Added by Chris Istace
There are a lot of good reasons to hike this well used and easy to navigate trail including larch trees turning their fall golden yellow, beautiful views of Highwood Pass and surrounding peaks, and bears and Bighorn sheep may be seen on nearby slopes and ridges. It's only moderately difficult so a good family & group opportunity for experienced hikers.
During the fall I find the biggest treat is the changing of the larch trees and the beautiful contrast they provide against the landscape with their intense golden yellow colors. One of the best places to experience this is Pocaterra Ridge, located in the Highwood Pass of the Kananaskis region in the Alberta Rockies.
The trailhead can be found by heading south on Highway 40 south from Highway #1 for approximately 70 km. The best way to do this hike is a through hike, so having two vehicles in your group is suggested. I would recommend dropping the first vehicle at Little Highwood Pass day use area and then continuing onto the Highwood Pass recreational trailhead parking lot further south down the highway. This is where the Pocaterra Ridge trail kiosk is and the route begins. taking you back north to your vehicle. The Highwood Pass also holds bragging rights as the highest elevated paved road in Canada at 2206m. Note that this highway pass is closed seasonally from December 1 to June 15 .
I prefer doing the through hike in the south to north direction of the trail as you gain your elevation quickly to the first and highest of the four ridge peaks and get the majority of the elevation gain out of the way at the start when your energy is the best. You then continue along your way up and down the ridge to the remaining 3 peaks.
As you start your way from the Highwood Pass trailhead you will soon come to a fork in the trail; take the left route and begin your way into the forest. After a short while you will come to a nice meadow where you will be greeted by a creek flowing into a beautiful small lake, this spot also is surrounded by your first nice larch forest section. Beyond the lake you will see your first ridge to climb to the tallest peak of the trail at 2670m.
From the top of the first peak looking north you will see the undulating up and down path along the ridge across the remaining peaks. The biggest treat is the larch forest between peaks 3 and 4 - here you will be walking through dense golden colors and enjoying the views. You gain the final peak and then decent steadily back down towards Little Highwood Pass. Once you reach the valley floor you will turn east and need to cross the Pocaterra Creek; be mindful of seasonal water flows in this location as you will be crossing the water here. Watch for flag tape and cairns to mark the path. Once across the creek you hike up to the highway and cross the road to the Little Highwood Pass where you left your 2nd vehicle earlier in the day.
For this hike I would give yourself 6-8 hrs depending on your pace and of course the amount of sight seeing you indulge in. Starting elevation at Highwood Pass is 2206 and ending elevation at Little Highwood Pass is 1920m, with the highest elevation achieved at Peak 1 being 2670m. Going the south to north route saves you the 300m elevation gain difference between the parking spots so you will end up doing about 650m elevation gain covering roughly 9km in distance.
Get out and explore this beautiful spot in spring and summer but as my adventure suggests, fall is the best time I think. Have fun and do something Beyond The Usual by experiencing this hike.
- 10 Essentials
- Bear Spray - prime Grizzly habitat
- Camera - the larches will overwhelm you
- Food/Water for 6-8 hr hike
- Solid footwear for rocky terrain
- Adequate clothing for unpredictable fall alpine weather
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