Distance: 8.5 km
Elevation gain: 575 m View map Download GPS track
We didn’t set out to hike up Burnt Timber Lookout today. We were aiming for a much longer objective in the Ya Ha Tinda region, but upon arriving at the parking lot we were informed by a Parks Canada warden driving by that the road might be dug up during the day and that we could have a 3-4 hour wait to get out after our hike! There had indeed been excavators digging up the road when we’d drove in, but given the complete absence of signage I’d assumed it would be fine, but apparently not. Regardless, we now had to turn to our vague backup plan – a hike up Burnt Timber Lookout.
Unfortunately, while I knew exactly where the lookout was on the map, roads weren’t labelled or complete on the map and so I had no idea how to get there! We did eventually find it, of course, but not before a lot of second-guessing and backtracking. For those wondering how to find the lookout road, here is at least one way to it: From the south side of the Red Deer River, turn west onto a gravel road immediately south of the lodge buildings. Follow it for about 9 km to a side road heading south signed as “rough and impassable” (this is after another road heading south, signed for gas wells). Don’t worry, it’s as smooth as what you’ve already been on. Follow this road for about 15 km, keeping right at any junction, until a gas well is reached on the left. Park here, or continue another few hundred meters along the road to the gated access road to the lookout.
From the gate we set out hiking along the old access road, following the fresh tracks of another pair of hikers. After a bit over 2 km of steady ascent on the road we turned and headed steeply up a minor eastern outlier of the lookout. While this off-trail route was completely unnecessary, following the road around the outlier would’ve entailed several extra kilometers of travel and the loss (and regain) of ~100 m of elevation.
We connected back up with the road on the other side of the outlier and followed it to the summit, only about 100 m higher than the outlier. A strong and cold wind prevented us from enjoying the spectacular summit panorama for very long, unfortunately, and we were soon forced to retreat to below treeline. Mysteriously, while the tracks of the other hikers led all the way to the summit, there were no return tracks. My guess is that they descended to Burnt Timber Creek and followed it back to their truck, an option that I figure I’ll need to investigate in the future.
After lunch in the warm sun we returned to the truck, slipping down the slushy snow of the outlier before hiking out along the road. Then, with lots of daylight and loads of energy remaining, we decided to head for Limestone Mountain, an active fire lookout further to the north. Again, I knew where the mountain was, but had no idea how to get there. We ended up following a road on the map, only to find that despite being marked as a major road, it was blocked halfway there. We did, however, see a huge black wolf on the road, so it wasn’t a total loss.
We eventually did find the road leading up Limestone Mountain, but by this point I wasn’t confident I had enough gas to safely make it back to civilization, so we bailed and headed home. It wasn’t quite the adventure we wanted for today, but at least we didn’t get stuck in the Ya Ha Tinda!