Aylmer Lookout

July 1, 2022

Happy Canada Day!

I like to be in the mountains on Fridays to avoid the crowds, and assess conditions for anyone not as fortunate as me to have a flexible schedule. I knew that it was Canada Day and a long weekend, but somehow it didn’t register that it would be busier than usual in the mountains. My first hint was the traffic driving west! It was like a busy Saturday morning. Good thing I left fairly early. When I arrived at the Lake Minnewanka parking lot just after 8:00 am, I had my pick of spots. By the time I returned though, it was a zoo with cars circling.

It was incredibly cool to see all the people celebrating Canada Day by going for a hike. It was heart-warming to see red and white and maple leaf emblems all day long. I’m sure glad I remembered to wear a red tank top!

Trail Restrictions

There are annual trail restrictions at Lake Minnwanka from July 10 to September 15th for grizzly bears. All hikers MUST be in groups of 4 and carry bear spray. No dogs. No cycling. When summiting Mount Aylmer (not the lookout), most people choose to cycle the shoreline, so pick your time to go.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit. A mountain bike if you wish to cycle the shoreline trail when it’s allowed.

Overview

From the Lake Minnwanka parking lot, head east to pick up the Minnewanka Trail on the north shoreline. Go past Stewart Canyon bridge, and continue along the shore. Shortly after crossing the creek, turn left (north) at the Aylmer Lookout (LM 8) Campground to start the uphill grind. This trail has one bend and one switchback. Return the way you came.

Parking and Trail Head

Parking is at the Lake Minnewanka Day Use Area. There are outhouses and a washroom building with flush toilets and running water.

The parking lot is empty at 8:00 am on Canada Day. The lake shore and washrooms are directly behind my car.

From the parking lot, I was quickly attacked by mosquitoes (first of the season!) and I was glad I brought my bug spray. I hopped on my bike, and headed east, past the little food kiosk (which wasn’t open yet) and tour boat station.

This is just past the food kiosk and boat launch area.

At around 1.8 km, I passed the Stewart Canyon Bridge.

The trail to Steward Canyon is wide and flat.
Bridge over Stewart Canyon.
View from the bridge.

Main Trail

After the bridge, the trail starts heading uphill. I had passed three groups, but his wouldn’t last. I quickly realized the hybrid I was riding (no shocks) was no match for this trail. Once I got into the chunky rocks on the steep rock garden section, I was looking for a place to stash my bike. When I was changing into my boots and locking up my bike, all three groups passed me.

Just past the bridge, the trail splits. Straight ahead is the route to Aylmer Lookout. Going left is the Stewart Canyon trail.
The trail was nice in places and easily ridable, but rocky and lots of tree roots in other spots. A mountain bike is a better choice than a hybrid.
Some of the best views are looking back towards Mount Rundle. This is where the trail got interesting. There is a big scree slope with a trail cut into the side. It was narrow and rocky.
It was about here that I decided to stash my bike. This rough section is only where the trail juts out and around the flank of the mountain.

Now I was really feeling behind the ball, so I darn near ran down the trail. I quickly reeled in all three groups that had passed me, but I kept going strong and passed another two groups before I started the uphill climb. I find I go a lot faster when I’m by myself, but even this was a quick pace for me.

Once up and over the big rock garden, the trail flattened and smoothed out. I probably could have ridden this part – next time!

Once back onto the shoreline, the trail is pretty smooth and would have been easy riding.

The shoreline trail was wide and lovely, and mainly in the trees which were providing needed shade as it was already warm.

After 8.4 km of hiking, I came to the creek and crossed the bridge. I kept my eyes peeled for the left hand turn to start gaining elevation. I needn’t have worried. It’s about 100 m further along the trail and is a large intersection with the Aylmer Pass (LM8) Campground.

The little foot bridge over the creek – the uphill trail will parallel this creek.
This is a major intersection. The LM8 campground is to the right, and the Aylmer Lookout trail is to the left.
The signage at the intersection. No mileage is given, but it’s about 4.5 km of uphill hiking from this point.
No bikes allowed on the uphill stretch. This is prime grizzly bear habitat. Make lots of noise, carry bear spray, and either leave your dog at home or keep it close on a leash (even if it’s trained). Dogs are not allowed during the Restriction times.

It was now a solid 4.5 km stretch of continuous elevation gain.

I was very thankful for my early start, because the sun was being blocked by the trees, offering shade for my entire ascent. This trees also ensured the views were blocked. This photo of the view is basically it.

