Barrier Lake Lookout - Kananaskis - Hiking Alberta

 

Barrier Lake Lookout is on McConnell Ridge overlooking Barrier Lake in Kananaskis Country.

 

 

The peak is often called Barrier Mountain but this is not correct.  The fire lookout is actually on a high point at the north end of McConnell Ridge.  The summit hosts a little house clearly visible from the TransCanada Highway.  This is the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The north-east face of McConnell Ridge from the corner of TransCanada Highway and Kananaskis Trail looking across Morley Flats

 

The drive west from Calgary, under clear skies, turns south at Morley Flats onto Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40).  Morley Flats surround the Stoney Nakoda Resort at the intersection of Bow Valley with Kananaskis Valley

Twenty thousand years ago, the front range of the mountains was encased in glacial ice 2,000 ft (610 meters) deep.  The glaciers receded about 10,000 years ago.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada A view towards the objective on McConnell Ridge from the trail-head at Barrier Dam

 

The trail-head begins near the Barrier Dam at an elevation of 4,545 ft (1,385 m) and the trail to the top is 6.4 KM (4.0 miles) in length one way with an elevation gain of 610 m (2,000 ft).

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Mount Baldy - 7,190 ft (2,192 m) from the northwest corner of Barrier Lake

 

The flat hike across 'S' shaped Barrier Dam heads directly towards McConnell Ridge and offers incredible views of Kananaskis Valley mountains to the south with Mount Baldy rising prominently over the east side of Barrier Lake

Prior to 1984, Mount Baldy was named Barrier Mountain.  The confusion begins.

The road over the dam veers left through a maze of offshoot roads until a trail sign on the right clearly marks the Prairie View Trail crossing Stoney Trail and leading onto good road over a steady grade on switchbacks to the former site of Pigeon Lookout.

Pigeon Lookout, partway up McConnell Ridge, was replaced by Barrier Lake Lookout at the summit in 1982.  The Pigeon Lookout building resident on McConnell Ridge overlooking Barrier Lake from 1960 to 1982, was returned to near its former location where this building had served as Guard Tower # 8

Pigeon Lookout never did have anything to do with nearby Pigeon Mountain but it certainly adds to the ongoing confusion.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The Wild Rose is the official flower of the Province of Alberta.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Prairie View Trail is an old road, well graded on broad switchbacks with a straight-line, steeper alternative.

 

The trail levels a bit on the approach to beautiful views over Barrier Lake and Mount Baldy.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Barrier Lake from the abandoned location of the Pigeon Lookout - i.e Guard House # 8

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The view from old Pigeon Lookout down the Kananaskis Valley

 

The ongoing kilometer-long (⅝ mile) trail to the top is substantially more rustic with short, steep sections until arrival at the large metal repeating station screen used for bouncing radio signals around corners.  A well-traveled and short diversion offers more amazing views of Barrier Lake, the Bow Valley Corridor and surrounding mountains in the Kananaskis Valley.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Steeper, more rustic trail continues past Pigeon Lookout to fabulous vistas from the repeater station

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Spring flowers are late-blooming but in abundance on this early summer day

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Vistas of Barrier Lake and surrounding mountains expand as elevation is gained aggressively

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Looking to the east over Morley Flats

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The steep rocky approach to the repeating station and a new set of amazing vistas

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The large metal screen, repeater station used to bounce radio signals around corners and mountains

 

A labyrinth of trails beyond the repeating station lead to the summit.  As long as elevation is increasing and there is no threat of falling off either side the objective will be realized.  Staying on cliff edges to the right provides amazing views over Camp Chief Hector, old Yamnuska Centre, Chilver Lake, Yamnuska and the Bow Valley Corridor.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada View from McConnell Ridge across the TransCanada Highway and the Bow River to the south face of Yamnuska

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Forested valley bowl to the south from near the top of McConnell Ridge

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The cliff edge is saturated with flowers along the final approach to the Barrier Lake Lookout

 

 

Typical signage announces the proximity of the Barrier Lake Lookout at the 6,550 ft (1,996 m) summit of McConnell Ridge.  A new 700 pound precast concrete picnic table has been airlifted to the left of the helicopter pad at the approach to the lookout. 

The long-time custodian, Chip, is out taking measurements and it is courteous to hail him for permission to proceed.  The personnel who staff fire lookouts live and work here for the spring, summer and fall fire season. 

Sophisticated equipment monitors weather conditions, which are relayed to appropriate locations.  Fires, usually started by lightning or irresponsible humans are triangulated from fire lookouts within visual contact.  The Barrier Lake Lookout has a direct line of sight with the Moose Mountain Fire Lookout, as an example. 

There are excellent views here from the top to the Bow Valley Corridor looking towards Grotto Mountain towering above Lac des Arcs, and across to Yamnuska where many rock climbers have learned their craft from very experienced instructors. 

