Aylmer Pass: Stunning Minnewanka Views and Rigorous Rockies Multi-Day Hiking
This hike can be a bit more of a challenge compared to many of the other day hikes around Banff; hiking from the Lake Minnewanka parking/picnic area to Aylmer Lookout and back to the Minnewanka can take all day even for experienced hikers. But there is an option if you want to do some backpacking and camping and make it a two day trip.
This hike begins just a few kilometers outside of Banff town at Lake Minnewanka. At the end of the paved picnic area you will find the trailhead; the trail follows the lake’s north shore for about 7.8 kilometers. This part of the trail is not difficult, however it gets quite strenuous later on. It eventually forks away from the lake shore moving uphill to the old Aylmer fire lookout and Aylmer Pass.
Here’s is where things start to really get fun! The trail gains 600 vertical meters over the next two kilometers. As you hike up the trail look for the spur trail branching off to the right; this point is 2.3 kilometers beyond the junction with Lake Minnewanka trail. The fire lookout site, at the end of an open ridge below the summit of Mount Aylmer, is where most day hikers chose to head back down to the lake.
The old fire lookout is definitely worth the trip. At an elevation of 2,040 meters, form this ridge nearly all of Lake Minnewanka can be seen – the water is more than 500 meters below this point. From here you can see the twin summits of Mount Inglismaldie and Mount Girouard across the lake. Off to the southwest Mount Rundle and the Bow Valley can be seen. Up above the ridge to the north is Mount Aylmer – from which the trail gets its name. At 3,162 meters, it’s the highest peak in the Banff-Lake Minnewanka area.
If you’re not ready to head back down to the lake just yet, or you planned for a longer hike, the Aylmer trail continues on from the fire lookout trail junction. It continues to climb to up alpine meadows at Aylmer Pass; here you are above the treeline and near the boundary of Banff National Park. From here, above and to the east, is Mount Aylmer, a difficult but not too technical scramble.
If you are planning on a multi-day backpacking trip, there is a campground near the junction of the Aylmer Pass trail and the trail that leads up to the old fire lookout area. If you have the time, you can also continue over the Aylmer Pass into the Ghost River Wilderness Area. A trail continues down the north side of the pass to Spectral Creek, but the descent to Ghost River and beyond involves fording Spectral Creek and the Ghost River, or else bushwhacking along the banks.
To get to the trailhead, from the interchange of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Banff East Exit follow the Lake Minnewanka Road 5.5 kilometers to the parking area at the lake.
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