If you are looking to experience some of the best scenery in Banff, try the Aylmer Lookout trail. A challenging hike up a river valley along the lower slopes of Mount Aylmer, the payoff is a viewpoint atop a rocky outcrop with outstanding views of Lake Minnewanka and her surrounding mountains.
The Aylmer Lookout is at the first bend in Lake Minnewanka, thus giving hikers the ability to see the lake in two directions. From the outcrop 500 m above the surface of this winding Banff lake, not only can you look 8 km across Lake Minnewanka to the south-west to see as far as Tunnel Mountain, but you can see at least 10 km to the south-east as well.
With Rocky Mountain peaks in all directions, you will need to work really hard to find a more scenic spot in Banff National Park than Aylmer Lookout. Hiking to Aylmer Lookout is one of the best things to do at Lake Minnewanka.
Aylmer Lookout Hike – Quick Details
Trailhead: Aylmer Lookout trailhead
Distance: 8 km out-and-back (PLUS 15.6 km out-and-back on Lake Minnewanka trail for total of 23.6 km out-and-back from Lake Minnewanka Day Use)
Elevation: 560 m elevation gain
You can’t drive to the Aylmer Lookout trailhead. Hikers who wish to see one of the most scenic viewpoints in Banff National Park must first hike or (in-season) mountain bike the first 7.8 km of the Lake Minnewanka trail to the Aylmer Pass Junction. This post covers the Aylmer Lookout portion of the hike only. We cover the first portion of the trail in our post Lake Minnewanka trail.
Aylmer Lookout Hike in Banff
- Aylmer Lookout Hike – Quick Details
- Aylmer Lookout Hike Highlights
- Aylmer Lookout Trailhead
- Aylmer Lookout Hike Stats
- Aylmer Lookout Trail Map
- Hiking Aylmer Lookout Trail with Kids
- Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
- Aylmer Lookout Hiking Safety
- Aylmer Lookout Trail Logistics
- What to Bring for Hiking Aylmer Lookout Trail
- Aylmer Lookout Footwear Recommendation
- Other Banff Hikes
- Banff Trip Planning Resources
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Aylmer Lookout Hike Highlights
The beautiful aspen forest you first experience on the Minnewanka trail continues here. The views of the dramatic cliffs along Mt. Astley are especially impressive here.
The Aylmer Lookout trail starts at the Aylmer Pass Junction, which is where you turn off the Lake Minnewanka trail on to the start of the Aylmer Lookout trail. The Aylmer Lookout hike enters a beautiful mountain river valley between Mt. Astley and Mt. Aylmer.
The Aylmer Lookout hiking trail is a steady uphill for the first 2.5 km. Thankfully the trail surface is kind to hikers with a moderate amount of roots and rocks.
Off-and-on during this portion of the hike, you’ll hear the raging river down below at the bottom of the valley. Be mindful to stop and look behind you at regular intervals as the views of Lake Minnewanka in from of the majestic Mt. Inglismaldie are breathtaking.
After 300 m the Aylmer Lookout trail enters a proper forest, where you will gain some shade (nice on a hot day), but you will lose the views of Lake Minnewanka. Take a look at the shrubs surrounding the hiking trail – there’s an abundance of buffalo berry bushes, which explains why Aylmer Lookout hikers need to take grizzly bear safety very seriously.
After a few minutes of hiking in the forest, you’ll encounter a couple of switchbacks. While the Aylmer Lookout trail takes you in a different direction, take a look to your right to enjoy yet another amazing view of Mt. Inglismaldie standing guard over Lake Minnewanka.
The Aylmer Lookout hike continues making its way deeper into the river valley. The evergreen forest is just spread out enough to provide views of the cliffs towering up ahead on Mt. Astley. The forest floor is covered with flat juniper bushes and flowy grass.
At the 1.5 km mark of this Banff hike the trail gets close enough to the river to hear it again. The combination of a more dense forest, coupled with the proximity to the river makes the air noticeably cooler – a treat on a hot summer day in Banff!
You’ll arrive at a trail junction at the 2.3 km mark of the hike. The Aylmer Lookout trail has a Parks Canada sign, showing that it’s another 1.6 km of hiking. The trail to the left is the Aylmer Pass trail which is a one-way distance of 3.4 km. The Aylmer Pass hiking trail doesn’t have an official trail sign, but it continues up-and-over the mountain pass between Mt. Astley and Mt. Aylmer.
By this stage of the Aylmer Lookout trail, you’ve done over 80% of the altitude gain. The trail really levels out and even goes downhill for a while through a beautiful evergreen forest, with a brilliant green carpet of spongy moss. Listen for the sound of birdsong in the quiet forest.
At the 3 km mark of the Aylmer Lookout trail, Lake Minnewanka comes into view again. Get your camera ready as the next 400 m is full of incredible photo opportunities.
As you progress along the trail, the views get better and better. At first, you’ll see Lake Minnewanka stretch all the way to the beginning. By 3.3 km, you can see all the way to Two Jack Lake, Tunnel Mountain and beyond.
We live in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and we still stopped in our tracks and said “wow!” when we saw Two Jack and Tunnel Mountain. It was a breathtaking view of Lake Minnewanka in Banff.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the iconic Lake Minnewanka cruise boats in the water below.
