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Pocaterra Ridge Trail in Kananaskis

The South Pocaterra Ridge trail is one of the most rewarding and scenic hikes in Kananaskis Country. This popular Kananaskis hike offers hikers a wide variety of Kananaskis scenery, ranging from a walk through a mountain cirque, to rushing streams to a spectacular ridge hike with jaw-dropping Rocky Mountain views.

If you hike Pocaterra Ridge in September, this hike becomes truly special as one of the best Kananaskis larch hikes. Every fall, the large forest of larch trees along the Pocaterra Ridge trail turn golden yellow. On a sunny day, the needles on the larch trees literally glow golden in the Alberta sun. The sheer size of the larch stand, coupled with the amazing mountain setting makes Pocaterra Ridge one of the best larch hikes in Kananaskis.

The Pocaterra Ridge hike in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada

Which Pocaterra Ridge Hike Is This?

Just to be confusing, there are three versions of the Pocaterra Ridge Trail:

  • The full Pocaterra Ridge Trail is a 10km one-way hike from Highwood Meadows to the Little Highwood Pass parking lot. This is not the hike we describe below.

  • The excellent Kananaskis hike we describe below is commonly known as the “Pocaterra Ridge Trail”, but you may also see it described as the “South Pocaterra Ridge Trail“. The South Pocaterra Trail is a shorter, there-and-back hiking trail from the Highwood Meadows to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge and back. This is by far the most popular iteration of the Pocaterra Ridge Trail.

  • The Pocaterra Cirque Trail is almost identical to the South Pocaterra Ridge Trail, but it skips the grueling climb to the summit. There is a spur trail from the golden larch tree forest which takes you to the rocky Pocaterra Cirque.
Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge are two of the best larch hikes in alberta

For clarity, we use the descriptions Pocaterra Ridge Trail and the South Pocaterra Ridge trail interchangeably for the there-and-back hike. Still with us? Alright! Let’s go hiking!

South Pocaterra Ridge Trail – Quick Details

Trailhead: Highwood Meadows Day Use

Distance: 8.4 km return (there and back to summit)

Elevation: 659 m elevation gain

a beautiful Alberta larch forest beneath Mount Pocaterra

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best larch hikes kananaskis

South Pocaterra Ridge Hike Highlights

From the Pocaterra Ridge parking lot, head west on the Highwood Meadows trail. The Highwood Meadows trail is a very easy hike along a flat, crushed gravel trail through an open meadow along the base of Highwood Ridge (2,697m). The open mountain meadow is flush with wildflowers (in season) and affords hikers some nice views of Little Arethusa (2,767m), Mt. Rae (3,218m) and Storm Mountain (3,095m) across the highway.    

The Pocaterra Ridge trailhead comes after walking 300m on the Highwood Meadows trail. You’ll see a hiking trail (which looks like double tire tracks) on the left leading into a meadow just beyond a “Fragile Area” sign. The grassy meadow is wide but is surrounded by tall conifer trees on both sides. On your right you’ll enjoy some additional nice views of Mt. Rae and Little Arethusa.

best Kananaskis hikes in fall

At the 600m mark the Pocaterra Ridge trail enters the forest. There’s a cute little larch tree sitting at the entrance to the forest acting as the welcoming committee.

The forest is quite dense, making it hard for the sun to reach through to the bottom. Not only will it be cool in here, there’s a good chance the trail will be snowy or icy if you are hiking Pocaterra Ridge in larch season. It never hurts to pack your microspikes just in case.

Hiking during the Kananaskis larch tree season often means icy trail conditions

Approximately 100m after entering the forest, the Pocaterra Ridge trail makes a sharp left hand turn. There are many trails in this area so look for an orange plastic blazer tied to a tree marking the correct route. Also watch that you don’t step over any fallen trees, which are often used to signify trails you shouldn’t take.

If you don't have a Pocaterra Ridge trail map, watch for the markers tied to trees

The hiking trail is now noticeably uphill and there are lots of tree roots protruding from the trail. There are several little creeks running around and through the Pocaterra Ridge hiking trail, so it can get very muddy in spots. Thankfully, there are sliced tree trunks acting as wooden steps to help you get through the muddy spots without much mess on your hiking boots.

