Autumn Larch Viewing on the Pocaterra Cirque & Ridge Trails

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Pocaterra Cirque

Distance
6.9km roundtrip

Trail type
Out and back

Elevation
415m

Level
Easy/moderate

Pocaterra Ridge

Distance
9.9km roundtrip

Trail type
Out and back

Elevation
550m

Level
Difficult

Favourite for Larch Viewing

The Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge hikes are favourites year round (well, June to October!) in Kananaskis, but they are particularly spellbinding in the autumn. As summer fades all too quickly from the memories of Albertans, the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains contain a feast for the senses in the form of golden larch trees. Found only above 1800m in elevation, larche needles turn a unique golden hue for a few weeks in early-autumn, and the result is jaw-droppingly beautiful for hikers. Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge have become favourite hikes for the slightly more adventurous seeking larch viewing (as opposed to Ptarmigan Ridge, which is great for larches, but an easier hike).

 

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Where is It?

Pocaterra Cirque and Ridge trail starts at the Highwood Day Pass Area off Highway 40, 67km south of the TransCanada junction. The parking area is directly adjacent to the highway and clearly marked. If you are enjoying a weekend hike, you will know you’re at the right spot by the crowd of cars lining the highway; the parking lot fills up early on busy days. There is a gathering area with outhouses and the Highwood Meadows Trail begins immediately. Make sure to stay left for the Pocaterra Trails, as Ptarmigan Ridge starts at the same area and crosses the highway.

Directions from Calgary

 

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Trail Highlights

From Highwood Meadows, a short 200m stroll will take you across a small bridge with a left turn taking hikers onto the Pocaterra trails. The only sign marking this trail states “Fragile area, please stay on designated trail”, but the trail is clear and well worn. The path will wind through the forest and after about 2km and 200m elevation gain, hikers will emerge into meadows and encounter a tarn (small mountain lake). Another half kilometre and the Cirque– which is a mountain bowl surrounding the observer close to 180 degrees– will come into view. Stand at the foot of the Cirque and feel tiny next to the mountain, then turn around towards your path and see the Kananaskis Valley in all its glory, the larch trees providing a golden frame to this most amazing view.

Walking through the foot of the Cirque will take hikers through a golden larch forest that seems like something out of a fairytale. Knowing this experience is only available for a few weeks every year enhances the appreciation of nature and re-energizes your body, mind and soul.

 

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From Pocaterra Cirque to Pocaterra Ridge

This easy walk through the golden forest starts to regain elevation, signalling the beginning of the ascent towards Pocaterra Ridge. One will arrive at the foot of the highest part of your journey, which is an approximately 150m, steep climb up a hill to the viewing platform at the peak of the Ridge. (Note: there are two ways to experience Pocaterra Ridge. The other is a 12km hike starting north at Little Highwood parking lot and is a more advanced hike). The view of the Valley is even more pronounced with distant peaks, bright blue sky (hopefully!) and golden larches creating a menagerie of nature’s finest exhibits.

 

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The Return Trip

You’ve reached your destination, the effort was worth it and you will breathe in the satisfaction of a brilliant day’s journey into golden heaven. And the best part is, most of the best parts of the view are right in front of you for the first half of the return descent!

As always, pack for changing Alberta Rocky Mountain weather, with the assumption it will be colder at the top. Be bear and wildlife aware, keep your dogs on a leash and any garbage in your pack and have a wonderful, unforgettable hike!

 

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