The Castle Mountain Lookout hike in Banff National Park is one of the best panoramic viewpoint hikes and it should be on everyone’s list. As you snake your way up the lower slopes of Castle Mountain, your views of the Rocky Mountains get better and better as near the lookout.
Once you arrive at the Castle Mountain Lookout point, you’ll not only be treated to an up-close view of the huge rock slabs that make Castle Mountain so compelling, but a complete panorama of the Bow Valley. From the Castle Lookout, you can see as far as the Three Sisters in Canmore (60 km away) and all the Rocky Mountains in between.
The views from the Castle Mountain Lookout trail rival the Alymer Lookout hike as some of the best views in Banff National Park. And given that it’s a moderate hike in Banff, the Castle Lookout hike is much easier to accomplish than the Aylmer Lookout hike.
Castle Mountain Lookout Hike – Quick Details
Trailhead: Castle Lookout Trailhead
Distance: 7.4 km out-and-back
Elevation: 567 m elevation gain
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What You’ll Find in This Article on Castle Mountain Lookout Banff Hike:
Castle Mountain Lookout Highlights
The Castle Mountain Lookout hike starts on a well maintained, wide hiking trail through a lush evergreen forest. Wildflowers poke out in the dappled sunlight through the mossy carpet floor. The sound of a babbling brook near the trail is complemented by birdsong.
After 200 m of hiking along the Castle Mountain Lookout trail you cross the small stream you could hear at the trailhead. The hiking trail follows the mountain stream as the trail starts its slow and steady incline up Castle Mountain.
The forest is dense at the beginning, but after 500 m of hiking Castle Lookout, you’ll start to see signs of mountains across the Bow Valley. Storm mountain is the dominant mountain you first see on your right. There’s still no sign of the rocky slopes of Castle Mountain yet…
Your heart will start pounding a little harder at the 0.7 km mark of the Castle Mountain Lookout hiking trail as the incline gets noticeably steeper. The stream is now a ways below you, but you can still hear it. Take the time to look at the mountain views across the valley to distract you from the effort. The trees in this stretch of trail have no lower limbs, creating a cool effect where you can look deep into the forest.
We love hikes like the Castle Mountain Lookout trail where you are hiking along the side of a mountain slope. With the trail falling off to one side, you’re always guaranteed to have an interesting view.
You’ll arrive at the first clearing of the Castle Mountain Lookout trail after 1.2 km of hiking. From here, you’ll enjoy nice views of Storm mountain and Boom mountain.
In late spring, you’ll start noticing a plethora of wildflowers growing alongside the trail. We noticed our first purple clematis vine at the 1.4 km mark of the Castle Junction Lookout trail.
Take a moment to catch your breath as the trail flattens out a little. You’ll also get your first glimpses of upper Castle Mountain through the trees.
You’ll pass the remains of an old, abandoned cabin after 1.6 km of hiking the Castle Mountain Lookout trail. Makes you wonder what life was like for the person living in such a small, remote cabin way back when…
Beyond the cabin, the amount of Rocky Mountain wildflowers explodes. Look for patches of delicate calypso orchids and tons of clematis vines. Excellent views of upper Castle Mountain can be seen through the trees straight ahead.
These excellent Banff cabins for rent are much nicer than the one on this hiking trail!
The Castle Mountain Lookout hike gets a bit steeper again after 2 km and you may find yourself wondering where the flat part of the hike was? You’ll soon reach a bend in the hiking trail with a clear view of Mount Whymper in the distance. As you leave the Mount Whymper viewpoint, look up for the best view of Castle cliffs yet.
After a long stretch of a double track hiking trail, the Castle Mountain Lookout trail narrows to single track at the 2.3 km mark. This also coincides with the part of the hike where the trees thin out and you start walking through more clearings.
As you can imagine, after climbing nearly 300 m above the Bow Valley floor, being on the side slope of Castle Mountain in a clearing, the Banff National Park views are going to be outstanding. You’ll arrive at a clearing with panoramic views adding new mountains to the view, including Mt. Bell, Mt. Fay, Copper Mountain and Pilot Mountain.
If you can peel your eyes off the incredible Banff mountain views, wildflowers thrive in the direct sunlight of this south facing slope. In season, you’ll see Columbine, crocus and clematis on this stretch.
The first switchbacks occur at the 2.6 km of the Castle Mountain Lookout trail. Not to be outdone by its neighboring mountains across the Bow Valley, Castle Mountain looks incredible up-slope.
As you near the bottom of the iconic rocky slopes of Castle Mountain, you walk uphill due east alternating between clearings and forest. On a hot day, you’ll be grateful for the shade in the forested parts of the trail.
You’ll encounter a trail junction at the 3.2 km mark of the Castle Mountain Lookout trail. Don’t go straight, but instead go left up a very short, but very steep section of trail.
The steep section of the Castle Mountain Lookout trail is very short and you’ll soon be crossing a small stream with a equally small waterfall. The rocky cliffs downstream of the waterfall are impressive, but not nearly as impressive as Castle Mountain overhead.
We live around Banff National Park and are lucky enough to see this world class scenery every day, but there are still moments where I stop in my tracks and say “wow”. I had one of these moments after 3.4 km of hiking the Castle Mountain Lookout trail.
