Pocaterra Ridge Hike
This wonderful hike along Pocaterra Ridge is a stunner! A challenging hike, but with spectacular views, we love hiking Pocaterra Ridge in autumn with the beautiful fall colours. Pocaterra Ridge is known as one of the best places to hike among the autumn larch trees in Alberta.
To get to the trailhead of Pocaterra Ridge, from the Stoney Nakoda Casino on the TransCanada, take Highway 40 south for roughly 37.3mi. Park at the Little Highwood Pass parking lot.
|When to do|
June 15 to early October
Out and back
Pocaterra Ridge Hike
Pocaterra Ridge Trail Description
Pocaterra Ridge is often hiked as a one-way hike, finishing where our route starts (Little Highwood Pass), with the hiking starting at Highwood Pass parking lot, farther along Highway 40.
The need for a car shuttle scares off a lot of hikers and is also a bit of a pain. So, we share this route as an out-and back route for Pocaterra Ridge. As the ridge has such incredible views, the out-and-back allows more time on the ridge, with the turn-around at the summit of Pocaterra Ridge. You can also do a shuttle, parking a car at each end of the trail and do this as a one-way route, which is shorter.
For the out-and-back route, from Little Highwood parking lot, cross the highway and go into the trees. You’ll notice that just to your right there is a faint path down through bushes. This path can be overgrown. Follow the path through the trees, trying to keep on the most well-used path, as there are many here.
Very quickly you come to Pocaterra Creek. There are lots of dead trees here courtesy of the Alberta Flood of 2013. Go right along the creek and look for red or yellow tape in trees, as this tape has been put-up to assist in finding the best route to cross the creek. Beware, most people cross on the old logs. These can break, are narrow and are very slippery. Be extremely careful at this point, and if you feel uncomfortable, perhaps try another hike today— there are many in the area.
Follow the route on the other side of Pocaterra Creek as it goes up through the forest. This is not a well-maintained path, so watch out for tree stumps, we’ve torn our gear here before.
After 0.9mi and 1017ft of elevation gain in the forest, you’ve arrived at the treeline. Now the fun hiking begins.
The route continues going up from the treeline, and you must continue hiking up over the first hump. You have a stunning view here, especially in September, when the larches are changing. Over to your left, you can see Elbow Lake, a wonderful, family-friendly backpacking trip. Further on from the lake there is a fun hike to Rae Glacier.
From this wonderful viewpoint, hike down into the larch forest. In autumn, the colours are dazzling. Where the path splits, go right through more trees. You come back to the main path and follow along Pocaterra Ridge.
After hiking 2.7mi from the car, you crest what you may be hoping is the summit of the walk. It’s not. Luckily, it’s so pretty that you probably won’t mind. You can see the path ahead.
Follow the path, up over the false summit and come down on the other side. There is another peak visible. At this point, you can either go left up the next smaller peak or go cross-country to save some elevation. Our map goes cross-country.
Many people turn back at this point, as the next bit is fairly steep and can be icy in late autumn. Up ahead you can see the craggy summit of Pocaterra Ridge. To get there and back takes 1.5-2 hours for fit hikers, so make sure you have enough time to complete it and get back to the car before it gets dark. Like many hikes, getting to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge is easier going up than coming back down.
Follow the path as it follows Pocaterra Ridge. The final ascent is the most challenging, as the path goes to the left of the rock band and can be very slippery if there was snow recently (definitely take microspikes if there is snow on the trail).
Your path goes up a very steep slope that can freeze after cold weather. There is no clear path, just find a way up. You reach a sub-peak, from which you have a few minutes of picking through rocks on an indistinct trail before getting to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge and truly wonderful views.
Hike back the way you came. Note that our map shows us going right into the larches after the 2nd hump. You may find the final route-finding (near Pocaterra Creek) back to your car fairly challenging. Having a GPS often helps.
Hiking trail highlights
Offering one of the best views in all of Alberta, the Spray Lakes were once a string of lakes formed alongside the Spray River. Over time and the damming of the river, the lakes became united as one and now form the Spray Lakes Reservoir.
Surrounded by the Goat Creek and the Three Sisters Ridge, the lakes offer stunning mountain views no matter where you look. It’s now a popular spot not only for its iconic photos, but for hiking, camping and is home to some fantastic picnic spots.
Larches in the autumn
The Pocaterra Ridge is undeniably one of the best fall hikes to see larches. Larch hikes are one of the most popular activities in Alberta throughout the fall season—and for good reason! The Rockies make for an ideal location for larch spotting, thanks to the cool alpine temperatures.
While it may only last for a few short weeks each year, hikers on the Pocaterra Ridge will be delighted to watch as the trees turn from verdant green to dazzling golden yellow. Some consider this one of Mother Nature’s best performances and travel from all across the globe to watch this beautiful transformation take place. We recommend you hit the trails with a camera in hand, you won’t want to miss capturing the beauty of larch season.
Pocaterra Ridge is one of the best hikes in Kananaskis Country. Check out some other amazing trails there:
Take poles with you, as this hike is very steep at times.
If there is snow or ice at elevation, definitely take microspikes.
If you want to only do a one-way hike, most people start at Ptarmigan Cirque / Highwood Meadows parking lot (located near Highwood Pass) and hike to a second car parked at Little Highwood Pass parking lot. This route reduces the elevation gain. The distance of the hike is about the same but has 902ft less of elevation gain.
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