Drive about an hour northeast of Calgary or two and a half hours south of…
If you’re after an outing that offers a heady mix of mountain views and lakes, then you’ll enjoy the moderate Sparrowhawk Tarns hike. You won’t have any problem with route-finding on the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike if you follow the directions in this blog and check out the photos. No scrambling is involved – merely a wee bit of rock-hopping. And most of the 13.7 km return hike is at a gentle to moderate grade. This hike seems to be under-appreciated as it wasn’t at all busy.
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When should you do this hike?
The Sparrowhawk Tarns dry up over the course of the summer so aim to do this hike from about the third week of June through to mid-August. Come back again in mid-September if you want to catch the stands of larches dressed in their fall colours.
Sparrowhawk Tarns route description
You’re in for a treat on the hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns in Kananaskis Country. The trail climbs just 720 m over approximately 6.9 km – enough that you can be assured of some excellent views.
I’d suggest that you take a photo of this route description or bring a map with you so you know which way to go at each intersection. There is flagging tape in places but it doesn’t clarify the route. Fortunately on the descent the route is easier to follow.
I highly recommend a copy of the Gemtrek Canmore and Kananaskis Village map.
Follow the trail from the parking lot at the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area to the Smith-Dorrien Road. Look for the trail heading up the hill on the other side of the highway. Take it.
In short order you reach an intersection with the High Rockies Trail. Cross it. Or if you need to catch your breath enjoy the view from the bench at the intersection.
Continue through pretty forest to reach the next intersection approximately 1 km from the parking lot. Go right to stay on the trail to the tarns. If you head left you’ll end on the much tougher trail to Read’s Ridge and Mount Sparrowhawk.
The grade moderates from here until you clear the trees. You should see a stream on your right (as you ascend) in 5 – 10 minutes. It’s a good place to cool down and let your dog get a drink.
When you clear the forest, about hour into the hike, look for the bright pink flagging tape marking the entrance/exit to the woods.
Turn right here on a well-trodden trail and continue past a very large boulder. Be prepared for the sudden piercing call of marmots through the boulders. It shocked us the first time we heard it.
The rest of the hike takes you up through the boulder field. If you stay on the trail you’ll never have to use your hands. But if you get off it, prepare for some boulder hopping. You may need to put your hand down to steady yourself on the odd boulder.
The boulder section ascends three ridges until you top out by the first tarn. Plan to spend a good part of the day exploring, checking out the other tarns, walking the ridges and simply enjoying the views.
Getting back to the car
Retrace your steps to return to the trailhead. I’d recommend looking back several times on the ascent -picking out landmarks to make sure you have an easy time route-finding on the way down.
It took us under two hours to get to the first tarn and only about 90 minutes to get down to the parking lot. In total over a July long weekend we saw all of eight other hikers.
Sparrowhawk Tarns Trailhead location
Zero your odometer at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Drive 22.5 km south on the dusty Smith-Dorrien (also called Highway 742) to the parking area at the signed Sparrowhawk Day Use Area. Spill over parking is on the road.
A few things you might want on this hike
A lightweight pair of hiking poles can be a game-changer.
If you haven’t been hiking in a while and are prone to blisters, I suggest taking Compeed. I swear by the stuff.
Don’t forget bear spray. It should always be accessible – and that’s why I put mine in a holster on the waist strap of my pack.
To check the Kananaskis trail report visit their website.
Other hikes you might enjoy in the mountains
- 12 Kananaskis Trail Hikes in Alberta With a View
- The Hike to Burstall Pass in Kananaskis Country
- Mountains and Stunning views on the Hike to Buller Pass
- 7 Bragg Creek Hikes along Highway 66 in Alberta
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