Arethusa Cirque is one of the shortest hikes in Kananaskis Country and is the perfect place to spend an evening. For Calgarians, it takes about 1.5 hours to drive to the trailhead. In late September to early October, the yellow larch trees provide some extra incentive to get outside in the mountains.

About Arethusa Cirque Trail

Berner Belle and I hiking Arethusa Cirque at sunset.

If you’re hiking with kids, exploring with friends from out of town, or just new to Rocky Mountain trails, Arethusa Cirque is likely a great option for you.

Location: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
Distance: 5 km loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to rocks and scree to navigate)
Elevation: 275 m gain
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Dog-friendly: My Bernese mountain dog loved this one! I met a couple with a smaller pup as well. As always, dogs must be kept on-leash in Alberta Parks.
Features: The trail begins in the forest and eventually opens up into an alpine meadow scene. From there, it’s up and around some scree rock with great views of the Rocky Mountain range.

Read more: 5 Easy Hiking Trails for Rocky Mountain Rookies

Locating the Arethusa Cirque Trailhead

Parking area at Arethusa Cirque. This is an unofficial and unmarked trail.
The trailhead for Arethusa Cirque is found at the north end of the parking area.

Arethusa Cirque is an unofficial trail in Kananskis Country, but it’s not overly difficult to find. Driving south on Highway 40, continue past the Highwood Pass Day Use for about one kilometre to find the Arethusa Cirque trailhead parking. There’s a wide dirt parking lot on the left side.

The short trail can be tricky to navigate. I used the Arethusa Cirque GPS map on AllTrails. When I’m hiking solo or in a new area, I tend to download the AllTrails map to have with me on the hike (but it’s not always 100% accurate).

The Short Hike to Arethusa Cirque

The first part of the Arethusa trail is in the forest.

The first kilometre of Arethusa Cirque trail is in the forest. The ascent is a gentle grade leading up to the small mountain lake—or tarn. While the 275 metre elevation gain doesn’t come all at once, be prepared to navigate some rock and scree when going around the loop. You can choose how high you go.

Arethusa Cirque is a great trail for all hikers, including children with a zest for nature. There were a number of families with kids when I was there.

The Arethusa Cirque trail leaves the forest and finds an alpine meadow.
The mountains reflect off the tarn enroute to Arethusa Cirque.
A beautiful autumn scene on Arethusa Cirque trail.
The bright yellow larch trees on Arethusa Cirque trail in early October.

More yellow larch trees under the mountain.

The Arethusa Cirque trail follows the stream.

After I finished admiring the colours of the season, Belle and I ventured counter-clockwise around this trail. Once out of the forest, we followed the stream to the right of the little lake and made our way up the rocky gorge section. The view of Arethusa Cirque guided the way. In case you didn’t know, a cirque is amphitheatre-like bowl in the side of a mountain formed by glacial erosion—and makes for a spectacular sight!

The trail continues along a rocky scree ledge. There wasn’t anything overly technical about this hike, but you do have to watch your step on the rocks. Once around the loop and beginning the descent, there is a fairly steep section that requires careful attention. I’m glad I did the trail counter-clockwise and was able to leave this short and steep descent for the end.

Read more: Two Short Hikes in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country

Follow the stream to this little gorge with Arethusa Cirque coming up.
Arethusa Cirque.
She’s the best hiking buddy ever!
Larch forest from the Arethusa Cirque trail.
The trail becomes rock scree halfway around the loop.

Counter-clockwise around the Arethusa Cirque trail.
The trail can be tricky to follow. Keep an eye out for little markers.
Belle looking pretty happy on our descent.

The yellow larch forest at Arethusa Cirque.

Don’t Overlook Arethusa Cirque Trail

Arethusa Cirque doesn’t get as much attention as its neighbour, Ptarmigan Cirque, but this short Rocky Mountain trail shouldn’t be overlooked. Together with Ptarmigan, Arethusa Cirque is one of the shortest hikes in Kananaskis Country. To extend the day, you could head over to Ptarmigan Cirque or add another trail nearby.

Have you hiked Arethusa Cirque? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Happy trails!

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