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The Pickle Jar Lakes hike is a standout if you’re a fan of mountain lakes. And judging by the popularity of this Kananaskis hike, people love a lake as a destination.
Four lakes. Even better – though not all are equally beautiful. Be sure to go as far as the third of the Pickle Jar Lakes as it’s the prettiest of them all.
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Pickle Jar Lakes hike route description
From the parking lot walk north beside the highway for about 100 m. Cross the road and pick up the obvious, though unsigned trail that curves northeast into woods of aspen and conifers. Start climbing.
Approximately 20 minutes into the hike you’ll get a good view of the trail heading up. For a while you can hear road traffic. Eventually it gets drowned out by the sound of the creek you can see in places below you.
The ascent is steady though very doable, even for kids if you take your time. In a few of the steep places there isn’t much underfoot for traction. Some people may find poles handy in this section.
The trail drops into the forest after cresting the first pass. Then it’s up again but the views show up. Mist Mountain appears off to the west-northwest. Reach the high point of the entire hike at a 2137 m pass.
The lakes come into view
From the pass descend a short section on shale – with tantalizing views of the first lake. This part of the hike can be a challenge for some. It’s steep and hard to get a good grip. Again poles may help.
The first of the Pickle Jar Lakes is at the 4.2 km mark. To continue to the second lake, walk along the south shore to an obvious inlet stream. Boulder hop and then hike up and over a small scree slope to reach the lake number two. If you’re thinking about a lunch stop, keep going to the third lake, the prettiest one of them all. It’s a short hike between each lake.
When you arrive at the third lake you can see trails going either way around it. We went right, crossed a scree slope, continued through a short section of beautiful alpine wildflowers to gain a ridge overlooking the shallow fourth lake. It’s easy to hike down to the lake. From there pick up the trail to loop back to the start of the third lake.
Retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
It’s a desolate scene on the way to the third lake
On a sunny day the water in the third lake is a gorgeous Caribbean blue and teal colour though the backdrop of banded cliffs and talus bowls is a tad desolate. Still this is the lake everyone is drawn to. The fishing is good, picnic spots out of the wind are plentiful and you may see or hear a marmot or pika.
Camping at Pickle Jar
Camping is happening at the lakes – as I saw many groups going in and lots of campsites. However, it’s not actually permitted according to a woman I spoke with at the Barrier Lake Information Centre. I wouldn’t recommend it or I’d double check and ask for a second opinion. But the Alberta Parks website shows no camping too.
It’s approximately 9.0 km round-trip if you visit all four of the Pickle Jar Lakes. The elevation gain is a very manageable 450 m. Distance and vertical vary a bit depending on the routes you take.
Allow three to five hours, depending on how much time you spend exploring and hanging out around the lakes.
You’ll see lots of people fly fishing as the lakes are stocked with Westslope Cutthroat trout. It’s catch and release only and you need a permit.
The hike is dog-friendly but keep them on a leash at all times. There are a couple of streams on the hike up to the lakes where dogs can drink some water. Or take a dog bowl like this one that is collapsible.
The Highwood & Cataract Creek Gem Trek map is the one to carry on this hike.
If you enjoy wildflowers but don’t know their names, this pocket guide is helpful.
Finding the trailhead
The shortest route to the trailhead if you’re coming from Calgary is via Highway 40. From Black Diamond take Highway 22 south to Longview. Turn west onto Highway 541. It becomes Highway 40 when you reach Kananaskis Country. From Longview it’s 61 km to reach the large Lantern Creek Recreation parking lot on the west side of the highway.
From Highwood Pass it’s 20.6 km south on Highway 40 to get to the Lantern Creek parking lot.
Walk north beside the highway for a few hundred feet, cross the road and you’ll see the start of the trail to the lakes.
Further reading on hikes from nearby Highwood Pass
- The Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis
- The Grizzly Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Elbow Lake – Rae Glacier Hike, Kananaskis Country
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