Aylmer Lookout Hike, Banff National Park

Views up and down Lake Minnewanka
Views up and down Lake Minnewanka

The Aylmer Lookout hike is one of the great early season hikes in Banff National Park. There is 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 towards Aylmer Lookout delivers superlative views up and down the lake. But be warned. Although it’s not a hard hike, it is a long one.

The hike to Aylmer Lookout starts at the parking lot at the west end of Lake Minnewanka. It tends to get jammed, especially in summer, as it’s also 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.

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Views in the direction of the Banff townsite
Lake Minnewanka views in the direction of the Banff townsite

Aylmer Lookout hike summary

Distance: 23.4 km (14.5 miles) round-trip to the lookout; 27.0 km (16.8 miles) round-trip to Aylmer Pass; 30.2 km (18.8 miles) round trip for both Aylmer Lookout and Aylmer Pass

Time needed: 7 – 8 hours for the return Aylmer Lookout hike, and 10 – 11 hours to hike to both Aylmer Lookout and  Aylmer Pass.

Type of hike: Out and back

Level of difficulty: Moderate because of the distance.

Toilets: You’ll find them at the trailhead.

Trailhead elevation: 1,482 m (4860 feet)

Elevation of Aylmer Lookout: 2,052 m (6,730 feet)

Elevation of Aylmer Pass: 2,285 m (7,495 feet)

Map needed: Gem Trek Banff & Mt. Assiniboine

Dogs: Dogs are allowed on a leash before July 10 and after September 15th. 

Options: Continue to Aylmer Pass; that adds 6.8 km to do both the lookout and pass with a total elevation gain of 942 m (3,091 feet) plus another 2 – 3 hours of hiking time

Don’t forget: Hiking poles will help on the descent.

Trail conditions: Before you go, check the status of the trail on the Banff National Park website.

Permits: You will need a Banff National Park pass to hike. Purchase at the gate to the park, in Banff, or online.

Highlights: Enjoy superb views up and down the length of Lake Minnewanka at the end of the Aylmer Lookout hike.

Mountain biking: There is the option to mountain bike for 8.5 km along Lake Minnewanka to the turnoff to Aylmer Lookout. Lock your bike there, hike up and down, and bike back to the parking lot. The trail is narrow in places and not for everyone. 

Backcountry camping:  Available at numerous campgrounds along Lake Minnewanka. You can reserve campsites starting January 29, 2024 at 8 AM MT. 

Ticks: The hike is well-known for early season ticks. Check your whole body after the hike.

Enjoy the views down Stewart Canyon
Enjoy the views down Stewart Canyon

Bears on the Aylmer Lookout hike

The Aylmer Lookout hike traverses prime grizzly bear habitat. The trail traverses an area that is very important as a food source for the bears.

As such dogs are not allowed between July 10th and September 15th. During that critical time period, you must also travel as a tight group of four or risk fines. Bear spray is a must on this hike. It needs to be accessible and you need to know how to use it. I like to keep mine in a bear spray holster so I don’t set it odd accidentally.

Read: Tips for staying safe in bear country

Aylmer Lookout trail description

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 first notable stop on the Aylmer Lookout hike is Stewart Canyon, 1.7 km 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 m 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 m from the sign pictured below.

While you can ride a bike or take dogs on the trail certain times of the year, 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.

The hike to Aylmer Lookout is fast and easy all the way to the Aylmer Pass junction with some really lovely Lake Minnewanka views.

When you reach a bridged creek, about 7.7 km from the parking lot you’ll be within minutes of the turnoff to the Aylmer Lookout.

If you’re running low on water, fill up here as there is nothing once you start climbing.

Note the dates on when you must travel as a group on the Aylmer Lookout hike
Note the dates on when you must travel as a group on the Aylmer Lookout hike
Big mountain views early in the Aylmer Lookout hike
Big mountain views early on the hike to Aylmer Lookout 
You do have to share this trail - which is narrow at times with mountain bikes
You do have to share the Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail – which is narrow at times with mountain bikes
 When you reach this bridge you are close to the first campsite
When you reach this bridge you are close to the first campsite & the turnoff to Aylmer Lookout and Aylmer Pass
 Good signage for the turnoff to Aylmer Lookout and Pass
Good signage for the turnoff – close to the first campground too

The trail to Aylmer Lookout from Aylmer Pass Junction

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 km to the next junction – all uphill with little in the way of views.

It will probably take you about 45 minutes to do this part of the Aylmer Lookout hike. 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 km to reach the Aylmer Lookout. In total you gain 605 m.

The actual physical 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 Lake Minnewanka 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 m over 1.8 km. 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 Aylmer 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.

Views you rarely see - looking east down Lake Minnewanka
Views you rarely see – looking east down Lake Minnewanka
 A view up and down Lake Minnewanka - the largest lake in Banff National Park
A view up and down Lake Minnewanka – the largest lake in Banff National Park
 You can see the town of Banff from Aylmer Lookout
You can see the town of Banff from Aylmer Lookout
Heading down from the Lookout
Heading down from Aylmer Lookout
It pays to get an early start on the hot days as its a long way back to the parking lot
It pays to get an early start on the hot days as its a long way back to the parking lot
Take water on this hike
Don’t forget the water; from here it’s still several km to the parking lot

Finding the Aylmer Lookout trailhead

If you’re driving the Trans-Canada Highway either west or east, take the exit signed for Lake Minnewanka. It also takes you into town via Banff Avenue.

If you’re in Banff, head out of town via Banff Avenue to reach the Trans-Canada Highway interchange. Continue straight for 5.9 km on the Lake Minnewanka Road to reach the large parking lot at Lake Minnewanka. It’s a busy spot in summer.

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.

Location map of the hike

                                               

  • Click on the three dots in the top right hand corner to email a copy of the map.

Further reading on hiking in Alberta

Camping near the Aylmer Lookout trailhead

There are two campgrounds at Two Jack Lake on Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.

You’ll pass them on the drive to the trailhead if you drive the Lake Minnewanka loop in a counter-clockwise direction. There are 74 sites at Two Jack Lakeside. There is also the option to book one of 32 equipped campsites at Two Jack Main, though they are pricier.

You can reserve campsites online here.

Where to stay in Banff

The following are suggestions across all price points.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is a beautiful place to stay – though it’s expensive.

 I’d suggest The Juniper Hotel & Bistro if you want a view without the crowds. They also have an excellent restaurant.

The Buffalo Mountain Lodge never fails to impress. Enjoy an outdoor hot tub and a great onsite restaurant. In summer they offer free bikes for guest’s use.

On the hotel strip I like the Moose Hotel. If you’re traveling in a group or as a family and you’re cool with bunkbeds (not all rooms) then the cheerful Canalta Hotel is a great choice. 

For a hostel experience visit Samesun Banff.

Beautiful backdrop of Cascade Mountain from Buffalo Mountain Lodge
Beautiful backdrop of Cascade Mountain from Buffalo Mountain Lodge

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The Aylmer Lookout hike in Banff National Park

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