The trail is nearing the point where the forest ends and the massive rocky cliffs begin. There are huge boulders along the trail in this area, with panoramic mountain views across the valley. We had to stop and soak it in – amazing!
You’ll reach the Castle Mountain Lookout after 3.7 km of hiking. Just when you thought you couldn’t cram more mountains into the views. The lookout is situated on a spot on Castle Mountain where a whole host of new mountains come into view.
From the Castle Mountain Lookout, you can see as far as the Three Sisters mountain in Canmore. The best part of the Castle Mountain Lookout is the unimpeded view of the majestic Castle Mountain. It’s just so huge and imposing from the Lookout, it will forever change the way I look at Castle Mountain from the Trans-Canada Highway on the way to Lake Louise.
The Castle Mountain Lookout has a decent sized gravel clearing for hikers to spread out and enjoy the incredible Banff vistas. If you’d like to stop for a snack or lunch, there are many large rocks to sit down on for a rest.
It’s hard work getting to the Castle Mountain Lookout, but hikers who make the effort will be rewarded with one of the best hikes in Banff for consistent scenery. The views on this Banff hike start incredible and just get better and better as you near the top.
Castle Lookout Trailhead
The Castle Lookout trailhead is located along the 1A Highway, west of Castle Junction. The fastest way to get to the Castle Mountain Lookout trail from Banff is to drive west along the TransCanada Highway and exit on Highway 93 South and keep right. This will take you to Castle Junction where you’ll turn left and drive another 5 km to the trailhead.
With the current closure of the eastern section of Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A), the more scenic route from Banff isn’t open to public vehicles. Although, this closure does allow for an incredible experience cycling the Bow Valley Parkway.
The Castle Lookout trailhead can also be reached by driving 22 km from Lake Louise along the scenic Bow Valley Parkway.
Castle Mountain Lookout Hike Stats
How Long is the Castle Mountain Lookout Hike?
The round-trip distance of the Castle Mountain Lookout trail is 7.4 km (one-way distance of 3.7 km).
How Hard is the Castle Lookout Hiking Trail?
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Castle Mountain Lookout hike as “moderate”.
The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Castle Mountain Lookout hiking trail is 567 m.
The Castle Mountain 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 easy to follow and there are no technical sections to worry about.
The added bonus is once you reach the lookout, it’s all downhill back to the parking lot.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Castle Mountain Lookout?
It should take a typical adult 3-4 hours to hike the full round-trip distance of the Castle Mountain Lookout. We’ve done it in as little as 2h 20m, including stops for pictures and lunch at the top.
Castle Mountain Lookout Trail Map
The Castle Mountain Lookout hike couldn’t be easier to follow; simply begin the trailhead and stay on the trail until you reach the end. We used the AllTrails app while hiking the Castle Mountain Lookout, but that was more for trail stats than for navigation purposes.
To find the Castle Mountain Lookout trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Castle Mountain Lookout Trail”. We even had cell service all the way to the top, but just to be safe, download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
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 Castle Mountain 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 Castle Mountain Lookout Trail with Kids
We were originally planning on hiking Castle Mountain Lookout trail with our two kids (aged 5 & 7 years old), but ended up doing it while they were in school. Our kids have grown up in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and are pretty decent little hikers, so we are confident they would have very little issues completing this hike. The hike up will likely be on the slow side with the incline (bring treats for the top), but they’ll love that it’s all downhill from there.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The obvious place to stop for lunch or a break along the Castle Mountain Lookout hike is at the actual lookout. Even at mid-day, we were able to sit farther back from the lookout on some rocks in the shade.
If you prefer more shade or the lookout is too crowded, head back into the forest and find some large rocks to sit down on.
Alternatively, head over to the Blackswift Bistro before spending the afternoon enjoying the Johnston Canyon hike. Johnston Canyon is also found along the Bow Valley Parkway, just 11 km from the Castle Lookout trailhead.
Castle Mountain Lookout Hiking Safety
There are relatively few hiking hazards along this Castle Mountain hike. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow up to the lookout. Just take caution at the lookout as the drop-off is significant and keep children far away from the edge.
Banff National Park is prime bear habitat, with black bears and grizzly bears calling the Bow Valley Parkway area home. 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.
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 Castle Mountain Lookout trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Castle Mountain Lookout Trail Logistics
On-leash dogs are allowed on the Castle Mountain Lookout hike. Mountain biking is not allowed.
There are no toilets at the Castle Mountain Lookout trailhead.
There are no drinking water facilities either, so fill your hydration packs before you leave. If you need fluids or simply want to treat yourself, stop at Castle Junction to stock up.
You should get cell service for most of your hike, but never count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Castle Mountain Lookout Trail
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear for this hike. 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 Castle Mountain Lookout trail isn’t a very long Banff hike, but we would still 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.
- Water – the Castle Mountain 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 Castle Lookout hike to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the descent.
Castle Mountain Lookout Footwear Recommendation
The Castle Mountain Lookout trail is in decent shape for most of its length. You will have to contend with some rocks and roots along the trail. The trail conditions are likely too much for normal city shoes, so we recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots.
We are certain you’ll love this moderate Banff hike as much as we do!
Other Banff Hikes
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.