On a cold, snowy September day – the sort of day where a good book, a hot drink and a fireplace has appeal, John and I found ourselves driving Highway 40 towards Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country. Our goal was the easy Arethusa Cirque hike where we’d been told we’d find larches in all their fall glory.
The hike to Arethusa Cirque is neither marked nor maintained but there is one sign at the start of the trail (at the far end of the rough parking lot) and a very easy to follow trail once you’ve found the start of it. For the first 0.7 kilometres it climbs through the woods at a pretty gentle grade. Because of the snow, the trail was muddy and slippery in areas but still very manageable. We were thankful that we came prepared with all the right clothes (always take extra warm clothes for the mountains) despite the fact that the weather had been warm and sunny in Calgary. The little girl in a pink tutu we passed was not quite so happy. This storm blew in quickly and her parents were obviously completely unprepared.
When you reach the tarn, you get the first inkling of the visual treat that’s in store. We ended up with peak-a-boo mountain views over the course of our two hour hike as the snow competed with the sun and won for about 30 minutes.
There’s a small creek to the east of the tarn you want to follow to reach Arethusa Cirque. The trail is really obvious in here as it weaves through open areas and then alongside the creek itself. There is a wee bit of boulder hopping just before you reach treeline. Once at treeline the trails go all over the place so look up and to your right (east) and start making your own way up and over a couple of talus filled hills to gain the high point. From there you can wander towards the cirque – and decide how far up you want to travel. It’s about a kilometre from treeline to get into the cirque.
Another choice would be to hike to the summit of Little Arethusa – situated northwest of Arethusa Cirque near Ptarmigan Cirque. You’d want to take the left fork of the trail when it crosses the creek and work your way to the western part of the lower slope where from all reports there is a good trail to the top. That hike is now on my list for next summer.
On this day John and I were more interested in capturing the larches in their glory. Another time we’d explore the talus field as its known for it’s fossilized shells.
For the effort and the time, the Arethusa Cirque hike delivers fantastic mountain views. I highly recommend it but do go prepared as this is grizzly bear country and everyone should carry a can of bear spray that is under two year’s old.
Finding the Trailhead to Arethusa Cirque
The trailhead is located approximately 1.25 kilometres south of the Highwood Pass parking lot on the east side of Highway 40. If it’s a nice day or a weekend there is a good chance you’ll see other cars parked in an informal dirt parking lot.
Other Kananskis Country hikes you might enjoy:
- Mountains and Stunning Views on the Hike to Buller Pass
- Prairie Mountain – A Year Round Day Hike from Calgary
- The Moose Mountain Hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta
- The Fantastic Hike to the Summit of Ha Ling Peak
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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