Ptarmigan Cirque and Arethusa Cirque are short trails in Kananaskis Country that are suitable for most hikers. They also happen to be very close together. I hiked both trails one evening in early October, just before the end of larch season. Ptarmigan Cirque is one of the most popular larch hikes in Alberta. And honestly, Arethusa Cirque was just as stunning—maybe more so! Whichever you choose, they are both quite handy to Calgary.

About Ptarmigan Cirque in Kananaskis Country

Yellow larch trees (tamarack) at the beginning of October.

Location: Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
Distance: 4 km loop
Difficulty: Easy to moderate (due to the steep ascent at the beginning)
Elevation: 221 m gain
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Dog-friendly: Absolutely; Belle enjoyed this one, but all dogs need a leash.
Features: This is a short, amphitheatre-style hike that is suitable for most skill levels. In autumn, Ptarmigan Cirque is one of the best places to see Alberta’s famous yellow larches.

Great Trail for New Hikers (And Outta Town Friends)

If you Google “Easy Hikes in Kananaskis,” you’ll find Ptarmigan Cirque on many lists. As a 4 kilometre loop with minimal elevation gain, this trail is suitable for hikers of all skill levels—including young children. While there isn’t much technical challenge here, it can be the perfect place to spend an evening in the Rockies.

Hiking Ptarmigan Cirque Loop

Ptarmigan Cirque is a popular hike in the summer, and outdoor lovers flock here in the fall to see the bright yellow larch trees. The time to see the yellow larches is usually from mid-September to early October. This well-marked trail begins near the Highwood Pass Day Use, which is also the parking area for Pocaterra Ridge. There’s a washroom here, too.

After you cross Highway 40, this trail begins with a steep ascent that switchbacks through the forest until opening to an alpine meadow. This trail is short and sweet, but you’ll still want to bring water and your hiking essentials. Check out AllTrails for a helpful GSP map of Ptarmigan Cirque.

Read more: 5 Easy Hiking Trails for Rocky Mountain Rookies

From the Highwood Pass Day Use, walk north toward Ptarmigan Cirque where you’ll quickly cross Highway 40.
Ptarmigan Cirque trailhead.
The beginning of Ptarmigan Cirque is in the forest.
Belle enjoyed hiking Ptarmigan Cirque!
The trail leaves the trees and remains quite flat.
Looking back at the Ptarmigan Cirque trail. The steepest part of the hike is at the beginning.
The trail loops along the amiptheatre; surrounded by mountains. It’s pretty cool!
Alberta turns yellow in the fall. Beautiful!
The Ptarmigan trail becomes rocky with little pika living underneath.
The hardest part of Ptarmigan is at the beginning, and then the trail stays fairly flat.
Ptarmigan Cirque is a great place to find yellow larches in late September to early October.

I debated whether this short hike was worth the 1 hour and 30 minute drive from Calgary. Honestly, I’d probably say yes, but I tend to be very okay with longer drives. There’s a short scramble trail at Ptarmigan that leads to a nice view (and is also the access to Mount Rae). I passed on this, but it’s an option to extend the trip. For a shorter experience in Kananaskis, I would definitely suggest Ptarmigan Cirque. Bella and I finished rather quickly, so we had time to squeeze in Arethusa Cirque next.

Read more: Hiking the Loop Around Upper Kananaskis Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park


About Arethusa Cirque in Kananaskis Country

Head south on Highway 40 from Highwood Pass Day Use for about one kilometre to find the Arethusa Cirque trailhead parking on the left side. This is an unofficial trail, so it can be tricky to navigate. Check out the Arethusa Cirque GPS map on AllTrails before you go. I’m really glad Belle and I squeezed in this hike before sundown.

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.

Less Popular Than Ptarmigan—But Just As Good

Arethusa Cirque doesn’t get as much attention as Ptarmigan Cirque, but this short Rocky Mountain trail shouldn’t be overlooked. This is one of the shortest in Kananaskis Country. To extend the day, you could add Ptarmigan Cirque or possible visit the Kananaskis Lakes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

Hiking Arethusa Cirque Trail

Similar to Ptarmigan Cirque, the Arethusa Cirque trail starts off in the forest with a gentle ascent. However, while the 275 metre elevation gain doesn’t all come at once, be prepared to hike up some rock and scree when going around the loop.

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.

Read more: Spectacular Autumn Hike at Arethusa Cirque in Kananaskis Country

The parking area for Arethusa Cirque located just south of Highwood Pass Day Use on Highway 40.
The trailhead on the north side of the parking area.
Arethusa Cirque trail begins in the forest.

Stunning view of the mountains reflecting off the tarn.
Larch season in Kananaskis Country. Arethusa Cirque is a great spot to find the bright yellows.
Beautiful yellow larch trees with the mountains towering over at Arethusa Cirque.
There are several trail options at Arethusa Cirque. Ribbons can be helpful!
Bella near the end of Arethusa Cirque trail.

Overall, Ptarmigan Cirque and Arethusa Cirque are perfect short hikes for the day or evening. These trails are both beautiful in the autumn season, with bright yellow larches all around. If I had to choose one, I would probably go with Arethusa Cirque; it’s a bit longer with some more trail variety—including a short rocky scree section. These are both great options for those looking for short and fun trails near Calgary.

Have you hiked Ptarmigan Cirque or Arethusa Cirque? Which do you prefer? Leave a comment below—I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!


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