The Paget Lookout – Paget Peak hike in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park was not our first choice on a summer weekend. But our plans to hike to the summit of Mt. Saint Piran were thwarted when we arrived at Lake Louise – the starting point, to find the parking lot full. In these COVID times it’s always a good idea to have a Plan B as many trails and parking lots have been unbelievably busy this summer.
I had done some research before we left home and loved the sound of the Paget Lookout hike, just 13 minutes and 17 kilometres away from Lake Louise in Yoho National Park. It turned out to be a fantastic choice. Once at the lookout you may decide like we did, to continue to Paget Peak – but it is a whole level of difficulty harder and is not for the novice hiker or anyone who dislikes boulders and scree.
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Finding the trailhead
From Lake Louise, drive approximately 17 kilometres west via the Trans-Canada Highway. Take the turnoff into the Sherbrooke Creek parking lot – just 0.4 kilometres west of Great Divide Lodge on the north side of the highway across from Wapta Lake.
If you’re coming from Field it’s an 11.5 kilometre drive to the turnoff. Alternatively park by the Great Divide Lodge and hike the trail you’ll find at the back of the parking lot for 0.4 kilometres to meet up with the main trail. (Once on the Sherbrooke Lake Trail, John and I realized we had skied it a few years ago at the end of a very tough day on the 4 day Wapta Traverse.)
This trailhead is also used to access two other hikes – gorgeous Sherbrooke Lake and the reportedly outstanding hike to Niles Meadow.
Details of the hike to Paget Lookout
From the parking lot go past the outhouse to reach the gate pictured above. After only a few minutes of hiking you’ll reach the first signed junction. Stay left. If you go right you’ll end up at The Great Divide Lodge.
Continue gradually ascending for 1.4 kilometres to reach the second signed junction at the 1.4 kilometre mark. Head right here and stay on the trail for another 2.2 kilometres as it steepens and switchbacks through forest to reach the sub-alpine. Enjoy the views of Kicking Horse Pass, Mount Ogden to the west, Mt. Stephen to the southwest and Vanguard Peak and Cathedral Mountain to the south.
In total it’s just 7.8 kilometres return to the fire lookout with an elevation gain of 520 metres (1706 feet). Allow about three hours to do the return hike. It would combine well with the hike to Sherbrooke Lake – as both are family-friendly if your kids are regular hikers and at least 7 or 8 years old.
A little about the fire lookout
A number of fire lookouts were built in the Rockies after a couple of terrible fires that happened in 1936 and 1940.
This lookout was named after Reverend E. C. Paget (1857 – 1927), a founding member of the Alpine Club of Canada and someone who attended the first ascent of 2,560 metre Paget Peak. (Who gets to attend a first ascent in 2020?)
The Paget Lookout, the oldest fire lookout in Canada’s national parks, was built in 1944. It remained in use through to the 1970’s when lookout towers were replaced by technology including satellite remote sensors.
Interested in more fire lookout hikes? Check out this book – Fire Lookout Hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
The hike to Paget Peak from Paget Lookout
Before you start the hike up Paget Peak consider a couple of factors. It’s further than it looks as the real summit can’t be seen from the fire lookout. The trail is also scree-filled and really not the place for a new-to-scree hiker. There are a couple of short, exposed sections too – and I know not everyone is a fan of exposure, myself included.
As we hadn’t planned to hike the peak, I had stupidly left my hiking poles at home. But I’d recommend a pair – preferably the collapsible sort. Also this hike can be cold and windy at the top so don’t forget a windbreaker, a lightweight down jacket if the weather looks threatening, a buff, a warm hat and even some gloves. Wear hiking boots, not running shoes.
From the lookout to Paget Peak you climb 446 metres (1463 feet) in just 1.4 kilometres so this is one steep hike. Be extremely careful with foot placement as the last thing you ever want to hear is ROCK – because someone has dislodged a boulder.
The trail to the peak – as we discovered when we saw people bounding down to the lookout, starts behind the lookout tower. Take it. It starts off steeply in the trees and in short order you’re on a scree slope. Take notice of your surroundings as we got off track slightly on the descent – and trust me it gets super steep in a hurry.
We had people to follow on the way up though the main trail is quite well-worn. Still there are many side trails so look for occasional cairns. The scree was loose in places but doable. The final stretch to the false summit takes you through some large boulders that might be a bit unnerving for some. I hadn’t realized there was a false summit, as there seemed to be a lot of people tucked into the rocks eating lunches, so it was a bit of a surprise that I had to keep going!
But continue you must – either along the trail at the top or slightly below – which will avoid the airy move I had to make pictured two photos below. While on the airy route, note that there are bomb-proof handholds but for me, anything airy always plays with my mind.
I found the final jaunt over to the true summit where there was a summit register to be a snap. And the views of turquoise-coloured Sherbrooke Lake and the mountains are simply take your breath away beautiful.
This is one outstanding hike to do IF you have the skill-set to do it safely. Keep an eye on the weather too, as there isn’t any shelter to speak of until you’re back at the lookout tower. Allow another 2 – 3 hours for the hike up and back to the fire lookout, depending on how much time you laze about the summit.
Before you do the hike
Be sure to check out the Parks Canada website for the latest trail conditions.
Further reading on hikes and things to do in Yoho National Park
- The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, Yoho National Park
- The Lake McArthur Hike in Yoho National Park
- The Beautiful Family-friendly Emerald Lake Hike
- What Its Like to Stay at Cathedral Mountain Lodge in BC
- Hiking the Spectacular Iceline Trail near Field, BC
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