The Pickle Jar Lakes Hike in Kananaskis Country

The Pickle Jar Lakes Hike in Kananaskis Country

The Pickle Jar Lakes hike is a standout if you’re a fan of mountain lakes. And judging by the popularity of this Kananaskis hike, people love a lake as a destination.

Four lakes. Even better – though not all are equally beautiful.

Heading for the third of the Pickle Jar Lakes

Heading for the third of the Pickle Jar Lakes

Route description for the Pickle Jar Lakes hike 

From the parking lot walk north beside the highway for about 100 metres. Cross the road and pick up the obvious, though unsigned trail that curves northeast into woods of aspen and conifers. Start climbing.

Approximately 20 minutes into the hike you’ll get a good view of the trail heading up. For a while you can hear road traffic. Eventually it gets drowned out by the sound of the creek you can see in places below you.

The ascent is steady though very doable, even for kids if you take your time. In a few of the steep places there isn’t much underfoot for traction. Some people may find poles handy in this section.

The trail drops into the forest after cresting the first pass. Then it’s up again but the views show up. Mist Mountain appears off to the west-northwest. Reach the high point of the entire hike at a 2137 metre pass.

The Pickle Jar Lakes come into view

From the pass descend a short section on shale – with tantalizing views of the first lake. This part of the hike can be a challenge for some. It’s steep and hard to get a good grip. Again poles may help.

The first of the Pickle Jar Lakes is at the 4.2 kilometre mark. To continue to the second lake, walk along the south shore to an obvious inlet stream. Boulder hop and then hike up and over a small scree slope to reach the lake number two. If you’re thinking about a lunch stop, keep going to the third lake, the prettiest one of them all. It’s a short hike between each lake.

When you arrive at the third lake you can see trails going either way around it. We went right, crossed a scree slope, continued through a short section of  beautiful alpine wildflowers to gain a ridge overlooking the shallow fourth lake. It’s easy to hike down to the lake. From there pick up the trail to loop back to the start of the third lake.

Retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Nice views once the trail breaks out of the woods

Nice views once the trail breaks out of the woods

Catching our breath and admiring the view

Catching our breath and admiring the view

A scree section on the way to the first of the Pickle Jar lakes

A scree section on the way to the first of the Pickle Jar Lakes

The hike is a popular one with families and fisherman

The hike is a popular one with families and fisherman

Walking towards the second lake

Walking towards the second lake

The second of the Pickle Jar Lakes is the least pretty

The second of the Pickle Jar Lakes is the least pretty

It’s a desolate scene on the way to the third lake

On a sunny day the water in the third lake is a gorgeous Caribbean blue and teal colour though the backdrop of banded cliffs and talus bowls is a tad desolate. Still this is the lake everyone is drawn to. The fishing is good, picnic spots out of the wind are plentiful and you may see or hear a marmot or pika.

It's a short climb to reach the third lake

It’s a short climb to reach the third and nicest of the Pickle Jar Lakes

The third Pickle Jar lake

The third Pickle Jar lake

Our lunch spot beside a big rock at the third Pickle Jar Lake

Our lunch spot beside a big rock at the third lake

Looking down the length of the third lake

Looking down the length of the third lake

Hiking up to the fourth of the Pickle Jar lakes through alpine flowers

Hiking up to the fourth lake through alpine flowers

The fourth lake is very shallow

The fourth lake is very shallow

A pika at the first lake

A pika at the first lake

Beautiful views on the descent

Beautiful views on the descent

Camping at Pickle Jar Lakes

Camping is happening at Pickle Jar Lakes – as I saw many groups going in and lots of campsites. However, it’s not actually permitted according to a woman I spoke with at the Barrier Lake Information Centre. I wouldn’t recommend it or I’d double check and ask for a second opinion. But the Alberta Parks website shows no camping too. 

Useful information

It’s approximately 9.0 kilometres round-trip if you visit all four of the Pickle Jar Lakes. The elevation gain is a very manageable 450 metres. Distance and vertical vary a bit depending on the routes you take. 

Allow three to five hours, depending on how much time you spend exploring and hanging out around the lakes.

You’ll see lots of people fly fishing as the lakes are stocked with Westslope Cutthroat trout. It’s catch and release only and you need a permit.

This is grizzly bear country so be sure to carry bear spray along with the 10 hiking essentials.

The hike is dog-friendly but keep them on a leash at all times. There are a couple of streams on the hike up to the lakes where dogs can drink some water.

Back into the woods for the last stretch of the hike

Back into the woods for the last stretch of the hike

Finding the trailhead for Pickle Jar Lakes

The shortest route to the trailhead if you’re coming from Calgary is via Highway 40. From Black Diamond take Highway 22 south to Longview. Turn west onto Highway 541. It becomes Highway 40 when you reach Kananaskis Country. From Longview it’s 61 kilometres to reach the large Lantern Creek Recreation parking lot on the west side of the highway.

From Highwood Pass it’s 20.6 kilometres south on Highway 40 to get to the Lantern Creek parking lot. 

Walk north beside the highway for a few hundred feet, cross the road and you’ll see the start of the trail to Pickle Jar Lakes.

The Lantern Creek Recreation parking lot

Park in the Lantern Creek Recreation parking lot off Highway 40

The trailhead is on the east side of Highway 40

Walk along Highway 40 and cross the road to get to the Pickle Jar Lakes trailhead

Further reading on hikes from nearby Highwood Pass

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The hike to Pickle Jar Lakes in Kananaskis

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