Snowshoeing is rapidly gaining popularity in Alberta, Canada, and around the world. There are plenty of local opportunities for beginners to build skills. Snowshoeing is not difficult and can be enjoyed by a wide age range to improve fitness while reaping the benefits of the outdoors. Following are some of the best snowshoe trails in Kananaskis Country, a short drive west of Calgary, or east from Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Several of the trails included in this post are maintained. Just click on the numbered links below. See you out there!
The Penstock Loop is a relatively flat snowshoe trail, with 100 m (328 ft.) of elevation over 6 KM (3 ¾ miles), predominantly through forest but including some unique features and sweeping vistas. This snowshoe is easily accessible via the Canyon exit on Kananaskis Lakes Road near the Peter Lougheed Visitor Information Centre (Check online for status).
The Lower Lake Trail is an easy snowshoe with incredible scenery. This snowshoe trail is 7 KM (4 ⅜ miles) in length with overall elevation gain of 50 m (164 ft.). The snowshoe trail is accessed from parking at the Canyon exit of Kananaskis Lakes Road. There are many interesting opportunities for extension.
The Elkwood Loop Snowshoe Trail begins along Kananaskis Lakes Road from Elkwood parking, or nearby from William Watson Lodge (add o.7 KM) and is a 3.4 KM (2.1 mile) loop past incredible scenery around Marl Lake with views to the Elk Range. Net elevation is 23 m (76 ft.).
The Marsh Loop Snowshoe begins near the main lodge at William Watson Lodge across Kananaskis Lakes Road from Elkwood. This trail is 1.8 KM (1.1 miles) in length with elevation gain of 21 m (69 ft.) with spectacular commanding views of Mount Indefatigable and Lower Kananaskis Lake.
The Wintour Snowshoe Trail uses Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) south of the winter gate at the junction of Kananaskis Lakes Road when it is closed between December 1 through June 14. It could be considered a bit monotonous but it is an excellent beginner trail and there is expansive scenery west with interesting photographic features along the ridge to the east. The trail is 2.5 KMs (1.6 miles) one-way with return the same way. Past 2.5 KM is potential avalanche terrain. Net elevation on the Wintour Snowshoe Trail is a fairly gentle 74 m (243 ft.)
The Kananaskis Village Loops Trail is a figure 8 loop trail if the link trail between the east and west side can be located. Signage may be an issue, but no difference. It can be navigated as one big loop, in either direction, and there are some fabulous views over Kananaskis Valley and mountains beyond. It is a 2.5 KM (1.6 mile) mile loop with about 40 m (131 ft.) of net elevation. There can be a warm beverage waiting when you finish, at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, beside the fireplace, with grand views of Mount Kidd towering above. Need I say more.
The first six snowshoe trails described above are accessed from Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40). The following snowshoe experiences are accessed from the south portion of Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742).
The Sawmill Loop Snowshoe is 6.2 KM (3.9 miles) south of the Chester Lake parking area on the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742). Chester Lake is arguably the most popular, classic snowshoe in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Sawmill Loop is a beautiful 7 KM (4.4 mile) loop with 200 m (656 ft.) of elevation gain with optional extensions. There are forest sections and outstanding mountain views at the far end, but sometimes the beauty is in the detail.
The Burstall Lakes Snowshoe Trail begins near Mud Lake in the Burstall parking area directly across Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742) from the Chester Lake parking area. The Hogarth Lakes Snowshoe Trail begins here as well and is commonly a season opener for many snowshoers. The Burstall Lakes Snowshoe Trail is an 8 KM (5 mile) return trail to the alluvial plain known as Burstall Flats where there is a grand view of the Robertson Glacier. Trail beyond Burstall Flats is avalanche prone. Gross elevation gain from the trailhead to Burstall Flats and back is near 200 m (656 ft.).
The Shark Lake (aka Marushka Lake) trailhead begins 1.8 KM (1.1 mile) from the Smith-Dorrien Trail junction to Mount Engadine Lodge and Mount Shark Day Use, on the south side of the road past Mount Engadine Lodge and before the Mount Shark Day Use area. Consult a guide and map. This snowshoe is about 9 KM (5.6 miles) return with minor elevation gain and loss. The snowshoe is very scenic through forest and meadows with periodic expansive mountain and lake views. The Shark Lake Snowshoe is definitely worth the time on a fair weather day.
The trail to Karst Spring begins from the Shark Lake Day Use area and passes Watridge Lake prior to the scenic route along a picturesque creek to Karst Spring. Where once it roared, winter flow can be very low. This snowshoe is about 9 KM (5.6 miles) in length with minor elevation.
Rummel Lake is a less travelled path than the snowshoe to Chester Lake. The somewhat concealed trailhead is on the east side of the Smith-Dorrien Trail (Hwy 742) across from the junction to Mount Engadine Lodge and Mount Shark Day Use. The snowshoe is about 9 KM (5.6 miles) return with elevation gains around 350 m (1,148 ft.), so a bit more aggressive when you are comfortable with the range. Spectacular mountain views compete favorably with those on the Chester Lake Snowshoe.
It is commonly said, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe“. It is east to adapt to snowshoes. Many people benefit from using hiking poles with snow baskets. Dress in layers. You may need less clothing than you believe due to the exercise component.
There are two excellent guide books authored by Andrew Nugara and published by Rocky Mountain Books which will provide many other snowshoeing opportunities available in the Canadian Rockies. They are:
A Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies, and
Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies for more advanced snowshoers.
The Government of Alberta publishes a comprehensive and helpful brochure/pamphlet titled: Kananaskis Country Snowshoe Trails which includes a map. Kananaskis Country Visitor Centres have them as long as supplies last. You can also pick up a copy at Norseman XC Ski, Hike and Climb Shop free of charge.
There are many hiking clubs and organizations in Calgary which offer winter snowshoe trips for all age groups. Group or individual snowshoe courses and guided snowshoe trips with equipment rental, if required, are offered by several venues including those offered by the long-established University of Calgary Outdoor Centre. I highly recommend you check it out. Consider taking a course if you are new to the sport. It is easy to learn but a few pointers will help. The initiative may change your life in a very positive way. It is absolutely amazing what an outdoor winter day in the mountains can do for the disposition.