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Chester Lake In Winter

Snowshoeing to Mountain Lakes in Kananaskis

Kananaskis Country was a shock. In my mind Kananaskis Country was the poor cousin to Banff National Park so I was very surprised on my first visit to the area. Our plan over a weekend stay at Mount Engadine Lodge was to go snowshoeing to mountain lakes – specifically nearby Rummel and Chester Lakes. I didn’t know what a treat I was in for.

To back up, Kananaskis Country is only 90 kilometres southwest of Calgary and less than 40 kilometres south of Banff as the crow flies. It turns out you get the same great mountain scenery that Banff offers – except you don’t need a parks pass. And there are loads of choices when it comes to adventures outside – whether it be cross-country skiing or snowshoeing to mountain lakes.

I’d expected lower level mountains with pleasant but not stunning scenery. As you can see in the photo above that’s not the case. There are over 4000 square kilometres of country to explore, including five provincial parks, the Nakiska Ski Resort and the world class Canmore Nordic Center Facility built for the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Snowshoeing to mountain lakes with a view of the Rocky Mountains from the Chester Lake trail
View of the Rocky Mountains from the Chester Lake Trail

World-class snowshoeing practically out our front door

Over our Mt Engadine getaway weekend we explored two superb snowshoe trails to mountain lakes – Chester Lake and Rummel Lake. These outings are the perfect antidote to the winter blues.

You can’t help but feel happy to be alive. Even better for us was the fact that the temperatures cooperated. It was a balmy -6°C versus -15°C in Calgary.

The trailheads to the lakes are only six kilometres apart on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road, accessible via highway 40 and the Trans Canada Highway or via Canmore.

Rummel Lake snowshoeing

The trail to Rummel Lake begins right at the intersection of Mount Shark Road with Spray Lakes Road. This is also the turnoff to Mt Engadine Lodge so it’s well marked. Snow banks are so high that if there are signs pointing to Rummel Lake, they’re buried right now.

Parking is along Spray Lakes Road – so don’t go looking for a formal parking lot.

Wanting to go snowshoeing to mountain lakes and trying to find the trail to Rummel Lake - buried under a dump of snow
Looking for the trail to Rummel Lake – buried under a dump of snow

The trail starts on a logging road. I was surprised that there weren’t any markers to be seen until you got to the last third of the trail.

Again that may be because the snow is so deep this year that they’re buried – I don’t know. The bottom line is if there haven’t been recent snowshoers or skiers then the trail may be difficult to follow, especially after the first few kilometres.

Snowshoeing to mountain lakes and enjoying peek a boo views of the mountains
Peek a boo views of the mountains on the start of the snowshoe to Rummel Lake

After gentle switchbacking on logging roads the trail heads east once you hit the clearing with the view of the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

The climbing is mostly undulating from here on in – and almost entirely through the trees until you reach Rummel Lake. The trail disappeared when we were less than half way up. Previous snowshoers had turned back but with some map checking we were able to plow on.

And plow is a good verb to describe the hard work breaking trail all the way up to the lake.

Massive amounts of snow on the Rummel Lake trail
Snowshoeing to mountain lakes –  in this case on the Rummel Lake trail

Once in the neighbourhood of Rummel Creek yellow diamonds marking the trail to the lake come into view. Unfortunately on Saturday when we were there the sun wasn’t shining. It would be a stunning finish in the sunshine.

Arrival at Rummel Lake though you'd never know it
Arrival at Rummel Lake though you’d never know it

It took us two hours to get to Rummel Lake and just under 1.5 hours to get down. It’s 8.6 kilometres round trip and the total elevation gain is approximately 310 metres (1,000 feet).

Not much of Rummerl Lake to see
Not much of Rummel Lake to see

I’d call this an easy to moderate snowshoe hike – definitely moderate if you have to break trail. On the way down we ran into at least a dozen other snowshoers and a few skiers so it seems to be a popular weekend spot. 

In a snowstorm or if you’re the first one out after a big snowfall bring a good map because there will be some route finding challenges.

