Moose Mountain Fire Lookout

Lat: 50.914325 Long: -114.779288 (Click to see map)

This is a very well hidden gem. In fact it doesn't really belong in this review of day use recreational areas, but it is popular and something you can do in a day. It isn't an official trail, in fact it was built as a fire road to access the lookout in 1929.

There aren't many Rocky Mountain summits that you can get to and back relatively easily in about 5 to 6 hours. Prairie Mountain is another, but it's not as high and you don't get a 360° panorama of the mountains to the west and the city to the east.

The Moose Mountain access road is maintained by Shell who have wells and pumping stations in the area. The road begins opposite Paddy's Flats. The road is rough in places. The parking area is small, it's really just a spur off the access road. People usually park along the roadside.

There is a long descent shortly after the start. Although it is a little discouraging to be going down when hiking to the summit, it is a lot worse after a long day of hiking to have to climb this fairly steep hill at the end of the hike. Otherwise this is a fairly easy hike until the last push to the summit up the path cut into the scree slope. There are several good viewpoints along the way and some nice fields of wildflowers. The summit is at 7,995 feet (2437 m). Children of 10 years of age and fit seniors should have no trouble getting to the top. THe views from the top are well worth the effort.

These photos weren't taken after the flood, they were taken over many years and a different times during the summer.

 

Staging area
Staging area
The real appeal of the hike is that you can do a good chunk of it in your car. From the valley bottom where the Moose Mountain road starts opposite Paddy's Flats at an elevation of 4,900 feet to the parking area and trailhead at an elevation of 6,300 feet (1920 m) you drive 1,400 feet (427 m). The hike to the summit at 7,995 feet (2437 m) is another 1,700 feet (518 m) of elevation gain. The distance from the trailhead to the summit is about 7 Km. I usually allow 6 hours for the return trip.
  • Staging area
    The real appeal of the hike is that you can do a good chunck of it in your car. From the valley bottom where the Moose Mountain road starts at an elevation of 4,900 feet to the parking area and trailhead at an elevation of 6,300 feet (1920 m) you drive 1,400 feet (427 m). The hike to the summit at 7,995 feet (2437 m) is another 1,700 feet (518 m) of elevation gain. The distance from the trailhead to the summit is about 7 Km. I usually allow 6 hours for the return trip.
  • Moose Mountain
    You have to stretch your imagination a bit, but in this view from Highway 22 north of the Elbow River looking west, the mountain looks a bit like a reclining moose. The peak is the top of its head with its nose to the left and rump to the right. The "saddle", the hump in front of the peak, breaks the profile in this view where the eyes would be.
  • View north
    At one point along the trail there is an opening in the trees that affords a pretty view over the forested foothills. Most of the trail is hidden in the trees although there is a view across the Cayon Creek valley and on to the mountain summit far in the distance. From the saddle, the rounded hump below the peak where the switchback is, you can see Calgary.
  • Above tree line
    Most of the hike is through forests and up and down over foothills, but as you approach the lookout, seen here as a small bump on the peak, the trees become stunted and then give way to lichens and other ground cover. Sometimes you can see a line of disturbed rocks where lighning strikes. Off to the left from the final ascent you can see the result of the massive forces that shaped the Rockies. There is a fold in the rock that looks like a Z on its side. This is where the wind and sun start to really bear down on you.
  • Gas well
    Looking to the northwest, you can see a couple of gas wells. Along the way to the summit you will also see quite a few logged areas. Ravens have nests in the area and you can sometimes hear the shrill whistle of marmots that live near the station. I got a severe reprimand from the lookout officer for having my dog off-leash as he said dogs harass the marmots and he considered them to be under his protection.
  • What a view
    This is the only easily accesible summit anywhere near Calgary. The peak is the most easterly of the Rockies and stands 7,995 feet tall. It offers an excellent view of Banded Peak and the panorama of mountains to the west. From the top, I got cell coverage using long distance roaming to Banff on the western side and local calling to Calgary on the eastern side of the summit.
  • The helipad
    The fire lookout is supplied by helicopter. The solar panels, radio antennas, food even the watchperson are brought in and waste is carried out by helicopter. The platform offers a great viewpoint and a lunch table. It is usually always cool on the summit. Even in late June you need to bring coats, gloves and a hat to stay comfortable. Normally it is pretty windy up there too.
  • Sunset on the solstice
    If we can, we like to summit Moose Mountain to celebrate the summer solstice on June 21. There is about 16 1/2 hours of daylight at this latitude, which means you can start the climb about 6 PM, stay on the summit to watch the sunset and then finish the lower part of the hike in the dark.
  • Fire Lookout Station
    A forestry Officer is stationed in the lookout from May through September. The full-circle view allows them to see flare-ups all around. That is, when they aren't shrouded in cloud. It takes a unique individual to stay in a small cabin on top of a mountain where they get blased by lighning bolts, rocked by powerful winds, deprived of most modern conveniences and beset by tourists swarming around their private space on sunny summer days.The lookout is tied onto the mountain with steel cables.
  • Heading down
    After a short visit, a snack and a rest we head back down the narrow path in the scree slope. This part of the hike is challenging, more so on the way up, but there are tricky rock outcrops, loose rocks and a steel cable across the path that require your full attention.

 

More information

Watch a video of the 2012 summer solstice ascent to the summit

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