Ptarmigan Cirque hike

Kananaskis Country
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Ptarmigan Cirque hike

Distance: 3.5km
Elevation: 195m
Time: 1-2h

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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 67.0km to Highwood Pass. Park at the Highwood Meadows parking lot.

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When to do

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Ptarmigan Cirque
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Route Description for Ptarmigan Cirque hike

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 700m. 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.


vicious5 3 months ago

Ptarmigan Cirque is a great place to see beautiful views with your family. We took our parents on this hike. They are not that much outdoorsy but they really enjoyed this trail.

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jackiesmith88 5 months ago

Ptarmigan Cirque was a really colorful hike.

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PMahesh 6 months ago

An easy walk to take with a family

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SJ 6 months ago

Ptarmigan Cirque is a perfect family hike!

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