Hiking Stunning Castle Mountain Lookout – Easy Banff Hike

The Castle Mountain Lookout trail is a fantastic short and easy hike near Banff with panoramic views of the Bow Valley and Rocky Mountains. It’s a perfect hike for families as it’s only 7.4 km (4.6 miles) return with an elevation gain of 567 meters (1,794 feet) that doesn’t cost you all day. The trail is easy to follow and although it is an uphill climb, there are no technical parts. Only a few of the steeper sections near the top require you to navigate some rocks. With 180-degree views once you break the treeline, the Castle Mountain Lookout Hike is well worth the workout. Read in our complete guide everything you need to know about this easy Banff hike. 

How long is Castle Mountain Lookout Trail?

The Castle Mountain Lookout hike is 7.4 km (4.6 miles) return with an elevation gain of 567 meters (1,794 feet). It takes an average of 3 – 4 hours to complete the hike at a normal pace. If you are a fast hiker you can definitely complete it in 2 – 3 hours.  


Where is the Castle Mountain Lookout Trailhead?

The Castle Lookout trailhead is located along the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park. From Banff town, it is a 30-minute drive over 37 km. At Castle Junction head left on Highway 1A, also known as Bow Valley Parkway, until you reach the parking lot of Castle Mountain hike. 


When is the best time to hike Castle Mountain Lookout?

Castle Mountain Lookout hike is accessible year-round as the trail is even doable with snow. It is not in an avalanche area, so if you have spikes you will be totally fine hiking the Castle Mountain Lookout trail in snow conditions. Just make sure to check the trail conditions beforehand to make sure that the snow is packed in case you plan to do a winter hike in Banff. 

This also means that the Castle Mountain Lookout trail is a great early-season hike. The trail receives plenty of sunlight making the snow melt quickly. You can hike the Castle Mountain Lookout trail snow-free as early as mid-late April. 

Regarding the best time of the day to hike the trail, you can’t go wrong with any time. If you’re looking to see or capture the golden, then you can either go with sunrise or sunset because of the 180-degree panoramic view from the lookout.


Castle Mountain Lookout trail description 

Castle Mountain Lookout hiking trail follows for the first 2 – 3 km on an old wide gravel road. This is the most uninspiring part of the hike as you’re in a dense pine forest without any views. 


But after about 45 minutes of hiking, you’ll break through the tree line and the views start to open up. From this part on you will have better views of Bow Valley the higher you get. Keep following the switchbacks, which do get a bit steeper at some point, until you finally reach the wide-open area of Castle Mountain Lookout. 


This open space is the perfect place for a lunch break. Fun fact is that you will still see the wooden remains of what previously was a fire lookout, built in the 1940s. 

The old Fire Lookout with panoramic views over Bow Valley

On your left side, you can see the southern peak of Castle Mountain. Looking to your right you will see the complete mountain range from Storm Mountain, Mount Whymper to Mount Temple. It’s a breathtaking sight, and especially on a clear day, you can even see as far as the Three Sisters in Canmore!

Castle Mountain on the left
Ha Ling Peak and the Three Sisters in Canmore captured with a zoom lens

The way back to the car park is the same path as you came. As it’s all downhill and nothing technical, you can be back in under an hour to the car. Just make sure to enjoy the views from the opposite side while hiking back. 


Where is the best place to see Castle Mountain?

The very best place to get an unobstructed view of this spectacular mountain is from Castle Mountain viewpoint. You will pass this spot on the way to Castle Mountain Lookout trailhead. 

To get to this beautiful photo spot, park your car at the designated car park and walk down the river. 


Is there wildlife along the Castle Mountain Lookout hike?

Banff National Park is prime bear territory, with black bears and grizzly bears calling this park their home. Don’t let this scare you away from the park or a particular trail. But make sure to educate yourself on bear safety by reading or watching videos about this. 

You should always be bear aware and always carry bear spray with you on hikes in BC and Alberta. Educate yourself on how to use bear spray and of course do your own research on what to do in case of a bear encounter.

While bears are mostly in a calm state of mind, they will feel easier threatened by humans if they have cubs around. Or when a human comes too close, either to their food source or accidentally startles them. Therefore you should always be aware of your surroundings. Make noise so bears, and any other animal can hear you coming. 

Other wildlife you might encounter along the Castle Mountain Lookout Trail are innocent animals such as mountain goats, marmots, squirrels and the occasional porcupine. 

Other things to see and do near Castle Lookout hike

From Castle Lookout Trailhead you can either head to Lake Louise, Kootenay National Park or Banff. If you plan to visit Lake Louise, then make sure to add a quick stop at Morant’s Curve to your itinerary. 


