The trail to Hailstone Butte lookout isn’t long. It’s a pleasant 350 m climb through open meadows with nice views to the south seen in the photo to the right. However, it offers challenges; a short section of easy scrambling, or a traverse high on a scree slope to even easier scrambling. The reward for the short 1.7 km walk is WAY worth it.
Hailstone is one of the lookouts in the “forgotten corner” of K-Country. In fact, it is the most southerly lookout in K-Country, just north of Hwys 532 and 940, the K-Country southern boundary road. Coming in from the east via 532 treats you to pretty awesome views without getting to the lookout anyway. The shortest of several routes to the lookout starts from The Hump, a high pass on 532 from which the views are stellar as you can see in the photo to the right.
The first lookout on the site was built in 1954. The second was put up in 1980, but that one had its siding quite literally blown apart by wind over the winter in 1981 (yes, it’s almost always windy up there). The current structure was brought up on the old access road in 2006. One of the lookouts who has been stationed here, Tom Johnson, has spent his free time over the years building elaborate and beautiful rock mosaics on the ground. In 2014, he repainted outbuildings in awesome graphic designs.
In fact, the main scramble route up got its name from Tom’s dog: The Roper Route. Today, it’s marked with a floppy metal post to be seen from below (and concrete barriers to be found from above). Roper would guide lookout visitors up and down through the break in the cliffs at the top. Gillean Daffern’s Volume 5 of the 4th Edition of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide has the story in it.
The view is… amazing
The views are stunning to all directions except the west. The flat top of the much higher Plateau Mountain dominates (and blocks) the west view as you can see in the photo to the right.
To the north, you can easily make out the long-abandoned fire lookout on Mt. Burke, which Hailstone (and Raspberry Ridge) replaced. Mt. Burke is the left peak in the photo below. You can even make out Calgary, despite downtown being 97 km away. Another plus is that you can wander the length of the butte itself with ease. There’s a (not-very-interesting) FireNet radio repeater station at the butte’s south end.
There is a different route you can take to get up: a long route up the mountain via the old access road. However, we’re not sure it’s a wise choice these days. Spray Lakes has been actively logging along the road for years, so riding a bike up it probably isn’t the smartest idea, and it’s not a great walk. Stick to the Roper Route and you’ll be fine.
It’s a private residence
As usual with fire lookouts, remember that this is both a workplace and private place of residence. If you’re lucky, the lookout (and his dog) may come out to say hi and let you sign the visitor register. But he may also be too busy, so please respect his privacy.
Find out about some of the other fire lookouts in K-Country here!