This is the view of the trail. All in trees, which was good for hiking uphill. By the time I came down, the sun had shifted and this was in full sun.
The one glimpse of a view while ascending. I just put my head down and kept on trucking.

The trail ascends quite sharply, crossing many contour lines as it parallels the creek canyon. I was curious when this fire lookout was created because it’s not a typical trail. Most fire lookouts were built during the age of the packhorse, which meant the trails are well graded with lots of switchbacks to ensure a low elevation ascent for the horses. Not so here! The Aylmer Fire Lookout was built in 1946, and it looks like there is an old helicopter pad. Perhaps a well graded trail was no longer needed.

I was playing a little game I like to call “Is it hot? Or is it a hot flash?” As I’m already hot and sweaty on the trail, it’s hard to tell if I’m having a hot flash attack. My clues are when my heart rate starts to race, which in turn spikes my adrenaline a bit. When that goes down, I’m left feeling worn out. There’s no stopping so I have a drink of water and keep on going.

After 11 km of total hiking distance, or 2.5 km since the start of the uphill, the trail makes a big right turn to continue going to Aylmer Lookout. Going straight leads to Aylmer Pass, and the route to climb Mt Aylmer.

The big right hand turn to continue to Aylmer Lookout. Going straight (on the left) is the trail to Aylmer Pass, which then leads to Mt. Aylmer summit.

The trail now offered a bit of a reprieve. Not only did it flatten out to traverse across the slope for a bit, but it actually lost some elevation in order to go around a giant rock garden. Soon enough, I was again gaining elevation. I enjoyed the one switchback very much 🙂

Here’s the rock garden. It looks like a couple of terminal moraines from waaay back when. The trail skirted below these rocks, then gained back the elevation.

The views here are also limited, except for when I was nearing the lookout and the trees started to thin in a few spots.

I nabbed this photo because it was the first time I saw anything since the big bend in the trail. I’m almost at the summit though.

I popped out of the forest onto an open slope, and was at the site of the old fire lookout in no time.

From here, it’s a straight shot to the lookout – which is right there!

Aylmer Lookout Summit

The views here really are incredible. I will definitely have to come back and explore some peaks.

Time to summit was 3:08. Distance was 13 km, and elevation gain was 816 m.

Alisen on the summit of Aylmer Lookout. It’s a great day and way to celebrate Canada Day!
Looking back towards the trail. Mount Aylmer is on the right. Mt Astley on the left.
Looking in the opposite direction (south) at Mount Girouard.
Looking east at the ridgeline connecting Mt. Aylmer and Mt. Costigan. The Ghost River Wilderness Area is on the other side of that ridge.
The glorious view down to Lake Minnewanka from the summit of Aylmer Lookout.
It’s a long ways to get here, but the views are worth the time and effort.

For such a long hike in, it seemed a shame to race back down and not enjoy the views, especially because I had the place to myself for quite a while. I spent about 20 minutes exploring the footings of the old lookout, and chatting with a trail runner (the only one to pass me). She made it up in 1 hour 45 minutes to my 3 hours. Very impressive!

Aylmer Lookout Remains

The fire lookout hut seems impossibly small. It’s too bad the original structure wasn’t maintained. These are a part of our history, even if no longer in service.

The footprint looks small, but was probably fairly roomy for one person.
These footings look way newer than the hut, and were probably upgraded before the hut was shut down. I’m thinking this was a helipad, and serviced the hut.

Aylmer Lookout Return

After getting my fill of the view, a couple I passed at the campground junction came up. I took their photos, and decided to head off as the rest of the people would not be far behind. On my way down, I met Gita and her band of hikers. They were all decked out in their Canada Day Regalia! It was so awesome to see that, I just had to take a photo of Roman.

Roman is decked out in his Canada Day finest. He even has a Canada flag bandana on under that hat.
The views heading back downhill were also in short supply, but make up for it in grandness. I think this was one of the few open spots to snap a photo.

My bunion was absolutely killing me, despite loosening my boot as much as possible. When I returned to the creek, I took the time to soak my feet in the cold water to reduce the swelling. This helped immensely, and allowed me to hike back the 8 km without hobbling.

This little creek was so awesome to soak my feet and reduce the swelling. I could hike back in comfort after this.

