To say the hike up Yates Mountain via the Prairie View Trail is very popular would be an understatement. Last weekend, I noticed parking overflowed at Barrier Dam on my way to Ribbon Falls. One of the closest hikes to Calgary, Yates Mountain (AKA: Barrier Lake Fire Lookout) is on most lists. I had never been, so I thought it was about time. To avoid the crowds, I hiked during the week and found a very pleasant trail waiting for me.
About Yates Mountain
Location: Barrier Dam, Kananaskis Country
Distance: 12.5 km out and back
Elevation: 550 metre gain
Time: Approx. 3 – 4 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, but must be kept on leash.
Features: Yates Mountain isn’t the most spectacular hike at first, with about 5 kilometres of gentle grade hiking through the forest. However, once you get out of the woods, you’re greeted by one of the best views of Barrier Lake and Mount Baldy around! From this lookout, continue up to another lookout and then up to the final summit.
Finding the Trailhead
You’ll have no trouble finding this popular trailhead. Prairie View Trail begins in the Barrier Lake Parking Area, about 2 km south of the Kananaskis Visitor Centre on the right. This drive took less than an hour from my home in Calgary. Oh, and there’s an outhouse next to the parking lot if needed.
From the parking area, follow the dirt road across Barrier Dam (don’t worry, it gets better!) and continue into the woods on Prairie View. This trail is well marked with maps and signs, though you won’t find “Yates Mountain” anywhere. Follow the Prairie View Trail. AllTrails has a useful digital map that I downloaded before the hike.
Hiking the Prairie View Trail
The hike up Yates Mountain, at least initially, is somewhat underwhelming. The real views don’t show up until about 5 kilometres into the hike. That being said, the it’s always nice to spend time outdoors in the forest.
Give yourself 3 to 4 hours to hike out and back. I hiked about 3.5 hours, including several stops for photos and a longer rest at the top. The out and back distance is about 12.5 km.
As far as Kananaskis trails go, the hike to the first lookout is quite accessible with moderate grades and nothing really technical. However, the second lookout and the final Barrier Lake Fire Lookout require hiking steeper and more challenging terrain. But it’s still manageable for intermediate hikers (or beginners with some gumption!).
Yates Mountain Summit—Barrier Lake Lookout Trail
After the first lookout, there’s only about one kilometre and 135 metres to the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. The trail becomes steeper and rockier, so I’d recommend bringing hiking poles for the descent. You’ll also need to do a bit of trail finding, but the orange tags are helpful.
At the summit, there’s a helicopter landing pad and a fire lookout home. Respect the posted signs and do not enter the property without permission. A few hikers mentioned that they were permitted to cross the property for some better views, so anything can happen.
It’s possible to do the Yates Mountain hike as a loop instead of an out and back. This involves staying west on Prairie View and connecting with Jewell Pass. This loop involves several additional kilometres. You could head up to the Yates Summit and then return down, but quickly pivot west toward Jewell Pass. Alternatively, you could skip the summit (which I wouldn’t suggest!) and simply head toward Jewell Pass. From what I’ve heard, adding Jewell Pass to your list is a good idea. I’ll have to return to experience it someday.
Know Before You Go
As of June 1, the Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required for vehicles in K-Country. Register your license plate (up to two vehicles per household). Pass can also be purchased at the visitor centre. I forgot to purchase mine beforehand, so I pulled over and bought online.
Several different trails connect to Prairie View, so it’s helpful to have a map and/or GPS with you. This may be a shorter and easier hike for some, but you’ll want to make sure you bring enough water along (there is no water source past Barrier Lake). Hiking poles may be helpful as well.
Kananaskis is prime grizzly territory. Remember to bring bear spray (and know how to use it!), hike in a group if you can (I often hike solo), and talk often and loudly. Don’t bother with bear bells. I picked up a little wildlife deterrent (airhorn) at MEC recently, too.
Have you hiked Yates Mountain via Prairie View Trail? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below.
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