Location: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta
Park here: Chester Lake parking lot
Public transit: None
Hike distance: 9.4 km roundtrip
Elevation gain: 433 m
Hike duration: 3 hours
What makes it moderate? There is minimal elevation at the start of the hike and another bout of minimal elevation past the lake to get to the elephant rocks.
Trail website: Click here
Chester Lake, an absolutely beautiful alpine lake nestled in Kananaskis, is just over a nine-kilometre roundtrip hike with about 430 metres elevation gain up a family-friendly trail. The not-so-fun part of getting to this hike, however, is that it’s located off the Smith Dorrien Trail, which is a washboard gravel road. If you have a rugged vehicle, it’s worth braving the gravel road to get to the trailhead.
Chester Lake is accessible most of the year and is often used for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, fishing and larch tree hunting. This trail is usually busy, so it is recommended to start early to get a spot in the parking lot.
We decided to trek up to Chester Lake and the Elephant Rocks for a fall hike to find some larches. Larch trees are a type of coniferous tree that lose their needles in the fall, but before they drop, they turn a spectacular golden colour, making for beautiful scenery.
We headed out with a plan to start hiking before 8 a.m. We had the trail to ourselves on the way up. When you arrive in the parking lot, the trailhead to Chester Lake begins at the far end. There is an outhouse available for use, but you might want to bring some extra toilet paper. The Chester Lake trailhead sign and map details the different paths available to reach the lake. There is a snowshoeing specific trail for the wintertime that starts to the right. The summer hiking trail begins to the left over a small bridge.
The Chester Lake trail intertwines with the High Rockies trail at the beginning of the hike. To stay on the correct route, follow the blue trail signs for “Chester Lake” or download the AllTrails map before you leave.
The minimal incline begins right away and the fall colours are amazing. The incline lasts about two and a half kilometres at the beginning of the hike. The well-worn path through the trees is easy to follow and if you’re lucky, you might spot grouse as well.
Once you gain most of the elevation through the trees, you’re treated to a lovely meadow where larches start to appear. The trail continues to the left around the meadow with Mount Chester towering in the background.
At the lake, you have a beautiful view of the meadow on the one side, the lake in front of you and Mount Chester behind. The larch trees line the lake, and you can walk around the lake in each direction.
To head towards the Elephant Rocks, you want to continue to the left around Chester Lake. You’ll cross over a small bridge and then continue into the trees on the shoreline of the lake. The turn for the Elephant Rocks is to the left past the lake and you’ll walk for about half a kilometre to reach the rocks.
Going to see the Elephant Rocks is definitely recommended if you’re already at the lake. These are very cool huge boulders about 10 minutes farther with a bit more elevation gain. There are also more larch trees surrounding the rocks in autumn.
As we headed back to the parking lot, we saw a steady stream of people heading up to the lake. By this time, the parking lot and side of the highway were packed with cars.
Chester Lake is a great, family-friendly adventure and we had an absolute blast on this cool fall morning for some hiking and larch tree viewing.
Before you go:
- A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required. There are options for a single, multi-day or annual pass
- There are often trail closures at Chester Lake for bear activity and to let the trail dry out between winter/spring hiking so check the Alberta Parks website before you head out
- Always bring bear spray
- Dogs are allowed in the provincial park but are required to be on leash
- Follow leave-no-trace principles