There isn't an official Pocaterra Ridge trail report, but often the trail is muddy

At the 900m mark you’ll pass the first of many stands of larch trees on the Pocaterra Ridge hike. Don’t stop here for many pictures though as the larch trees get significantly better later in the hike.

The hiking trail forks by a creek at the 1km mark. We hiked the more prominent trail to the right which we easily followed by looking for the steady stream of pink blazers on the trees. This section of the Pocaterra Ridge hike is on a side slope, which can get quite slippery if wet or snowy. The trail is quite fragmented in here, likely from people trying to pick a line which doesn’t look slippery. Pick the trail which looks safest to you as they (should) all end up in the same spot.

Many hikers choose to go to the Pocaterra Cirque trail instead of the summit

After 1.4km of hiking you’ll get your first glimpses of Pocaterra Ridge (2,667m), Highwood Ridge (2,697m) and Mount Tyrwhitt (2,874m). These three beautiful Kananaskis mountains wrap around you here in an incredible 180 degree panorama.

Soon the forest disappears and you’ll enter a clearing with larch trees on both sides. Look to your right for beautiful views of Mount Elpoca (3,036m) and Mt. Rae.

A meadow of golden larch trees in Kananaskis Country under Mount Tyrwhitt

The Pocaterra Ridge hiking trail crosses a large rock slide from Highwood Ridge at the 1.7km mark. This is prime Rocky Mountain Pika habitat – listen for their distinctive “eeeep” sound to help pinpoint the location of these incredibly cute little critters (which look like tiny rabbits with small round ears).

The many rock piles along the Kananaskis Pocaterra Ridge hike offers an excellent chance to see a Rocky Mountain pika - one of the cutest animals on earth

From the rockslide, the views of the larch forest up ahead are awe inspiring. You’ll enter this large forest of Pocaterra Ridge larch trees on the far side of the rock slide.

Golden larch trees in Kananaskis on Pocaterra Ridge trail

The Pocaterra Ridge trail continues up a hill past a mountain stream. As you climb up the hill, be sure to stop and look behind you for a great view of the Kananaskis larch trees you just hiked through.

At the 2.1km mark of the Pocaterra Ridge trail, the hiking trail levels out and you walk through a large field of cow parsnip. This is a favourite food source for Kananaskis grizzly bears trying to fatten up in September, so be sure to carry bear spray on this hike.

After the cow parsnip, the Pocaterra Ridge trail runs in-between a small lake and a huge rock slide from Highwood Ridge. Again, listen and look for pikas in the rocks. They are totally worth the effort if you are lucky enough to see one. They are often seen making mad dashes from one rock to another.

Kananaskis larch hikes alberta

Just beyond the small lake, the Pocaterra Ridge trail reaches the edge of yet another huge stand of Kananaskis larch trees. This time the hiking trail follows the outer edge of the larch forest, allowing you to not only enjoy the golden larch trees, but the rock slide on the left and Mt. Pocaterra (2,941m) looming overhead.

best larch hikes near Calgary

The Pocaterra Ridge trail starts to ascend again at the 2.5km mark, but the Kananaskis scenery is so amazing you won’t even notice. You’ll see yet another huge patch of larch trees in the distance, with Mt. Tyrwhitt on your left, Mount Pocaterra straight ahead and Pocaterra Ridge on your right. The scenery on the Pocaterra Ridge hike is so varied and so beautiful, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular Kananaskis hike!

The Pocaterra Cirque trail is an excellent golden larch tree hike in Kananaskis Country

You’ll reach the trail junction for the Pocaterra Cirque hike at the 2.7km mark. There’s no official trail sign signifying the beginning of the Pocaterra Cirque trail, but there is a cairns (pile of balanced rocks) at the junction to help get your attention.

A cairn marks the junction of the Pocaterra Ridge hike and the Pocaterra Cirque trail

You’ll pass a massive boulder at the 2.9km mark of the Pocaterra Ridge trail. Just beyond the boulder, the trail passes a mountain spring, where water comes out of the ground to create a stream flowing away from the trail. Beyond the stream, you’ll have excellent views of Pocaterra Ridge, which beckons you through the larch trees on the right.

