Monday, December 13, 2021

Cross-country Skiing along the Highway 1A in Banff: Baker Creek to Castle Junction

This has become an extremely popular cross-country ski tail and most of it is very scenic and beginner-friendly. You'll parallel the Highway 1A the entire time on a groomed ski trail from Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise, ending at Castle Junction approximately 15 km away.

One of the amazing viewpoints as you ski under the cliffs of Castle Mountain along the 1A

Below I've broken the trail down into popular distances that local skiers enjoy including my personal favourite, a one way traverse from Baker Creek to Castle Junction with a shuttle where the trail trends downhill at a gradual angle other than a few short hills that you'll climb up and over.

Below is my modified copy of the Parks Canada map that I've marked up for easy reference. Note however that Parks Canada lists the 5 km section from Castle Mountain Lookout to Castle Junction as green or "easy." This is not true. This is the only section of the trail that is actually intermediate with several short hills and one steep descent towards Castle Junction at the end where you'll have to control your speed on a twisty trail through tight trees.

The middle 6.4 km section between Protection Mountain Campground and Castle Mountain Lookout could be rated as green, as it is quite beginner friendly. 

Baker Creek to Castle Junction along the Highway 1A

Skiing from Castle Lookout to Baker Creek Return (Easy/low intermediate)

If you're just skiing out and back, I recommend starting at the lookout in the middle and skiing to Baker Creek and back. This is your best bet for having a groomed trackset trail to ski as well. The section from the lookout to Castle Junction is not groomed as often.

You can always turn around early as well around the Protection Mountain Campground. After the campground it's not as scenic for the final 3.5 km to Baker Creek.

From Castle Mountain Lookout, the trail is generally easy heading towards Baker Creek. There's one steep hill out of the parking lot but honestly you just have to take your skis off at the bottom anyway to cross the highway, so walk the hill if you don't want to ski down it. (I never ski up it at the end of the trip.)

High above the Bow River between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Once you're on the other side of the highway from the lookout parking lot, the trail is relatively flat other than the double humps you'll climb up and over. Each one is gentle enough that you can usually stay in the tracks going both up and down.

Turn around at Protection Mountain after 6.2 km or continue the final 3.5 km to Baker Creek where you can have lunch in the red chairs outside the resort beside the creek. There is also a café at Baker Creek where you can grab snacks, lunch, and coffee to go. (Bring your mask if you plan to go inside.)

The 6.2 km section from the Lookout to Protection Mountain is the prettiest part of the whole trail.

This is the beginning of the trail from the Castle Mountain Lookout (flat and very beginner-friendly)

Parking Directions:

Follow this link to find the Castle Lookout parking lot on Google Maps.

Note you are not parking right at Castle Junction where you turn off from the TransCanada Highway. You must turn off the highway at the Castle Mountain Chalets and then turn left on the Highway 1A, heading towards Lake Louise.

You'll see a sign for the Castle Lookout parking lot on your right if coming from Castle Junction.

Skiing high above the Bow River between Castle Mountain Lookout and Protection Mountain

Trail Reports: 

Follow this link to the Banff National Park Trail Reports page. 

The "Tunnel" a 1 km long flat section between Protection Mountain and the Lookout

Ski Directions:

From Castle Lookout, jump on the ski trail that starts right from the parking lot and head west towards Lake Louise. Within 5 minutes you'll come to a short steep hill. Walk it if you have to because you're just crossing the highway.

The trail continues on the other side of the road. The trail starts off flat as you wind your way through the trees until you start to climb gradually until you're high above the river. This is where you'll go up and over two humps en route to the Protection Mountain Campground. Neither hill is especially big and you should be able to stay in the tracks.

The section above the river is the prettiest part of the trail and you'll get good views of trains going by.

The larger of the two humps you'll ski up and over
Train lovers will love this ski trail!

After you've descended the second hump, you'll arrive at the tunnel, a 1 km straight section that's 100% flat but often very pretty with snowy trees hanging over the trail. 

After coming out of the tunnel you ski alongside the railway tracks for the final bit until you reach the road crossing for the Protection Mountain Campground.

Skiing through the snowy tunnel 

The Tunnel between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Easy flat skiing along the train tracks between Baker Creek and Protection Mountain

Cross the highway to enter the campground and then follow the trail to the Baker Creek Mountain Resort skiing beside a powerline for the final 2.5 km.

You'll end up on the other side of the highway from the resort at a parking lot (which you should use if you're starting at Baker Creek.) Cross the road if you want to visit the resort or have lunch there.

The first part of the trail from Baker Creek follows beside a powerline and is very beginner-friendly

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Distance from Castle Lookout to Protection Mountain Campground - 6.2 km one way

Distance from the campground to Baker Creek - 3.5 km one way

And if you're starting at Baker Creek, follow this link on Google Maps to see the Baker Creek Ski parking lot. Do not park at the resort itself if you are not an overnight guest.

Easy beginner-friendly skiing between Castle Lookout and Protection Mountain

Ski Traverse from Baker Creek to Castle Junction (Intermediate)

Most people don't ski the section between the Lookout to Castle Junction by itself because it isn't as pretty and you follow a powerline much of the way. This section also isn't groomed as often unfortunately.

As a one-way traverse though when you have good conditions, it's a lot of fun. Start at Baker Creek to take advantage of the height loss as you ski down river. 

If you're up for the full 30 km round trip distance, start at Castle Junction and climb on your way out for a more relaxed ski back.

