kananaskis Lake
Dead easy snowshoeing along Lower Kananaskis Lake
Dead easy snowshoeing along Lower Kananaskis Lake
Snowshoeing the Marsh Loop
Snowshoeing the Marsh Loop

Moderate snowshoe trails in Kananaskis

Moderate snowshoeing trails in Kananaskis include Evan Thomas Waterfall (only because of distance), and Fortress Mountain, Sawmill Creek trails, Rawson Lake, Rummel Lake and Chester Lake.

1. Chester Lake

One of the prettiest snowshoe outings in both Kananaskis Country and Alberta is the one to Chester Lake. Enjoy spectacular mountain views, especially on sunny days as soon as you reach the meadows.

The first few kilometres of the 10 km return trail are steep, but by the time you reach the meadow the trail moderates. From there to Chester Lake the grade is gentle.

As a side trip visit Elephant Rocks – an area where giant-sized boulders lay scattered helter-skelter. They make a find destination for lunch. 

Allow three to five hours to do this 10 km return snowshoe with a 287 m elevation gain.

You can also cross-country ski up to Chester Lake but on a separate trail.

Trailhead location for Chester Lake

Reach the large parking lot and trailhead for Chester Lake from either Canmore or via Highway 40.

If you drive up from Canmore, zero your odometer at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Then take the Smith Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742)/Spray Lakes Road for 37 km. The trailhead is signed. From the intersection of Highway 40 and the Trans Canada it’s a 72 km drive via a combination of Highway 40 S and the Smith Dorrien Road.

Note: The trailhead for the Hogarth Lakes Loop snowshoe trail is directly across the road.

Chester Lake in winter
On the way to Chester Lake
A beautiful backdrop for snowshoeing at Chester Lake
A beautiful backdrop for snowshoeing at Chester Lake
Into grand country on snowshoes
Amazing backdrop for a day of snowshoeing

2. Rummel Lake

The snowshoe to Rummel Lake can be tough after a fresh snowfall with no tracks to follow. But if there hasn’t been fresh snow, route finding will be a snap as it’s a popular trail.

Climb up old logging roads with great views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir. Then make your way through the woods (there are yellow markings in the trees) until you reach Rummel Lake. You climb about 400 m to the lake, so the return to the car is fun and fast.

The trail to Rummel Lake is 8.6 km return. Allow 2 – 2.5 hours to get up and another 2 hours to get down.

Location of the Rummel Lake trailhead

The trailhead is at the intersection of Spray Lakes Road and Mount Shark Road but it isn’t well-marked. Fortunately it’s also at the intersection to the turnoff to Mt Engadine Lodge – and the lodge is easy to find. Park along Spray Lakes Road.

Peek a boo views of the mountains on the start of the snowshoe to Rummel Lake
Peek a boo views of the mountains on the start of the snowshoe to Rummel Lake
Arrival at Rummel Lake though you'd never know it
Arrival at Rummel Lake though you’d never know it
Rummel Lake on another cloudy visit
Rummel Lake on another cloudy visit

3. Sawmill Creek Trails

The Sawmill Creek Trails run from the Chester Day Use Area southeast to the Sawmill Day Use Area, about a 6 km drive apart. These snowshoe trails in Kananaskis are not groomed or track-set but some of them are very well used. On others – like the more remote section of the Snowdrift Trail you might have to break trail – which was the situation we ran into.

I did the Snowdrift Trail one way with the help of a friend and a car shuttle. It was well-marked and offered peek-a-boo views, a nice area around a lake and a good workout because of the trail breaking. If you’ve already done the Chester and Rummel Lake trails then these ones are worth it for a day – though they’re definitely not as pretty.

Finding the trailhead for the Sawmill Creek Trails

See the Chester Lake directions if you want to start there. Otherwise drive a further 6 kilometres southeast on the Smith Dorrien Road and park in the large, well-signed Sawmill Creek area.

Map of the Sawmill Trails
Map of the Sawmill Trails
Lots of lovely snowshoeing in the woods
Lots of lovely snowshoeing in the woods between Chester Lake and the parking lot at Sawmill Creek
Beautiful lighting on the Snowdrift Trail
Beautiful lighting on the Snowdrift Trail

4. Rawson Lake

Start the snowshoe up to Rawson Lake by following the south shoreline of Upper Kananaskis Lake. Enjoy stupendous views right off the bat. Cross the Sarrail Waterfall and look for a sign pointing to Rawson Lake.

Head left and start climbing – 300 metres in total. Much of the climb through the spruce forest is steep. When the grade eventually moderates it means you’re almost at the lake. Wander along the shore of the lake looking for a spot out of the wind for lunch – and enjoy the view of Mount Sarrail. This is one of the premier snowshoe trails in Kananaskis.

Don’t go beyond the end of Rawson Lake or you get yourself into avalanche territory.

Enjoy a fun, fast return to the parking lot. Allow 2.5 to 4 hours to do the 8 km (return) snowshoe.

