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The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

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The window to hike Pocaterra Ridge in Kananskis Country is closed for 2016. But this is a hike that deserves to be on your must-do list for 2017. It ranks as one of the best day hikes I’ve done in Alberta.

I did this hike with three women around the third week in September when the larches were at their peak. It was absolutely stunning. A summer hike would also be very beautiful as much of the day is spent on a long ridge above tree line with views in all directions – and the wildflowers are reportedly prolific.

Do Pocaterra Ridge as a one way hike so you can dawdle on the ridge itself. My recommendation is to start at the Highwood Pass parking lot and finish at Little Highwood Pass as you’ll save yourself 280 metres of elevation gain. You’ll need to organize a car shuttle unless you’re super energetic. If that’s the case leave a bike at Little Highwood Pass and cycle back to Highwood Pass at day’s end.

The hike starts and ends with a bit of route finding. To get going leave the north end of the Highwood Pass parking lot and follow the interpretive trail until it starts climbing. This part of the trail is shared with the hike to aptly named Grizzly Col – so make lots of noise in this area. There are obvious trails climbing through the woods; some of these can be quite muddy. Eventually you pop out and get the view you see in the photo below. Pocaterra Ridge is off to the right (north).

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

This is definitely one of the top hikes in Alberta to do during larch season

Once you’re out of the woods you can count on following a more defined trail all the way through to the descent to the Little Highwood Pass parking lot.

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

The path is well defined for 90% of the hike

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Looking back in the direction of Highwood Pass

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

The only water you pass on the hike

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Happiness is hiking in a forest of yellow

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

There is one major slog on the hike and this is it – but what a backdrop

There are four summits to climb along the ridge with the first one being by far the hardest from the aerobic standpoint. Once on top you can see the route very clearly.

The descent from the first summit is steeper than all but the final descent to the parking lot. Some people may feel more comfortable using hiking poles.

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

It’s a straightforward hike to the high point of the day

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

You can see Highway 40 from sections of the hike

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

There’s another snow covered trail up to Grizzly Col off in the distance

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Sweet place to hang out on top of Pocaterra Ridge

The trail is well-worn in places

The trail is well-worn in places

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Four summits need to be climbed along Pocaterra Ridge

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Humans look so puny in the mountain environment

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Admiring the view to Elbow Lake accessible via a popular mountain biking trail

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Sublime views along the ridge

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

Another patch of in your face yellow larches on the descent from the ridge

After you’ve climbed the fourth summit you can look forward to a steep descent to the Little Highwood Pass parking lot – visible in the photo you see below. The trail is obvious for a good chunk of the descent. Once the well-defined trail disappears follow whatever animal trails you can find as you switchback down the ridgeline. There may be occasional pieces of flagging tape. Despite the lack of trail, it’s actually quite straight forward to descend, mostly because the trees aren’t too dense. You will eventually reach a creek you must cross. Certainly by September it was obvious what route to take. Early on in the season you might need sandals to avoid getting your feet wet. We literally finished the hike beside a bush marked with flagging tape directly across from the entrance to the parking lot.

This is a stunner of a hike almost from the moment you start. When you can hike it will very year to year depending on snow levels. The road to Highwood Pass is closed to cars until June 15th. In most years your window to hike the ridge will be from late June until late September. Enjoy this fabulous hike.

The Fantastic Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country

The last of the views before getting into the trees

Pocaterra Ridge Hike Details:

  • Trail length: 8.9 kilometres one way
  • Elevation gain/loss from Highwood Pass: 950 metres gain; 640 metre loss
  • Time needed: Allow six hours with breaks.
  • Don’t forget: Warm clothes. The wind can be ferocious at times. Everyone should carry bear spray.

Pocaterra Ridge - one of the best day hikes in Alberta

Other Kananaskis hikes you might enjoy:

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
HikeBikeTravel
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Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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