16 Best Banff Hikes To Discover in 2023
With close to 1000 miles of well-maintained trails, turquoise waters, alpine meadows, and lush forests, Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places to hike in Canada. We ... Continue Reading Read the original post 16 Best...
With close to 1000 miles of well-maintained trails, turquoise waters, alpine meadows, and lush forests, Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places to hike in Canada.
We have been to Banff National Park a number of times in every different season and consider it one of our favorite places in Canada no matter what time of year. But to really take in all that this park has to offer you have to get out and hike. From the easier trails like Sulpher Mountain to more strenuous hikes in Banff like Corey Pass this guide will help you choose which are the best hiking trails in Banff to add to your next visit.
Our Best Banff Hikes
When putting this Banff hiking guide together we wanted to make sure to add hikes for all levels of physical fitness. Most of the ones listed here are doable with an average level of fitness but some require more stamina and experience. We wanted to provide all the details necessary for you to choose the hike that is best for you. The beauty of hiking in Banff National Park is that many of them are accessible within a short drive from the town of Banff or Lake Louise Village.
Whichever way you decide to go, the towering mountains of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta surround you, making for picture-perfect scenery at every turn.
Up next we are going to tell you about the 16 Best Banff hikes you won’t want to miss. To visit Banff National Park you need a Parks Pass and you can purchase it here.
Traveling to Alberta? Read more: The 52 Best Things to do in Alberta, Canada – The Ultimate Guide
1. Tunnel Mountain Trail
Although Tunnel Mountain has no tunnel, it does have striking views of the Banff area from its summit. The trailhead is located close to Banff city center and you can easily walk to it. Whether you’re walking to it or taking a vehicle, you’ll want to get to St. Julien Road, which is just off Grizzly Street in Banff downtown. There is a parking lot available for those using vehicles.
The trail starts with nicely graded switchbacks and it can get a little steep in places so hiking boots are a good idea. Once you get closer to the top, you get a steady climb. You’ll see views of Vermillion Lakes, the town of Banff, the Banff Golf Course, and the imposing Mount Rundle.
Despite the steep sections, the Tunnel Mountain trail hike is considered easy and is possible to do with the whole family. It is also a perfect hike for sunrise or sunset as it doesn’t take too long and the views are incredible.
Elevation Gain: 266 Meters
Duration: 1 + Hours
Length: 4.5 KM
2. Lake Agnes Trail and Beehive Circuit (Little and Big Beehive)
This hike is one of the top things to do in Banff and one of the best Banff hikes as well. The hike itself is not too strenuous and is easily accessible from the small town of Lake Louise. The Lake Agnes Trail starts out on a paved path that takes you along the north shore of Lake Lousise with stunning views of the Victoria Glacier. You will then climb up into the spruce forest along some switchbacks before you reach the glistening Mirror Lake, alpine meadows, the falls, and the popular rock face called the Big Beehive.
As you leave Mirror Lake stay to the right for the best views. I am not going to lie, there’s something pretty special about finding yourself in an old-fashioned teahouse while surrounded by the iconic Rocky Mountains, turquoise blue lakes and bears, and deer to boot. Lake Agnes Tea House has been serving tea since 1905 and is the perfect place to grab a snack before continuing on to Little Beehive and Big Beehive where the views are even more spectacular.
The Lake Agnes Tea House itself was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1901 as a place where hikers could stop and rest. In 1905 it started serving tea and hasn’t stopped since.
This hike is extremely popular and can be really busy in the high season. This is because it is one of the easiest Banff hikes that can be completed in under 2 hours. We recommend doing it in October, before the snow to avoid all the crowds. Regardless, of when you visit though, it is definitely worth it.