After this incredibly scenic 0.5 km of Banff hiking, the trail starts uphill again. Tired legs were not too happy about this after getting used to the gentle downhill.
The trees start to become noticeably shorter and more sparse as your reach Aylmer Lookout. The views get better, but the wind picks up and you are fully exposed to the sun.
At the 4 km mark, you’ll have reached Aylmer Lookout! You will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts with some of the best scenery in Banff. From Aylmer Lookout, you can see two legs of Lake Minnewanka stretch out for over 20 km, lined by towering Rocky Mountains the whole way.
The views from Aylmer Lookout are simply incredible. We will return to Aylmer Lookout again and again to soak in this beautiful Banff scenery, and we hope you will too!
Aylmer Lookout Trailhead
The Aylmer Lookout trailhead can only be reached after 7.8 km of hiking or biking the Lake Minnewanka trail.
Unless you are camping at one of the Lake Minnewanka Shoreline campgrounds, you’ll have a long Banff day-hike from the Lake Minnewanka trailhead. The closest backcountry campground to the Aylmer Lookout trail is Lm8 (Aylmer Pass Junction), followed by Lm9 (Aylmer Canyon) and Lm11 (Mt. Inglismaldie).
Aylmer Lookout Hike Stats
How Long is the Aylmer Lookout Hike?
The round-trip distance of the Aylmer Lookout trail is 8 km (one-way distance of 4 km) from the Aylmer Pass Junction.
The round-trip distance to the Aylmer Pass Junction is 15.6 km (one-way distance of 7.8 km) from the Lake Minnewanka trailhead.
The total round-trip distance of the Aylmer Lookout hike from the day-use area at Lake Minnewanka is 23.6 km.
How Hard is the Aylmer Lookout Hiking Trail?
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Aylmer Lookout hike as “difficult”.
We would rate the Aylmer Lookout section of the hike as moderate, but combined with the Lake Minnewanka trail, we’d rate it as difficult given its total length of 23.6 km.
The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Aylmer Lookout hiking trail is around 600 m.
The Aylmer Lookout hike has several sections of incline that will get your heart pumping, but there are so many incredible views that you’ll be stopping to take them in. The hiking trail is well-marked and there are no technical sections to worry about.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Aylmer Lookout?
It should take a typical adult 2-3 hours to hike to Aylmer Lookout from the Aylmer Pass Junction. Plan for 7-8 hours for the entire round-trip hike from Lake Minnewanka Day Use.
The 7.8 km section for Lake Minnewanka Day Use to Aylmer Pass Junction is also an intermediate mountain bike trail in Banff.
Aylmer Lookout Trail Map
The Aylmer Lookout hike is easy to follow and is well marked. We used the Alltrails app while hiking the Aylmer Lookout, but that was more for trail stats than for navigation purposes.
To find the Aylmer Lookout trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “Aylmer Lookout trail”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Aylmer Lookout trail map is found in the “Banff and Mt. Assiniboine” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.
Hiking Aylmer Lookout Trail with Kids
Given the length of the Lake Minnewanka trail combined with the Aylmer Lookout trail, we would only recommend this for kids who are capable of long distances or for anyone camping nearby.
Our kids, who are 7 and 5 years old, are decent hikers but this distance is outside of their capabilities right now. And in all honesty, they probably don’t have the interest to do it either… Instead we’d recommend one of these best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The obvious place to stop for lunch or a break along the Aylmer Lookout hike is at the actual lookout. The views are absolutely stunning and worth spending more time to take them in. After such an effort, it’s worth it to sit back and enjoy the views before the long trek back.
Once back at the Lake Minnewanka Day Use, stop at the Black Anchor Cafe for a treat to celebrate an incredible day of hiking!
Aylmer Lookout Hiking Safety
There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Aylmer Lookout hiking trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow up to the lookout
That being said, this area in Banff National Park is prime grizzly bear habitat. Please take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park which should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.
From July 10 to September 15, there are seasonal restrictions where hikers are required to hike in groups of 4 or more and carry bear spray. Dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon Bridge during the seasonal restriction, which would include the continuation of the Stewart Canyon hike.
From Parks Canada | “Bear warnings, restrictions and closures are common throughout summer.“
Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.
Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
We recommend you check the Aylmer Lookout trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Aylmer Lookout Trail Logistics
On-leash dogs are allowed on the Aylmer Lookout hike, except during seasonal restrictions. Mountain biking is not allowed on the Aylmer Lookout trail. Bikes will have to be left at the Aylmer Pass Junction.
Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.
You won’t get cell service for most of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Aylmer Lookout Trail
This is a long hike, so be prepared with proper hiking gear. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
The Aylmer Lookout trail is a very long Banff hike, so we’d like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.
- Water – the Aylmer Lookout trail is at times difficult and gets hot on the south facing slope, so you’ll need a decent amount of water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but you will see many people using them on the Aylmer Lookout hike to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the descent.
Aylmer Lookout Footwear Recommendation
The Aylmer Lookout trail is in decent shape for most of its length. Given the length of the entire hike, we recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots.
We are certain you’ll be impressed with the breathtaking views on this Banff hike!
Other Banff Hikes
Banff Trip Planning Resources
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