Castle Mountain Lookout hike
The Castle Lookout hike takes hikers up the frontside of the mountain, normally reserved for experienced climbers and scramblers. The clear trail winds through the forest, coming to an open viewpoint. You’ll be able to see into Kootenay National Park, B.C., from here, and all the way to Banff and Lake Louise. It is an excellent option for a half-day hike with minimal crowds.
From the Town of Banff, take the Trans-Canada Highway westbound to castle junction. Turn right at the exit, crossing the train tracks and the Castle Mountain Chalets store and gas pump. Turn left onto Highway 1A-Bow Valley Parkway and continue 3.1mi before turning right into the Castle Lookout trailhead parking. The trail begins at the sign where the dirt path is visible.
|When to do|
Yes - On Leash
Older Children only
Out and back
Castle Mountain Lookout
Castle Mountain Lookout Trail Description
Although Castle Mountain Lookout is a shorter hike, it’s quite steep, so prepare for some heart-pumping intensity. However, it is a clear and well-maintained trail the entire way; it’s not super technical. The steep grade takes you to your destination quickly, but it will burn you out a little bit. Pack a lunch and enjoy the viewpoint after some hard work.
Castle Mountain Lookout hike is a great option for those who want views without the big crowds. It is an excellent choice when travelling the scenic Bow Valley Parkway. This hike is extremely underrated for its class and rewards at the top.
Begin your hike by leaving the parking lot, following the dirt path through the forest. The unassuming path will begin climbing, so take your time. At 1.4mi, you will pass the remains of an old log cabin. Shortly after this, views will open up. You’ll begin to see many peaks through the valley, and notably, Storm Mountain will appear across the highway.
Once the trail opens up, there will be a small canyon with rushing water you will cross before meandering short switchbacks. The views here gain expanse as you climb the switchbacks to your destination. You’ll arrive at the abandoned fire lookout before you know it. This is the type of hike that puts you at your destination without even knowing! You’ll think you still have farther to climb when suddenly, you’ve reached the top.
This lookout was initially designed as a fire lookout, but it was abandoned in the ‘70s. Parks Canada took ownership of the trail and keeps it well-maintained. You may not notice, but the trail faintly continues on to the cliffs above. There is a 5th class scrambler’s route that leads to the plateau between Castle Mountain’s namesake cliff bands. A small alpine hut rests above on the plateau. Hikers and climbers can spend the night at this cozy hut by booking through the Alpine Club of Canada.
The viewpoint here is very spacious and the perfect place for a lunch break. Take in the views sprawled across Bow Valley while you rest on the edge of the cliffs. Return the way you came to finish the hike.
Hiking Route Highlights
Castle Mountain Cliffs
The looming cliffs of Castle Mountain are a big highlight of this trip. You’ll finish your hike under the colossal buttresses that give Castle its name, and these towers are even more impressive up close. You have remarkable cliffs on the north and incredible views of the Bow Valley to the south. It’s impossible to see these cliffs this close on any other route unless you are an experienced climber or mountaineer.
Bow Valley Parkway
On your return, take a scenic detour to wind down by driving to either Banff or Lake Louise on the Bow Valley Parkway. The original highway 1A rests inside the animal closure fences and hosts many roadside stops, viewpoints, and interpretive sites. You’ll be more likely to spot some wildlife and gain a new perspective of the park from here.
Include the Bow Valley Parkway on your trip
Bring a map or app to name the surrounding peaks
Watch for climbers coming and going from Castle Hut above
Prepare for a steep grade
Grab a snack at Castle Mountain Chalets store
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