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A Rocky Mountain High in Banff National Park

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I have a friend in town visiting from Ontario. It’s been 25+ years since she’s had a Rocky Mountain high in Banff National Park.

So we debated how to get high in the Rockies – especially in early June when most trails are still snow covered. We nixed the rigorous 23.4 kilometre Aylmer Lookout hike – too tough for the first real hike of the season. We thought about doing the hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers but I did it last summer and was looking for something new.

"Castle Mountain in Banff National Park"

You can’t miss Castle Mountain on the Trans-Canada Highway

We elected to do the hike to the Castle Mountain Lookout. It’s only 7.4 kilometres return and the elevation gain of 520 metres (1705 feet) is enough to give you a workout – but it doesn’t kill you – a good compromise for an early season hike.

The trailhead is a cinch to find; it’s just five kilometres west of Castle Junction on the north side of the highway. Make sure you’ve bought a parks pass beforehand.

The climb is initially tough and uninspiring as it follows an old road. There are a few flowers worth stopping to photograph – though really it’s just an excuse to catch your breath.

"Poles comes in handy to lean on while you catch your breath"

Poles comes in handy to lean on while you catch your breath

"Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations"

Pretty wildflowers at lower elevations

"Loved the texture on these emerging wildflowers"

Loved the texture on these emerging wildflowers

Within 40 minutes you emerge from the woods and with every step the views open up. Eventually you see the whole of the Bow Valley through to Vermilion Pass and into Kootenay National Park.

"Views from Castle Mountain"

After 40 minutes of hiking the views open up

"Close-up of the mountains"

Close-up of the mountains

"Trans-Canada animal crossing in Banff Park

You can see the animal crossing over the Trans-Canada Highway from above

"Me - with expansive Bow Valley views behind"

Me – with expansive Bow Valley views behind

"Trees growing on the steep slopes of Castle Mountain"

Trees growing on the steep slopes of Castle Mountain

"Our lunch stop is a fire lookout - abandoned in the 70's"

Our lunch stop is a fire lookout – abandoned in the 70’s

"admiring the Bow Valley view"

Jo admiring the Bow Valley view

The hike to the Castle Mountain Lookout is one of the first that’s open in Banff National Park – sometimes as early as mid-April. It’s a great way to kick off the Rocky Mountain hiking season.

Do you have an early season favourite hike in Banff National Park?

Leigh McAdam



Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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