Highwood Pass Hike

The Sky-High Sister Trail of Pocaterra Ridge

Distance
9.3km

Trail type
Out and back

Elevation
567m

Level
Hard

 

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The Highest Paved Pass in Canada

Located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, the 7,710 ft of elevation views at Highwood Pass exhibit a powerful display of the force of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain Front Ranges. Experienced hiking groups will love this trail for its scrambling, accessibility to multiple ridges, and route finding. A secret gem of backpacking routes, this trail is a great fall-refresher to see the expansive ombre hues of green, yellow and orange forests in their prime. The showpiece of this 3-4 hour hike is hinted in its name, with ridge walks revealing plentiful wildlife, flora, meadows and intermingled rock formations coating the horizon from your elevated vantage point.

Where Is It?

Drive west onto the Trans-Canada Highway towards Highway 40. At the Kananaskis Trail Intersection, continue driving south. Pass the Kananaskis Lakes turnoff. Pocaterra Creek can be seen to the left of the highway as you continue to Highwood Pass. At the highest point on Highway 40, off the right of the highway, is the Highwood Pass parking lot. Note that this portion of Highway 40 is closed from December 1-June 15 yearly to protect the area’s bighorn sheep. Highwood Pass can also be accessed from the south by driving past the town of Longview west onto Highway 541, later converging into Highway 40. This drive is favoured for its trip through Kananaskis Country where photographic opportunities of ranches, oil wells, sheep and branching rivers appear.

Trail Highlights

A class 2 hike and scramble from Highwood Pass, Grizzly Peak marks the summit at 9,090 ft. North of the Highwood Pass parking lot, traverse across the Highwood Meadows interpretive trail teeming with wildlife and wildflowers. Continue on the main trail as you climb over the north end of Highwood Ridge with mountain ranges surrounding you in all directions. The rich larch alpine forests of Pocaterra Cirque border the small Pocaterra Creek. This shallow creek is an excellent quiet spot to take a snack break before continuing north. The 4.5 km point of the trail introduces the first view of Grizzly Ridge and Grizzly Col. Avoid the Pocaterra Ridge trail by forking through a less trodden left junction. Scramble over the steep scree of Grizzly Col’s aged rock. Perched between Mount Tyrwhitt and Grizzly Peak, towering formations of weathered stone stand proud. There is no better word to describe your first aerial view of the rocky masses than epic. An even better vantage point is the summit of Grizzly Ridge, a natural phenomenon of neighbouring peaks sloping towards Paradise Valley; yet in our opinion, paradise describes the entire panorama.

 

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Return Trip

The ascent to Grizzly Ridge is more easily distinguished by natural markers than its descent. Reroute your way to the valley floor. Experience in navigating without marked trails is recommended. Keep your hiking poles handy as you traverse through plains of rocks, scree and mud. Retracing your steps is the easiest path of return, although you may also continue past the Grizzly Ridge summit and descend north down Highwood Ridge. If you choose the alternative return route, views of Mist Mountain, Mount Lipsett, Storm Mountain, Mount Arethusa and Gap Mountain protrude starkly against lush forest floors.

The epic qualities of Highwood Pass leave one breathless, and not just from the exercise on the hike. Such an elevation gives one a vantage point over almost all of Kananaskis so stunning that on your return trip down the mountain, you’ll be planning your return trip to Highwood Pass!

Tips

  • Bring emergency food, water, shelter and navigation supplies with you as this hike covers vast access to backcountry open to multiple trails. 
  • Let a trusted member outside of your hiking group know when you expect to be back in case of accidentally taking the wrong trail.
  • Before you leave, check the weather pattern and trail reports for the Highwood Pass Area.
  • Grizzly bears are common sights on this trail, stay in a loud group and remember to bring bear spray. 
  • If you’d like to hike multiple trails within the area without driving to and from Calgary daily, there are multiple campgrounds and recreational areas accessible in the area of Kananaskis Lakes, a 20 minutes drive north. 
  • If you’d rather something a lot more luxurious, stay overnight at the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge to dine at the Blacktail Bar and relax in their nordic spa.  
  • The hiking trail tends to be snow-free by the beginning of July.