Mockingbird Lookout - The Ghost - Hiking Alberta

 

Mockingbird Lookout is an old, abandoned fire Lookout near Nakiska in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.

 

Mockingbird Lookout, The Ghost, Alberta, Canada

 

The great thing about hiking to a fire lookout is the guaranteed spectacular view.  Such is the nature of a fire lookout.  There is no exception on this gorgeous, sunny day.

For this day's hike, an excellent hiking guide book, titled 'Fire Lookout Hikes in the Canadian Rockies', authored by Mike Potter, who has published several excellent hiking guides, provides the detail information needed for access and execution.  Fire lookouts generally do not encourage visitors.  Signage is virtually non-existent.  It is important to do the research before every hike.

From northwest Calgary, the drive proceeds over the familiar route west on the TransCanada Highway, then north on Hwy 22 to Cochrane where a left turn onto Highway 1A heads west towards the mountains. 

Along Highway 22, multiple roadside ponds are covered with a thin layer of black ice sufficiently load bearing to support the weight of waddling ducks on the surface.  It is a treat to enjoy a clear-sky, warm-weather day this late in the season. 

Highway 1A heading west to the mountains roughly parallels the TransCanada Highway through rolling grassland rendered brilliant by sun low in the sky.  The days are becoming noticeably shorter as winter approaches. Thirteen kilometers (8 ¼ miles) later, at Hwy 40 (Forestry Trunk Road 940), a turn right heads north into the Ghost Region, east of Banff National Park and north of Kananaskis Country.  The road weaves its way through the foothills passing expansive and beautiful ranch land alive with herds of horses and cattle and through the small residential community of Waiparous Village (no facilities). 

This wilderness area is well developed with outstanding remote campgrounds, adventure enterprises offering white water rafting, paintball, cadet training, and a variety of retreats from the stress of life.  The Ghost enjoys relative obscurity from more popular haunts like nearby Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park.

About 20 kilometers (12 ½ miles) later, old paved road changes to tire-wandering, dry and dusty, newly-graveled road similar to driving over ball bearings.  At corners, the car wants to continue in the same direction with complete disregard for instructions from the steering wheel.  Open prairie changes to dense forest. 

Slightly more than forty KM (25 miles) north on Hwy. 40 north past Ghost Airstrip, a left turn at the clearly marked Waiparous Valley Road passes the gated entrance to Camp Mockingbird and at 2.8 KM from the junction with Hwy 40, a right fork is taken at the Y junction.  At 3.2 kilometers a narrow, one lane bridge crossing is taken over frozen Waiparous Creek and 0.7 KM later there is arrival at a road in a flat spot with a big yellow sign that says, 'Dangerous Road - Closed to all Vehicles'.  (Note: Comments say the sign is gone. The distances and photos will help.)

In the Albertan language this means 'Welcome to the Mockingbird Lookout Trail-head'.

 

 

On foot now, the 4 wheel drive road/trail soon leads past a cut line and the first gate.  The grade is moderate and consistent on long switchbacks over eroded gravel road and through predominantly pine forest.

 

 

Two thirds of the 3.2 KM (2.0 miles) hike later arrival occurs at a sign, 'NO SHOOTING for the next 183 meters'.  It is surprising there is so little distance left to achieve the top of the ridge.  The steady climb continues and the grade begins to level on the approach to the second 'NO SHOOTING for 1,000 meters' sign. 

Parks Alberta has apparently installed the signs in the reverse order.  Arrival at the final gate, which is easily circumnavigated, leaves only a few minutes before Mockingbird Lookout and the incredible vistas to the front range of the Rocky Mountains bursts into view.  Wow!  Elevation to the top is 370 meters (1,215 ft) and the lookout stands at 1,903 meters (6,240 ft).

 

 

There are no Mockingbirds here.  The name comes from the song "Mockingbird Hill' performed by 'Fats Domino', which was playing on the radio in 1950 when the survey crew was setting up to replace the Black Rock Lookout on top of Black Rock Mountain to the west.

 

 

The view is spectacular.  Front and center to the west is the unique, steep-faced, thumb-like feature named Devils Head.  To the left of Devils Head, standing solitary in front of the range, is Black Rock Mountain with the remains of the original lookout visible as a tiny bump on top.  This lookout was abandoned in 1952 and replaced by a simple lookout on Mockingbird Hill until the current more complex structure was installed in 1974

To the right of Devils Head is Castle Rock and the Sheep Crest.  This area arguably contains some of the best ice-climbing routes in the world.  Ice climbers from around the planet travel here in winter and spring to pursue their passion for this exciting sport. 

Moose Mountain is visible to the south.  On it's summit is the next fire lookout to the south in a long chain of defense from forest fires.  In the southeast, the tiny specks peeking over a forested ridge are the tops of Calgary's highest skyscrapers.

 

 

The tripod allows photos of the remains of the old lookout perched on the summit of Black Rock Mountain.  From the other side of the mountain there is an aggressive trail to the Black Rock Mountain Lookout but the trail-head is accessible only by foot, mountain bike. dirt bike or 4 wheel drive vehicles.  On the far side of Mockingbird Lookout there is a snow gauge hidden in the forest just past the outhouse.

 

The snow gauge behind the outhouse at Mockingbird Fire Lookout

 

The Fire Lookout at the summit of Black Rock Mountain

 

Mochingbird Fire Lookout

 

 

 

These final three photographs were captured in the fall from the living room window, looking south over Patterson Hills and Canada Olympic Park, where ski jumping and sledding events were held when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics

These fall pictures illustrate the nature of the autumn season in Calgary which tends to be a yellow, orange and brown event due to the reduced number of tree species which can survive at higher altitude.  This year, after a poor, unusual summer of cold, rain and vicious hail storms, fall was very brief.  The trees may have simply given up hope. 

Mockingbird Lookout, The Ghost, Alberta, CanadaMockingbird Lookout, The Ghost, Alberta, CanadaMockingbird Lookout, The Ghost, Alberta, Canada

 

Calgary color cannot compete with the spectacular fall scenery of Ontario, Québec and the Maritime Provinces. 

 

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Comments

Thanks for your comment, Frank, and the update on the signage. Hope you and Linda enjoyed a great day hiking. Always a good view from a fire lookout. I still have Black Rock Lookout on my bucket list. It is visible from Mockingbird Lookout.

My wife, Linda, and I went here yesterday and the sign about no four wheel vehicles is gone. There are two small signs, about 4 feet high with neon tape strung between them, indicating buried gas lines on the northwest corner of the junction. Regards. Frank

Hello, thanks for the site and pictures. I am trying to get more familiar with the ghost area but I have 1 correction for you. In the 6th paragraph you give directions from your house in NW Calgary and you mention Canmore, when it is actually Cochrane that's north on highway 22.

Thank you, Nick, for taking the time and effort to inform me of that error in the text.  Much appreciated.  The correction has been completed.  Cochrane can also be accessed by the drive northwest from Calgary via Crowchild Trail.

Love the info! Been reading voraciously after I found your site while looking for information on Black Rock as I plan to hike it this summer. Have you ever thought about going up to the old lookout? And if you know of any place or person who has info I'd sure appreciate you passing that along. Thanks! Have a great day! Matt

Thank you for your kind words, Matt.  I have not done Black Rock although it has been on my list for years.  May never get to it.  Access is less than ideal.  There are plenty of sources for information.  Search on 'Black Rock Mountain Alberta'.  Host of possibilities.  Check with a good guidebook and map.  Contact a hiking club or two for potential trips.  A hiking group website for this region may be able to provide advice for hiking partners. Good luck. Stay safe.

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