Picklejar Lakes

September 17, 2015
June 28, 2021

We had a very unusual heat wave hit western Canada in late June. Temperatures were north of 35 degrees Celsius in some places. I can handle the cold, but that much heat so early in the summer? Blah! What to do? Go high and get wet! Our plan was to hike to see all four Picklejar Lakes, and then cool off with a swim in the third lake.

My friend Nancy has a fun hiking group, and she invited me along to hike Picklejar Lakes. On my first hike here in 2015, Annette and I had the entire trail to ourselves. It was such an overlooked hike, that when we saw fresh bear tracks, we seriously considered turning around. This time it was a different story. Despite our early start on a Monday morning, the parking lot was already full.

Picklejar Lakes is a straight-forward, there and back hike. At just over 500 m elevation gain, and anywhere from 8-12 km, it’s one of the easier hikes in the area.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit.

Overview

From Lantern Creek Day Use Area, cross the highway and hike through trees to the high point. Go over the rock outcrop, and descend into the valley. Make your way through meadow and boulders to see as many lakes as you want. Return the way you came.

Parking and Trail Head

The Lantern Creek Day Use area is on the West side of Highway 40 in southern Kananaskis Country. Cross the highway, and walk north. Immediately after crossing what I assume to be Lantern Creek, the trail head to Picklejar is clearly visible.

The first row of parking is already full on an early Monday morning. We are not the only ones with this idea.
After walking north on Highway 40, cross the creek. The trail head is immediately past the creek on the right.
There is no trail head marker. Instead, look for the big yellow Bear Encounter sign, and further back, the backpackers code of conduct sign. There is random backpacking here.

Main Trail

Once on the main trail, it is a straight shot to the lakes. The first 2.5 km or so is a hike along the side of the ridge, well above the creek. After immediately gaining some elevation on the north side of the ravine, we passed several large avalanche slopes. These open meadows are ideal for wildflowers, but they also make this a place to avoid in the winter. The highway is closed from December 1 to June 15th, but early snow would make this area dangerous.

Gaining elevation early in the hike.
We crossed several large open meadows. These are beautiful in the summer, filled with wildflowers. Avoid in winter. Lineham Ridge is on the horizon. The lakes are on the other side of the ridge. Don’t worry, we cross quite low, avoiding much elevation.

Around the 3 km mark, we dropped down to cross a creek. There are three little bridges here. The first two are really just raised areas to keep you out of the mud and muck. The final bridge is the actual creek crossing.

Finally crossing the little creek.

Once we crossed the creek, it was time to regain our lost elevation. That’s okay though, because we had a beautiful meadow to walk through. I remembered this meadow from my first trip, and I was very much looking forward to admiring its beauty again.

The gorgeous meadow after the creek crossing. The impressive Lineham Ridge is above. We will make our way to the lower part of that spur.

Once past the meadow, we re-entered the forest. Now is the time to keep your eyes open to stay on the correct trail. Some side trails have been obviously blocked off, while others just peter out.

This trail has obviously been blocked.
This open area is not so obvious. The trail goes up and to the right.

At around 4.2 km, we hit the Lineham Ridge spur. We stayed on the main (lower) trail. There is a trail heading up to the right, but that’s a scramble route to hit the summit of Lineham Ridge.

We stayed straight ahead on the trail when we reached the high point of the Lineham Ridge spur.

This looks imposing, but it’s an easy up and over. If you’re new to hiking, just take your time. We took advantage of the clear skies to nab a few photos.

Annette (2015 hike) going over the rock spur. This is the high point of the trail.

This is the high point of the trail at 2190 m. Elevation gain from parking lot is 461 m.

My friend Carol walked out onto the spur for a great photo. Mist Mountain dominates the skyline. Mist Hills are in the foreground.

From the high point, it’s a walk down a well trodden scree slope to the first lake. Be aware of the avalanche chutes on the side of Lineham Ridge.

The first lake comes into view as we descended the scree slope. The massive mountain on the other side is Highwood Peak. We can only see the lower flank of it.

Once past the first lake, the trail leads to a boulder field.

Trail from first to second Picklejar Lakes.

By keeping an eye out, we easily found a trail on the other side of the boulder field. This lead to the second lake.

This is the second lake. Sorry for the blurry photo. Sometimes hiking and picture snapping doesn’t work out.

