Pocaterra Ridge is one of the more popular hikes in Kananaskis. It’s a beautiful hike that doesn’t have crazy elevation gain or length and is very attainable as far as hikes in the Canadian Rockies go. It’s also well known as being a great larch hike in the fall. Thanks to its thousands of larches in the valley. When the needles start to turn yellow this is one of the first places you should head. Although if you can try and avoid weekends – it’s a busy one!
Pocaterra Ridge Key Facts
- Trailhead: Highwood Pass
- Distance: 11.4km for point to point
- Elevation: 764 meters if doing point to point
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 4 to 7 hours
Pocaterra Ridge Route Description
Pocaterra Ridge is typically done as a point-to-point hike, so if you have two cars I would definitely try to do it this way. If you only have one car you can still do it as an out and back hike, called South Pocaterra Ridge, and get amazing views, especially during larch season. The turn around for it would be at the summit of Pocaterra Ridge. The out and back would put your day at 9.3 km and 745 meters of gain.
To do this as a point to point park your cars correctly or stash bikes if you can’t get a car shuttle. I would suggest parking one car near Little Highwood Pass and starting the drive further up Highway 40 at the Highwood Pass parking lot and start here.
To start follow the signs for Ptarmigan Cirque from the car park. You’ll soon notice the trail goes to the left for Pocaterra Ridge. You’ll see a sign that says to stay on the trail, which is confusing as the trail you need to take on the left is far less maintained than the one on the right towards Ptarmigan Cirque.
Follow the Highwood Meadows Trail through the trees. The trail in this section is an absolute mess as scores of people going off-trail have caused this trail to become extremely braided and confusing to navigate.
If you managed to stay on the right trail it will soon open up into a vast valley where you’ll continue on for about 1 km through a sea of larch trees. If you are lucky enough to be here in late September take lots of photos. You’ll soon end up at a small pond. Continue on the well-worn path up Pocaterra Cirque. If you look to your right you’ll see the Pocaterra Ridge summit and what lies ahead of you.
If it looks daunting don’t worry, it goes by pretty fast. If you’re happy with your hike before the real elevation gain starts around 4km stop here. Though you’re about 30-60 minutes to the summit of Pocaterra Ridge. There are steep sections of worn and loose dirt, but nothing too unmanageable.
The first summit lies right aheaed of you and this is where most of your elevation gain comes in. But once you reach the top of the ridge you’ll have expansive views of Mist Mountain, Mount Tyrwhitt, and Mount Lipsett.
It’s here that you can either turn around and head back the way you came or continue along the ridge (this would have been needed to plan in advance with a car shuttle).
If you decide to continue along the ridge you’ll have views for awhile. To continue along the ridge you’ll have to descend a steep section from the first summit, but once you get past this the rest is relatively easy, ascending and descending multiple summits.
After you pass the fourth summit you can look forward to all descending into the Little Highwood Pass parking lot where your second vehicle is waiting.
Pocaterra Ridge Hike Duration
If you plan on heading up to Pocaterra Ridge summit and returning the same way making it an out and back hike this hike will take you anywhere between 2-5 hours. If you do Pocaterra Ridge as a point to point hike I would estimate 4-7 hours to hike Pocaterra Ridge.
When Can You Hike Pocaterra Ridge?
Pocaterra Ridge is best hiked after June 15th when Highwood Pass opens up to cars and is typically good to go until the first week of October. Pocaterra Ridge is known for being one of the best larch hikes to see the famous larch trees in the fall. Head here in late September to walk through a field of golden larches. They’ll be wildflowers in the summer too, but if you can wait I would save it until larch season.
How Hard is Pocaterra Ridge?
Pocaterra is rated a moderate and I would have to agree, out of many hikes in Kananaskis this is one of the easier ones I’ve been on. You don’t gain much elevation until the Pocaterra Ridge summit, and even that is pretty short. We saw all sorts of people on this trail – old and young. Just take the time you need to complete it!
Should You Bring Dogs & Kids on Pocaterra Ridge
Pocaterra Ridge is a mild enough hike for most dogs and kiddos. It’s not much of a scramble and anything that is hands-on scrambling on thee ridge can be avoided if necessary.
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.
Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS. Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post! Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.