This is an update of my 2016 article. Since then Friends of Kananaskis Country volunteers have brushed-out more kilometres of trail and even created a completely new one. This allows me to suggest more loops for snowshoers to enjoy from the easy 3.8 km South Sawmill Loop to a demanding 10.8 km Sawmill North Tour. See the Easy and Classic snowshoe trail lists on Trailfinder.
Some short loops from Chester Lake parking.
The addition of the new Sinter trail allows for a number of short loops from a very easy 1.7 km trail suitable for children learning to snowshoe to longer loops taking in Snowdrift, Sinter, Frost Heave and the High Rockies Trail. Sinter is easiest from west to east as the descent from the Snowdrift end is quite steep. See the sketch map for Mount Murray Viewpoint.
South Sawmill Loop 3.8 km, 80 m elevation gain
The trail starts at the winter trailhead at the far end of the parking lot. Bear right and about 200 m from the trailhead turn right up the obvious trail. Follow it to a junction where the summer High Rockies Trail comes in. In early winter, before the snowplow bank gets too high you can use it to access the loop. To make best use of the limited views snowshoe the loop anti-clockwise .
Sawmill Snowshoe Loops 5.1 km, 155 m elevation gain
Immediately north of Sawmill parking are parallel trails allowing for three loops of of varying distances. The 5.1 km outer loop is a pleasant snowshoe best done clockwise. The western leg winds up along the open, badly flood-damaged James Walker Creek, scenic in spring when the creek starts to melt out.The return leg, once you have crossed the creek, is in trees all the way back.
Mount Murray Viewpoint 6.0 km, 260 m elevation gain
Best done as a figure-8 loop heading along Snowdrift trail for 2.6 km to a junction just after the trail turns sharp left above Headwall Creek. A steady, moderately steep ascent leads to a viewpoint trail just before the high point. Thanks to Friends volunteers, you can continue down the brushed-out trail, steep in places, to Snowdrift. Turn right, and in about 100 m turn left down the new Sinter Trail that takes you down to a long, open fen, brushy in early winter and very wet when not frozen. At the west end of the fen turn right to get back on Snowdrift or left to the High Rockies Trail. Either way gets you back to Chester Lake parking.
Graupel Loop 7.7 km, 212 m elevation gain
The construction of the High Rockies Trail has created an easy loop from Sawmill trailhead that we have named Graupel Loop. It can be hiked in summer and snowshoed or skied in winter.
Sawmill North Tour 10.8 km, 480 m elevation gain
This tour from Chester Lake parking is one of the more open and scenic snowshoes in the Sawmill Area. It follows Snowdrift to about 700 m past the Headwall Lakes junction where a recently (2019) cleared trail, Whiteout, heads due south before turning sharply NW to the High Rockies Trail which is followed back to the parking lot.
While shorter than the Grand Tour it has more height gain and is probably best done on a sunny day in spring, and preferably when someone else has broke trail!
Sawmill Grand Tour 13.3 km, 345 m elevation gain
Starting from Sawmill parking this 13.3 km outer loop (shown as a dashed line on our map) gives you a “grand tour” of the Chester–Sawmill area. It can also be skied on touring skis by those willing to ski on snowshoe tracks and to to break trail if necessary. The trails in this area are not groomed. It can be extended by going all the way to Chester Lake parking, an extra 2.8 km — but why would you want to!
One way Chester to Sawmill
With multiple vehicles you can, of course, snowshoe or ski from Chester to Sawmill (Sawmill is about 75 m lower than Chester parking). The upper, most scenic trail, is Snowdrift at 9.1 km. The lower one Graupel–High Rockies is 7.1 km.