Easy Year Round Hiking and Sight-Seeing on Barrier Lake Trail

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Barrier Lake Trail

Easy Year Round Hiking and Sight-Seeing on Barrier Lake Trail

Distance
7.7km

Trail type
Out and back

Elevation
625m

Level
Easy

 

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A Trail Made For Everyone

Barrier Lake is one of the more famous trails for Kananaskis Country hiking. Whether you’re with your kids, your partner or a group of friends who either hike a lot – or only when lunch is promised afterward! – Barrier Lake Trail is a breath of fresh air all spring, summer, fall and winter long! The months of April to October are preferred to hike this trail for a lack of ice and mud, although the pristine quiet of winter has its own attraction. This four hour hike provides mountains for hikers, a lake for canoeing, smooth trails for biking and flat valleys for horseback riding and picnics. Aside from nature’s beauty, Barrier Lake is home to an active firehouse nestled between the trees. With origins of the Fire Lookout House dating back to World War II, this trail provides roots of history amongst calm sheets of water and grassy meadows.

 

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Where Is It?

Located in Bow Valley Provincial Park, Barrier Lake Trail is less than a one hour drive from Calgary. Take the Trans-Canada Highway to Kananaskis Trail, exiting at the Highway 40 turnoff and continue to the Barrier Dam Day Use Area. If you’re the elected tour guide of your group, this dam was completed by TransAlta in 1947 to provide hydroelectric power to the surrounding area. The parking lot is found west off of Highway 40, near the dam at the north end of Barrier Lake. To find the trailhead, follow the gravel road north of Barrier Lake. Passing an intersection of Stoney Trail (not the freeway in Calgary!), the trail begins where the road converges into the trees of Prairie View Trail.

 

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Trail Highlights

Walk along a wide, untroubled and forested path following Prairie View Trail for 3km. Soon, you will reach a ridge overlooking Barrier Lake. If this sounds easy – it is, which is all the better for conversing and enjoying the outdoors with your group! With the right amount of snow, this trail can be perfect to add snowshoeing to your journey. The Barrier Lake lookout provides an epic view of plush valleys featuring rocky giants and the crystal blue lake. This spot is a great opportunity for travellers seeking a picturesque picnic location without a lot of climbing.

Your journey continues to the summit of Yates Mountain where mountain ranges stretch past the eye’s line of sight. A little bit of scrambling may be required depending on the weather conditions. The summit is known to be windy, so dress accordingly. In the winter months, a pole and ice cleats/crampons are necessary to find grip on the ice and snow. The landscape’s dense population of trees gives the top of the forest the look of a rug. Barrier Lake Trail follows the old fire road where the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout House and Heli-pad are stationed. Interesting factoid: during World War II, there were about 10,000 German prisoners posted near what is now called the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino. The Fire Lookout House was known as Guard Tower #8 for the prison camp.

The summit is surrounded by views of Barrier Lake, Kananaskis Valley, the Bow Valley Corridor, Mount Baldy, Mount Yamnuska, Heart Mountain, Grotto Mountain, Mount McDougall and Loder Peak. Remaining a historic site, the Fire Lookout House is active in the warmer months to watch for forest fires. On a clear day, Calgary may even be visible to the east from the summit.

Return Trip

Returning to the parking lot can be done either with or without hiking a loop. To avoid hiking a loop, return to the Fire Lookout House and trace your steps back exactly the way you arrived. This trail is easy to navigate and provides the quickest route back to the parking lot. If you’d like to finish the Barrier Lake Trail with more stunning views, return via a counterclockwise loop of Jewel Pass, situated along the west side of Barrier Lake. The walk back is peaceful, where you’ll see Jewel Falls snaking through boulders as you pass over a wooden bridge. Jewel Falls get its name because when it gets cold enough, they resemble the multifaceted angles of a jewel when frozen! Follow the trail to return to the parking lot or traverse along the lake’s shore. After four hours of mountain, lake, forest and valley views, you’ll have an hours’ drive to plan your post-hike meal!

Tips

  • Before you leave, check the weather pattern, trail reports and avalanche warnings of Barrier Lake.
  • Leashed dogs are welcomed on the trail.
  • Busier on the weekends, this trail is best walked weekdays or earlier on the weekends for spacious viewing opportunities and solitude for your group.
  • During bear season, bring bear spray and hike with a group. 
  • Ice cleats/crampons are recommended in winter months, as well as poles for winter and rainy seasons.
  • Read our Top 10 Tips for Winter Hiking for information on what to wear, what to bring and how to plan for your winter Barrier Lake hike. 
  • 5km from Barrier Lake, Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge has the Market Café and Black Tail Bar to refuel and extend your day trip.