Scenery from the Ptarmigan Cirque hike in Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies
Scenery from the Ptarmigan Cirque hike in Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies

Ptarmigan Cirque hike

Kananaskis Trail
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Trail down from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreThe views from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreView from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreIncredible view from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmorePanorama from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreFamily-friendly Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreKids love the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreAutumn colors on the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreGreat views from the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreLarche in Autumn on the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreViews from the highway on the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near CanmoreWalking through the highwood meadows on the Ptarmigan Cirque Hike in Kananaskis, near Canmore

Ptarmigan Cirque hike

Distance: 2.2mi
Elevation: 640ft
Time: 1-1.5h

Difficulty Rating:

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9.1 Overall Rating
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The hike to Ptarmigan Cirque is a family favourite and is especially great for little kids. Starting at Highwood Pass means you are in the alpine almost immediately. Ptarmigan Cirque is locally famous as a great hike to view autumn larches, it is also a fun location for a family photo shoot!

Ptarmigan Cirque hike Map

Getting there

From the Stoney Nakoda Casino on the TransCanada, take Highway 40 south for roughly 41.6mi to Highwood Pass. Park at the Highwood Meadows parking lot.

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About

When to do

When Dry

Backcountry Campsites

No

Toilets

At trailhead

Family friendly

Yes

Route Signage

Average

Crowd Levels

Moderate

Route Type

Lollipop


Ptarmigan Cirque
Elevation Graph


Route Description for Ptarmigan Cirque

Ptarmigan Cirque is quite simply a wonderful hiking trail for families, and little ones love it. There is one caveat, don’t go when it is icy! We have mistakenly gone when it is icy, and the hike through the trees to Ptarmigan Cirque was not pleasant on a steep, icy trail.

From the Highwood Meadows parking lot, walk NW on a path through Highwood Meadows for 400m.  Partway along the path splits. Don’t go left (that takes you to Pocaterra Ridge). Instead take the main path to the right. This path curves to the right and eventually comes to the highway. Cross the highway at a crosswalk, making sure to look and not just listen, a road biker or a Tesla could be tearing along the road here!

After crossing the highway, immediately walk up through the trees on a path for 2297ft. This is the toughest part of the hike up to Ptarmigan Cirque.   This path can get very slippery after recent snow or late in the season, where the melting snow freezes overnight. If you’re heading out in Autumn to view larches, it is recommended to bring microspikes in case the path is slippery.

Coming out of the trees the view opens up and in Autumn you are rewarded with a stunning view of yellow larches.  The entire view is sublime, but to your right, looking south down the valley is truly incredible.  From this point the route is a circuit, going clockwise, with tremendous views of Ptarmigan Cirque the focal point.

At the far end of hike, you need to cross over a small stream, watch out as the rocks can be slippery.  Return to your original path, taking many breaks to look back at the stunning Ptarmigan Cirque and the surrounding views. Once back at the original path, start the steep descend back through the trees.

Back at the road, cross it and go back along path to car.

Insider Hints

  • The entire Highwood Pass area, including the southern portion of Highway 40, is closed from December 1st to June 14th each year. This hike can only be reached via a long bike ride while the highway is closed.

  • A midweek autumn photoshoot at Pocaterra Cirque gives absolutely stunning family photos. You can save the $500 photographer fee by buying a tripod and a Bluetooth clicker, allowing you to take wonderful family photos using your smartphone.

  • Ptarmigan Cirque is one of the most popular places (and perhaps the easiest to access) to see stunning larches in each Autumn. The actual dates vary year-by-year, but it’s usually in mid to late September.

Comments

nwismark 1 year ago

10.0 Overall Rating
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mallorykirzinger 2 years ago

Short and sweet, the cirque is very pretty and easy to get to. Good in the fall, just bring microspikes if you have them for the packed snow.

9.0 Overall Rating
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Nigel F. 2 years ago

It's one of the most popular places to go for a family hike. We cherished our time there.

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Richy_travels 2 years ago

I had a great time hiking here last Autumn.

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Allanhoward 2 years ago

This hike is great, but I slipped a couple of times. Make sure to wear proper shoes.

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DesireeD. 2 years ago

Very colorful and beautiful views. Also good for a family picnic.

8.0 Overall Rating
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Artemis H. 2 years ago

The view of the valley is truly incredible. Ptarmigan Cirque is quite simply a beautiful hiking trail for families. The hike through the trees to Ptarmigan Cirque was not pleasant if it's icy. This path can get very slippery after recent snow or late in the season

10.0 Overall Rating
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MayP 2 years ago

the view was so romantic we decided to bring our husbands next time.

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Gregory J. 2 years ago

Plan ahead of time for this amazing hike! It was short so make sure to bring a camera!

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Harry S. 2 years ago

Fun hike and especially great for little kids. It's a great hike to view autumn larches. It's also a fun location for a family photoshoot.

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23 Comments Show all

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