One of the best hikes I’ve now done in Kananaskis Country is the one to the summit of Grizzly Ridge via Grizzly Col from the trailhead at Highwood Pass. (In Gillean Daffern’s book it’s called Grizzly Peak but there is another shorter Grizzly Peak that begins on the north bank of Ripple Rock Creek on Hwy 40.) The 360 degree views from the top are outstanding. Even though the trail isn’t signed at all, it’s obvious once you know what you’re looking for. If you’ve ever done the Pocaterra Ridge hike, you’ll have no problem finding the turnoff.
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Grizzly Ridge hike summary
You need a Kananaskis Conservation passto do the Grizzly Ridge hike. The cost is $15 for one car per day and $90 for an annual pass – but that registers two cars if they are at the same address.
It’s 4.0 km one way to Grizzly Col from Highwood Pass and another 0.8 km to Grizzly Ridge for a return hike of 9.6 km or 6.0 miles.
There is an elevation gain of 518 m (1,699 feet) to reach the col and another 165 m (541 feet) to reach the summit of Grizzly Ridge.
The high point of the trail is at 2,770 m or 9,090 feet.
I’d rate the trail as moderate with some exposure in the last few minutes of hiking.
Allow 4.5 – 6 hours to do the return hike.
There is no cell service.
Allow five to six hours for the return trip so you can spend time around the col and/or the summit and take in the views.
Don’t forget bear spray (that’s quick to access) and extra water as there aren’t many opportunities to refill water bottles along the way.
Dogs are allowed on a leash but bring water for them.
Park at the Highwood Pass parking lot in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country. Note that the road over Highwood Pass is closed from December 1 – June 14th. There is a washroom here and a well-signed trail to Ptarmigan Cirque.
Grizzly Ridge hike description
Finding the trail at the start of the hike is the crux of it as the scramble on the summit ridge isn’t as daunting as it looks from afar.
From the Highwood Pass parking lot start on the same trail that hikers take to reach Ptarmigan Cirque. After you’ve hiked all of a few hundred metres from the parking lot, turn left onto an unsigned trail that runs through a muddy section heading for the woods. Before you start, look up and off in the distance you can see Pocaterra Ridge. That is the general direction you need to go.
Stay on the trail as it crosses a creek, picking your way across muddy sections. Don’t take any trails to the left early in the hike. You need to pass Pocaterra Tarn before you start even thinking of turning off.
The trail is undulating initially and then it starts to climb, though only moderately. Cross avalanche slopes filled with wildflowers. Definitely make some noise through here. So far I have never seen so much as bear scat in the area but grizzlies are known to hang out around Highwood Pass.
Continue on the obvious, well-trodden trail to Pocaterra Tarn. Remain on the trail until you see the rocks in the photo below and then turn left. (It’s not a big pile of rocks but the trail looks substantial. If you go right you’ll end up heading for Pocaterra Ridge.)
From the turnoff head up through trees and onto a grassy slope. You’ll be able to see the first summit along the Pocaterra Ridge trail. Continue up on the well-defined trail that becomes very scree-like the higher you go.
It gets hot through here with all the black rock. Catch your breath at Grizzly Col and take in the view before continuing up towards the ridge. You may see some people scrambling up the very steep Mt. Tyrwhitt on the right.
Grizzly Col to the ridge
The hike up from Grizzly Col to Grizzly Ridge is short – perhaps 15 minutes at most. Once you reach the ridge turn left and follow the well-traveled trail, enjoying phenomenal views along the way. At the very end of the ridge, there is a short scramble up and along a very rocky section for the last 100 metres or so.
Fortunately, there are lots of handholds and it’s really not so difficult but it might play with your head. The reward on the summit are views stretching for miles in all directions. Return to the ridge for a well earned picnic lunch.