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The Gorgeous Sparrowhawk Tarns Hike Near Canmore

The Gorgeous Sparrowhawk Tarns Hike near Canmore

If you’re after an outing that offers a heady mix of mountain views and lakes, then you’ll enjoy the moderate hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns. You won’t have any problem with route-finding 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.

Rosie the Bernese Mountain dog cooling off in the snow

Rosie the Bernese Mountain dog cooling off in the snow

When should you do the hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns?

The 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 sporting their fall colour. 

Route Description for the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

You’re in for a treat on the hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns in Kananaskis Country. The trail climbs just 720 metres over approximately 6.9 kilometres – 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.

Getting started

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. 

A look at the trail as it climbs up from the Smith Dorrien Road

A look at the trail as it climbs up from the Smith Dorrien Road

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.

Cross the High Rockies Trail to stay on the route to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Cross the High Rockies Trail to stay on the route to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Continue through pretty forest to reach the next intersection approximately one kilometre 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.

Intersection of the Sparrowhawk Tarns trail with Read's Ridge

At this intersection stay right. Notice the cairn.

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.

Pretty stream on the way to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Pretty stream on the way to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

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. 

Clearing the forest on the way up to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Clearing the forest on the way up to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Heading up through the boulder field on a mostly obvious trail

Heading up through the boulder field on a mostly obvious trail

The boulder section before you reach the first tarn

The boulder section before you reach the first tarn

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.

Stupendous mountain vistas on the Sparrowhawk Tarn hike

Stupendous mountain vistas on the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

Looking down on the first Sparrowhawk Tarn

Looking down on the first Sparrowhawk Tarn

The Spray Lakes are in the distance on the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

The Spray Lakes are in the distance on the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

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.

Enjoy the occasional view of Spray Lake on the descent

To return to your car, head back the way you came. It’s a pretty walk back, with lovely views down to the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Finding the Trailhead to the Sparrowhawk Tarns

Zero your odometer at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Drive 22.5 kilometres 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. 

Map of the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

Map of the Sparrowhawk Tarns hike

To check the Kananaskis trail report visit their website.

Other hikes you might enjoy in the mountains

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A Hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns in Kananaskis Country

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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