Elevation Gain: 650 Meters
Duration: 2-4 Hours
Length: 10.3 KM
3. Sulpher Mountain
Sulphur Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. Not only because it has spectacular views and is close to the town Center of Banff but also because you can take a Gondola up or down if you like. If you decide to hike up (or down) you will be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The hike up is considered strenuous as the elevation gain comes quickly through a series of switchbacks which ends at the top of the gondola for Sulphur Mountain. The trailhead is located at the Upper Hot Springs parking lot, and once you reach the summit, you’ll be able to see spectacular views of Banff, the Bow River Valley, and the surrounding peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Because this is so close to the town of Banff it is one of the most popular things to do. That means in the summer it will be incredibly busy. But we think the views are worth it especially if you staying in Banff.
Elevation Gain: 791 Meters
Duration: 2-4 Hours
Length: 10.1 KM
4. Helen Lake Trail
The Helen Lake Trail makes for an idyllic hike where you’ll be crossing rivers and streams and going through wildflower meadows and fir forests. There is a lot of adventure and fun to be had on this hike, but make sure you’re wearing the right footwear and clothing to be able to experience it in comfort.
You should definitely climb up to the ridge above Helen Lake via Dolomite Pass if you can, from there you get lovely views of the less-known and therefore undisturbed and purely blue Lake Katherine cupped in the mountain peaks.
The Helen Lake Trail hike is located off the Icefields Parkway at the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint and is a great alternative to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise if those hikes are too busy.
Elevation Gain: 755 Meters
Duration: 5-6 Hours
Length: 16.7 KM
5. Bourgeau Lake Trail
It is considered a moderate trail that will take you through forests of lodgepole pine and spruce all the way to Bourgeau Lake.
The lake itself sits in a glacially carved amphitheater and it’s a good idea to pack along a picnic so you can enjoy it when you get there. You might also be joined by chipmunks, squirrels, and pikas if you’re lucky.
The beginning of the trail is pretty steady until you hit Wolverine Creek. The creek is quaint, but the waterfall that pours down from it is absolutely stunning. Enjoy those views because after that you’re going to be getting into steep switchbacks, some poles could be incredibly helpful.
After all the huffing and puffing you’re going to reach the blue-green brilliance of Bourgeau Lake and have views of Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake. It’s the perfect place to stop, have a snack, and nod to yourself that the huffing and puffing were worth it. If you are feeling adventurous you can also combine this with a summit bid to Mount Bourgeau which is a 2,931-metre (9,616 ft) tall peak. This would make it a full-day hike so make sure to prepare accordingly.
You can get to the trail by taking the exit for Sunshine Village Ski Resort off of the Trans Canada Highway. You can park in the parking lot and there are restroom facilities.
Elevation Gain: 732 Meters
Duration: 4-5 Hours
Length: 14.8 KM
6. Lake Louise Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
This is one of the most perfect gradually elevated trails in the national park that allows for a leisurely hike. You get lovely views of Lake Louise along the way as well as Mount Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. You should note this trail can get a bit muddy as you’re along the water a lot of the time so wear appropriate shoes.
You can also bring your dog along this trail so you and your four-legged friend can enjoy the greenery and mountain flowers along your walk. The Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse is a lovely place to stop and take in the nature that surrounds you while enjoying some tea and treats.
Note: you can also get to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House by hiking from Big Beehive down to the teahouse. The downhill hike is pretty easy from Big Beehive.
This is a 13.8 KM round-trip hike that starts around the Lake Louise shoreline. To get to the trail you will need to go to the Chateau Lake Louise parking lot. Do note that this particular parking area fills up fast as it leads visitors to many trails as well as the Chateau.
Elevation Gain: 587 Meters
Duration: 4-5 Hours
Length: 13.8 KM round trip
7. Cascade Amphitheatre Trail
Cascade Mountain is named as such due to the waterfall that cascades down one side of it. Looking at Cascade Mountain from afar paints an intimidating picture and the thought of climbing it seems impossible.
It is definitely a difficult and rough climb, and that’s why hiking to the Cascade Amphitheatre is a good alternative to get close to the mountain without having to summit it.
You’ll be hiking through the dense forest at the beginning which is not all that interesting, but once you get closer to the amphitheater the trees start opening up and the sky appears. And you actually do feel like you’re in an amphitheater because of the looming mountain peaks surrounding you.
