Castle Lookout - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

 

Castle Lookout was on Goat Ledge on Castle Mountain in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

On an uncomfortably hot, humid, early summer day in Calgary, there is a need to seek refuge at higher altitude.  Access to Kananaskis Country is shut down for repairs of Herculean proportion following June 20 flooding, so the drive west proceeds west on the TransCanada Highway from Calgary past Canmore into Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.  

The extent of flood damage is particularly evident along the TransCanada Highway at Heart Creek, Dead Man's Flat, Cougar Creek through Canmore and into Banff National Park where road repair and detours around washed out bridges have compromised normal traffic flow.  The damage is sobering and overwhelming. 

At the junction with Highway 93, we turn north for a short distance over the churning, brown Bow River to Castle Junction and stop for cold beverages and trail information at popular Castle Mountain Chalets.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Chalets at Castle Junction west of Calgary in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada A view of iconic Castle Mountain from Castle Mountain Chalets in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Highway 1A west is closed past the Storm Mount Lookout for flood damage further west at Baker Creek.

Iconic Castle Mountain, looming above us, commands attention by virtue of its very existence and a stop is justified to admire the view at Castle Cliffs  Lookout and investigate some troubling history a bit further west at the Memorial for the First World War Interment Camp before parking at the Storm Mountain Viewpoint. 

The barricade will add 2.6 KM (1⅝ miles) of paved highway hiking to reach the trail-head and will increase the round trip distance to 13 KM (8¼ miles) with a trail elevation gain of 525 m (1,720 ft.) to maximum elevation of 1,975 m (6,480 ft.) on good trail with a few minor rocky sections on the climb to the top of the ridge wall. 

Normally, this hike is 7.8 KM (4⅞ miles) round trip from parking at the trail-head.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada A view of Castle Mountain from the roadside turnout on Highway 1A in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The view of 3,161 m (10,371 ft.) Storm Mountain in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada is impressive across the murky, fast running Bow River from the viewpoint adorned with adjacent fields of wildflowers in the sun.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The warm and humid walk west along Highway 1A is tempered by spectacular scenery and an opportunity to learn about the poor treatment of innocent, hardworking people at the expense of conflict in Europe during World War I. 

Apparently, not much was learned from this as the same paranoia was repeated in World War II. 

The paved portion of highway hiking is clear of any reason to be shut down and another barricade at the entrance to the Castle Mountain Lookout indicates further road closure to the Baker Creek Chalets where flood runoff has likely closed the road which continues through to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The Castle Mountain Fire Lookout was established around 1942 but the site has been abandoned for many years.  All that remains are the crumbling concrete foundations on Goat Ledge which offer a spectacular and expansive view of the Bow Valley.

The road is a sustained climb with minor evidence of compromise in the form of erosion from recent rain.  Along the route the road passes through dense forest occasionally interrupted by impressive rock falls.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Around 1.5 KM (1 mile) the old, bumpy, dirt road passes the remains of a log cabin of unknown origin.

Just past 2.0 KM (1¼ miles) the road narrows to more interesting trail punctuated by a variety of features including rock fall, recently expanded drainages and thinning forest which begins to offer inspiring glimpses of the unfolding vistas past floral meadows.

The ascent proceeds more aggressively on switchbacks passing through rock bands to the top of the ridge.

The hike is ascending into a temperature inversion so the expectation of enjoying a climb into cool air is thwarted, but partially compensated for by the spectacular views unfolding with the occasional hint of a warm breeze.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Arrival at the old Castle Mountain Fire Lookout is abrupt after a final, short section of mercifully flat trail through meadow and past evergreen trees. 

The objective is a WOW! moment and the concrete foundations provide an outstanding bench for lunch at a precipice overlooking the incredible vistas of mountains near and far through ultraviolet haze.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Beneath the Castle Mountain Fire Lookout location, a quarry, hidden from the highway contains two pristine emerald ponds and provides road construction material for maintenance of the TransCanada Highway and new road development.

The trail-head and road taken in are visible below the lookout. 

Trails emanating from the small lookout site wander into forest towards the north face of the mountain where this mecca for mountain climbing often begins from the Alpine Club of Canada hut above but hidden from view.

Pedestals above and along the mountain's facade are topped by mature evergreen trees dwarfed by the massive rock steps.  The lookout site is a wonderful place to enjoy lunch.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Far below, the long lens of the camera reveals the top of a wildlife crossing bridge over the TransCanada Highway.

Images of nocturnal traffic are captured by remote-controlled infrared cameras to assist in the understanding of migratory patterns.

The TransCanada Highway, through Banff National Park is fenced on both sides to prevent animals from being killed by high speed traffic.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

This hike, with an early start, is a half day effort with great rewards in a wide variety of terrain.

The return hike is via the same route used for access, spending extra time at a drainage with fresh cold, cascading, white water meandering through rugged rock channel on the relentless journey towards the Bow River.

 

Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Castle Mountain Fire Lookout, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Although relief from heat and humidity is not achieved, the hike on Castle Mountain unfolds in fresh mountain air surrounded by magnificent views.

The extra distance returning to the car parked at the Storm Mountain viewpoint is an opportunity to enjoy additional exercise and the copious displays of wildflowers at roadside.

They are a compensating benefit from the May and June rain which caused so much destruction.  There is sufficient time remaining in the day to hike Marble Canyon.

Images for this hike were captured on July 2, 2013.

 

This hike is featured in the book, 'Fire Lookouts in the Canadian Rockies' by Mike Potter.  This valued reference has been used for many years for hikes to fascinating vistas where a spectacular view is guaranteed.

That is why it is, or was, a fire lookout.  The guide also includes plenty of historical commentary and a plethora of fascinating hiking destinations in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

 

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