One of the great early season Banff hikes is the Aylmer Lookout Trail with the option to add extra mileage and hike to Aylmer Pass or even up Aylmer Mountain. The trail follows Lake Minnewanka for much of its length – and after a stiff climb delivers superlative views up and down the lake. But be warned. Although it’s not a hard hike, it is a long one. To Aylmer Lookout its 23.4 kilometres return; to the pass its 27 kilometres. To do both – and you really do need to check out the lookout, you’re in for a 30 kilometre day.
The trail starts at the parking lot at the west end of Lake Minnewanka. It tends to get jammed as it’s where you park if you’re doing a cruise on Lake Minnewanka or if you’re just planning on a family picnic by the lake. If you’re a hiker follow the road east past the washrooms and the canteen selling ice cream cones. The trail starts after the paved road and while the trail itself is paved for a short distance, it does change to dirt in short order and you’ll see a sign so you know you’re heading in the right direction. It’s nearly impossible to get lost once you’re on the main trail.
The Hike to Aylmer Lookout
The first notable stop on route to Aylmer Lookout is Stewart Canyon, 1.7 kilometres from the parking lot. Cross the bridge over the Cascade River and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. We saw both big-horned sheep and deer within 100 metres of the bridge. The trail swings northwest for a short distance and then back towards the lake through open forest. In spring look for blue clematis. It’s all over the place adding a pretty touch to the lime green foliage.
After you’ve crossed the bridge at Stewart Canyon also take note of the sign with all the do’s and don’ts. Every adult should carry a can of bear spray. We saw a female grizzly and three cubs on the return portion of the hike, about 400 metres from the sign pictured below. While you can ride a bike or take dogs on the trail now, you cannot between July 10 and September 15th. Note also that as of July 10th you MUST hike as a group of four as this is an important area for grizzly bears and their cubs during the feeding season.
It’s fast, easy hiking all the way to the Aylmer Pass junction with some really lovely Lake Minnewanka views. When you reach a bridged creek, about 7.7 kilometres from the parking lot you’ll be within minutes of the turnoff to the lookout. If you’re running low on water, fill up here as there is nothing once you start climbing.
There’s an obvious sign at the Aylmer Pass Junction pointing to both Aylmer Lookout and Aylmer Pass. This is where the work begins. Its 2.3 kilometres to the next junction – all uphill with little in the way of views. It will probably take you about 45 minutes. Once you reach the Aylmer Lookout junction turn right. Within a few hundred metres the views open up and just keep getting better. Switchback for 1.7 kilometres to reach the Aylmer Lookout. In total you gain 570 metres.
The lookout is no longer in existence but you can still see the concrete footings. Descend a short distance so you can marvel at the views both up and down the lake and then find a spot out of the wind to enjoy a lunch. Retrace your steps to return.
If you do decide to go to Aylmer Pass you have to ascend another 230 metres over 1.8 kilometres. While I haven’t done it, I understand the views of Lake Minnewanka aren’t any more spectacular than what you get on the hike to the lookout. We had run out of time and had to head home to our waiting – and hungry dog. As it was it took us 7.25 hours round-trip including a break for lunch.
Banff Hikes: Getting to the Parking Lot for the Aylmer Lookout Trailhead
Take Banff Avenue out of town to reach the Trans-Canada Highway interchange. Continue straight for 5.9 kilometres on the Lake Minnewanka Road to reach the large parking lot at Lake Minnewanka. Alternatively look for signs pointing to scenic Two Jack Lake off of Lake Minnewanka Road and loop around to end up at the parking lot via a drive over the dam. Go slowly near the dam as there are almost always big-horned sheep.
Looking for more early season mountain hikes? Read 5 Early Season mountain Hikes near Calgary
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