The Pocaterra Ridge trail becomes very steep for a short section beyond the creek. There are lots of rocks and roots on the trail for traction, but if the trail is frosty or snowy (as is common in the September larch season), it can get a bit precarious. If you can concentrate on anything except your traction, look around, as you are yet again, surrounded by larch trees.

Hikers can choose between Pocaterra Cirque and Pocaterra Ridge to see the golden larch trees in Kananaskis

After hiking the Pocaterra Ridge trail for 3.1km, you’ll enter the final flat meadow on the hike before you tackle the ascent to the top of Pocaterra Ridge. This meadow skirts the outside of another rockslide (more pikas!) as it leads you through the last of the large trees, before you ascend above the tree line.

excellent larch hikes near calgary

You’ll cross the final creek of the Pocaterra Ridge hike at 3.3km. This marks the beginning of the slog to the top of Pocaterra Ridge. The initial uphill beyond the creek is very steep, and it rarely lets up until you hit the summit. If the trail is muddy, it can get quite slippery.

A hiker climbs to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge with Mount Trywhitt and golden larch trees in the background

After a few minutes of steep uphill climbing, you’ll be impressed with how much elevation gain you’ve achieved in a short time. Before you go too far, stop and look behind you for an excellent aerial view of the huge Pocaterra Ridge larch forest you just hiked through. If the larch trees are golden, it’s an incredible sight.

Pocaterra Cirque with golden larch trees in the foreground

Although this leg of the Pocaterra Ridge hike is very steep, there are often natural steps in the rock to help you with your traction.

It doesn’t take long for you to reach the ridgeline on your way to the top of Pocaterra Ridge. Once you hit the ridgeline, incredible mountain vistas open up to you, making it perfectly acceptable to stop and enjoy the views (and sneakily catch your breath!). From the ridgeline you’ll enjoy amazing vistas of Mt. Arethusa (2,912m), Highwood Ridge and Mt. Rae.

The trail to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge can get quite congested as it’s a popular hike and it’s quite common for people to need to stop and catch their breath on this section. The trail is basically a series of very short switchbacks, which essentially go straight up the mountain. There’s plenty of rocks along the trail for traction.

the final approach to the Pocaterra Ridge summit

After only 400m of steep uphill climbing, you’ll find yourself completely above the tree line. With no trees, it can get very windy up there. Chances are you good that you stopped to remove some layers shortly after starting the steep uphill section, but you may need to put some back on if it’s a windy day.

At the 4km mark of the hike, you can see the entire larch forest below resting in front of Pocaterra Cirque. What an amazing sight! No wonder Pocaterra Ridge is one of the most popular larch hikes in Kananaskis!

the larch tree forest in front of Pocaterra Cirque is one of the largest in Alberta

You’ll reach the Pocaterra Ridge summit at the 4.3km mark. The uphill slog may have seemed to take forever, but it was really only 1km long. You did it!

The final steps of the South Pocaterra Ridge hike before the summit

The reward for your efforts hiking to the top of Pocaterra Ridge are 360 degree views of the incredible Rocky Mountains surrounding Highwood Pass. The views all the way up Pocaterra Ridge were incredible, but once you reach the top, it opens up views of the entire Kananaskis Valley looking north. The sheer number of mountain peaks you can see from the summit of Pocaterra Ridge is staggering. You can see as far north as Mount Kidd, which is approximately 40km north of Pocaterra Ridge.

The incredible view of Kananaskis mountains looking north from the Pocaterra Ridge Summit trail

Looking east across Highway 40, you can also see a great aerial view of the two other popular Highwood Pass larch tree hikes: the Ptarmigan Cirque trail and the Arethusa Cirque trail. From this high vantage point, you can really see how much bigger the Arethusa Cirque larch tree forest is compared to the more popular Ptarmigan Cirque. Arethusa Cirque is still reasonably unknown, but it’s going to become very popular as word gets out.

