There are four Picklejar Lakes, each of them lovely in their own unique way, all nestled in an amazingly picturesque valley. They are a popular destination for both hikers and anglers, and getting there is a relatively easy task. The trail up, for the most part has a moderate grade, save for a couple of non-technical steep sections here and there. Whether you come for the views or for the fish, the setting can’t be beat.
Many hiking trails in Kananaskis suffered damaged from the spring 2013 floods. The Picklejar Lakes route, with one huge exception, was not adversely affected. Just before reaching the first lake, a massive rockslide obliterated the path. Normally this could be disastrous, but the what was mightily swept away was replaced by more material from further up. This resulted in a fairly sound base for a new pathway, which is quickly forming across the mess. It’s actually not all that bad given the scale of what happened.
If you like solitude this trail is probably not for you. We passed many dozen people going up and down and at the lake. Most, as could be expected given the specular surroundings, were in a jovial mood. A few, for some strange reason, were cranky and downright rude. Odd, how could one be crabby in this mood-lifting place? To avoid the crowds don’t go – no, you must go, so do it during the week when it’s quieter.
The trail head is located at the Lantern Creek day use area on Highway 40 south of Highwood Pass. Cross the highway and head for the obvious path on the north bank of the creek.
For the next bit the trail climbs rather gently in the trees. Later it traverses steep grassy slopes high above the creek, also at a gentle grade. A beaver dam, far below, can be seen along one of these open areas. The trail here is narrow, and passing opposing hikers is like playing a game of twister. It’s too steep on each side to do much else.
Along here the trail plunges into the trees every now and then. A bridge crosses a wet swampy area. There is one to two short steep sections here, which can be a bit loose.
The whole trip we’ve been heading roughly east, however at a side valley, the trail turns north for a bit. Not long after is the steepest part of the trail, a long leg burning forty five degree angle plod where you head straight up. Levelling off briefly, if one desires, they can do some scrambling by tackling the obvious rib that drops down from the right. Turning east again, soon there is another steep climb (shorter) which brings you to a low rock band. From here things open up. The trail descends down to the first Picklejar Lake. You can see it shimmering off in the distance, beckoning you in.
This is where that rockslide mentioned earlier took place, but what was swept away was replaced with an almost equal amount of material from higher up, and therefore the crossing is not as daunting as it may sound. In no time, you’re at the first lake. It was a pretty busy place this visit. Rather then doddle here, we made a run for the last, upper or forth lake, to have lunch, then planed to slowly work our way back to the first.
Getting to second lake requires climbing a small head wall. Climbing a little more, the third and arguably the most photogenic Picklejar Lake, comes into view. We’ll follow a trail in the scree on the south bank and on return will loop around the other side. Another short climb and we’re on a large rock bench above the forth and final lake. This will be our lunch spot and we enjoy some yummy eats, and some wine, while enjoying the view. It was intoxicating.
On our trip up storm clouds threatened. Once lunch was over blue skies replaced grey.
We were not alone at this spot and in fact, most of this trip we were joined by others who came, like us, to revel in this amazing place.
After the break, I take some time to climb a large rock pile to get a overall view of my surroundings. From this vantage point, I have a clear line to the rocky cirque at the end of the valley. I consider looping around it, high up, but in the end, decide not too. It was terribly hot, so next time.
Directly below is the forth Picklejar lake, the shallowest and least stunning of the group. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still quite photogenic. Looking west, I can see the third lake far below. Surrounding us, to the south, is Lineham Ridge along with one of those mountain whose name is simply an alphanumeric “grid reference” sequence (GR593982 – yup, that’s its name). The ridge that wraps around to the north, to the best of my knowledge is not named officially, but maybe considered an extension of Highwood Peak far to the north and unseen from this angle. Some call it Picklejar Peak.
Reluctantly, it’s time to head back. We drop down to the forth lake, cross an outfall and make our way to the north shore of the third lake not terribly far away. The views are amazing. Passing many anglers along the shore, it’s clear that fishing here is quite good. From what we saw nearly every cast resulted in a strike. They were quite tiny, as fish go, but quite feisty. The third lake is the deepest of the four and as such is the most colourful. The forth Picklejar Lake, by the way, I believe it too shallow to have fish.
We make our way to the second lake, rimed on all sides by trees. Like the forth, this one is quite shallow, with a muddy bottom. A gurgling stream and cascading falls connect the second and first lakes.
Back at the first (and busiest) lake we soak up more views. We take time to watch some anglers. When done by an expert, fly fishing sure is an art form and is pure magic to watch. The fishing here, I believe, is strictly catch and release. All the lakes by the way, have very clear water.
I don’t think camping is allowed at the lakes. Too bad but I guess it’s a pretty sensitive area already under great pressure from all the hikers. Camping would only make it more popular and would lead to further problems.
Heading back now, at that rock band, a valley opens up the north. We look and recognize a place we’ve been up to, a grass topped green bump called Picklejar Ridge. We don’t know if it has an official name and we call it that since it flanks the Picklejar Creek valley. BTW, the creek we followed up to the lakes is called Lantern Creek.
Dropping down the steep part, it was even more busy then coming up, and it places there was a literal traffic jam. We stood back and let everyone pass. In no time, we we’re back at the car. It was a very satisfying adventure, even if it was a bit busier then we like.
What the story behind the odd name? I guess fishing at the lake is so easy that it’s said one could use an old picklejar to scoop them up.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2014.
Location: Kananaskis AB, Highwood area.
Distance: 10km out and back.
Height gain maximum: 450m.
Height gain cumulative: 550m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Technical bits: a few loose sections of trail.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.