Highwood Meadows Trail - Kananaskis - Hiking Alberta

 

Highwood Meadows, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Highwood Meadows, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Pass on Kananaskis Trail, in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park region of Kananaskis Country, hosts the highest paved road in Canada at an altitude of 2,203 m (7,239 ft.).

Just 60 m (197 ft) below the treeline, the meadows here are mountain-surrounded and afford an easily accessible glimpse of the fragile nature of this special alpine location.

The Highwood Meadows Trail is a short, easy, relatively flat interpretive trail which also provides access to more aggressive hikes at Pocaterra Cirque, Grizzly Ridge and Ptarmigan Cirque.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Wildflowers are blooming prolifically as melt from surrounding mountains combines with sunny warmth to initiate the short high altitude growing season.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Careful negotiation around wet sections of gravel trail transition to a dry, gentle, uphill grade.

A primitive trail drifts off to the left.  The right turn on gravel trail heads east over a snow bank to cross Kananaskis Trail and meet with the Ptarmigan Cirque trail-head on the other side of the highway.

Straight ahead the boardwalk continues to explore the Highwood Meadows Trail with the added benefit of interpretive plaques which teach of the nature of surrounding terrain and the respect the fragile environment deserves.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Surrounding mountains are in the final stages of shedding winter accumulations of snow.

Water is static on level ground and running along slopes within the path of least resistance.  The intermittent boardwalk leads to a wealth of information on the first viewing platform.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The first viewing platform at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

On the east side of Kananaskis Trail, Mount Rae hosting Rock Glacier on its west flank and Rae Glacier on the hidden far side, consumes the views towards the north.

Mount Arethusa frames Ptarmigan Cirque towards the east and south.  This Highwood area is a goldmine of hiking opportunity in a broad range of endeavor, knowledge and skill.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mount Rae across Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mount Arethusa across Highwood Meadows in, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Growth here is slow.  The harsh conditions create fragile conditions which limit growth and threaten survival.

Respect and protection for this environment is critical so those who follow will be able to share the privilege.

A sharp left turn from the first interpretive viewing platform leads to the second and final interpretive platform with  a very limited view, more than compensated for by additional valuable information.

From here, the short, easy return hike begins via the same route taken in.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The second and final viewing platform at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Grizzly Ridge looms above Highwood Meadows to the west on the return hike in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The Mist Range consumes the view south on the return hike through Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Do you remember that primitive trail passed on the way to the interpretive platforms?  It is cleverly camouflaged.  The trail sign reads 'Fragile Area - Please stay on Designated Trails'. 

This is Alberta Parks terminology for 'Pocaterra Cirque'.  Who knew?  This popular and magnificent trail has likely been altered by the June 2013 floods.

There is still a lot of snow in the forest but it is possible to walk a short distance along the water-sodden trail.  A few meters from the beginning a small crater occupies the left side of the trail.

This was likely a Richardson Ground Squirrel underground apartment building which became flooded to the point of collapse.  No doubt it pissed off the cutest bunch of little rodents you are ever likely to see.  They scurry about the meadow and 'cheep' for attention.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The trail-head to Pocaterra Cirque at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A collapsed squirrel dwelling at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Saturated ground in spring runoff at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The trail is saturated but it is possible to get to the big rock where the trail swings left,  enters the forest and begins to climb.  Snow in the forest convinces me to turn back.

It will be another two or three more weeks before the trail becomes sensibly navigable.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Snow accumulation on the approach to the big rock and trail to Pocaterra Cirque at Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The left turn into the forest at the big rock at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Muddy trail and snow in the forest at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Returning into Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The vistas to the south are spectacular on the short return hike.  Heavy weather is building rapidly now and a light rain begins on arrival at the parking area.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Saturated ground at Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The crater on the return hike through Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Mount Rae and Mount Arethusa frame Ptarmigan Cirque east of Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

On the return drive back to Calgary, following an excellent day at Mount Lorette Ponds, not at Opal Falls, and here at the Highwood Meadows Trail at Highwood Pass, the trip weaves around mountain sheep and one moose, along Kananaskis Trail as the drive proceeds north in dramatically variable weather.

Such is the way of the mountains.  The mountain sheep have mottled coats as they molt from their thick winter coats to cooler, slick summer coats.

 

Highwood Meadows, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mountain sheep lick salt from the roads on the return from Highwood Meadows in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Throughout this entire hiking season, it is sensible to check with the Alberta Parks website or Visitor Centers before venturing onto trails.

Conditions are changing rapidly.  The hotline is also a valuable resource.

Photographs for this post were captured on June 23, 2014.

 

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