PRAIRIE VIEW TRAIL TO BARRIER LAKE FIRE LOOKOUT AND JEWELL PASS
Distance: 16km Time: 4h45min Elevation Gain: 680m
AllTrails Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – moderate
AllTrails Link: Jewell Pass and Prairie View Trail
The Barrier Lake parking lot is just off to the right once you enter K-Country via Highway 1 from Calgary. It’s barely a 45-minute drive from the west edge of the city, making this trek very accessible. [directions]
You’ll want to get there early, as by midday the parking lots are full of more than just hikers. Barrier Lake is popular for picnickers, paddlers, and kayakers who use it as a launching point for the river below the Barrier Lake Dam.
JEWELL PASS via PRAIRIE VIEW TRAIL REVIEW:
Barrier Lake was formed in the 1940s when a dam was constructed by German POWs stationed in the area. Some 10,000 prisoners were housed near what is now the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino. The dam was completed in 1947 by TransAlta to provide hydroelectric power for the area. Daily releases of water are popular for kayakers who drop in below the dam to ride the Kananaskis River. You can visit the Colonel’s Cabin and Guard Tower across the highway from the parking lot to learn more about the history of the area.
Straight up, the hike has a boring beginning and end, but the middle part is worth the simple wandering at the start. To start, you walk over the dam and around the end of the lake to the start of the trail. Nonetheless, the Jewell Pass, Prairie View Trail, and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout hike has all sorts of rewards for your efforts. You can hit 3 different summit points, there’s a waterfall, cooling creeks, and a wide-open lakeshore to explore dotted with forests and meadows.
There are a few different trails converging in this area, so watch for the signs and make sure you’re heading in the counter-clockwise direction. This means heading NE into the woods and starting a steep climb right away. While the climb is steeper this way, it’s also shorter. You can get the climb out of the way early, enjoy the summit views, and then take a gradual path back down on the west side of the ridge.
The first weekend of May the trail still had some knee-deep snow in the shadowy areas of the trail, but by the time we came back at the first weekend of June it was all gone.
THREE SUMMITS AT YATES MOUNTAIN
There are three different summits you can tackle off the Prairie View Trail at Barrier Lake. The first is a dusty open clearing. It’s a wide dirt area where many people stop to have lunch among the whiskey jacks and chipmunks. When we came in May, we stopped at this summit and went back down the way we came up.
The second summit requires a short climb up a very steep rocky section. It can be intimidating to some younger climbers, but it is doable, and it’s only a 20 metre stretch of trail that you need to take your time to navigate.
This second summit offers more dramatic views of Barrier Lake and the Kananaskis Valley from sheer cliffs. This is a popular spot for Instagrammers to take some impressive shots overlooking the valley.
From here you can head down through Jewell Pass, or you can turn north and take the 20 minute detour to the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout.
This is the third summit. It’s a working fire lookout (complete with a helipad), so be respectful that someone lives up here keeping the valley safe from fire. There are a couple of picnic tables to relax at and there’s a stunning view of the Bow Valley stretching across to Yamnuksa and back to Calgary.
Truth be told, once you hit the Yates Mountain summit once, there’s no need to go back. We found the views on the Barrier Lake side to be much more impressive than the valley views from Yates.
Whether you head down from the 2nd or 3rd summit, you get back the same way, through a trail just off to the west from the cliffs heading into the trees. Just look for the signs and the blue poles directing the way.
JEWELL PASS AND JEWELL FALLS
This descent into Jewell Pass is wonderful. The path is softly covered in pine straw and the towering trees make for a cool and easy hike down. You’ll pass people looking for a more gentle grade up to the top on this path as well as mountain bikers taking advantage of the wide trail.
About halfway down Jewell Pass you’ll walk alongside a creek that tumbles into Jewell Falls. A sturdy bridge takes you over the top and, depending on the flow and time of year, you can find a path to the bottom of the waterfall and snuggle right underneath it to cool off.
Once you pass the waterfall, there’s one more small bump of elevation before things tail off all the way to the Barrier Lake shoreline.
This is the other boring part of the hike. It’s a little over 2km back to the parking lot once you come out of the pass, and while there are a few beautiful meadows to walk through, it’s mostly non-eventful.
If you chose to do an out and back routing, just through Jewell Pass to the peak, you could ride your bikes from the parking lot and lock them here, much like what people do at the Canyon Creek Ice Caves.
Regardless, with a waterfall, three summits, and incredible cliffs, the Jewell Pass via Prairie View Trail and the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout gets a perfect rating from us.
HIKING JEWELL PASS via PRAIRIE VIEW TRAIL TIPS:
1. Get there early – we were first to arrive in the lot at 7a on a Friday in early June, by the time we left after 1pm the lots were full. Expect it to be worse on a weekend.
2. Go counter-clockwise – You’ll have the heart-pounding climb right when you’re fresh and then a nice wandering slope to get back down. It’s easier to go up steeply than down steeply, in my books
3. You don’t need to go to the fire lookout – the view of the Bow Valley and the prairie stretching east to Calgary is nice, but the sub-summit, facing Barrier Lake, is far more dramatic. If you’re tired, or not in the mood, it’s okay to skip the extra 1km stretch to the summit.