If you’re looking for a fun, non-technical hike near Banff, hiking up to the Castle Mountain Lookout is a fantastic option. If you have microspikes, this trail is still accessible in the early springtime, when many of the high alpine walks are still deep under snow. The hike finishes at an old fire lookout. The fire lookout building may be long gone, but you’ll be able to sit on the foundations and see the spectacular view.
We combined this with a hike up to C-level cirque near Lake Minnewanka, so we had a full day hiking with just under 1000 m elevation gain. It just shows, you can still have epic days out during the shoulder season!
Castle Mountain Lookout Trail Map
Castle Mountain Lookout – the basics
Distance: 7.4 km
Elevation gain: 550 m
Highest Point: 2010 m
Time: 2.5-4 hours. We took 1.5 hours to go up, and less than an hour to come down. Then we also had a good long rest at the top!
What to bring:
We used microspikes as the trail was well packed down. Even in summer, hiking poles would be useful as this trail is uphill the entire way.
The 10 Essentials (as always)
There is a car park, but no toilet.
I didn’t see any signs to say doggos are not welcome, but there were lots of grouse on the trail so please keep them on a lead.
How hard is it?
Moderate. The trail is basically uphill the whole way, so it can feel like a bit of a slug (especially if you’ve already hiked C-level Cirque that morning!) However, there is no route finding, so it’d be a good hike for beginners.
Castle Mountain Lookout – Getting started
It is pretty simple to find this trail. Just google “Castle Mountain Lookout Trailhead” to take you to the start of the hike. From there, there is a sign post pointing to the easy to follow trail. We did this hike in the middle of April, so there was still packed-down ice on the trail. Most people seemed to be managing with hiking boots, but we found it easier to put our microspikes on.
The trail moves steadily upwards through the trees, but every so often you’ll be treated to views down to the Bow Valley, or up to the Towering Castle Mountain above you.
The Bow valley is pretty wide, so you’ll be able to see just how expansive the forests are between the Rockies.
Once you make it to the higher parts of the trail, the views above are equally impressive. Castle Mountain really does seem to have giant stone ramparts!
Fire Lookouts have the best views!
I love hiking up to fire lookouts! The viewpoint at Castle mountain no longer has a building, but it is still fantastic for seeing down to the valley and over to so many different mountains. It must have been lonely (but gorgeous) to spend time out here watching for fires.
Castle Mountain Lookout – How busy is it?
There were far more people on this trail than the totally empty trail at C-level Cirque. However, that might be because the Castle Mountain Lookout is one of the first trails to thaw out in the springtime. This is a great shoulder season hike, so I guess that is why plenty of people want to stretch their legs here. We made friends at the lookout, so I even have a rare photo of us together that isn’t a selfie.
We found the journey back to the car sooooo much easier than the hike up. The path is pretty good. So, if you have hiking poles to help save your knees, you can let gravity do most of the work as you zoom back down the switchbacks.
Watch out for Grouse!
This year we have been listening to the calls of Grouse on almost all our walks, but hardly ever see them. This little dude was calling for mates right by the path, so for once, he was easy to spot! Did you ever notice that Grouse had rather fetching red eye-shadow?
On this trip we only really had one epic day hiking in Banff (the rest of the time we were driving around and sightseeing with my brother and sister in law.) Still, Castle Mountain Lookout was a great way to end a fun day of walks and larks. If you have a few hours to spare it’s a great mini adventure.