I have a few ‘go to’ mountains for solo hikes, and Yates is one of them. More commonly known as Barrier Fire Lookout, this mountain is never empty. It doesn’t matter what early hour I start, there is always someone coming back down. The trail is pretty wide in most parts, which means it can handle the extra traffic. There is one narrow steep part, but luckily there is a lookout point below this for anyone who doesn’t want to tackle it.
Barrier is also a popular winter destination. The trail is almost 100% in the trees, and does not cross any avalanche paths. I have to admit that this is one of the few trails that actually benefits from a layer of snow, especially the narrow bit at the top. Fat bikers also use this trail in the winter, so please be aware of these cyclists huffing and puffing up the trail behind you. Even though the trail is wide, please move over and let the cyclists pass. It’s incredibly difficult for them to stop and start up again.
Barrier can be done as a There and Back, or it can be done as a Loop via Jewel Pass.
To make this as confusing as possible, the mountain is called Yates. The hike is known as Barrier Fire Lookout. The trail up is called Prairie View (not to be confused with Prairie Mountain off Highway 66). The return loop from the lookout is called Jewell Pass Trail, and the haul back along the lake is called Stoney Trail. Whew!
Summer is hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit. Winter is all that plus microspikes, gators and warm layered clothes.
From the Barrier Lake parking lot, head across the dam to the far side. The trail head is to the right of the lake. Go straight up at the two close intersections. Once on the main trail, hike up until you reach the rocky outcrop with the view over Barrier Lake. From there, either return the way you came, hike up to the summit (return the way you came), or continue the loop via Jewell Pass.
Parking and Trail Head
As this area gains in intense popularity, the parking lot seems to get smaller and smaller. With the limited parking, vehicles are lined up all down the road. Please keep an eye on kids and dogs. In the winter, the actual parking lot is closed, so there is only parking on the loop.
From the parking lot, skirt around the right side of the lake, heading uphill towards Yates Mountain.
At the first intersection, continue straight uphill. The major trail coming in on your left is Stoney Trail, the return route from Jewell Pass. Note that Stoney Trail splits – a lower route follows the lake, while an upper route cuts across higher, and eventually goes all the way to Highway 1.
Continue up the hill to the T intersection with the higher Stoney Trail. Turn right, and then immediately turn left to stay on the Barrier Lookout Trail.
From here, it is a straight shot to the top. The trail is a pretty gradual uphill, with a few well placed switchbacks to lower the elevation grade.
The first lookout is ideal for anyone who doesn’t like the look of the steep and narrow bit that comes next. You get pretty much the exact same view from here as you do from the main lookout above. I had two guests from Quebec and Mexico with us. They were troopers and went the whole way, but if you’re new to hiking, then this is a great place to turn around.
From the first lookout, continue up the trail. There is a bit of a walk near the ridge, which affords some relief from the trees and a nice view of the Yates sheer cliffs.
Right before the main lookout is a rather steep, but short section. When I said this was one of the few trails improved by snow, THIS is where I mean. In the summer, this section can be hard-packed and very slippery. I’ve seen more than my fair share of people just barely getting down without wiping out. The snow softened the angle, and the micro-spikes gave great traction up and down.
Just when you think it won’t end, the trail turns the corner and guess what? You’re done! See? Steep, but short.
Main Barrier Lookout
This is the main lookout on the Barrier / Yates Mountain trail. There is an abundance of giant, flat rocks on which to spread out and eat your lunch.
Funny story. My very first hike was with my friend Cindy to this very lookout. When we turned to head up to the summit, we found some dude stark naked on one of the higher rocks sun bathing. We decided to switch course and go down Jewell Pass instead.
Barrier Fire Lookout Summit
You might be wondering, just where is the actual fire lookout? To access, turn towards the mountain, and find a trail that is heading up.
This is also a section of the trail that benefits from some snow. This trail can be steep and slick. On one of my solo summer trips, I was asked to escort down a woman who was having a hard time with the steepness.
In the winter though, there is a troubling trend whereby people sit down and slide through the steep parts. Please do NOT do this. It absolutely ruins the trail for anyone else coming up or down after you. When hiking down in steep snow, here are two tips:
- dig in with your heels, so your toes are pointing to the sky. This will give you maximum traction, and will create a little ledge for your foot to remain relatively flat.
- if the trail is slick or icy, then walk in the deep snow on the edge of the trail. Deep snow slows you down, and reduces the steepness of the angle. Again, dig in with your heels.
The advantage of nabbing the summit of Yates is the view from the Barrier Fire Lookout. This gives you an unprecedented view off the other side to see the full extent of Bow Valley.
Distance to the summit is 6.7 km. Elevation gain is 557 m. Time to summit was 2 hours.
Yates Mountain Return
To descend off the summit, return the way you came. The other side is a sheer cliff for mountain climbers.
Once back at the main lookout, you can return on the Prairie View Trail. Or, you can continue down the other side of Yates via Jewell Pass.
I’ve done Jewell pass twice, and to be quite honest, I did not really enjoy it. The beginning is a fun descent, followed by a lovely little romp past the waterfall. After that, it is just a long slow slog back to the parking lot. Skirting around the base of the lake is particular soul-sucking. I know lots of people who enjoy this route and like a long flat section. I’ve been accused of being a horse racing back to the barn, so the long slow slog back is not fun for me. But you might love it!
From the main lookout (not the summit), continue west, and head down the other side of Yates on the Jewell Pass trail. There are some markers to guide the way.
The trail is steep in parts, but some effort has been made to make it easier. Distance From the lookout to Jewell Pass is just under 2 km, with an elevation loss of about 750′.
At Jewell Pass, turn left and keep heading downhill. There is a big yellow sign to prevent people accidentally going down Quaite Valley and ending up on Highway #1 instead of back at the parking lot.
The highlight of the trail is Jewell Falls. Depending on the time of year, this can be spectacular, or almost dry. When I was first here, there was no bridge. Now, there is a pretty big one over the creek and falls.
After the falls, continue down to the lake. Turn left to take Stoney Trail back to the main Prairie View Trail. This will lead you back to the dam, and then to the parking lot.
The Barrier Fire Lookout / Yates Mountain is a relatively easy hike with amazing views. It has a few route options to suit just about every type of hiker. No wonder it is so popular.
Yates Summit and Return (tracked on Strava):
Date: February 28, 2021 (latest trip)
Group: Eight (Alisen, Mike, Mackenzie, Sonya and Ross, Rosalie, Mom, and Aura)
Distance: 13.31 km
Elevation: 557 m (1,899′)
Time: 4 hours 20 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)
Barrier Fire Lookout Summit and Jewell Pass Return Loop (tracked on Map my Hike):
Date: June 4, 2014
Group: Two (Alisen and Susan)
Distance: 16.5 km
Elevation: 625 m (2,062′)
Time: 5 hours (includes lunch & breaks)