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Superb Snowshoeing To Mountain Lakes In Kananaskis Country

Superb Snowshoeing to Mountain Lakes in Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country was a shock. In my mind Kananaskis Country was the poor cousin to Banff National Park but boy was I surprised.

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. 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.

"View of the Rocky Mountains from the Chester Lake Trail"

View of the Rocky Mountains from the Chester Lake Trail

This past weekend we explored two superb snowshoe trails to mountain lakes – Chester Lake and Rummel Lake. Snowshoeing up to these lakes is the perfect antidote to the winter blues. You can’t help but feel happy to be alive. Even better 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 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.

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.

"View of the Spray Lakes Reservoir"

View of the Spray Lakes Reservoir

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.

"Unbroken trail to Rummel Lake"

Unbroken trail to Rummel Lake

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"

Arrival at Rummel Lake

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). 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"

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.

"The beginning of the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail"

The beginning of the Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail

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.

"Snow art"

Snow art

The snowshoe up to Chester Lake took us only about 90 minutes – and that’s to cover 4.4 kilometers 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.

"Views to Mount Chester"

Views to Mount Chester from the first meadow

"The last kilometer to Chester Lake"

The last kilometer to Chester Lake – with the sun disappearing

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.

"A dog dressed for the cold"

A dog dressed for the cold

You can end a fantastic day of snowshoeing or skiing in this area with a tea put on by Mt. Engadine Lodge – from 3 – 5pm. I highly recommend this especially if you’re the least bit hungry. An incredible spread of cheese, crackers, dips, chips, sausage rolls, soup, squares of all types and hot drinks is available for $13 per person. Everything is made on the premises. If there are more than 6 of you, make reservations. The lodge is a fie minute walk from the Rummel Lake trailhead.

Superb snowshoeing, stunning scenery and a finale if you’re game, of a fire, hot drink and delicious food at Mount Engadine Lodge should put a smile on your face.

Leigh McAdam


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 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 4 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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