Before you get to the beautiful meadow of the amphitheater be prepared for all sorts of wildlife sightings. There have been reports of bears and elk and even cougars in the area.
This is a 13 KM hike with an elevation change of 3000 feet and is considered a moderate hike. You can get to the Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail from the Mt. Norquay ski area. From the parking lot, you’re going to head towards the Spirit chairlift which will get you onto the trail.
Elevation Gain: 914 Meters
Duration: 4-5 Hours
Length: 13 KM
8. Johnston Canyon Hike off Bow Valley Parkway
One of the most popular Banff Hikes, the Johnston Canyon Trail will take you into a dramatic adventure movie kind of landscape. Let’s just start off with the fact that when you get on the trail you’re going to be getting on some sturdy iron walkways that hang over the canyon (not for the faint of heart).
We have done this hike in both the winter and the summer and actually loved it more in the winter. The reasons for this are that there are far fewer people, the waterfalls are frozen, which makes for a different viewing experience, and we got to see ice climbers on a number of the falls. If you do the hike in the winter make sure to grab some Ice Cleats from town as the trails were quite icy.
If you are there in the summer it is still very impressive. Make sure to climb up to the upper falls for great views of the falls pouring down into a pool surrounded by canyon walls. Then, if you want to make more of a day of it head out to the Ink Pots. You can access them from the top of the upper falls where it is another 2 KM out to the Ink Pots.
From the Bow Valley Parkway, you’ll be driving to the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows. You can park there and access the trailhead near the lodge. Alternatively, you can take the Johnston Valley shuttle to get there from the town of Banff.
Elevation Gain: 608 Meters
Duration: 2-5 Hours
Length: 11.7 KM return including Ink Pots
9. Cory Pass and Edith Pass Trail
If you want to challenge yourself but limit that challenge to a day hike, the Cory Pass and Edith Pass Trail is one of the best trails in Banff National Park for you. Right off the top, you’re going to experience some major inclines and you’re going to have to go through a river, however, once you hit the summit the grading becomes more even and the hike becomes easier.
There have been bear sightings in the area so bring along your bear spray. In fact, you should be bringing your bear spray along regardless of what part of the Canadian Rockies you’re hiking.
Overall it’s a difficult hike, but really gives you a wonderful taste of the true rugged nature of the park. The Cory Pass trailhead is at the Fireside Picnic Area which is located off 1A Bow Valley Parkway. It is a 13 KM hike and one of the highest elevation trails in the park with a gain of 1168 meters.
Elevation Gain: 1168 Meters
Duration: 5-7 Hours
Length: 13 KM
10. Saddleback Pass Trail
For a fun hike that’s not going to leave you breathless and scrambling over rocks, you’ll want to check out the Saddleback Pass Trail.
Unlike a lot of other experiences in Banff National Park, this hike is going to hide a lot of the views as you hike through dense forests. But that’s ok, you’ll breathe in the delicious fresh air and get a chance to see cute wildlife like ptarmigans and marmots along the way.
The climax of it all is when you get to the actual saddle and find yourself flanked by Saddle Mountain and Mount Fairview. You have the option of taking the easy way up or a steeper way up and then coming back down the opposite way to make for a bit of a loop. There are signs along the way so you can decide which way you’re going to go.
You should note that it can be snowy along the trail well into April and May so getting over the rocks can be slippery, especially when you’re trying to get to the top.
This is a 7.4 KM hike and will have you making an elevation gain of 603 meters. It is considered an easy hike. You’ll get views of Mount Temple as well as Lake Louise.
To get to the Saddleback Pass Hike you’ll want to get off the TransCanada Highway at the exit for Lake Louise village and then drive on to Chateau Lake Louise and park in their extremely busy parking lot. You can access the trail from here, just make sure to watch out for the signs to get on the right trail as there are many hikes you can access from here.
