Ptarmigan Cirque is a high mountain bowl (cirque)above the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country. It is billed as an interpretive trail, but the first kilometre is quite steep. But stick with it because the cirque area itself is worth the effort. Besides interpretive trails have those little signs every now and then where you can legitimately stop and rest while you slowly read the text. Once you leave the trees the trail levels out considerably.
The landscape in the cirque is quite stark, but the views are fantastic. You can stay on the trail or head further up the cirque along a faint trail. you can also go further up to Mt. Rae from here, but that's a scramble for another time.
NTS Map: 082J10 Elevation Gain: 230 m (755 ft).
The Highwood Pass area is considerably higher in elevation than Lougheed Park, dress accordingly.
At the Highwood Pass, park in the parking area on the west side of the road. The trailhead is north about 100m and then across the highway. The Highwood Pass, at 7200', is the highest driveable mountain pass in Canada. It is closed every winter for animal management. The Pass is on Hwy 40, about 50km south of Hwy 1.
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Posted By: MelZo
- Mon Jul 23 02:07:59 UTC 2018
UpsideLove the views at the top, great short hike that gives some stretch to the legs at the outset. Lots of little wildlife. DownsideEXTREMELY busy. Saw no interpretive signs to rest at on the way up, just the "Trail Stop" which, sadly, didn't justify the amount of time we wanted to catch our breath. Also, mama grizz and 3 cubs in the area at least from July 13-20 (2018), so be bear aware! CommentStarted out around 930am today (July 22), and were a little bummed at the fact that there were 2-3 groups ahead of us. Then by the time we made the cirque, there were probably 20-25 groups behind us. We met another 10 or so going up as we went down. DEFINITELY go earlier than later.
It was chilly when we started out, but warmed up during the steep start. Windy and frigid at the cirque, but nice to stop for a snack. Saw a good sized marmot watching everyone do the walk up the skree to the cirque,just hanging out a ways from the path.
Saw 4-5 more marmots on the way down on the side path with the bench (they were across the valley running up to and past the trees). Tons of ground squirrels and chipmunks.
The little "Little Highwood Pass" path as an offshoot (the boardwalk at the start before you cross the highway) is billed as being 30-40 minutes. It's actually closer to 10, out and back. Cute for kids, though.
Posted By: ChrisMarry
- Sun Jul 15 14:23:33 UTC 2018
UpsideWhat a beautiful short hike, superb views, very rewarding! DownsideSo many people here, might be a good thing though when seeing all the sign of bears around.
Posted By: stacylondon
- Mon Jul 10 03:41:45 UTC 2017
UpsideQuick and very easy access to beautiful views! DownsideNone!
Posted By: Gia
- Wed Oct 12 16:46:22 UTC 2016
Does anyone know if the road is still open? ANSWERS are in this forum: Road closure
Posted By: HRobertson
- Tue Aug 16 04:05:29 UTC 2016
UpsideExcellent trail with and without the interpretive aspect! Fantastic trail to see wildlife (such as mountain sheep and marmots) on if you go at a time that isn't too busy. DownsideCan get quite busy on the weekends, so its best to go out earlier in the day or during the week when the trail is a little emptier, especially if you hope to see any wildlife.
Posted By: longleggedhiker
- Tue Jan 11 20:15:26 UTC 2011
UpsideDefinitley one of the best interpretive trails in Kananaskis Country. This allows you to reach a high alpine cirque with minimal effort owing to the already high road access. DownsideThere really is no downside to this hike other than the fact that it is usually quite windy and cold up at the cirque. CommentThis is a must hike trail for anyone in the area. The trail is not overly difficult and the views are outstanding! It is best to visit in early July as the wildflowers will be in full bloom!
This trail is quite popular, if you can come druing the week, then do so as summer weekends see crows up here!
This trail is known to have lost of Grizzly Bear sightings, keep your eyes open and make lots of noise!
Posted By: benbreck
- Sat Apr 04 03:23:34 UTC 2009
QuestionDoes anyone think this trail is still too covered to hike?
Apr 03 09ANSWERS are in this forum: Hikeable?
Posted By: natalielouise1
- Sun Aug 24 21:12:58 UTC 2008
UpsideSuch a pretty view! This is such a unique area and very accessible. DownsideWe saw a few idiots going off the trail. It's frustrating to see this when you love to hike and follow the rules. We want the paths to remain open but trail erosion will shut them down for all of us. CommentRated as moderate, it's more of an easy.
Posted By: Rufff
- Mon Aug 20 23:58:32 UTC 2007
UpsideIf you have never seen an alpine meadow up close and personal this short hike your best bet. In season the flowers are great and contrast with the stark colors of the cirque. CommentIf you're new to hiking grab the interpetive folder and read about each numbered stop. We missed the fossils the first time
Posted By: grassrootsinab
- Sun Jul 22 22:39:57 UTC 2007
UpsideAwesome views for a relatively short hike. Only a short climb from the parking lot offers a fantastic experience in a glacial cirque. DownsideBears do frequent the area...make you are prepared! CommentAnother great family hike. As mentioned above, TONS of wildflowers in season. We've also done this as an early fall hike and had a great time. One of my son's favorite places (the one he requests EVERY year!!!)
Posted By: sdecarie
- Sun Jul 31 02:06:43 UTC 2005
UpsideRelatively short up hill hike to some beautiful scenery. Wildflowers galore in season DownsideWe did see a grizzly bear in the area (near the creek) on the way down. CommentWell worth the trip. Do stay on paths as it is an environmentally sensitive area