From the second lake, take the trail to the right. This leads to another boulder field. From here, we could easily pick out the trail through the scree that leads around the far south edge of the third lake.

This is taken from the connector trail from lake 2 to lake 3. We stayed right to pick up the trail on the far bank. That giant flat rock in the water is a great lunch spot.

At the far end of the third lake, we turned right and headed up the small scree slope. The other side gave us an amazing view of Lineham Ridge, and a view down onto the fourth lake.

We hiked up this small rubble area. Ahead is an amazing cirque where Lineham Ridge and Highwood Peak meet.
In September of 2015, the Lineham Ridge cirque had a light dusting of snow. Quite a bit different from the heat wave in June of 2021.
This is the view down to the fourth lake. It’s a very small tarn with a muddy bottom. I prefer to stay above and admire from afar.
Looking back is a stunning view of the third lake. We descended to the right to get to the far shore.

Distance to the far point is about 5.5 km. Total elevation gain for the trip is 526 m, but the high point is back at the Lineham Ridge spur. Time to this location is 2 hours, 15 minutes.

After we got our fill of good views, we descended to the far east end of the third lake. There is a rocky shore here, with large flat rocks that gently lead into the water. After some lunch, we all stripped down and jumped in. I’m not one for water, especially cold water, but this was absolutely delightful. I went in twice, which says a lot about the intense heat and the lovely lake.

The flat rocks extend into the water, making for an easy entrance.

Picklejar Lakes Return

As we were down on the shore, we continued around the other side of the third lake. This required some creek crossings, and a bit of hunting for the right trail. It wasn’t really worth it. If you are just admiring the lake from above, then return along the scree slope to the second lake.

Hiking on the far shore is not the official trail. We crossed a couple of streams, and then had to dipsy-doodle around for the right trail. We then had to cross a boggy area to get back to the correct side of the second lake. Was it worth it? No. I’d go back the way we came, taking the established scree trail on the far side of the third lake.

Once we passed the first lake, there was the final climb back up to the high point on Lineham Ridge. While this looks daunting, the grade is quite nice and we were up in no time.

I was thankful for the cool swim and the wet hair as we hiked back up this open slope in the baking heat.

From the meadows, there are fantastic views of the mountains across the Highwood River valley.

We were back at the cars in no time. They were super hot after baking in the sun all day, so thank goodness for air conditioning. My hair was dry by the time I got back, but that swim made the difference between not hiking, and having a great day in the mountains.

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Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Gaia, displayed on Strava

Date: June 28, 2021 (fourth lake lookout, swim, return far side of third lake)
Group:  Four (Alisen, Nancy, Carol x 2)
Distance:  11.98  km
Elevation:  526 m (1,735ā€²)
Time:  5 hours (includes lunch & swim break)

The hike to Picklejar follows a creek, and then turns right to get up and over Lineham Ridge. This very accessible hike is ideal for a hot day, but is nice the full hiking season.
This elevation profile looks like the cartoon drawings of very fat cats. The tops of the ears are the high points on Lineham Ridge. The rest of the hike is a nicely graded elevation gain.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
21 comments on “Picklejar Lakes
  1. We did Pickle Jar lakes as a loop including Mist Ridge a couple of years ago. We didn’t see anyone except when passing Sheep River campground. I never would have thought this trail was ever busy.

  2. Diana says:

    Beautiful photos! I think I like lake 3 the best. Do you happen to know where the name “Picklejar” comes from? It seems like a strange name for a lake.

    • alisendopf says:

      I could be wrong, but years ago someone told me that because Parks stocked the lake so full with fish, that it was like fishing in a picklejar. Super easy. šŸ˜‚ No idea if that is true, but it’s a great story.

  3. What a beautiful place. And a cool lake on a hot day is the best!

  4. I heard about the extreme heat wave you had out west. I applaud your efforts to still get outdoors to go for a hike. What better way to reward yourself and cool off than by going for a swim in the lake! The third lake looks gorgeous and I bet the water was refreshing!

  5. mark author says:

    Many Things have changed

  6. Love these beautiful lakes. Like you being a Canadian..I am used to cold DAYS . LOL

  7. Awesome Place. There so many beautiful lakes in Canada. Thanks for sharing one of them. Superb photography…šŸ’–šŸ’–

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