was successfully added to your cart.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

If you want a short hike that delivers superlative mountain scenery in short order do the popular Ptarmigan Cirque hike in Kananaskis Country. It’s a 3.6 kilometre loop (if you include the interpretive trail) with 210 metres of elevation gain. There is the option to hike a section of the scramblers trail that heads for Mt. Rae. For a short hike it delivers a tremendous variety of scenery – including coniferous forests, high alpine meadows, mountains and waterfalls. It’s the perfect hike to take your out of town guests who want a taste of the mountains without spending a full day in them – and it’s a great one for families too.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

The hike to Ptarmigan Cirque starts from the parking lot at the top of Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

The hike takes you across the highway at the summit – at an elevation of 2206 m

The hike though short is classified as a moderate hike because of the elevation gain. Most of the vertical gain occurs in the first kilometre. After that you reach the meadows and the grade moderates to one where you won’t hear your heart pounding in your ears.

The trail is a snap to follow. When you reach a T-junction go straight and hike the loop in a clockwise direction. (See the map below.) Make your way through wildflower studded meadows – noting glacier lilies, alpine forget-me-nots and Indian paintbrush to name a few flowers. In short order you reach a sign with a hiker on it. It’s worthwhile to continue on this scramblers trail to an obvious high point where you’ll want to pull out a picnic lunch. If you were to continue on the trail you would access Mt. Rae.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

The steepest part of the hike is at the start

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Depending on when you hike you may see these glacier lilies – a flower you can eat

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Meadows are filled with wildflowers in the summer

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Our friends at the turnoff to the scramblers route up Mt Rae

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

There is the option to do and up and down hike to get a better view; it also is the scramblers access route to Mt Rae

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Into a world of rock – and the occasional marmot

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Some people like poles for the descent on the scree

Retrace your steps to the main trail, being careful on the descent through the scree that you don’t go over on your ankle. Once back on the main trail it’s lovely hiking – first across a creek above a pretty waterfall and then through patches of scree and meadows – all the while enjoying views across to Grizzly Peak, Pocaterra Ridge and Mt. Tyrwhitt.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

You’ll pass several waterfalls on the way down from Ptarmigan Cirque

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

You get the best view of Ptarmigan Cirque on the descent

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Enjoy views across the highway of Pocaterra Ridge (on the right), Grizzly Peak (partially visible on the left) and Mt. Tyrwhitt at the back on the left

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Map of the Ptarmigan Cirque hike

If you didn’t do the interpretive trail at the start of the hike do it at the end. It’s only 0.1 kilometres long each way on a boardwalk. Read the educational signs to learn about sub-alpine meadows and the growth rates of trees at altitude.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Add a short optional hike on an interpretative trail just off the trail to Ptarmigan Cirque

The Ptarmigan trail is the most scenic, short trail I’ve hiked to date in Kananaskis Country. Even though its short go prepared as the weather changes quickly in the high alpine. Take a warm coat even if you start out on a hot day. Don’t forget the bear spray either. Grizzlies frequent this area. In fact we saw a mother grizzly and her three cubs just off the highway, several kilometres to the north, both driving to the pass and on the way home.

Dogs are allowed on this trail but KEEP them on a leash or you risk a significant fine. Don’t expect a  warning. The park ranger makes a daily trip to this area and won’t hesitate to write you a ticket.

Finding the trailhead for the Ptarmigan Cirque hike

From Calgary drive west on Highway 1 to reach the exit for Highway 40. Drive south on Highway 40 for approximately 67 kilometres to the top of Highwood Pass – the highest public road in Canada. Park at the Highwood Meadows Day Use Area parking lot on the west side of Hwy 40. (There are washrooms here.) Start right from the parking lot on the Highwood Meadows Interpretive Trail boardwalk. In short order look for a trailhead sign for Ptarmigan Cirque. It will take you across the highway.

Other hikes you can do from Highwood Pass – and they are all exceptional include:

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
HikeBikeTravel
Follow me on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest

Author Leigh

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

More posts by Leigh

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.