Chester Lake snowshoeing

The Chester Lake trailhead is far more obvious than Rummel Lake. Look for a giant parking lot on the east side of the Smith – Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road, six kilometres south of Mt. Shark Road and the Rummel Lake trailhead, and about 20 kilometres north of Highway 40.

Scenic Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road - near the Chester Lake trailhead
Scenic Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road – near the Chester Lake trailhead

Chester Lake is a very popular cross country skiing and snowshoeing destination. The trails are well signed all the way to the lake. Skiers and snowshoers follow separate trails after about the first 200 metres and the intersection will be obvious.

Following signs through deep snow
Following signs through deep snow

The trail to Chester Lake climbs more steeply and for longer than Rummel Lake so you can expect quite an aerobic workout. But once through the steep climb you enter a huge meadow with superb views in all directions.

Then it’s an easy snowshoe across the meadow, a gentle climb through the trees to another open area and in less than 500 metres you arrive at the lake.

If you’re feeling very ambitious you can continue northwest in to the Three Lakes Valley. At most you can continue 2.7 kilometres before hitting avalanche prone country.

Into some glorious country on the snowshoe to Chester Lake
Snowshoeing to mountain lakes – in this case Chester Lake

The snowshoe up to Chester Lake took us only about 90 minutes – and that’s to cover 4.4 kilometres one way. It also gains about 300 metres. The return is quick – just over an hour. But if it’s a nice sunny day find a place out of the wind and enjoy the spectacular beauty.

Gorgeous landscape on the way to Chester Lake
Gorgeous landscape on the way to Chester Lake
Snowshoeing to mountain lakes and getting into grand country
Amazing backdrop for a day of snowshoeing

We saw many more people on the Chester Lake trail than Rummel Lake – but that’s probably because it was such a glorious day. We also met many dogs, allowed on a leash which I think is great. This Bezengi sports the latest in dog finery – down booties, pink drawers and a down coat.

Snowshoeing to mountain lakes and saw thisdog dressed for the cold
A dog dressed for the cold

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Tea at Mt Engadine Lodge after fun snowshoeing to mountain lakes

You can end a fantastic day of snowshoeing or skiing in this area with a tea put on by Mt. Engadine Lodge – from 2 – 5 PM. I highly recommend this especially if you’re the least bit hungry. Even better I suggest an overnight stay, perhaps in one of their dog-friendly glamping tents.

You can book here.

An incredible charcuterie plate along with hot drinks is available for $22.50 per person. Everything is made on the premises. If there are more than 6 of you, make reservations. The lodge is a five minute walk from the Rummel Lake trailhead.

Superb snowshoeing, stunning scenery and great food if you stop for tea should put a smile on your face.

View from Mt Engadine Lodge
View from Mt Engadine Lodge after snowshoeing to mountain lakes

Further reading on winter activities in Alberta



Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. As a long-time guide in Kananaskis and the author of Canmore and Kananaskis, Best Hikes Best Activities I enjoyed your post. Kananaskis is definitely not the poor brother to Banff. It offers in many ways equal or superior trail experiences. The reason that Rummel Lake Trail was more difficult to follow was simple – it is NOT a designated trail. Kananaskis is full of undefined routes that are popular with hikers and snowshoers even though they are not officially designated, signed and maintained. They can range from obscure routes to wide heavily traveled trails. If you know the way, they offer a way to experience grandeur similar to other areas with a fraction of the crowds. For snowshoers that can mean the difference between virgin powder and a hard packed trail.

    Your story paints a great picture of Kananaskis.

    1. Thanks Ward for your illuminating response. I certainly saw the Rummel Lake trail on the topo maps but was unaware of the lingo – so only designated trails are signed. Now I just have to find the resource detailing all designated trails. Do you know why yellow markers show up on the Rummel Lake trail for the final third of the distance?
      I’ll have to keep an eye out for your book – maybe it’s available at MEC – or better yet – if you like – send me a copy for a blog review.

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