Elevation Gain: 603 Meters
Duration: 3-4 Hours
Length: 7.4 KM
11. Larch Valley Trail / Sentinel Pass
Although all of Banff National Park seems like a remote and rugged part of Alberta, if you really want to get a taste of a backcountry trail then the Larch Valley Trail is it.
This trail is one of the best Banff hikes for magnificent views of the Canadian Rockies from Banff National Park. At first, you will be going through dense larch forest but as you get higher up you’ll get views of Moraine Lake and then further up a view of those Rocky Mountains.
The trail brings you to Sentinel Pass where you get views of Paradise Valley. Hiking into Paradise Valley is a trip on its own; the trail ascends 3750 feet. So continue on your way with the Larch Valley Trail and save that for another day.
One of the most stunning views you’ll see is if you go on this trail in the fall as larch trees do look a lot like pine trees, but they actually change color in the fall. So you’ll see Christmas trees that are doused in yellow in September, October, and November.
Although it can be tempting to go off-trail in some parts, stick to the designated trails as it is dangerous for you and for the wildlife if you don’t. This is an 11 KM hike with an elevation gain of 792 meters. It is considered a difficult hike so you’ll need your hiking shoes and poles.
You can get to the trail from the Moraine Lake parking lot but as of Summer 2023, you can only access Moraine Lake via the shuttle service from the Lake Louise Area, Roam Transit, or other commercial transportation. This will cost $8, seniors $4, and kids aged six and under are free. Parking at the Lake Louise Lodge is recommended or there are also shuttles available from the Lake Louise area.
No private vehicles are allowed on the road to Moraine Lake or the Parking Lot unless you have a disabled tag.
Elevation Gain: 792 Meters
Duration: 3-6 Hours
Length: 11 KM
12. Moraine Lake Shoreline Hike
You’ll actually be hiking on the Rockpile and Lakeshore Trail when you do the Moraine Lake Shoreline Hike. This hike is for everyone in the family and can be done in under two hours.
You’ll be doing a 3 KM trek that is flat around the lake. There is the famed Rock Pile of course that you can choose to hike over, but for a flatter family-friendly hike, you can just go around it.
Along the way, you’ll see views of Fay Glacier and the Ten Peaks. The Ten Peaks Valley gives you a shot of ten towering mountain peaks side-by-side, including Mount Tuzo, Mount Bowlen, and Wenkchemna Peak. This is the famous “Twenty Dollar View” as this viewpoint was featured on the old Canadian twenty-dollar bill. One of the best views in the world in our opinion 🙂 You’ll end up close to a flowing and peaceful stream that is the perfect place for a storybook picnic.
You can even rent a canoe ($130 CAD/canoe/hour) and enjoy the scenery from the middle of the lake. In winter (note that the road to Moraine lake is closed to traffic during the winter)and even during the spring and fall the water levels do get high so the pathway can get overfilled with water so ensure you’re wearing water-resistant shoes.
There is nothing like paddling while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountain peaks.
Please take note of the access limitations and rules above as they have changed as of Summer 2023.
Elevation Gain: 136 Meters
Duration: 1 Hour
Length: 3 KM
13. Bow Glacier Falls
This is a relatively easy hike for all ages. The Bow Glacier falls hike starts at Num-Ti-Jah lodge and runs alongside the beautiful Bow Lake, through a gorge, and finally onto a scenic waterfall cascading down a rugged cliff.
Most of the trail alongside the stunning Bow lake is flat with a little uphill climb towards the end. The hike is well worth it just for the spectacular views of the beautiful blue waters. The waterfall at the end of the hike is also quite impressive and a great reward for somewhat little effort.
The hike only takes a couple of hours which makes it a great stop along the Icefields Parkway. We make sure to stop here every time we visit.
Elevation Gain: 270 Meters
Duration: 2-3 Hours
Length: 8.7 KM
14. Sunshine Meadows
Sunshine Meadows is one of the most popular Banff hiking trails with picturesque views of the Canadian Rockies, pristine views of the alpine lakes, blooming wildflowers, and alpine meadows.
