Picklejar Lakes are nestled in the mountains of Highwood, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
Picklejar Lakes are best accessed via Lantern Creek on the Picklejar Lakes Trail. You could hike to Picklejar Lakes on the Picklejar Creek Trail and the Picklejar Connector but that would be longer.
In June 2013, a major flood damage occurred in this area. Stop at a Visitor Centre for potentially changing access information.
The weather, on the drive west from Calgary, deteriorates while driving south on the Kananaskis Trail. The winter closure gate opened June 15 and this is the first run of the season south past the turnoff to Kananaskis Lakes. Driving into the clouds occurs as elevation is gained past trail-heads to Rae Glacier, Pocaterra Ridge, Rock Glacier and Ptarmigan Cirque among others. Any hope that weather will improve south of Highwood Pass is dashed as density of fog increases accompanied by a light drizzle. There are hundreds of waterfalls on adjacent mountains as spring runoff is fully underway. creating a spectacular amount of running water.
The car park at the Lantern Creek Day Use area, rain gear is donned and the hike proceeds a short distance north on Kananaskis Trail to the very obvious trail-head on the east side of Kananaskis Trail and north side of Lantern Creek. A short stretch of flat, wet trail soon gains fairly aggressive elevation above Lantern Creek in the valley to the right. The wet forest aroma is wonderfully powerful.
Visibility decreases significantly on this hike literally into the clouds. Occasional avalanche chutes provide edgy views to the bottom of the valley. Running water on, and across, the trail increases as altitude increases. An ethereal, ghostly scene of drifting mist combines with limited visibility. On the approach tothe pass, mud increases on steeper grades and hiking boot soles struggle to successfully gain traction in mud.
The final approach to the pass is steep on a secure, gritty, vertical shale surface. Check dams have been cast aside by recent heavy rain combined with snow melt. Near the top, the trail disappears under an intimidating wall of snow which is deceptively easy to navigate. The snow is dense and load bearing. Vertical faces can be easily negotiated by punching steps into the surface.
Game trails lead too high on the ridge. A quick correction down a scree slope finds the tiny scramble over a V notch in the rock ridge to a downward sloping trail across scree and talus on the other side. Visibility is very limited. There is no visual evidence of lakes but they are out there somewhere.
Literally, arrival at the first Picklejar Lake is a surprise. The trail down down to the lake is over snow, off trail, or over talus with the occasional snippet of waterlogged trail providing a small degree of confidence. The shoreline of the fourth Picklejar Lake appears mere meters from approach. There is a blue box containing cards called Voluntary Angler Reports, intended to gather fish stock data in this hugely popular backcountry fishing mecca. The majority of the trail at lakeside is under running water as the roue along the south shoreline proceeds on high spots which keep water predominantly below the top of Gortex liners in the hiking boots.
This is a very beautiful place. These lakes are being viewed for the first time in unusual, early season conditions. The four Picklejar Lakes reside in large rock bowls tiered one above the other in an east-west series. The short climb from the east end of the Picklejar Lake # 4 is past a fast flowing waterfall, over a shallow ridge and down to a snowbound lake.
Given the depth of snow, and amount of water running, the decision is made to turn around and retreat via the same route taken in. The Picklejar Lakes are very close together and Lakes 4 and 3, respectively, are achievable under adverse conditions, but a return later in the season will allow reasonable access over the full length of the four lakes. Ironically, as the retreat proceeds, clouds begins to lift and previously unseen mountains appear. WOW!
Following are a series of photos taken along the south shore of Picklejar Lake # 4 as cloud lifts and previously unseen surrounding mountains begin to reveal themselves. Mist is moving up and down as it laterals at fairly high speed in the developing afternoon breeze. It is a surrealistic and dynamic sight. You may visualize but it can be no substitute for standing there with wide-angle visuals and the sun and breeze on the face.
On the return hike many photos are captured looking back because none of it was witnessed hiking in. The crossing of the scree and talus slope is much more obvious and the notch in the rock ridge can be seen from a distance with the field of snow behind it.
From the top of the pass to parking in the Lantern Creek Day Use area, is an entirely different experience and following photographs illustrate the outstanding scenery which has revealed itself as the afternoon turns sunny briefly.
On the final stage of the hike, loud thunder is increasing in frequency and arrival at the car is accompanied by heavy rain pounding on the outside and lightning flashing overhead while footwear is changed.
Ten minutes later, the sun comes out and stays out for the drive north then east, all the way to Calgary. Amazing and not overly unusual. It is like nature is putting on a perfectly timed, full sensory presentation as a reward for participating and getting the job done.
This hike is done, this day, in varied and unusual conditions. The distance one way to the first lake (# 4) is 4.2 KM (2⅝ miles) and the route along the south shore of all four lakes is about 1.5 KM (⅞ miles). Net elevation is 450 m (1,476 ft) with limited fluctuation, so I would estimate gross elevation to be less than 5% more to a high point at the pass of 2,180 m (7,152 ft).
Return on a summer or fall, fair weather day to do a loop of Lantern Creek, the four Picklejar Lakes, the Picklejar Connector and Picklejar Creek would create an excellent hiking experience. The road distance on Kananaskis Trail would be less than 3 KM (1⅞ miles) so the loop could be completed on foot for a total on the day of around 14.2 KM (8⅞ miles).