Skiing under the powerline between the Lookout and Castle Junction 

Before setting up a shuttle, you'll want to ensure the section from the Castle Lookout to Castle Junction is groomed and trackset before you plan to do the full traverse. Do not trust the Parks Canada trail report on this. The photo below is from our most recent trip. The Parks Canada website said the trail had been recently trackset within the last few days (but unfortunately it had not seen a snowmobile yet this season even for preliminary packing.)

Our recent ski from the Lookout to Castle Junction was full on backcountry ski touring and thankfully somebody had gone ahead of us the day before or we would not have known where to go because there are very few to no signs on the entire 1A ski traverse.

If you want an up to date trail report, call the Castle Mountain Chalets because they take care of the grooming between the junction and the lookout.

On the other side, Baker Creek Mountain Resort does the grooming between their property and the Lookout.

Make sure the Lookout - Castle Junction section is groomed before you head out!

Parking Directions:

You'll either be parking at Baker Creek Mountain Resort or you'll be parking at Castle Junction across from the gas station where there is a parking lot.

Follow this link to Google Maps to find the Baker Creek Ski parking lot.

Follow this link to Google Maps to find the Castle Junction parking lot

Following a skier tracked trail between Castle Lookout and Castle Junction

Trail Reports: 

Check the recent grooming report for Banff and Lake Louise here. As the season goes on, the grooming reports for the 1A Trails will be more accurate and reliable.

Skiing under the powerline towards Castle Junction on an ungroomed trail

Ski Directions: 

From the Baker Creek Skiers Parking lot (across the road and just east of the resort) follow the trail as described above for the Castle Mountain Lookout to Baker Creek trip. 

You'll follow the powerline until you reach the Protection Mountain Campground, cross the highway, ski along the railway tracks until you reach the tree tunnel, ski through the tunnel of trees, ski up and over the two humps, and then make your way through the forest to Castle Lookout (on the other side of the highway.)

From the lookout, ski around the back of the parking lot and take the trail that continues heading east towards Castle Junction. - and this is a great place to turn around if the trail has not been groomed and there are no tracks to follow.

The trail from the lookout to the junction mostly follows a powerline climbing up and down over several small hills. You then make your way down a steep hill that twists and turns through fairly tight trees. Don't be scared to walk this section if it's icy or not in good condition! (It's better than hitting a tree.)

At the bottom of the steep hill the trail finishes off with about a kilometre of easy flat skiing as you parallel the road (other than one final hill that you'll steeply climb.) 

Castle Junction at the end of the Baker Creek to Castle ski traverse 

Follow this link to download a map of the winter trails in the Lake Louise area.

Distance from Castle Lookout to Castle Junction - 5 km one way

Full distance from Baker Creek to Castle Junction - 14.7 km one way

Skiing along the Highway 1A between Baker Creek and Castle Junction

Stay Overnight at Baker Creek Mountain Resort 

Stay overnight for easy access to the trails along the 1A at the Baker Creek Mountain ResortThe resort has cozy cabins and suites, most with kitchenettes and all with fireplaces (including wood burning fireplaces in the cabins.) The largest cabins fit up to 5 people.

By staying at Baker Creek, you'll also be very close to either the trails at Lake Louise or the trails near the Town of Banff. 

Best of all though, if you choose to ski from Baker Creek without driving, it's an easy 19.4 km round trip ski to the Lookout and back. Adults with young children can even take turns skiing from the resort while the other adult plays with the kids in the giant snow banks around the cabins.

A snowy winter evening at Baker Creek Mountain Resort near Lake Louise

Ski the 1A Traverse during the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet 

If you time your ski day right, you can also ski the special Lake Louise to Banff Loppet Course. The section from the Lake Louise Campground to Baker Creek Mountain Resort only gets groomed for the loppet and so you can only ski between Lake Louise and Baker Creek during this time.

Visit the link above to register for the loppet which is always held mid to late January.

The distance from Lake Louise to Baker Creek during the loppet is 20.7 km. Total distance to Castle Junction is around 34 km one way.

Last year we set up a shuttle with friends and skied from Lake Louise to Castle Mountain Lookout. It was an incredible experience.

Skiing the Lake Louise Loppet Course between Lake Louise and Baker Creek

Final Notes on this Ski Traverse

This trail is dog-friendly as long as your pooch is on leash and well behaved.

This is a ski trail and is not a multi-use hiking, snowshoeing, or fat biking trail. If you want to go for a winter hike or bike ride, please consult the Parks Canada website where it lists the best trails for each sport.

Parts of the trail are double trackset, but much of it is only single trackset. Cooperation is required if you meet another group coming towards you. Nobody really has the right of way on a flat single tracked trail so be kind.

This trail is groomed for classic skiing, not skate skiing. If you want to skate ski go to Lake Louise where you can skate on the Moraine Lake Road or the Divide Trails.

There is very little signage on this trail. As long as it's been freshly groomed and trackset you'll have no problems following the trail. Early season however (or after a large dump of snow) it could be challenging to know where to go at times.

There is no official shuttle or bus service for this trail. If you only want to ski one-way, you'll have to set up a shuttle with friends. 

And finally as a reminder, Parks Canada is not responsible for grooming this trail so their website may not always be accurate for conditions. Baker Creek Mountain Resort and Castle Mountain Chalets share the grooming.

Join Cross-country Skiing YYC on Facebook to participate in great conservations about skiing the local trails in Kananaskis and Banff. It's also a great place to get trip reports from other skiers who may have skied trails like the 1A Traverse in the last day or two.

No comments:

Post a Comment