It’s easily one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world and feels like you are walking in a storybook or movie.
The trailhead starts at Sunshine village resort on a rugged road that takes you through an immediate elevation gain that offers a great view of the surrounding areas. You will follow the shoreline of Grizzly and Larix lakes, cross a larch forest, and stop at Simpson Viewpoint for an incredible view over Kootenay National Park. To get to the trailhead you can take a 20-minute gondola ride from Sunshine Village that offers scenic mountain views before you start your hike or take a shuttle bus.
Elevation Gain: 320 Meters
Duration: 2-4 Hours
Length: 8 KM
15. Healy Pass
Healy Pass is another hike that starts from Sunshine Village and autumn is the best time to visit the Healy pass as you get to experience the larch trees in full bloom with beautiful golden-yellow colors.
The pass is not considered an easy hike as it’s long and challenging with a steady manageable incline. However, you’re rewarded with spectacular views of the nearby mountains, lush larch forests, and, blooming wildflowers. The main downfall of this hike is that you are in the forest for basically the first 8 km so there is not too much to see. But once you emerge you are treated to breathtaking views of Egypt Lake and the surrounding peaks.
As we said above, the hike begins on a dirt road and then onto a dense forest full of fir, spruce, and larch trees with occasional views of the mountain. This is also one of the only Banff hikes on this list that give you a good view of Mount Assiniboine, the highest peak in the park.
Elevation Gain: 900 Meters
Duration: 6-8 Hours
Length: 20.9 KM
16. Sawback Backpacking Trail
If you want to backpack and spend a few nights under the stars, the Sawback Trail is perfect. It is a 71.3 KM trail and comes with an elevation gain of 2122 meters. You will need to book your trip on the Parks Canada website to reserve your camping spots.
This trail will have you playing in all kinds of nature from cruising through alpine meadows to scrambling over boulders and negotiating tight switchbacks. You’ll also be crossing major wildlife corridors so be prepared for that and keep your bear spray handy.
You can get to the trail via one of two trailheads. One of the trailheads you can access by getting off the TransCanada Highway at the Lake Louise Village exit and driving towards Lake Louise Ski Resort. You’ll need to turn right onto Fish Creek Road going towards Skoki Lodge and the trailhead is located at the Fish Creek Parking Lot.
The other trailhead is located at the Mt. Norquay Parking Lot on Mt. Norquay Road which is a short drive from the town of Banff. Since this is a point-to-point trail, you’ll need to park at one end and take a shuttle to get to the other end.
Elevation Gain: 2122 Meters
Duration: 3-6 Days
Length: 71.3 KM
What is the best hike in Banff?
That is a very difficult question to answer as Canada’s oldest national park has amazing hikes all around. One of the best could be the Tunnel Mountain hike as it gives you an expansive view of the whole park. For something that’s historic, rugged, and heart-warming, you should head out on the Lake Agnes Trail and visit the Lake Agnes Tea House.
How many hiking trails are in Banff National Park?
There are hundreds of trails in the park but the established ones total 160.
Is it safe to hike alone in Banff?
It is always better to hike in groups, especially in case of animal encounters. You should also always let someone know where you’re going before you head out on the trails. If you happen to arrive in Banff alone, you can always hire a guide to take you on the trails.
How long are the hikes in Banff?
The hikes in Banff can range anywhere from 2 KM to almost 100 KM. The shortest of hikes will take you less than an hour but the long hikes like the 72 KM Sawback Backpacking Trail can take you 3-5 days depending on your pace. Of course, there are happy mediums between the shortest and longest trails as there are plenty of day hikes available that range from 10 to 15 KM.
Tips for Banff National Park Hiking
There is no doubt that Banff National Park has some of the best hiking in the world. If you are looking for natural beauty, backcountry, or just a place to escape it all then we know that at least one of these Banff Hikes will appeal to you.
After countless trips to this part of Canada, we can easily say that no matter what your hiking experience you will find a home you will remember in Banff National Park.