The High Rockies Trail from Chester to Sawmill follows snowshoe trails along old logging roads. With the exception of a short section close to Sawmill the trail is wide enough for skiing.
Beyond Sawmill the trail climbs gradually through spruce forest to a spectacularly located bridge, then seesaws across the west flank of Mount Kent, en route crossing more interesting creeks. It then descends to the Black Prince access with little in the way of views.
From here a forest trail generally climbs to Blackshale Creek, then descends fairly steeply to the highway opposite Pocaterra Dam road. While there are several pleasant viewpoints, the biggest attraction by far is the 230 ft-long suspension bridge (to be built summer 2017) across Blackshale Creek.
To Graupel north junction 1.4 km
From the southeast side of the parking lot, follow Frost Heave snowshoe trail through a gate and down to a side creek crossing. Turn left up a hill into an S-bend below magnificent Engleman spruce, then meanders along to a major T-junction with a map sitting atop a 9 ft-high post. Turn right on Graupel snowshoe trail. (Left is Frost Heave leading to Snowdrift trail which is also the route to Headwall Lakes.)
To Graupel middle junction 2 km
Wind uphill and into a very long mostly flat straight. A downhill deposits you on the flood-strewn cobbles of Headwall Creek which you cross on a wide bridge. Easy slightly uphill going leads to a T-junction. Turn sharp left. (Graupel turns right down a hill and is the best option if you are skiing.)
To Graupel south junction 2.3 km
Now deviating from Graupel, the High Rockies Trail climbs up the logging road, at the top turning back to the right—the big bend shown on the map — and resumes its southeasterly direction on flat road. At road’s end, a trail connects with another logging road at Y-junction. Go straight.
The new logging road, while following a relatively straight line, is very bumpy initially, the hills gradually ironing out to flat as you approach another Y-junction. Go right on a narrow trail descending to a lower logging road that is Graupel coming back in from the right after dipsy-doodling by Hwy. 742.) Go straight.
To Sawmill trailhead 1.7 km
Now shared with Graupel, the trail descends slightly, then on flat ground crosses James Walker Creek en route to the gate near Sawmill trailhead. Go left into the parking lot. If heading south on the High Rockies Trail, go straight through a picnic area and cross the Sawmill access road.
Sawmill parking to Black Prince access 6.2 km
From the Sawmill access road the trail climbs gradually through spruce to a T-junction with an old logging road. Turn right, then shortly left up another logging road that climbs a long hill. At the top it veers right into a meadow with a view of Mount Murray.
On trail make a long climb to a deeply incised creek. In fact from the bridge the downstream view is positively vertigo-inducing. The trail designer’s excitement at having discovered such an incredible crossing place explains why the trail is uphill in both directions.
A long downhill leads to a second creek and bridge. More undulating downhill leads to a third side creek with mossy banks and farther down a fourth creek crossing on stones between a welter of slabs. Eventually arrive at a T-junction. Go straight to continue on the High Rockies Trail. To the right a 500 m-long side trail heads down the hillside to the highway and the Black Prince day-use area access road.
Black Prince access to Blackshale Creek 2.3 km
The trail undulates above the highway, crossing the odd small creek. After crossing an alder filled cutline, the trail drops to the bank top above the highway. It then follows the cutline a way before peeling off to the left to climb most of the way to Blackshale Creek.
Ahead is the suspension bridge! For anyone who gets wobbly looking down 100 ft, the bridge can be avoided by turning right and descending the 500 m-long access trail to the highway, then regaining all the height lost by climbing 540 m up the far bank.
Blackshale Creek to Hwy. 742 3.8 km
Straight off the bridge, keep straight at the T-junction. (Right is the access trail to the highway.) Descend steeply at times, then more gradually down to the bank top above the highway. A stint above grassy banks gives views across to mounts Warspite and Invincible and ahead to the rock peaks of the Opal Range, Elpoca Mountain predominant.
Then it’s back into trees, the trail undulating across boggy ground and crossing a footbridge. After three more brief visits to the bank top, the last disclosing a view of Lower Kananaskis Lake, begin the long descent through fir forest to the highway near the TransAlta canal that diverts Kent Creek into Lower Kanananskis Lake.
Hwy. 742 to Canyon access road 720 m
Cross the highway and follow the dam road through a gate. At a Y-junction keep right. (Left is Penstock snowshoe trail) and cross Pocaterra Dam built in 1956 to hold back the waters of Lower Kanananskis Lake. At the far end, descend left, cross the penstock via the bridge, then climb right up onto the Canyon day-use area access road.
For Canyon day-use parking turn right uphill, following the road around to the right past the biffy into the parking lot. For Canyon campground and the next section of the High Rockies Trail turn left down the hill and continue into the campground.