The Impromptu Shepherd

I knew there were lots of Rocky Mountain Sheep in the area, and had met a herd while cycling up to Lake Minnewanka previously. I wasn’t too surprised to see the herd, but was lucky enough to have them climb down onto the trail in front of me. With nothing to do but slowly wander along behind them, that’s what I did. One baby kept stopping to nibble, which separated her from her momma. Momma was not happy with that, and would bleat at me, as if it was my fault. I found that by gently clicking my tongue, but not crowding, the sheep kept moving.

I am ‘shepherding’ this group of moms and babies Rocky Mountain Sheep down the trail. Cascade Mountain is straight ahead, looking more or less at C Level Cirque which is a lovely hike.

This worked for a while, until we came to a group of hikers who had stopped on the trail. Now the sheep were trapped between me and the guys. They were above me, so I yelled out for them to move off the trail so the sheep (and me!) could pass. For the next few minutes, I passed about 15 people, all asking if I was the shepherd. I jokingly said “Yes, today I am.” As there were now a lot of tourists on the trail, I’m hoping I didn’t give people the impression that sheep are actually herded in Canada.

My short lived career as a Rocky Mountain Sheep herder 🙂

Once all the sheep went uphill, I could hustle down the trail to find my bike. I biked back to Stewart Canyon. I again stashed my bike, and walked up the path for a ways, enjoying the view of the canyon below.

My bike matches the water! This is actually my daughter Kayla’s bike.
I hiked up the Stewart Canyon for a ways to kill some time. I was meeting my daughters in Canmore for dinner and was waiting for them to get off work.

When I got back to the Lake Minnewanka day use area, it was a zoo! There were Parks Canada people everywhere, directing traffic and people. The parking lot was full, with cars jammed packed doing a slow circle, waiting for a spot to open. The smart ones had taken Roam Transit from either Canmore or Banff, and enjoyed a stress-free commute to the lake.

If you’re not doing a big hike and want to start a bit later, or just want to take in the shoreline or boat trip with your family, then park in Canmore or Banff and take the Roam Transit. It’s easy, fast and no hassles trying to find parking.

While the distance to hike up to the Aylmer Fire Lookout makes for a long day, the views more than make up for the distance. If you go, remember to check the restrictions and abide by the regulations. Keep an eye out for wildlife of all kinds.

Thanks for reading! Please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers, or follow me on Instagram

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Gaia (click to download track). Displayed on Strava

Date: July 1, 2022
Group:  Solo – Alisen
Distance:  26 km
Elevation:  816 m (2,692′)
Time:  6 hours 46 minutes (includes bike dickering, lunch, and side trek down Stewart Canyon)

It’s a long 8.5 km along the shoreline to get to the start of the elevation gain section. The views are incredible though.
ALL the elevation gain is saved for the ascent up to the summit. The first dip on the ascent is the right hand turn. The dip at the summit is me going downhill a bit to check out the remains of the hut.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
8 comments on “Aylmer Lookout
  1. Widdershins says:

    Another great one. 🙂 … love the Herding of the Sheep bit. 😀

    • alisendopf says:

      Yeah – an experience of a lifetime. I spent last week with mountain guides and they were shocked I was able to get that close for that long.
      Happy travels you two!

  2. We were in Banff just before the Canada day long weekend and it was still insanely busy. We pretty much woke up before 6:30a.m most mornings to guarantee a parking spot and to hit the popular trails before they became too crowded. We hiked to Stewart Canyon, but didn’t go further as we were exhausted from hiking to both of the tea houses in Lake Louise earlier in the day. I’ll have to put Aylmer Lookout on my list for next time. I got a good laugh from the game you played on the trail about whether it was hot or a hot flash. It was definitely hot and even hotter on the uphills. How fun to spot some wildlife on the trail too. Great job with the “herding”.

    • alisendopf says:

      Good job on getting up and after it. That’s the only way to have success in Banff and Lake Louise these days. Crazy busy.

      Stewart Canyon is beautiful. You got the best part of the trail.

      Awesome job hitting up both Tea Houses! Did you do them in one day? Up and over the Big Beehive? I’m impressed!

      • No kidding. It helps that we’re both morning people, so it’s not too much of a hassle to plan our day around waking up early. We did both of the tea houses in a single day. Big Beehive was still covered in snow and the conditions were listed as hazardous online. Instead we took the Highline Trail from Lake Agnes to Plain of Six Glaciers. The tea house at Lake Agnes was very popular, but the one at Plain of Six Glaciers was mostly empty. There was still some snow on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, which probably helped keep the crowds away, so I’d say it worked out rather well.

  3. oishmortal says:

    Thank you for taking me on a virtual tour with you. The sights are breathtaking 🌼

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