Ptarmigan Cirque Hike an Easy Hiking Trail Kananaskis Country

Flat portion of Ptarmigan Cirque trail in Kananaskis Country AB Canada

Ptarmigan Cirque trail – easy Kananaskis hike and great day trip from Calgary, Banff, or Canmore

 

Ptarmigan Cirque hike is one of the most scenic of the Kananaskis hiking trails. It’s an easy drive from Calgary, Canmore, or Banff. There are beautiful mountain views along Hwy 40 (aka Kananaskis Trail or Bighorn Hwy) to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Kananaskis Country is home to some of the best hikes in Alberta.

 

Kananaskis hiking Ptarmigan Cirque - panoramic Rocky Mountain views in beautiful Alberta Canada

 

Snow along Ptarmigan Cirque trail with views of the Rocky Mountains in Kananaskis AB

 

Before getting on the road check the trail reports for Ptarmigan trail and have a backup hiking plan. Kananaskis Country is bear country, both grizzlies and black bears live in the Kananaskis area.

 

 

Already in 2018 the trail closed from June 25 to July 6 due to a grizzly bear and 3 cubs in the area. I hiked this trail on June 19 with my sister. We did not see any bears but we each carried bear spray on the trail in case we encountered a bear. Always be prepared, carry bear spray, and know how to use it.

 

Kananaskis hiking trail Ptarmigan Cirque with view of the Rocky Mountains

 

The trailhead sign by the parking lot reads Highwood Meadows to Ptarmigan Cirque. You’ll cross Hwy 40 to get to the start of Ptarmigan Cirque trail.

 

 

Trailhead to Highwood Meadows and Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis AB

 

Ptarmigan Cirque trailhead marker

 

What does Ptarmigan Cirque mean?

Ptarmigan: type of bird in the grouse family

Cirque: bowl carved out by glacial erosion

 

Read about glacier lakes in Banff, Lake Louise, and Yoho National Park here.

 

Forest area in Kananaskis Country hiking trail Ptarmigan Cirque

First part of Ptarmigan Cirque is through the forest

 

About Ptarmigan Cirque hiking trail

The first km or so (1/2 mile) of the trail is a fairly steep incline then it flattens out and the rest of the hike is easy. There are stretches of the trail with rocks but very manageable with proper hiking footwear.

 

Hiking Ptarmidgan Cirque Trail in Kananaskis AB Canada

Enjoying the hike at Ptarmigan Cirque Trail in June 2018

 

There is a large alpine meadow where you will be surrounded by beautiful mountain views in every direction. Also a few small waterfalls along the trail and plenty of wildflowers in late June through July.

 

Colorful wildflowers along hiking Kananaskis hiking trails in Alberta Canada

 

On our Tuesday morning hike we saw several other hikers along the trail including solo hikers. Since this trail is quite busy I would feel comfortable hiking alone at Ptarmigan Cirque. It isn’t nearly as crowded as Johnston Canyon hike in Banff but you are likely to see other hikers along the trail. And marmots :)

 

Marmot standing in the alpine meadow of Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis

Marmots are common at Ptarmigan Cirque trail

 

Watch for marmots in the rocky portion of the trail near the top of the loop, between markers 8 and 9. With several marmots darting around the rocks by the creek it’s easy to get pictures with a zoom lens.

 

Marker for Ptarmigan Cirque interpretive trail in Kananaskis near Canmore AB

 

There are 12 trail markers and you can download a pdf with the info for each point on the interpretative trail at Alberta Parks website here.

 

 

Road trip view of Rockies on Alberta Hwy 40 in Kananaskis Country Canada

Road trip view of Rockies on Alberta Hwy 40 in Kananaskis Country

 

How to get to Ptarmigan Cirque hiking trail

From Calgary (downtown)

Follow 6th Avenue west to Bow Trail SW and continue on Bow Trail SW to Sarcee Trail SW, at the roundabout take the 2nd exit to stay on Sarcee Trail SW, in approx 450 meters (.3 miles) turn left to take Trans-Canada Hwy 1 West. Continue for 62 km (39 miles) and take exit 118 for Kananaskis Country and then turn left onto Hwy 40 South and continue for 67 km (42 miles). Watch for the Ptarmigan Cirque/Highwood Meadows sign.

 

Signage for Ptarmigan Cirque and HIghwood Meadows hiking trails in Kananaskis Alberta

 

From Canmore

Take Trans-Canada Hwy East for 28 km (17 miles) to Hwy 40 South, turn right onto Hwy 40 S and continue for 67 km (42 miles), watching for the Ptarmigan Cirque/Highwood Meadows sign..

From Banff

Take Trans-Canada Hwy East for 48 km (30 miles) to Hwy 40 South and turn right on to Hwy 40 S. Continue for 67 km (42 miles), watch for the Ptarmigan Cirque/Highwood Meadows sign..

 

Parking lot for Ptarmigan Cirque and Highwood Meadows hiking trails in Kananaskis AB

Parking lot for Ptarmigan Cirque and Highwood Meadows hiking trails

 

 

Trail map for Highwood Meadows and Ptarmigan Cirque Trail at Kananaskis Alberta Canada

Trail map for Highwood Meadows and Ptarmigan Cirque Trail

 

Tips for hiking Ptarmigan Cirque trail

  • Be prepared for the higher elevation and understand that you may need to rest frequently if you are used to much lower elevation.
  • Kananaskis is bear country. This means be prepared with bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Weather changes rapidly in the mountains. Bring rain gear, wear layers, and bring warm clothing.
  • Parking is limited. The lot fills up during busy summer months. There is additional parking along Hwy 40, before you get to the Ptarmigan Cirque parking lot.
  • Watch out for big horn sheep and mountain goats on Hwy 40.

 

Mountain goats feeding alongside Alberta Hwy 40 in Kananaskis Country Canada

 

Practical info for Ptarmigan Cirque hike

Location

Highwood Pass on Hwy 40 in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. On Google maps it is listed as Highwood Pass Day Use, Kananaskis AB Canada.

Hwy 40 annual closure

Every year from December 1 to June 14 Hwy 40 is closed from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Hwy 541

Hike distance

4.5 km (2.8 miles) loop trail

Time required

Allow 90 minutes to 2 hours

Elevation gain

210 meters (700 ft)

Facilities

  • Washrooms
  • Garbage cans
  • Paved parking area

Dogs allowed on trail?

Yes, but dogs must be on leash at all times

 

Enjoy incredible views with little hiking effort at Ptarmigan Cirque interpretive trail in Kananaskis Country.

 

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Kananaskis hiking Ptarmigan Cirque - panoramic Rocky Mountain views in beautiful Alberta Canada

 

Waterfall and snow on Ptarmigan Cirque trail in Kananaskis Country Alberta

 

Rocky Mountain view from alpine meadow of Ptarmigan Cirque trail in Alberta Canada

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About the Author

Susan Moore's first solo travel experience was traveling around SE Asia for 7 months in 1993. It was life changing and extraordinary. Currently Susan is living a nomadic life, working and roadtripping around the USA and Canada. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

2 Comments

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  1. Jo Harmon says:

    What a gorgeous place. Love the snow covered peaks and lovely flowers.

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