Trailhead for the Rawson Lake snowshoe

Take Highway 40 S off the Trans-Canada and follow it to the intersection of the Smith Dorrien Trail. Take a left at the first intersection off the Smith Dorrien Trail onto the Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Follow it for approximately 14 kilometres to reach the Upper Kananaskis Lakes parking lot.

Snowshoeing in Kananaskis to Rawson Lake by starting at Upper Kananaskis Lake
Starting off by Upper Kananaskis Lake
Rawson Lake covered in snow
Rawson Lake covered in snow
A socially-distanced snowshoe across Rawson Lake
Snowshoeing across Rawson Lake5. 

5. Fortress Mountain snowshoeing

You can’t just drive up to Fortress Mountain and start snowshoeing, unfortunately. Maybe one day but for now you must join a guided tour with White Mountain Adventures.

Enjoy a snowcat assisted ride to the top of Fortress Ridge and then the fun begins! You have access to huge tracts of fresh powder and gorgeous mountain views that few people see.

While the cost is now $1500 for a group (as of 2023) that fills a snowcat, that does include transportation from numerous hotels in the Banff- Canmore corridor, along with cookies and hot chocolate. And it really is one heck of a fun outing.

Snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain
Snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain
A beautiful day of snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain
A beautiful day of snowshoeing at Fortress Mountain

6. Evan Thomas waterfalls

This easy snowshoe outing exceeded expectations. Along its 4.7 km one way length (if you go to the very end) you only gain about 100 metres, all very gradually. 

Start on the Evan-Thomas Creek trail – that is also used by cross-country skiers. Follow it for 1.6 km to reach a bridge over Evan-Thomas Creek. Cross the bridge – where views are spectacular and then turn left onto a smaller trail and head up Evan-Thomas Creek. (The trail is also called the Wedge Connector as it connects to Wedge Pond.)

The trail up the creek weaves from one bank to another. You have to cross a few snow-bridges but the water level in January at least was low – should you break through. Along the way you’re treated to the sight of several pretty waterfalls. The first one is Chantilly Falls, reportedly a popular beginner falls for ice-climbing.

You can’t miss 110 m high Moonlight Falls. We saw ice-climbers on it from a distance – but they ducked out of sight behind a bench or icefall when I went for the photo. 

We continued for about a kilometre past the turnoff to the very end of the trail. The last bit was interesting as the rock walls started closing in.

All told we did 9.4 km return in just over three hours. Dogs are allowed on a leash.

Trailhead for the Evan Thomas waterfalls

Take Highway 40 S from the Trans-Canada Highway. Continue past the turnoff to the Nakiska Ski Resort for 6.4 kilometres. Turn left (east) into the signed Evan Thomas Day Use Area. There is quite a bit of parking and toilets.

Moonlight Falls - a popular place for ice-climbers
Moonlight Falls – a popular place for ice-climbers – and a couple were on it but out of sight behind a ledge
Starting off along the Wedge Connector
Starting off along the Wedge Connector
Into a world of frozen waterfalls
Into a world of frozen waterfalls and streams
Checking out one of the small colourful waterfalls
Checking out one of the small colourful waterfalls

Location map of the trailheads for snowshoeing in Kananaskis

                                                   

Outdoor gear I’d recommend for snowshoeing in Kananaskis

Snowshoeing in Kananaskis takes place in the Rocky Mountains where weather can be fickle and can change on a dime.

Dress in layers. You don’t want to get so hot that you sweat. I like a merino wool base layer on top (love this company) and bottom andlightweight pants that are ideal for snowshoeing.

On top of all of that I usually start with thePatagonia down sweater. Then I’ll add awind-proof, waterproof shellon top of that. 

Takemittens-perhaps with a liner so you can just use the liner if it’s a warm day. Take a warm hat and a buff orneck warmer. It’s always a good idea to throw in a fewhandwarmers

As for snowshoes, there are lots of variations across three categories – trail running, trail walking and mountain snowshoes. In the mountain category (which is what I would suggest) there is a range of prices from $170 to $320 plus per pair. Many of the MSR snowshoes for women get lots of five star ratings likethese ones that are lightweight.

Where to stay after a day of Kananaskis snowshoeing

If you could spend a weekend in Kananaskis Country snowshoeing and relaxing instead of driving you’d have a lot more fun. There are a couple of choices unless you want to stay in Canmore.

My favourite isMt Engadine Lodge– and all meals are included. Some of these snowshoe trails can be done right from the lodge.

The newly revampedKananaskis Mountain Lodgeis also a great choice – with a bonus of having the Kananaskis Nordic Spa – which I love – right behind the hotel. There is a dining room onsite.

Close to the Ribbon Creek trails is theKananaskis Wilderness Hostel. It’s got a nice common area and a choice of private or dorm style rooms.

The glamping tents at Mount Engadine Lodge
The glamping tents at Mount Engadine Lodge – and there is full lodge accommodation too

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

10 best snowshoeing trails in Kananaskis, Alberta

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