Mount Swansea Lookout can be a short hike to popular paragliding launch ramps overlooking mountain-surrounded Lake Windermere.
Access to Mount Swansea from the Village of Radium Hot Springs is a 2.5 KM (1⅝ mile) drive south past the entrance to Invermere along Highway 95. Fifty meters (165 ft) past Valley Alley Bowling, on the left, there is a left turn onto Windermere Loop Road. Continuing on Windermere Loop Road for 3.2 KM (2.0 miles) finds another left turn which leads immediately onto the Westroc Gypsum Mine Haul Road. A quick left and right onto the Mount Swansea Service Road travels the short distance to clearly-signed parking at the BOTTOM approach to Mount Swansea.
The actual hiking trail is a short, steep hike of 0.5 KM (¹⁄₃ mile), one-way, with elevation gain near 105 m (345 ft) from the trailhead near the TOP of Mount Swansea. To achieve the trailhead near the top of the mountain requires a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. Additionally, the Mt. Swansea Recreation Area is principally a labyrinth of mountain biking routes where high speed mountain bike cyclists may cross or use the road without warning. Sudden death is a possibility.
There is an uphill cyclist and hiking trail which begins from the rustic parking area at the bottom of the mountain. The one way route from the bottom to the top will consume 5.2 KM (3¼ miles) and 750 m (2,460 ft) of elevation to the 1,727 m (5,665 ft) parking area near the top where the summit hiking trail begins.
A large berm at the bottom of the road sets the tone for the nature of the vehicle required to achieve the top trailhead. The 1999 Toyota Tercel does not qualify and it would be substantially less than sensible to expose and potentially damage the old car on these rugged road conditions even though the vehicle survived the Skutumpah Road through the Escalante in Utah many years and miles prior. But, that is another story.
The alternative is to start the much longer hike from the bottom on good trail over rocky terrain via well-marked hiking trail maintained by local hiking groups. The gear being used for this short hike is not adequate for the longer route and to be caught without contingency is unusual on this day originally planned for rest and relaxation.
The hike begins at a well-signed trailhead and proceeds with modest elevation gain interrupted by occasional brief switchbacks to the first road crossing for continuation on excellent trail ascending the West flank of the mountain through forest. At one major trail intersection an elaborate signpost identifies the hiking trail route option to the South Peak which will be bypassed this day. The trail matrix for cyclists and hikers requires occasional brief analysis to stay on the correct route but the hiking experience is very good and very interesting along the way to west slope open areas overlooking spectacular Windermere Lake.
Windermere Lake is actually created by a widening of the mighty Columbia River.
The hike through forest opens into meadow onto the west side of Mount Swansea for spectacular sweeping views over Windermere Lake and surrounding mountains. Early morning mist is clearing away into the blue sky of a rapidly warming day.
The hike continues ascent through interesting, aromatic forest and frequently crosses intersections with downhill mountain biking cycle routes. A short distance further another view over Windermere Lake provides an even better and higher altitude view over the town of Invermere, British Columbia and the spectacular Columbia Valley and river below.
Trail continues through a wide variety of forest until a flat section of relatively barren ground hosting large, old-growth trees provides access to mid-mountain parking along the rugged gravel road. The main trail continues to ascend along the west side of the mountain.
The continuing hike up the rugged, gravel road is periodically interrupted by large 4-wheel drive pickup trucks, many of them churning in very low gears to transport multiple mountain bikes and their riders further up the mountain. The effort on a hot day begins to take a toll, and without proper footwear for the distance and the terrain, the only sensible decision is to abandon the effort and begin the shorter retreat via the road. The long version of this hike will benefit from the use of sturdy hiking boots.
The downhill route on the road intercepts many mountain biking, and a couple of hiking, trail junctions over steep routes with serious switchbacks attempting to moderate the significant incline.
Back at the bottom parking area, there is time to drive along Westroc Gypsum Mine Haul Road. A short distance beyond the link to the Windermere Loop Road an ideal view of Mount Swansea reveals itself.
Given the opportunity on a subsequent hiking mission, all the right stuff would achieve the summit via a diverse variety of fascinating features.
The first trail to the summit of Mount Swansea (named in 1891 after originally being known from 1800 as Windermere Mountain) was constructed to service a copper mining operation just beneath the summit of the mountain. Tons of copper ore were transported by pack mule down the mountain for shipment on barge from Invermere to Golden, then to Vancouver, British Columbia via train for the sea voyage to Wales for processing and profitable sale. The two old mine shafts remain open for exploration and there is a geocache located deep in one of the shafts for those exploring with headlamps.
The mountain hosted a fire lookout between 1924 and 1992.
Currently the summit supports a picnic table, an environmental observation station, an outhouse and three launch ramps for hang gliding and para-gliding. Annual competitions are well attended. The mountain is a mecca for hikers and mountain bikers with a complex array of intersecting trail. The summit offers 360° panoramic views of surrounding lake, valley and mountains views periodically interrupted by the established towns and villages. The top of the mountain is a favorite location to view Canada Day fireworks and will be popular in 2017 to celebrate Canada's 150th Anniversary. Remember the headlamps and know there is no camping on the mountain top.