Hiking from Headwall Lakes to Chester Lake

Canada Chester Lake Trailhead

Added by Becky Simrose

  • Distance: 17 kilometers
  • Elevation gain: 808 meters (2650 feet)
  • Challenging loop hike, a real hidden gem, not well known.
  • Pristine, stark wilderness with green lakes nestled in a steep walled valley

The hike starts at the Chester Lake trailhead along the Smith Dorian road in Kananaskis. The first few kilometers follow the old logging roads, now used as cross country skiing trails. Find the beginning of the trail at the upper right end of the parking lot, and continue to follow parallel to the road until until the trail ends at a T intersection, turn left and follow the trail down to Headwall Creek.

After the creek the logging road climbs a hill, and a cairn of rocks at the top of the rise on the left marks a trail leading into the trees. Leave the logging road and follow this trail up the valley along the creek. In places the trail is indistinct and you will be scrambling over rocks and deadfall. After skirting a large scree slope the trail climbs the headwall to Lower Headwall Lake, green and clear, nestled in a cirque with barren limestone peaks looming on all sides. Follow around the right side of the lake and ascend steeply to Upper Headwall Lake. Along the ascent watch for the cascade from upper lake coming straight out of the rock.

The view from here is stunning, with Lower Headwall lakes shimmering under the towering cracked and fissures peaks, the valley, and the distant blue mountains. Find your way around the lake. Occasional cairns are along here to guide you. Another sharp climb up a ridge takes you to the upper valley.

Follow the upper valley north east and then north. About a kilometer from the upper lake, before reaching the end of the valley, leave the creek and climb the hill to your right. From the top pick your way towards the left along the shoulder of Fortress mountain and climb to the col between Fortress and Chester mountains.

The view from the col is stunning. Sharp peaks, rocks, boulder fields, and usually not another person in sight. The descent from the col is steep, down fine shale and medium sized scree. Hiking poles are useful here. Once you reach the valley bottom, you are in a huge boulder field and will have to find your route along the left side until you reach the green mossy benchlands and a trail again becomes apparent. The trail soon drops down to the shore of Chester Lake, and follows along the lakeshore. Chester Lake is a popular hiking and fishing spot, and from here the trail is excellent and well travelled and takes you back to the parking lot.

Pack List

  • Hiking Boots
  • Extra layers
  • Hiking poles
  • Topo map
  • Water
  • Food/snacks
  • Camera
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Fitness, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



10.6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

2650.9 Feet




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How to Get There

about 2 months ago

Chester Lake

If you love snowshoeing this is a must! The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. The view at the top is spectacular!

about 2 months ago

over 1 year ago

I attempted to get to the Fortress by using this route - definitely couldn't even find the way to Headwall Lakes. I'll be keeping these instructions (especially that cairn) handy in the summer!

over 1 year ago

Added by Becky Simrose

Seriously in love with the mountains and ocean... and travel. I live in Calgary, just a short drive from Banff and so spend a lot of time in the mountains. When I'm not working I'm often on Vancouver Island...my other home and my ocean fix!

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