Kananaskis - Barrier Lake - Trail Particulars: From the TransCanada Highway, take Highway 40. Look for the Barrier Lake Day Use/Boat Launch area.
The last time D and I tried to hike Barrier Lake, we were turned back by the closed gates at the Day Use area. We'd debated hiking in, but hiking along a highway for 1 or 2 km just to hike a 2 km trail wasn't too appealing. Plus it was windy. And we were wussy.
So this seemed like a good chance to make up for that. There were a couple of small hikes in the area I wanted to try, the other being a canyon hike much further down Highway 40.
This was one of the first really nice days of the year -- most of the snow was gone, the sun was shining, but it wasn't yet uncomfortably warm for hiking. The mosquitos were just making their first appearance -- by mid-month it would be heavy-duty bug spray time.
There are a series of roads, parking lots and trails at the Day Use Area. We parked in a small lot, found a trail and followed it until we came to a map. There are plenty of maps posted for guidance. The best bet might be to park at the actual boat launch area, since the trail seems to originate there and you can't beat starting by the water.
The trail starts out in thick grass and forest -- lush, damp and green, but not mossy. The trail was not well worn this time of year -- it may be seldom used as there's also a road and parking area about 1 km from the top of the trail -- but hiking it up is a lot more fun. The most interesting thing about the hike is as you start to ascend the trail, the trail overlooks a beach beside the boat launch. In this area, there's just not a lot of hiking along beaches, so it seemed unique. It also looked relatively empty. I'm sure it's not that way in the middle of July, but I can dream.
The rest of the trail to the second trailhead is unremarkable. Most of the trail travels slightly uphill, and is not especially strenuous. After the initial views of the beach and lake, there isn't much to see. It's not an unpleasant trail (and definitely much better than just driving to a 1 km trailhead), but nothing stands out either. We could tell we were getting close to the "official" trailhead by the picnic tables that started appearing among the trees.
We stepped from the trail to a small parking lot. From here, there is a set of stairs from the top part of the parking lot loop to a well signed trailhead (it's actually pretty tough to miss). At the top of the stairs is another collection of picnic tables. Actually, even though it wasn't a terribly strenuous hike, this isn't a bad place to stop and have a bite -- the scenery is gorgeous.
But better is to come...
This part of the trail is obviously more popular and more seriously maintained. Even so, we did not see a single other person on the trail this entire hour-long hike. At the beach, yes. Driving to the second trailhead then turning around, yes. But no actual hikers. It struck me as odd, because it's a short hike to a magnificent view, clearly marked and not at all intimidating.
The last km of the hike -- the official part -- is definitely more strenuous than the first part, but for only 1 km it's easily manageable. By the time you're starting to get out of breath, you're there.
The above shot is looking south from the end of the trail. The below photo is a similar view, zoomed in a little more. Notice how little water is in the lake.
This shot below is looking north. Barrier Lake Dam is at the far end of the lake.
That was Barrier Lake Trail. We made it in about 40 minutes and were back down at our car in just over an hour.
On the way back down, we spotted this flower. We've seen plenty of these close to the ground (and I'm sure I've taken enough photos to bore people to tears), but this particular one was growing as a vine between the trees. It was actually taller than me. I'm rotten with all flowers, but from what I've been able to look up, this is normal. It looks pretty cool to see a flower in amongst the trees. If you're not paying attenting it looks like the trees are sprouting flowers!
We returned to the car far too quickly. We had another hike planned -- much closer to the Kananaskis Lakes. Highway 40 is such a beautiful drive and there are so many things to see. There are plenty of little (and big!) hikes along Highway 40 if you know where to look.
It being June, it never even occured to me parts of the highway would still be closed, but as we approached the turn off for the Kananaskis Lakes, that's exactly what we saw -- the same type of gates that drove me crazy by Elbow Falls throughout April and May, complete with all the cars parked along the highway. The news was good though: the gates would be opened before the next weekend, and the turnoff to the Kananaskis Lakes was not affected by this closure.
The access to the trailhead, however, was within a campground that was closed. Funny, the week we finally get to do a hike we'd been unable to complete, we wind up with another hike we cannot complete.