Yamnuska is also an excellent hike/scramble up the east slope and around the back side.  There are some fascinating features which will leave those who choose to do the hike to the summit with indelible memories.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The approach to the Barrier Lake Lookout at the top of McConnell Ridge above the Bow Valley Corridor

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada View from Barrier Lake Lookout towards Grotto Mountain and Heart Mountain towering above Lac des Arcs

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Yamnuska from Barrier lake Lookout

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Final view from the Barrier Lake Lookout

 

On the 6.4 km (4.0 mile) retreat via the same route, there are a number of diversion trails to cliff edges which provide outstanding views.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Side trails lead to spectacular views on the return hike via the same route.

 

From Pigeon Lookout over Barrier Lake, a photo looking down at the location near the Colonel's Cabin and the University of Calgary Field Station shows where the old Pigeon Lookout stands when it was Guard Tower # 8 in memory of past world conflict.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada The University of Calgary Field Station on Kananaskis Trail near Barrier Dam where Guard Tower # 8 stands firm in history.

 

A slight and welcome breeze has come up in the afternoon and back at the Barrier Dam there are kayaks gliding over Barrier Lake on a slight chop which sparkles like diamonds as sun reflects from the surface.

 

Barrier Lake Lookout - Bow Valley Corridor, Alberta, Canada Kayaks and diamonds on Barrier Lake with Mount Baldy in the background on a very fine day

 

The full switchbacks are used on the way down without short-cutting on the steeper trails.  Using the correct trail will reduce damaging trail erosion and help to preserve the trail for others and also reduce the stress on knees for another day. 

As hiking goes, this is an excellent day in every way.

 

 

 

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Comments

The Barrier Lake Lookout is always a great hike and weather on this day was ideal. I always enjoy the link between the World War 2 prisoner of war camp below with the history of Guard Tower # 8. I would like to do Yamnuska again this summer but the truncated season may prevent that. I may need to settle for Crypt Lake as the alternative. The only part of Yamnuska I am less keen about is the challenging exit on the steep scree slope. Most people find this to be the best part. It is a great day out and it has been several years since I have hiked it but, I agree, it should be a post in the blog for others to consider. It is truly a very memorable experience. Hiking below the front face requires a rock helmet for safety. Thanks for your comment, D.

Wonderful hiking day out Barry! I will add this one to our list as the views across to Baldy & yamnuska are terrific. Those two have been some of my early season favourites for longer than I remember. I'm sure you would enjoy Baldy and then looking back across the valley. The traverse there is challenging but gets you up on all three of its' summits. When will you head up Yam, as that one would certainly be a great day out as well? DSD

I spent a wonderful week or so at Barrier Lake in late 1970, have a few photos almost taken in same positions as some of the published photos plus one of Pigeon Lookout with the group.

Thank you for your comment, Jim.  The trail above Barrier Lake is very popular and one of the most scenic over Kananaskis Valley.  Thank you for your comment.

I am looking at doing this hike this weekend and I am wondering if you have any feedback on what it would look like this early in the season. It is mostly South facing so I am hoping for no snow - what do you think?

There are several reports from hikers on the Barrier Lake Trail.  It is always wise to stop into the Barrier Lake Visitor Center to discuss conditions with them.  They will advise you of any situations worthy of mention.  The expectation, given the outstanding weekend weather, would be for a very busy trail.  Good luck.  Have fun and stay safe.

How would this trail look in the rain... Planning on going this weekend but it's looking like rain. Any advice?

Wet. Rain gear, gaiters, good boots, warm layers. Maybe umbrella at lower elevation with low breeze.  OK to the overlook then slippery ascents.  Views heavily compromised but wonderful aromas and fresh, clean air. Caution on slippery rock. Have fun.  Stay safe.  Best with accompaniment.  Check in at the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre. 

Thanks for this. We loved this hike. I'm wondering if you have any suggestions for similar level difficulty in the Kananaskis/Canmore region?

I do not like to guess what people may enjoy and each hike is unique. It is better for you use your hiking guide book and region hiking map to locate hikes with similar distance and elevation parameters.  Or you could use a list of best hikes to try a variety of experiences.  Your hiking friends who know you well will be a better and more reliable source.  When people come into the store I can ask questions and sometimes come up with a recommendation that is appropriate. Park Visitor Centers can also size you up and make a recommendation.  Happy trails and stay safe.

Great article and am looking to do this hike soon, wondering how long it took you to complete the loop?

Several hours were consumed and my time is slow because I am enjoying the experience and capturing many photographs.  At viewpoints and extraordinary natural features, the pace is dramatically altered.  Lunch is a casual affair in a place of great and cinematic beauty.  It may be awhile before I am back this way again.  Some people hike very quickly.  Some people run. Some people are slow or focused more on the experience than the time.  The time listed in a quality hiking guide is often a reasonable average of the time spent walking at a reasonable average pace.  The times posted by individuals on the Internet are very likely garbage to be ignored.  Always consider the source.

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