* All photos taken by lotzacurls *
* Day hike. Out and back. No signs, but distinct path. Dogs must be leashed.
* Difficulty: INTERMEDIATE
* Distance: Roughly 12 kms return (4-5 hrs total)
* Elevation gain: Roughly 550m
* Trailhead: On Hwy 40, across the highway from the large Lantern Creek Parking lot (not at Picklejar Day Use area). Assess only from June 15th to November 30th (Hwy 40 closed past Highwood Pass on Dec 1st until June 14th every year).
If beautiful mountain lakes are your thing, then you’re in for a treat! I only started hearing about this hike a few years ago, despite living in the Rockies for over 20 years. It is a well-loved hike for many Calgarians and I totally get it. Its 4 beautiful subalpine lakes will reward the efforts you expend.
Picklejar Lakes is not a designated trail and is not maintained by Alberta Parks, and there is no signage throughout the hike. This section of Hwy 40 is closed from December 1st to June 15th (at the junction of hwys 40 and 742), so there is no access in the winter for snowshoeing.
Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out; the fine for parking without one is 180.00 $. Before setting out, check the Kananaskis Country Trail Report for possible trail closures and warnings (you are in grizzly territory). Hike in a group, bring your bear spray and don’t forget your hiking poles.
Many people turn around after the first lake, or even the third (which is widely lauded as the prettiest), but I enjoyed the fourth lake most of all. It is literally the same shade of green as my jar of pickle juice in the fridge! In my opinion, it’s worth going to the end, as all 4 lakes are quite close. You’ve come this far, and you’ll see all 4 of them within 30 minutes.
Lastly, I did find hiking poles to be helpful, as I tend to lean too far forward when walking uphill and they help my knees on the way back down. They also provided extra traction with some of the steeper sections where sandy rocks and shale made for some startling slips.
OK, let’s check out the hike!
The trail begins on the opposite side of the highway from the Lantern Creek parking lot. Cross the highway and follow the trail on your left that runs alongside the road. The trail will be easy to follow throughout the entire hike; no route-finding needed here.
You’ll climb steadily up onto the edge of a wooded valley for at least an hour, with the river flowing far below you on your right.
There are some great views when the trees clear onto some grassy slopes. I had no idea where I was heading, but I wasn’t concerned because the path forward was so obvious.
One thing that stood out for me about this hike was that it became harder and increasingly steep as you went on. At no point is it dangerous or exposed, though. You’ll go up a few long switchbacks toward the end, and the last ascent will be particularly vigorous. Then suddenly, you crest a rocky outcrop and the first lake appears far below you. It’s a breathtaking view.
I saw a father and son turn around and head back down the trail in frustration without realising that we were all literally 3 minutes from this crest. So don’t give up!
From the outcrop, head down the trail on your right (not technical, just a bit rocky) toward the first lake. It’s a good 50m descent, but totally doable. Click on each photo below to enlarge.
Arriving at Picklejar Lake #1, you’ve hiked 4 kms over about 2 hours, mostly uphill. Enjoy the serenity of the lake. Have a snack. Listen to the pikas peeping amongst the boulders, scurrying around and building their nests.
When you’re ready to keep exploring, stay on the right side of the lake and follow the path to the end. Boulder-hop over a small stream and head left through the forest to avoid the rock pile on your right (you could take the path that cuts right overtop of it, but you’ll miss the 2nd lake). Do not cross the creek that runs through the forest; keep to its right. As you walk through the woods, the 2nd lake will appear just as suddenly as the first.
Take the path that skirts the right edge of the 2nd lake; keep the lake on your left. The path will head uphill very slightly and away from the lake, then you come to a junction (with a boulder field on your right). The 3rd lake is just out of sight on your left and about 5 minutes away.
As much as the first two lakes are surrounded by greenery, the 3rd lake is nestled amongst rocks and boulders. Cross a flat rock field to arrive at the 3rd lake; the trail can sometimes be hard to distinguish here, but just keep going straight ahead.
There is a rocky plateau at the end of the 3rd lake that is perfect for sitting down and enjoying a well-deserved lunch. From here, you are 7-8 minutes away from the 4th lake. Keep walking past the rocky ledge and trees for a peek at the beautiful green fourth lake.
Once you’ve had your fill, simply follow the trail (for about 90-120 minutes) back to your car and voilà! Another gem of a hike to appreciate in beautiful K-Country. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
See you on the trails!
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