Pocaterra Ridge Trailhead

To reach the Pocaterra Ridge trail, you first head west on the Highwood Meadows Trail from the Highwood Meadows Day Use Parking Lot. The Pocaterra Ridge trailhead is found approximately 300 m in on the Highwood Meadows trail. There’s a “Fragile Area” sign which marks the spot where the Pocaterra Ridge trail begins.

There is no official Pocaterra Ridge trailhead sign - instead look for the "Fragile Area" sign of the Highwood Meadows Trail

The Highwood Meadows Day Use is just over 1 hour and 20 minutes from Banff and 1 hour and 40 minutes from Calgary. You reach the Pocaterra Ridge parking lot by taking the TransCanada Highway 1 to Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40). You’ll head south on Highway 40 for approximately 67 km before reaching the parking lot on your left.

The Highwood Meadows Day Use parking lot will get extremely busy during larch season, as it also serves other nearby Kananaskis hikes. Even on a weekday, arrive as early in the day as possible. On the weekends during larch season, Alberta Parks will likely have a parking attendant making sure no one is parking illegally.

arrive early to get a parking spot at Pocaterra Cirque

If you’d like to improve your odds of getting a coveted parking spot during the Kananaskis larch season, consider staying overnight at the 4-star Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Kananaskis Village. The Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is a mere 35-minute drive to the excellent Kananaskis larch hikes around Highwood Pass. After a day of hiking among golden larches, soothe your sore muscles at the Kananaskis Nordic Spa.

Keep in mind that this section of Highway 40 is closed from December 1st to June 14th every year.

Pocaterra Ridge Hike Stats

How Long is the Pocaterra Ridge Hike?

The round-trip distance of the South Pocaterra Ridge trail is 8.4km. Considering many of the best larch hikes in Alberta are 15km+, this makes Pocaterra Ridge one of the shortest larch tree hikes in Alberta, which adds to its popularity.

If you are only hiking Pocaterra Ridge trail to see the beautiful Kananaskis larch trees and you skip the last leg of the hike to the summit, the round-trip distance of the Pocaterra Trail drops to approximately 6km.

Pocaterra Ridge is one of the shortest larch hikes in Alberta

How Hard is the Hike to Pocaterra Ridge?

Due to the length and steep incline to the summit, we rate the Pocaterra Ridge hike as “moderate”.

At 8.4km and 659 m elevation gain, the Pocaterra Ridge trail is a moderate Kananaskis hike, but it’s nearing the difficult hike territory.

Given the vast majority of the elevation gain comes in the final leg of the hike to the summit, if you are simply hiking to see the larch trees, we’d downgrade the difficulty of the South Pocaterra Ridge hike to “easy”.

challenging Kananaskis hikes near Highwood Pass

Speaking of the final section of the hike, you’ll gain roughly 325m of elevation over the final 1km to the summit. That’s an average slope of 32% – that’s steep! The slog to the top feels similar to other steep stretches on other iconic Kananaskis hikes such as Ha Ling Peak or EEOR.

How Long Does the Pocaterra Ridge Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult between 3-4 hours to hike Pocaterra Ridge. We recently did this hike in larch season and it took us 3 hours and 10 minutes – including all the time we stopped to take pictures of the golden larch trees. Tack on 20 minutes for lunch at the summit of Pocaterra Ridge and we were back to the car in 3.5 hours.

The summit of Pocaterra Ridge sits in-between Mount Pocaterra and a forest of golden larch trees

South Pocaterra Ridge Trail Map

The Pocaterra Ridge trail is reasonably easy to follow the entire way, although it’s not well signed. If you don’t know where you are going, you may miss the trailhead at the “Fragile Area” sign, and a few of the trail turns are not totally clear.

Given this risk of uncertainty, we recommend you use the AllTrails app while hiking Pocaterra Ridge, but chances are you likely won’t need it. To find the Pocaterra Ridge trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “South Pocaterra Ridge”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you’ll get no cell phone coverage that deep into Kananaskis Country.

a larch forest in front of mount pocaterra alberta

A paper map isn’t required for this Kananaskis hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration. The Pocaterra Ridge trail map is found in the “Kananaskis Lakes” map.