Another hike situated along the Bow Valley Parkway is Johnston Canyon hike which can be easily combined with the Castle Mountain Lookout trail. It’s only a 12-minute drive to Johnston Canyon, so I would highly recommend visiting this place as well if you’re heading toward Banff. 


Do you need a National Park Pass to hike Castle Mountain?

Yes, because Castle Mountain is located inside Banff National Park, you’ll need a Parks Canada Pass to enter. Depending on the number of days you plan to visit the Canadian National Parks, you can either buy single daily admission tickets or the Parks Canada Discovery Pass which is a multi-park entry pass for 365 days. You can purchase the different Parks Canada Passes online at the Parks Canada website, at the National Park Visitor Centres or at booths upon entering the many national parks. See all the options and prices below.  

Single daily admission pass

This entrance fee ticket is sold per person, per day, per National Park. It is only the best option if you are solo traveling and just visiting one or two national parks for a couple of days.

  • $10.50 CAD for an adult (from 18-64 years)
  • $9.00 CAD for Senior (65+)
  • FREE entrance for kids younger than 17 years

Group daily admission pass

For the ones traveling with 2 or more people in one car, you can buy a single-day group admission pass. This pass gives entrance for up to 7 people in one vehicle.

  • $21.00 CAD for one vehicle entry for one full day (maximum 7 people)

Parks Canada Discovery Pass

The “Discovery Pass” is the best option for travelers who plan to visit multiple National Parks. Basically, if you’re spending more than 7 days in the Canadian National Parks, you’ll have a much better deal buying the Discovery Pass. This multi-park entry pass is valid for 365 days to access all participating national parks in Canada. These include Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, and much more.

  • $72.25 CAD for one Adult (age 18-64)
  • $61.75 CAD for one Senior (64+)
  • $145.25 CAD for a couple or group/family up to 7 people in one vehicle

Where to stay near Castle Lookout hike

With Banff on a 30-minute drive away and Lake Louise on a 25-minute drive away, you have plenty of options to stay. But also along the Bow Valley Parkway are a few resorts. 

Bow Valley Parkway resorts 

Castle Mountain Chalets

The rustic and charming chalets of Castle Mountain Chalets come with a fully equipped kitchen, private bathroom with shower and free toiletries. The stunning mountain views make it one of the best places to stay near Castle Mountain and strategically located between Lake Louise and Banff, with direct entry to Kootenay National Park.

Check here prices and availability for Castle Mountain Chalets

Castle Mountain Chalets

Baker Creek by Basecamp

The spacious log cabins of Baker Creek offer comfortable living areas featuring a cosy fireplace. Full kitchens and kitchenettes are provided and there is even a fitness centre, steam room and a sauna during the winter months available!

Check here prices and availability for Baker Creek cabins

Baker Creek by Basecamp cabin

Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows

The charming Johnston Canyon Lodge & Bungalows are located right near the entrance of the Johnston Canyon hike. It’s a 12-minute drive to Castle Mountain trailhead and the resort offers cozy cottages with an on-site restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Check here prices and availability for Johnston Canyon bungalows

Places to stay in Lake Louise

Fairmont Château Lake Louise

Without a doubt, the most beautiful and unique accommodation in Lake Louise is the Fairmont, located along the lakeshore. If you want to stay somewhere special, then booking a room with Lakeview at Fairmont Château Lake Louise is the answer. With a heated indoor pool and a complete fitness center, 8 on-site dining options and a wine library you will feel like a king and queen in Fairmont Château Lake Louise. 

Fairmont Château Lake Louise room view

Lake Louise Inn

Lake Louise Inn is conveniently located in the center of Lake Louise Village. With standard double rooms, one-bedroom apartments studio’s and suites, Lake Louise Inn has plenty of choice for every kind of traveler. Most of the rooms have views of the surrounding mountains, and featuring a heated indoor pool and hot tubs, Lake Louise Inn offers great value for a fair price

Lake Louise Inn

Post Hotel and Spa

Idyllishly located along the Bow River, Post Hotel and Spa offers their guests spacious, rustic rooms and suites, alongside an indoor pool and a hot tub, a fitness center, free private parking, a restaurant and cozy bar.

Post Hotel & Spa

More Canada travel inspiration

I hope you enjoyed this complete guide about Castle Mountain Lookout Hike in Banff National Park. For more travel inspiration about British Columbia and Alberta, head over to our other Canada travel guides. See below our Canada guides per National Park to prepare your trip.

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