The pretty hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns is a hard trail to follow, however once you reach the tarns, the beautiful views make up for the route-finding challenges. Don’t wait until autumn, as the tarns dry up and are not as stunning.
From the Canmore Nordic Centre, continue west and then south on the Smith-Dorrien (Hwy 742) as it winds up into the Spray Valley for 22.7km. Turn right at the signed Sparrowhawk Day Use Area.
|When to do|
June to early October
Out and back
The hike to Sparrowhawk Tarns is a pretty hike, though route-finding can be challenging. Look at the map before you go, as knowing the general direction really helps you to know where to look for paths and cairns. There is a path, it’s just easy to miss on the way up. The way down from Sparrowhawk Tarns is much easier to follow.
From the Sparrowhawk Day Use Area, cross over the Smith-Dorrien and take the clear path the goes up. Very quickly you come to an intersection with the High Rockies Mountain Bike Trail crossing over your path, which goes straight ahead. The High Rockies Mountain Bike Trail is an exciting new trail for bike-packers and casual day-riders in the Canadian Rockies.
Go straight through the intersection and continue hiking up on the clear trail.
The path soon splits (roughly 1.0km from the car), with the left going to Read’s Ridge. Go right to continue to Sparrowhawk Tarns.
After about an hour from leaving the car, you come out of the forest and come to a boulder field. There are two ways to go here, we went left and contoured around this boulder field on the way up. You could also go right here and find the path that goes up through the rocks (you can see on the map that we took this route down). The path is hard to follow, so just keep going up the valley in the general direction.
As you ascend you’ll pass through some boulder fields that require careful footwork. Roughly 1.5km’s after you come out of the trees, after a bit of downhill, look for a path cutting back up a small rock-band. This rock band requires one point where you need to use your hands.
From here, make your way up and over to the right. Soon you come over a scree hill and you’ll look down on the pretty Sparrowhawk Tarns, overshadowed by Mount Bogart. While some people stop here, spend the effort and hike down and explore the tarns.
Wandering around the tarns is great fun, and each one has a different colour, and varying views of surrounding mountains as you explore. The Sparrowhawk Tarns are at their peak in the summer and can dry up by autumn.
To return to your car, head back the way you came. You’ll see from our map that there are several variants as trails split until you get back in the forest. It’s a pretty walk back, with great views down to the Spray Lakes Reservoir.
If there is one hike you want to have a map for, it’s this one. Once out of the trees, it’s hard to follow the trail and it’s useful to have a map to see where you are.
The tarns are greatly reduced by autumn, so this is a hike you want to do in the summer, while snowmelt is still feeding them.
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