Castle Mountain Lookout

On 20 June 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I hiked up Castle Mountain Lookout in Alberta's Banff National Park.  While Zosia had never hiked to the lookout before, this would be my third time but first since 2002.  Starting from the signed trailhead located along Highway 1A about 4.8 kilometres west of Castle Junction, we enjoyed a stress-free ascent on the well-maintained and easy-to-follow trail all the way to the lookout site.

Since we had a lot of energy to spare, Zosia and I extended our hike by following the climber's trail beyond the lookout.  Without any climbing gear, we had no illusions about going all the way to the Alpine Club of Canada hut situated halfway up the cliffs of Castle Mountain, but we were curious about how far we could get.  Unlike the gently-graded trail to the lookout site, the climber's trail is relentlessly steep.  Due to some confusing side trails, we actually went off-route when we prematurely crossed a prominent gully (the climber's trail crosses this same gully higher up), but ultimately, we ended up at the foot of the cliffs not far from the access point for the hut.  To get slightly better views above the last trees, we climbed up a short but steep rock step to reach a scenic perch.  This would be as high as we would go as the terrain became increasingly more technical beyond this point.

After taking a break on the perch, Zosia and I carefully down-climbed the rock step and descended the climber's trail back to the lookout site without any issues.  Our subsequent hike back to the trailhead was uneventful.
How luxurious!

The official trail to Castle Mountain Lookout is wide and easy to follow.

Amazing beads of water!

Raindrops seem to weigh heavy on this violet.

Needs a bit of TLC, I think! Partway up the trail are the remains of an old cabin.
Must be good eating here! A mule deer looks up while still chomping on some vegetation.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

There is water running down the gully behind Zosia.

The forest begins to thin out a bit revealing some of the impressive cliffs of Castle Mountain.

Too bad the clouds got in the way...

Another break in the trees along the trail reveals far-reaching views across the valley.

The guy even looked like Vincent van Gogh!

Zosia arrives at Castle Mountain Lookout (2016 metres) to find a man painting the landscape.

This is all new terrain for me!

Zosia follows a steeper and less defined trail beyond the lookout site.

How high can we go? Zosia approaches the base of Castle Mountain's cliffs.
This is probably not the correct route to reach the ACC hut! Zosia briefly enters a steep gully but would soon turn around.
She is already a little past her comfort zone here... Zosia scrambles up increasingly steep terrain.
This is probably as far as you'll want to go without climbing gear! Sonny and Zosia crouch on their tiny perch (2196 metres) near the base of Castle Mountain's cliffs.
I'm the King of the World! Sonny stands triumphantly on a prominent pinnacle just below the tiny perch that he and Zosia reached.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

None appear to be in shape for scrambling just yet! Some familiar peaks are visible to the southeast.
I remember lotsa suffering to climb Mount Ball! Mount Ball is barely visible behind an intervening outlier of Storm Mountain.
Andrew Nugara has done Drysdale, but I don't know of anyone who has climbed Gray... More familiar peaks are visible to the southwest.
At least it's all downhill from here! Zosia descends the steep trail back to the lookout site.

I'm sucking in my stomach here as best as I can!

The views from Castle Mountain Lookout are worth a second look.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


The lookout is deservedly popular, and the extension is well-worth the extra effort, if nothing else, to escape the crowds. Total Distance:  9.5 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  5 hours 8 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  730 metres

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