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Banff Hikes: Castle Mountain Lookout

Banff Hikes: Castle Mountain Lookout

I have a friend in town visiting from Ontario. It’s been 25+ years since she’s done any Banff hikes so she’s overdue for a dose of the Rocky Mountains. We debated how to get high in the Rockies especially in early June when most trails are still snow covered. We nixed the rigorous 23.4 kilometre 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.

"Castle Mountain in Banff National Park"

You can’t miss Castle Mountain on the Trans-Canada Highway

We elected to do one of the great Banff hikes – Castle Mountain Lookout. It’s only 7.4 kilometres return and the elevation gain of 520 metres (1705 feet) is enough to give you a workout – but it doesn’t kill you – a good compromise for an early season 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 parks pass beforehand.

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.

"Poles comes in handy to lean on while you catch your breath"

Poles comes in handy to lean on while you catch your breath

"Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations"

Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations

"Loved the texture on these emerging wildflowers"

Loved the texture on these emerging wildflowers

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.

"Views from Castle Mountain"

After 40 minutes of hiking the views open up

"Close-up of the mountains"

Close-up of the mountains

"Trans-Canada animal crossing in Banff Park

You can see the animal crossing over the Trans-Canada Highway from above

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.

"Me - with expansive Bow Valley views behind"

Me – with expansive Bow Valley views behind

"Trees growing on the steep slopes of Castle Mountain"

Trees growing on the steep slopes of Castle Mountain

"Our lunch stop is a fire lookout - abandoned in the 70's"

Our lunch stop is a fire lookout – abandoned in the 70’s

"admiring the Bow Valley view"

Jo admiring the Bow Valley view

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.

What are you favourite early season Banff hikes? 

Click on the photo below to pin and bookmark this post.

Banff Hikes: Castle Mountain Lookout


Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 42 Comments
  1. I remember doing that hike when I lived in Banff back in the 1970’s! Your photos are beautiful. I am hobbling around this week with a stiff knee. Hiking for me doesn’t look good again this spring/summer.

  2. I love the celebration in the last photo! I keep hearing about Banff. It seems like everyone is going there. Maybe I should go too…

    1. @Ted The tunnels are hugely effective. I saw a film at the Banff Film Festival detailing the benefits. The car-animal collisions are way down. The first animals to use the overhead pass were the elk – even before they had finished building it. The bears took about 5 years to catch on. In the past year a video has captured a wolverine.

  3. amazing views! I wish I could come and do some of those hikes. What a great idea the animal crossing over the highway is. LOL I use stopping to take photos of wildflowers as an excuse to stop too.
    Love that last photo of Jo and the view – magnificent view – what a great shot!
    Have a wonderful week and thank you for stopping by my blog this week.

  4. Love that first photo of Castle Mountain, looks so mysterious and majestic. Intrigued by the animal tunnel, so off to check if we have those here. What a great (and humane) idea!

    1. @Sophie It felt like Castle Mountain was appearing out of nowhere with that photo. The animal tunnels are humane and prevent a lot of human loss of life do from car collisions prevented.

  5. You know how much I badly want to go to Banff and I’m hoping it’s this year. Absolutely gorgeous hike and beautiful pictures, Leigh. Love those backdrops. I think I’d need more than a walking stick to catch my breath here though πŸ™‚ It was so great to meet you too at TBEX. So glad you are as wonderful (if not more) in person as your online persona. Wish we had more time to chat but will definitely meet up with you again soon.

  6. Beautiful! We haven’t been to Banff yet – it’s been on our list for a long time, so a little inspiration to get us moving is great.

  7. Wow, that was a proper hike with a proper view. I just love the last photo. You should print it off, add some famous travel quote and frame it, seriously. By the way, you are so right, you just can’t miss Castle Mountain on the Trans-Canada Highway, beautiful!

  8. Oh boy that was some hiking i am not sure i can even do! How many hours all in all did it take you guys to hike the whole distance? I mean from the first steps to the peak. Coz im my view you were like walking into some mountain from Lord of the Rings. LOL!

    Please check my link, you’ll probably like this promo from Flight Centre Canada.

  9. I really like those views of the Bow Valley. What a great reward for your hike! I need to show my daughter your photo of the animal bridge. She read a little classroom leveled-reader pamphlet about it and has been fascinated ever since.

    1. @Michele They have put millions of dollars into the animal bridges to great effect. It’s the first time I’ve seen one from the top. I wish some elk – who use them most – were crossing at the time.

  10. What a spectacular hike Leigh! I would totally love to do this. We’ve done hiking in places like the Catskills, Minnewaska State Park, and other parts of the base of the Shawangunk mountains in upstate NY but Banff a part of the world I would LOVE to visit one day.

  11. Looks like a great early season hike. I’ve never been to Banff but might remedy that later this year in September – still planning the trip but hoping to make it that far!

  12. This looks like a wonderful hike. I’m coming to Banff in September this year. Can’t wait and I’m researching my options for good hikes and places to eat.

    I’ll continue looking at your site for more ‘goodies’.

  13. Those are some fantastic views! But I must admit, my favourite was the animal crossings. I’m so glad to see someone has managed to make animal crossings that fit the nature around them and look beautiful!
    (Stupid thing ti get caught up in with all those awesome photos, but there you have it) πŸ˜‰

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