Wednesday, October 28, 2015

First Summits - Yates Mountain and the Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis

This is one of the prettiest spring hikes in Kananaskis with several options for a "choose your own adventure" outing.

The hike starts with a gradual climb to the Prairie View Lookout on a beautiful ridge overlooking Barrier Lake. Continue and you'll reach a rock outcropping for even greater views. And finally, continue to the summit of Yates Mountain where you'll find the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout, a working lookout site in the summer season.

Kids will feel pretty victorious reaching this viewpoint

Quick Stats

Elevation Gain: ~ 700 metres to the fire lookout site

Trail Distance: 13 km return to the fire lookout site

Starting Point and Access: Barrier Dam day-use area on Highway 40, Kananaskis

Best Season: Spring through fall

Average time it should take to complete this hike: ~ 4 hours at a leisurely pace with breaks

Note that the distances above are approximate and I've used my personal stats from my last hike. Several websites all differ slightly on exact distance/height gain.

It took my family 4 hours to do the hike with a 6-year old. It also took me 4 hours when I did the hike with friends at a relaxed pace (so it's a good estimate for time.)

This guide has received fresh updates and photos from 2024.

Prairie View Ridge Lookout (updated photo 2024)

Hike Section One: Prairie View Trail from Barrier Dam

The hike starts at the Barrier Dam day use area and you'll begin by hiking around the nearest side of Barrier Lake until you come to a junction with the Stoney Trail at approximately 1.3 km. From here, you follow the Prairie View Trail for the next 4 km until you reach a ridge overlooking Barrier Lake. 

The trail is basically an old fire road, very wide, and popular with both mountain biking and hiking. There are several switchbacks and the grade is never terribly steep.

You'll climb approximately 450 metres of height on this section.

My son's first time hiking this trail at age 6

Hike Section Two: Continuing to the Rock Outcropping

You can either choose to have lunch on the scenic ridge overlooking Barrier Lake, or continue on for another 20 minutes to the rock outcropping viewpoint.

If you continue, the trail is much steeper and will feel "scrambly" as you climb up a short headwall / rock cliff to reach the next viewpoint. The trail has become quite braided here and it's often muddy in spring. Choose the easiest path up and bring poles if you want for assistance. In early spring you'll also want to bring ice cleats.

Rock outcropping overlooking Barrier Lake (updated photo 2024)

If you continue to the viewpoint, the view is spectacular overlooking the lake. Watch young children carefully if you decide to approach the edge of  the cliff where the large rocks are.

At this point you've hiked approximately 5 km according to the All Trails map (and only gained ~ 50 metres height from the Prairie View Trail below.)

Return the same way, or continue on to the summit and fire lookout.

Most youth should have few problems reaching this point at a relaxed pace

Hike Section Three: Yates Mountain Summit and Fire Lookout

From here, the trail becomes steeper, less official, and you'll need some basic route finding skills to find the summit and fire lookout.

The lookout road ends at the first ridge, so now you are on a narrow unofficial dirt trail which climbs to the lookout without wasting time on switchbacks.

If you continue, it's an additional kilometre to reach the lookout site from the boulders (one way) with an additional 100 metres of height gain.

The Yates Mountain Summit and Fire Lookout

Notes RE the Fire Lookout: This lookout is actively maintained and it is a real working fire lookout. This means that if you visit when the attendant is on duty (June onwards) you should keep your distance from the house, approach only if invited, and avoid using the outhouse which is private.

We've always been welcomed with a friendly greeting and allowed to have lunch on the heli-pad platform, but this could change year to year depending on who's working at the lookout. It's always best to obey all signage, and ask permission to approach the heli-pad.

It's always best to ask permission to eat lunch on the heli-pad (updated photo 2024)

For a detailed route description I highly recommend picking up a good guide book for Kananaskis. My recommended book for this area of Kananaskis is the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1 by Gillean Daffern. The book covers the top 35 popular day hikes in Kananskis and is a great reference guide for families.

One of the best spring hikes in Kananaskis (updated photo 2024)

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