Headwall Lakes {Kananaskis Country}

Headwall Lakes {Kananaskis Country}

Headwall Lakes

  • Distance – 14-16 km (depends which x-country ski trails you take to get in)
  • Elevation – 625 meters (to the final lake)
  • Difficulty – Medium
  • Logistics – Driving down a washboard, gravel road for about an hour
  • Trailhead LocationChester Lake Parking Lot

Kananaskis, or K Country, is full of beautiful hikes, many of them lesser-known and somewhat off the beaten path. Headwall Lakes is one of these hikes – known, but less traffic than the hikes listed on the Alberta Parks website.

Headwall Lakes boasts three alpine lakes and has beautiful views once you get out of the cross-country ski trails that you have to take to get to the start of the ascent.

Headwall Lakes Kananaskis
The views down the valley from middle Headwall Lake take your breath away!

The distance and elevation gain of the hike is a bit confusing. Reading up on Headwall Lakes prior to hiking, most sources listed the hike as 14 km and about 500 meters of elevation. Having completed the hike, I realize this must be going to the first lake, not the final third Headwall Lake.

We also decided to traverse the x-country ski trails by going to the Mt. Murray lookout listed on the trail maps, which turned out to be about 100 meters of elevation gain to reach a high spot in the trees where you still couldn’t see much, and then all elevation was lost again, which is good exercise, but pointless all at the same time.

Let’s just say the Mt. Murray lookout does not come highly recommended!

Headwall Lakes Kananaskis
As you near the final lake, you find yourself in an amphitheatre of mountain views. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

To access the trailhead, you need to drive down Spray Lakes Road, or Highway 742, a terrible gravel road that isn’t well maintained. You can access this highway from Canmore or via Highway 40 off Highway 1. Driving down Highway 40 to drive north on Highway 742 means about 20 kilometres less of terrible, washboard roads for your car to have to navigate – despite the 60 additional kilometres of driving, it is about the same amount of time due to the congestion by Ha Ling Peak and the terrible road conditions.

Chester Lake trailhead is on the east side of the highway and is a large parking lot. Get here early. Despite it being a large parking lot and on a terrible highway, it still fills up on the weekends as Chester Lake is a popular and well-travelled hike.

Hiking Details.

Start the hike by following the x-country ski trails at the south end (or if you are me, right) end of the parking lot. Follow the trails that parallel the highway (‘Snowdrift’ is the one to follow) until you reach a T-intersection that goes to Headwall Creek. Go left and head towards the creek. You will be on these trails in the trees for about 3 km. The Spray Lakes Trails Map (Middle) shows in detail the x-country ski trails and left turn to take the trail for Headwall Creek.

Descend to Headwall Creek and cross the creek on a sturdy, wide bridge.

Ascend from the creek and start looking for a cairn on your left. When we hiked (July 2020), there was a large rock arrow pointing left. This is the start of the trail for Headwall Lakes. This should be about 200 meters from the creek.

Headwall Lakes Kananaskis
Sometimes you encounter snow … a lot of snow …

You will meander through some rolling single track for about 2km until you reach an open scree slope. Stop here and take in the views and look for marmots and pikas. After crossing the scree slope, you start the first ascent to Lower Headwall Lake. Take your time, the climb is steep, the footing is loose, and there might still be snow – even in mid-summer.

After about 300 meters of climbing, you are rewarded with Lower Headwall Lake.

Whatever you do, don’t stop here.

Headwall Lakes Hike Kananaskis

Hike over the scree slopes on the right side of the lake, over the large aquifer waterfall and climb up to the middle and upper lakes. The views are worth the climb. Take your time to rest, recover, eat a snack, and savour the views.

The view is incredible – don’t forget to look behind you.

Headwall Lakes Hike Kananaskis
This is my happy place. Alpine lakes, beautiful views, perfect clouds … what else could a woman want on a weekend hike?

When you are ready, start back the way you came. Ensure you have enough left in your legs to keep you upright as you go down the steep incline.

Note – you can also make this a loop with Chester Lake by going through the col between Foster and Chester. I have not done this, but now need to give this a try!

Have you done Headwall Lakes? What did you think of the hike? Do you also give it rave reviews?

2 thoughts on “Headwall Lakes {Kananaskis Country}”

    • Hello – this was done in July – must have been around July 11. Oftentimes, there is still a lot of snow in the passes, even though it has been summer for quite some time. 🙂

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