Hiking Pocaterra Ridge Trail with Kids

If you are hiking in Kananaskis with kids, the hike along Pocaterra Ridge to the end of the larch forest would be a fun hike for the entire family. With so many creek crossings, mud puddles, rocks to climb and cute pikas to look for, kids will love the Pocaterra Ridge larch hike.

We recommend Pocaterra Cirque if you are hiking with kids

We’d advise you be careful hiking Pocaterra Ridge with small kids to the summit. We haven’t hiked Pocaterra Ridge with our kids yet (aged 8 & 6), but given their performance on other challenging Kananaskis hikes such as Wind Ridge, we know they’d be able to do it. But it’ll be very hard work for them and due to the dangers of slipping, etc. they need to have good listening ears on. If your small kids are not experienced hikers, I’d think twice about taking them to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge.

If you are looking for easy kid-friendly Kananaskis larch hikes nearby, consider the Ptarmigan Cirque trail (which leaves from the same parking lot) or Arethusa Cirque trail (less than 1 minute away on Highway 40)

The Arethusa Cirque trail is a fun thing to do with kids in Kananaskis
Arethusa Cirque

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

There are so many excellent places to stop for lunch on the Pocaterra Ridge trail. The best place, of course, is to enjoy your lunch at the Pocaterra Ridge summit where you will enjoy some of the best 360-degree mountain views anywhere in Kananaskis. Sitting on a rock or a fallen tree anywhere in the larch forest would also make an excellent place for a break.

alberta best hikes for larch trees

Pocaterra Ridge Hiking Safety

The Pocaterra Ridge hiking trail has some challenging sections which may pose a safety risk. From creek crossings, to slippery frost-covered side slopes, to a very steep summit push, you’ll need to be careful along the way.

Good hiking boots are important for hiking during the Alberta larch season

It is important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Kananaskis. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up. It’s not unusual to encounter grizzly bears in this area, especially when larch season is upon us. To make matters worse, the bears are focused on fattening up before the winter so make a lot of noise as you hike.

Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Kananaskis are very low, but you never know what will happen with Kananaskis wildlife, so be prepared.

Despite being a very popular Kananaskis hike, Alberta Parks does not publish a Pocaterra Ridge trail report. We recommend you check the Ptarmigan Cirque trail report as this nearby trail departs from the same parking lot. It will highlight the Ptarmigan Cirque trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out which can be a good proxy for what a Pocaterra Ridge trail report might say.

Another good source of information in lieu of a Pocaterra Ridge trail report is to read the most recent reviews on AllTrails.

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Pocaterra Ridge Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Pocaterra Ridge hiking trail.

  • Mountain biking is not allowed on the Pocaterra Ridge trail.

  • There are toilets in the Highwood Meadows Day Use area.

  • Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave. The closest place to get food is Kananaskis Village.

  • You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
best larch hikes alberta

What to Bring for Hiking the Pocaterra Ridge Trail

The hike to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge is a good challenge for most, so be prepared with the proper hiking gear. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.

In particular, we’d like to recommend a few items on the Pocaterra Ridge hike in Kananaskis:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters of bear spray are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.

  • Water – A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The temperatures can be much cooler at the Highwood Pass (compared to Canmore or Banff) and cold winds will cool you down quickly! Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • We don’t often use trekking poles, but this is one of the few hikes we wish we had some. The vast majority of hikers along Pocaterra Ridge use trekking poles as they help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the steep descent from the summit.
What to bring hiking during the Kananaskis larch season

Pocaterra Ridge Footwear Recommendation

The Pocaterra Ridge trail can be challenging in spots. Creek crossings, muddy sections, rock slides, steep ascents and descents will demand the most of your hiking footwear. Given the footing challenges on the Pocaterra Ridge hike, we recommend proper hiking boots. You can get by with good hiking shoes, but I wouldn’t wear anything less for this hike.

A truly enjoyable hike through a huge golden larch forest and on to one of the best viewpoints in Kananaskis!

Other Larch Hikes in Kananaskis

Banff Larch Hikes

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Don't miss hiking Pocaterra Ridge in Kananaskis. It's one of our favorite fall hikes that's well worth the effort! Aside from incredible views, this is also a great larch hike in Kananaskis.

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Larch Valley trailhead is near Moraine Lake
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