The Nootka Trail now ranks as my favourite coastal trail in BC. It stretches for…
The Pocaterra Ridge hike in Kananaskis Country deserves to be on your must-do list. It ranks as one of the best day hikes I’ve done in Alberta. Once on the ridge enjoy hours of mountain views in all directions.
I did this hike with three women around the third week in September when the larches were at their peak. Pocaterra Ridge was absolutely stunning in September and truly a memorable hike. A summer hike would also be very beautiful – and the wildflowers are reportedly prolific. But if you can wait till larch season I’d recommend it.
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The best way to hike Pocaterra Ridge
Do the 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 m 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. But really, who does that?
Pocaterra Ridge trip report
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 Grizzly Col and Grizzly Ridge – 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. The ridge is off to the right (north).
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.
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 descent to Little Highwood Pass
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.
The best time to hike the ridge
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 – with mid-September ideal for the larches. Enjoy this fabulous hike.
Pocaterra Ridge Hike Details
- Trail length: 9.3 km one way
- Elevation gain/loss from Highwood Pass: 550 m gain; 875 m loss
- Time needed: Allow six hours one way with breaks.
- Don’t forget: Warm clothes. The wind can be ferocious at times. Everyone should carry bear spray.
5 things that come with me on almost every hike
I swear by my almost weightless inflatable seat cushion as its makes a lunch time stop that much more comfortable.
I like using hiking poles especially as I get older. I also find them very useful when a stream crossing is involved. Invest in a good pair that are collapsible, preferably made of carbon because of their weightless quality.
I always pack a buff as it’s a multi-purpose piece of cloth with a hundred uses yet it takes up almost no room.
Other Alberta hikes you might enjoy
- The Larch Valley Hike – Sentinel Pass Hike in Fall
- The King Creek Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Wind Ridge Trail hike near Dead Man’s Flats
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