Frozen Chester Lake with dog on the ice.
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My Berner Bella and I standing on the frozen Chester Lake in December.

The Chester Lake Snowshoe Trail

Snowshoe sign enroute to Chester Lake
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The snowshoe trail is well marked.

Location: Spray Valley Provincial Park
Distance: 8 kilometres out and back
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 315 metre gain
Time: 3 – 4 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes
Features: The Chester Lake hike begins in the forest and eventually opens up to stunning Rocky Mountain scenery. At the end, you’ll find the marvelous Chester Lake waiting to greet you.

Finding Chester Lake Trailhead

The Smith-Dorrien Trail
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The Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) is very scenic.

Finding the trailhead for Chester Lake is really quite easy. The drive takes about two-hours from Calgary, going west on the Trans Canada and taking the Kananaskis exit to go down Highway 40. After that, you’ll head up the Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) to find the Chester Lake parking area on the right hand side. More specifically, the parking area is just past the Ranger Creek Day-Use Area. Side note: after a long drive, it’s always nice to know toilets are waiting at the trailhead.

As I mentioned, the trip took 2 hours, but it’s a beautiful drive in the winter. However, I’d recommend AWD/4WD when the weather rolls in. Our Subaru Outback managed fairly well, but a two-wheel drive might find it difficult.

Read more: Hiking the Loop Around Upper Kananaskis Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

The view from the Smith Dorrien highway
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Mountain views abound on Highway 742.
Washrooms at the Chester Lake trailhead
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Washrooms at Chester Lake parking lot.

Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Signs on the Chester Lake trail
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Hikers should stick to the packed down snowshoe trail.

Once at the trailhead, take the snowshoe route to begin the journey to Chester Lake. The snowshoe trail was nicely packed from several snowshoers out and about, so we had no issues hiking with spikes and poles.

The Chester Lake hike is a gentle incline gaining 315 metres over 4 kilometres. After a fresh snowfall, this place turns into a magical winter wonderland. But it’s worth waiting a day or so after a big dump of snow… to make sure the snowshoers have time to pack it down!

Looking for a family-friendly trail near Calgary? Chester Lake is a popular trail for all skill levels. For example, there were several families with young children on the trail.

Read more: 5 Easy Hiking Trails for Rocky Mountain Rookies

Lots of snow enroute to Chester Lake
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The snowshoe trail was very packed. We used spikes but no snowshoes.
Bernese mountain dog on a snowy trail
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Chester Lake Trail is dog-friendly. Doesn’t she look happy to be outside?
Hiking with a Bernese mountain dog
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Chester Lake snowshoe trail starts off in the forest.
Woman enjoying the snow covered trees
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Jen enjoying the freshly fallen snow.
Mountain views on the Chester Lake hike
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The trail eventually opens up to panoramic mountain views.

Arriving at the Frozen Chester Lake

Getting close to Chester Lake on the snow-covered trail
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Getting closer to Chester Lake. Just up ahead!

The Chester Lake hike on the snowshoe trail took about 2 hours. The time required depends on conditions and amount of time spent at the lake, so plan for between 3 to 4 hours out and back.

We started our hike around 9 am and, for the first couple of hours, were the only hikers on the trail. Because of this, when we stopped we could enjoy the total silence and solitude. That didn’t last long, however, but it was a nice and unexpected treat.

Read more: Moraine Lake Road Cross-Country Ski Trail in Banff National Park

The frozen Chester Lake
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There’s a lake under there!

Preparing for Winter Hiking

Beautiful snow covered trees and mountain views
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The packed down trail with mountain views all around.

Winter hiking requires planning. If you’re like me, you might enjoy planning almost as much as the excursion itself. But this planning always requires time and energy. The good news is: the more you do it, the easier it becomes!

First, make sure you’re prepared for any shift in weather. I usually bring several layers, including a merino wool base-layer (top and bottom), long-sleeve moisture-wicking layer, fleece sweater, down mid-layer, and a shell outer-layer (top and bottom). I don’t always need every layer when I’m on the move, but things change when I slow down or stop for a rest. As always: avoid cotton.

Know before you go. You can find some information about the Chester Lake trail on the Alberta Parks website. It’s important to find out about trail conditions before you head out. I follow the Hike Alberta Facebook group for helpful information and trail conditions.

Pay attention to your pup’s needs. I hike with my Bernese mountain dog; she loves the winter weather! But on this hike, there was ice build-up on her paws. On the way back, we used her booties. Just remember that your dog may not always love hiking as much as you do.

Read more: The Best Winter Hiking Gear To Keep You Happy Outdoors

Man and Bernese mountain dog on winter day
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My buddy Bella and I after finishing Chester Lake!

Have you hiked Chester Lake in the wintertime? What winter hiking tips would you suggest? Leave a comment below.

Frozen Chester Lake with dog on the ice.
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