Chester Lake Trail is a popular lake to hike to in the Spray Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country. The trailhead is well marked off the Smith-Dorrien “Highway” approximately 20 km North from the Highway 40 / Kananaskis Lakes Trail Junction. You park at the “Chester Day Use Area”.
Chester Lake is one of those places that you have to go at least once. With a high “amazing scenery to effort” yield, a lot of people go many times, hence it’s quite popular. You can do it during the Summer for a nice leisurely hike or a great little snow shoe in the Winter. Its popularity stems from the fact the shape of the terrain makes it a rather safe hike with very little possible danger lurking, even in the Winter where many mountains in the area have numerous possible avalanche dangers. Another reason is the paths are really wide and well maintained.
Three years ago, I had ski toured up in the area on a nice November day. Unfortunately, I had started a little too late in the day and I had to turn back before reaching the lake before completely losing my daylight; however, not before taking this little video on the way down. (The music is by Calgary band, Septembryo playing a cover of the X-Files theme song by Mark Snow.)
This time around I gave myself a lot more time.
Going up, as mentioned, the paths are nice and well maintained. The first kilometer or two is a bit steep, but so nicely maintained that I hiked past a group that was bringing up a couple of wheelchair-bound people in chariots, which was really impressive to see!
Once I got past the trees, it opens up and the path is much more mellow and you follow a meadow to the Lake, which is surrounded by Gutsy Peak and Mount Chester.
Most people often just hike up to the Lake and stop for a bite to eat before turning around. According to GPS, to the Lake was roughly 4.5 km (1-way) from the trailhead, gaining 287 m / 941 ft in elevation. The Lake is quite beautiful, so you can understand the appeal.
From here, there are a few options to continue on. Given the abundance of time, I decided to head towards the Three Lakes Valley, which is accessible by following the path to the left of the Lake, over a footlog, before ascending on a new narrow path on the left 50-60 feet later.
At the top of this narrow path, I was greeted by giant “Elephant” boulders surrounded by trees, which are pretty unexpected. (Apparently, they are left over from the last ice age.) Not long afterwards, I came across another meadow that leads to a pond, that is followed by a brief steep approach that opens up into the Three Lakes Valley.
The Three Lakes Valley is literally a valley with a series of 3 lakes that is surrounded by Mount Galatea and Gutsy Peak. Being above the treeline, the path travels through mossy terrain, rocks, and a creek that runs parallel.
The third Lake was definitely the nicest. Being the highest, there was still a lot of snow on the side of Gutsy Peak and I couldn’t resist the temptation to slide down towards the lake on my back, narrowly stopping before the sharp rocks and frigid water!
I also met a nice couple up there who were camping in the area. We chatted as we walked down through the Three Lakes Valley, past the pond, back into the woods, past a different approach to the Elephant rocks (which they led me to), before going our separate ways at Chester Lake. From here, I finished off the day running down to the trailhead, hopped in the car, and it was back to Calgary.
As mentioned earlier, Chester Lake is definitely a must do. It’s certainly an easy to moderate hike, depending on how far you go. Hiking up to Chester Lake is certainly a feasible hike with a family and for more scenery and elevation, Three Valley Lakes is a great option to hike up to.
The complete hike was 15.3 km in length, gained 612 meters (2008 feet) in elevation and it took me a little over 4 hours.
(All photos are credited to and/or owned by Andrew D. Forbes.)