Barrier Lake Lookout is a diverse, well-rounded hike very close to Calgary. The trail starts from Barrier Dam day use area, which is one of the first turn offs on Highway 40, making this one of the best close-to-Calgary hikes. The Lookout itself is on McConnell Ridge and overlooks the beautiful Barrier Lake with a fantastic view of Kananaskis Country. The trail can be taken to the lookout and back, or as a loop through Jewell Pass. I prefer to do the loop, as it has a little of everything – beautiful lake, forest path, peak view, gurgling stream and a small waterfall.
Park at Barrier Dam day use area, and walk across the dam to follow the trail counter-clockwise around the lake. There is little elevation gain for the first kilometer until the trail divides and becomes Stony and Prairie View Trails. Regardless of if you want to do the loop or head to the lookout and back, you need to take a right up the Prairie View Trail.
Depending on how you want to approach the hike, you can choose between doing the easier part at the beginning or the end. I personally like to get the hard part over at the beginning while I still have energy, in which case take a right at the intersection. The hike switchbacks through the forest trail and opens up at various spots for a view over the lake. Continue up McConnell Ridge until the radio reflector comes into view. Plan to have lunch at the radio tower and admire the stunning view from the lookout.
From here you can go back the way you came for a 12km hike, or continue down the back of the mountain for the longer loop. Look for the worn trail which descends into the forest, follow it to the left and it will eventually pass a waterfall. Continue along the trail, which zig-zags across a creek several times and eventually meets the Stoney Trail along the lakeshore. The rest of the trail follows the lake shore with negligible gain back to the parking lot.