Amazing Larches at Pocaterra Ridge (and Pocaterra Cirque)

by - Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's a glorious mid-September day and Pocaterra Ridge trail is full of hikers. We share a common goal: to see golden larch trees. In short order, we will be rewarded with not only amazing larches, but a cirque, tarn, and stunning ridge walk. If you don't have time to complete the ridge walk, the first summit is a scenic stopping point. Even Pocaterra Cirque, 2.5 km from the parking lot, gets you into larch country! Return the way you came, or complete the ridge walk (car shuttle recommended), as time and energy allow.

View from Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis
What's the big deal with larches? Alpine larches, aka Larix lyalli, grow only at high elevations (above 1800 m) and have soft, green needles that turn a vibrant shade of yellow for a few weeks each autumn. The spectacle is dramatic, but fleeting, so you have to time it right. The second and third weeks of September are usually prime larch hiking season. While Lake Louise is famous for its larches, Kananaskis also boasts several great larch hikes, including Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge.

Shaking hands with a larch tree! (You can because the needles are soft.)

Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge Trip Report

From Highwood Meadows Trail, after 200 metres we cross a little bridge and arrive at the turnoff to Pocaterra Ridge (on your left). We follow the narrow trail through the meadow, then head left into the woods. The trail is heavily shaded and the trees are laden with Old Man's Beard.

Turn off Highwood Meadows Trail here
Pocaterra Cirque is at centre and Pocaterra Ridge is the brown slope on the right.
As we gain elevation, the views begin to open up, and soon we are where the larches are. Sunlight sparkles on snowy peaks overlooking the valley and boulders ask to be climbed. A little tarn (2.1 km from parking, 200 m elevation gain) surrounded by larches makes a nice snack spot. The kids decide to hang back and play at the tarn with Dad, while I continue on with Marko and Amelie.

Gaining elevation on Pocaterra Ridge Trail
Sun shines through the larches
Bouldering on Pocaterra Ridge Trail
Tarn in Pocaterra Cirque
The way up the ridge is easy to find, but not so easy on the legs. We follow the well beaten path to the top, pausing every now and then to catch our breath. We enjoy the panoramic views from the top and take a few photos before returning the way we came.

Marko, Amelie and I on Pocaterra Ridge
If doing the whole ridge walk, you will hike over 3 more summits (4 in total plus many smaller bumps), before descending to Little Highwood Pass Day Use Area, visible for much of the way down. A creek crossing and bit of route finding are required at the north end of the trail.

Pocaterra Ridge is a spectacular hike year round, but even better during larch season. To avoid the crowds, go early or midweek!

Pocaterra Cirque/Ridge Trail at a Glance

Distance (one way) / Elevation Gain from Highwood Pass Parking Lot: 
  • To the tarn: 2.1 km, 200 m elevation gain
  • To the cirque: 2.5 km to the cirque, 225 
  • To the ridge: 4 km, 450 m
  • To Little Highwood Pass Day Use Area: 8.9 km, 950 m 
    • Start at Highwood Pass to save 300 m elevation gain. 
    • Cumulative elevation gain is significantly greater than 950 m as you go over several humps, including 4 summits.
    • There is a creek crossing and some route finding at the north end of the trail (near Little Highwood Pass).
Stroller Friendly? No 

Washrooms? Pit toilets at parking lot

Parking: Highwood Pass Parking Lot (leave a car/bike at Little Highwood Pass Day Use Area if doing a car shuttle and completing the whole ridgewalk)

Pocaterra Ridge Trail

Getting There

Pocaterra Ridge Trail starts at Highwood Pass 140 km SW of Calgary. Take Highway 1 west out of town to the Kananaskis Trail/Hwy 40 turnoff. Stay on Hwy 40 for 67 km. The marked parking lot - Highwood Pass - will be on your right.

Nearby Amenities

Kananaskis Village (26 km south of Hwy 1) has dining and lodging. 
Fortress Junction (42 km south of Hwy 1) is your last chance for gas, water, and snacks. 

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