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Rockies ::  Banff-Louise :: Aylmer Lookout

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Aylmer to MinnewankaAylmer to MinnewankaPanoramic view of Lake Minnewanka from Aylmer Lookout. Pano stitch of 5 frames
Panoramic view to Lake Minnewanka from Aylmer Lookout. Mt. Inglismaldie and Mt. Girouard on the other side

Abstract

Overall Difficulty D4 Walk on wide and mainly flat trail shared with mountain bikes for 8km, followed by moderately steep ascent to the lookout.  Scramble of Mt. Aylmer is very long day trip (D6) with crux being diagonal traverse of loose talus slope below final summit block
Snow Factor S3 Moderately steep but treed slopes above L8 junction. Low avalanche risk (lookout only).  Ascent of Mt. Aylmer not feasible in winter conditions due to overall length of approach and shortness of daylight.
Scenery Amazing panoramic views of Lake Minnewanka.  Good views of Mt. Girouard, Mt. Inglismaldie and Fairholme range
Trail/Marking Very good Wide park maintained trail.  All junctions are marked. Faint trail and occasional cairns past the lookout
Suggested Time 8-9 hr Return time on foot to Aylmer Lookout.  Mountain biking first 8km will shave at least couple of hours. Very long day (12+ hours) if scrambling Mt. Aylmer - start early!
Elevation Start: 1490m     Max: 2080m     Total: ~1000m  (Aylmer Lookout only) Round Trip: 25km  (Aylmer Lookout only)
Gear Hiking boots and poles; mountain bike (optional)
Water Seasonal stream(s) near L8 junction; not always available. Lake water can be filtered. Snow patches higher up, depending on season
Dog Friendly No Although not officially forbidden, dogs are not recommended as Aylmer Pass is prime grizzly country

 

Gallery

Highpoint on lakeside trail about 40 min from the parking

Aylmer Pass junction near L8 campground East end of Minnewanka from rise above L8 junction Zoom on Mt. Inglismaldie from Aylmer Pass trail
Minnewanka to GhostMinnewanka to Ghost Fantastic views east from Aylmer Pass trail Breaking treeline near the Aylmer lookout Site of old lookout structure; Mt. Aylmer left of center Lake Minnewanka from ridge above Aylmer lookout
View back to Lake Minnewanka at the end of Aylmer ridge Mt. Aylmer summit block from final part of the ridge Full moon over Lake Minnewanka from little rise above LM8 junction  

 

 

Summary

Lake Minnewanka is largest body of water in Banff vicinity. Drive time from junction with Trans-Canada is only 15 minutes; as such it is very popular and tends to be overcrowded by tourists in summer months.  All kinds of development await at west end of the lake -- 2 huge parking lots, concessions, picnic grounds and floating platforms from where boat tours can be chartered.  Main trail from hikers perspective follows north side of the lake and is shared with mountain bikes. Initial portion is particularly busy, but after crossing Turbine canyon on good wooden bridge (no damage in 2013 floods) crowds thin out.  Solitude is still not likely at least till campground at L8 junction. Ascent to the lookout past L8 junction gains about 600 vertical meters, but grade is gentle and trail well defined.  No remains of the structure remain, but views are fantastic.  Almost entire lake Minnewanka can be surveyed from here, including towering Mt. Girouard and Inglismaldie on south side and mystic Devil's Gap far in the distance to the east.  Most day-hikers will return the same way, but if time and energy allow pleasant ridge traverse leading to base of Mt. Aylmer summit block is also possible.   Mt. Aylmer, highest peak in Banff vicinity (3160m), is straightforward scramble in dry conditions, but guaranteed to sap your energy due to overall length (~35 km) and cumulative elevation gain ( ~1700 vertical).  Mountain bikes and long summer days are strongly recommended for summit bid.  Note that Parks Canada often close trail or restrict access to parties of 4 or more in later part of summer when berries are ripe, as Aylmer Pass area is prime grizzly habitat.

Follow lakeshore trail for 8km to marked L8 junction - about 1hr 40 min of steady pace (45 minutes on bike).  If you bike, only uphill is past Turbine bridge until trail levels out on shoulder; one narrow and potentially unstable bit here. Section near L8 junction has been washed out pretty badly in 2013 floods and most riders will have to get of their bikes here.  Turn left into Aylmer Pass trail (no bikes allowed past this point).  Fantastic viewpoint is just a couple of minutes away -- open grassy platform on the right (east) side of the trail;  excellent spot for the break, but beware the ticks!  Steady ascent leads in about 45 minutes (300 vertical) to junction - trail continues straight for Aylmer Pass, turn right for the lookout.  Final bit is longer than park advertised 1.6 km; it stays mostly level for 15 minutes then climbs to treeline and exits to lookout platform via set of switchbacks. Descend the rock outcrop next to burned trees for sweeping views of the lake.

For loop option, follow sparsely treed ridge north towards Mt. Aylmer. There is some minor bushwhacking along the way, but no real problems. After about an hour ridge opens up allowing great views of summit block. Watch for grassy gully on left (west) side - no trails exist here, so just follow line of lesser resistance, perhaps hoping back and forth couple of times across the main drainage. This descent eventually joins with Aylmer Pass trail - turn left here and hike down to lookout junction.

For scramble of Mt. Aylmer conditions should be dry.  From end of the ridge easiest option is to sidehill loose talus slopes to the right towards final summit scree cone.  Alternate option is to stay on ridge crest in its entirety; after curling right it leads to considerable drop off down ledges and small rock steps. This bit is difficult scrambling and is not really worth. Final bit is typical scree trudge, similar to ascent of nearby Mt. Cascade. Roughly 1 1/2 hours end of the ridge (3 hours from the lookout).