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Jo admiring the Bow Valley view
Jo admiring the Bow Valley view

Castle Mountain Lookout Hike Near Banff

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I have a friend in town visiting from Ontario who hadn’t done any Banff hikes for 25 plus years. She was overdue for a dose of the Rocky Mountains but in early June it can be hard to find a good snow-free trail. We debated where to go. We nixed the rigorous 23.4 km Aylmer Lookout hike – too tough for the first real hike of the season. We thought about doing the hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers but I did it last summer and was looking for something new. We decided on the Castle Mountain Lookout hike.

This is one of the great early season hikes in Banff. The Castle Mountain Lookout hike is only 7.4 km return with an elevation gain of 520 m (1705 feet), enough to give you a workout – but it doesn’t kill you – an especially good compromise for an early season hike.

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You can't miss Castle Mountain on the Trans-Canada Highway
You can’t miss Castle Mountain on the Trans-Canada Highway
Break time to catch your breath on the Castle Mountain Lookout hike
Break time to catch your breath

Trailhead for the Castle Mountain Lookout hike

The trailhead is a cinch to find. It’s just five kilometres west of Castle Junction on the north side of the highway. Make sure you’ve bought a national parks pass beforehand.

Castle Mountain Lookout hike details

Distance: 7.4 km round trip

Elevation gain: 520 metres or 1705 feet

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours

Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate

Dogs allowed: Yes on leash

Map: Gem Trek Banff & Mt. Assiniboine

The climb is initially tough and uninspiring as it follows an old road. There are a few flowers worth stopping to photograph – though really it’s just an excuse to catch your breath.

Within 40 minutes you emerge from the woods and with every step the views open up. Eventually you see the whole of the Bow Valley through to Vermilion Pass and into Kootenay National Park.

And then you reach the lookout – still well below the crest of gorgeous Castle Mountain – with its stupendous views. Spend some time up here enjoying lunch with a view.

The descent is all downhill so you’ll be back at your car in short order.

Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations on the Castle Mountain Lookout hike
Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations
A blast of colour in early June is a treat for the eyes
A blast of colour in early June is a treat for the eyes
After 40 minutes of hiking the Castle Mountain Lookout hike the views open up
After 40 minutes of hiking the views open up
Close-up of the mountains
Close-up of the mountains
Me - with expansive Bow Valley views behind
Me – with expansive Bow Valley views behind
Our lunch stop on the Castle Mountain Lookout hike is a fire lookout - abandoned in the 70's
Our lunch stop is a fire lookout – abandoned in the 70’s
Jo admiring the Bow Valley view
Jo admiring the Bow Valley view
Lovely to be on a snow free trail in early June
Lovely to be on a snow free trail in early June

The hike to the Castle Mountain Lookout is one of the first that’s open in Banff National Park – sometimes as early as mid-April. It’s a great way to kick off the Rocky Mountain hiking season.

For updated trail reports visit the Banff National Park website.

Trail map for the Castle Mountain Lookout hike
Trail map for the Castle Mountain Lookout hike – located northwest of Castle Mountain Village

Location map

                       

Further reading on early season hiking in Alberta

Click on the photo below to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The hike to Castle Mountain Lookout, Banff National Park

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