Barrier Lake is one of the most popular spots to head in the entire park and is an amazing Kananaskis hike to enjoy. It’s beautiful for one, but you can reach it in less than an hour from Calgary, as it’s located right after the Kananaskis entrance.
Visitors can choose to either enjoy the lakeshore, or go for a moderate hike to the Prairie View lookout point, head up Jewell Pass via the Prairie View trail, or continue up to Yates Mountain and check out the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. There’s a lot of options here!
Whatever you want to do, Barrier Lake offers fun for the entire family and for all types of hikers.
Jewell Pass and Barrier Lake Lookout via Prairie View Trail
2 – 4 hours
756 m (+130 m Yates Mountain)
Hiking up Prairie View Trail was one of the most visually rewarding hikes relative to the effort I’ve done in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a smooth well-maintained trail the entire way, with stunning views over Barrier Lake. At just under an hour up, it can quickly be done at sunrise or sunset as well.
After parking near Barrier Lake, follow the AllTrails Map past the sign for Barrier Lake. Barrier Lake will be on your left as you continue along the closed-off road. After .8 km, you’ll head into the trees, and at about 1.3 km, you’ll start gaining gradual elevation. The trail up to the lookout point is pretty boring.
There are no sites and viewpoints, but it’s fast and easy, so it goes by quickly. At about 4 km, you’ll find yourself in the clearing and start getting views. Take some photos and keep moving – you’re almost to the viewpoint, which is about 5.4 km. The trail will break left or right, with a sign saying it is not maintained any further if you take a right.
Take a left for the viewpoint. You’ll find a large slab, likely with some other hikers on it. Enjoy for a bit – the view is terrific, and you didn’t have to work too hard to get it! If you want to actually summit a mountain today (and you should!), backtrack to the trail divide and go past the sign that says it’s not maintained.
The trail technically isn’t maintained – but don’t worry, it’s still easy, slightly steeper, and rockier to the summit of Yates Mountain and the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. You have about 10-15 more minutes until you hit the peak.
Enjoy the views from the top of Yates Mountain, although they are much better at the lower lookout point. Admire the fire lookout house, but don’t get too close! Someone actually lives there and can see if you take a nosy peek into his windows. Enjoy the views over Kananaskis and the plains.
Head back down the lookout point. You have two options for descent here. One is to take the way you came from, not making it loop. Most people took this option as it is shorter and the much surer way to head.
The other is to continue down past the Barrier Lake lookout (to your right if you’re looking at the lake) and take Jewell Pass. Wanting to get new views, we chose this way, and I can’t recommend it enough. Not only is it the path much less traveled, but it is much more beautiful than the Prairie View Trail up.
The Jewell Pass trail is a much narrower dirt path, feeling much wilder. It provides more views over Kananaskis and features Jewell Falls. It’s an easy trail run down as well.
When you reach the bottom, you’ll be at Stoney Trail. You can either take the trail back to the car park or walk along the Barrier Lakeshore for better views. Don’t forget to enjoy the views of Mount Baldy straight ahead of you.
Gear We Recommend
The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
Parking at Barrier Lake
You won’t be able to miss Barrier Lake on the right-hand side of the road when coming from Calgary. After you turn from the Stony Nakoda Casino and head into Kananaskis, you won’t drive for more than 5 minutes before arriving at Barrier Lake.
There is a small parking area at the lake and along the Barrier Dam day-use area. When that is full, cars will start to park along Highway 40. On weekends parking here can get particularly crowded. Try to visit on the weekdays if you can.
When Can You Hike up to the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout
The Prairie Lake View trail is open year-round. However, in the winter, you can expect ice and snow, so pack accordingly. The best time to hike up to the Prairie View Lookout and up to Yates Mountain is between May and October.
In April and early May, you can expect the trail to be muddy. June through September should provide you with the best weather and optimal viewing at the top.
How Long Does it Take to do the Loop?
We are moderately fast hikers and made it up to the Barrier Lake lookout point in about 45 minutes and to Barrier Lake Fire Lookout (Yates Mountain) in an hour. We decided to make the loop trail, which took about 1 hour and 15 minutes down, mainly due to the long walk along Barrier Lake at the bottom. Depending on what kind of hiker you are, I would say to allow 3-4 hours for the full hike at an enjoyable pace.
How Hard is the Prairie View Trail
AllTrails rates this hike as moderate, and I would have to agree. There is nothing technical about this hike and absolutely no scrambling involved. Getting to the lookout point requires a gradual uphill climb to the top, but it will get your heart rate up as you gain 756 meters of elevation. It’s worth it to continue onto summit Yates Mountain. It’s only 15 minutes and an easy climb, though we didn’t see anyone else doing this while we were there.
Any beginner hiker will be able to see the epic views from the lookout point. It’s a great easy effort to view ratio. Easy effort = great views.
Should You Take Dogs and Kids on Prairie View Trail?
Yes! Prairie View Trail, Jewell Pass, and even Yates Mountain are all suitable for dogs and children. It’s a well-maintained trail great for ages. Even active grandparents will enjoy it!
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
- If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
- For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
- On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
- In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
- Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
- Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS. We carry the Garmin Inreach Explorer+, but the high cost may not be worth it for the average recreationalist.
Other Kananaskis Country Hikes
There are many more great hikes in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park, or you can check out some awesome Banff hikes. Both are home to some of our all-time favorite hikes and scrambles in the region. To learn more, we’ve got a post on our favorite hikes in Kananaskis Country.