Best hikes in Banff, Canada

14 Best Hikes In Banff, Canada

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14 Best hikes in Banff, Canada

If you’re an avid adventure traveler, you should definitely add hiking through Banff, Canada on to your bucket list. The best hikes in Banff guide created by WWB Writer, Maryam, will spoil you with picturesque mountain views, unreal turquoise lakes and rivers, and breathtaking natural beauty all around. 

Hiking is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the wonders of nature Banff National Park offers. Even if you’ve never hiked before, there are many easy hiking trails in Banff for you to try.

Here are our picks for best hikes in Banff National Park, consisting of easy, moderate, and difficult hikes. If you’re looking for must-do hikes in Banff, this list is a great place to start planning.

Best hikes in Banff, Canada
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by John Lee from Unsplash

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Why hike in Banff ?

If the stunning views aren’t enough to convince you (really??), here are some reasons why you should start planning your hike in Banff

History

Set among the majestic Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Banff holds the honor of being the oldest national park in Canada and is the heart of the Canadian National Parks system, with 5 other national parks surrounding it. 

Banff is also the third national park in the world and thus has a great history of adventure and exploration in nature, one of the many reasons that hikers keep coming back

Best hikes in Banff, Canada
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Sherwin Belen on Reshot

Accessibility

Located only 1.5 hours drive away from Calgary and Calgary International Airport, it is easily accessible by car or shuttle bus. Alternatively, you can also get to Banff by taking the Rocky Mountaineer luxury rail experience.

Well marked trails & great facilities

As the hiking capital of Canada, the network of over 1,600km of hiking trails in Banff are clearly marked and well maintained. Facilities are open year-round, including information centers, plenty of accommodation options, and easy transportation. There are even wheelchair-accessible trail options available

Something for everyone & every time

Best hikes in Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

Banff has something for everyone, from the most nature-averse urbanite to the hardcore outdoor adventurer. Hot springs, Lush wildflower meadows, evergreen forests, vast glaciers, aurora sightings, raging rivers and waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, wildlife, and so much more await you!

While summer is the height of tourist season, Banff is open year-round. There are numerous hiking trails that are accessible in each season, as well as a variety of seasonal activities to try.

For the ‘gram

If you’re on Instagram, you’ve definitely seen pictures of the astonishingly gorgeous aquamarine lakes with majestic snow-capped rocky mountains in the background. We’re willing to bet that 9/10 times those pictures were taken in Banff. 

If you ever needed a reason to persuade your less outdoorsy friends to come along – tell them it’s for the ‘gram!

Best hikes in Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Andre Furtado on Unsplash

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Things you should know before hiking in Banff

Before you start hiking in Banff, here are several things you should know to prepare yourself:

  • Banff National Park has 4 main hiking areas, namely the Banff area, Lake Louise, Castle Junction, and Icefields Parkway. These are geographic areas used to group trailheads or starting points.
  • All visitors to Banff National Park must purchase a park permit. A day pass costs $10 CAD per adult of $20 CAD for groups of up to 7 people. If you’re planning on doing multiple hikes over several days, an annual Discovery Pass might be more worthwhile. Buy your park pass online in advance for express entry into the park. 
  • During peak seasons, Banff can get extremely congested. Finding parking may take a long time, so take the transit or shuttles to avoid the headache. Keep tabs on congestion levels at your hike sites using the BanffNow website. It’s best to arrive super early
  • Due to bear risks, some trails require a minimum number of hikers together in a group. If you’re traveling alone, don’t worry though, as many others will wait at the trailhead to be grouped up.
  • Although Banff is open year-round, trails can be snowed in or covered in ice any day of the year, even in summer. Always check for warnings and closures through the official Parks Canada website
Best hikes near Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Jaime Reimer from Pexels

Best hikes in Banff – Easy

If you’re traveling with kids or elderly members, or are just looking for something light and easy to do, Banff has several easy hiking trails you can enjoy.

Sunshine Meadows to Rock Isle Lake and Larix Lakes

Sunshine Meadows is one of the most photographed views of Banff National Park due to the stunning wildflower-filled meadows, azure lakes, and expansive views of the mountains beyond. Although located at a high altitude, you can easily reach the trailhead by bus or gondola. 

Tip: On the way back to the Standish chairlift, take the route on your right to continue along the northern shore of Rock Isle lake for the best views

  • Difficulty Level: 2 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 175m
  • Distance: 7.6km out and back including the Larix Lake loop
  • Time: 2-3 hours

How to get there: Take the gondola or shuttle bus to Sunshine Ski Village, and head over to the Standish chair lift to take you to the top of the Standish viewing deck. The trailhead is located down the stairs on your right

Johnston Canyon 

must do hikes in Banff
Johnston Canyon, Banff, Canada

Photo by Philip Davis on Unsplash

One of the must do hikes in Banff, this trail can get very crowded, so go super early. Traversing along boardwalks attached to steep cliffs with views of icy blue rivers, waterfalls, and gorges, you might think it’s challenging, but the trail is easy and can be completed by kids comfortably.

Tip: Some of the best views are actually on the hike down, despite the crowds. If you have energy and want a bigger challenge, continue from the Upper Falls on to the Inkpots.

  • Difficulty: 2 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 125m
  • Distance: 5.9km out and back
  • Time: 2-4 hours

How to get there: The trail starts from just behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows, right off the Bow Valley Parkway. Parking is available on site

Moraine Lake trail

One of the most iconic landscapes of Banff National Park is Moraine Lake, backed by the rugged snow-capped Valley of the Ten Peaks mountains. 

The best viewpoint of this lake is a short hike up to the Moraine Lake rockpile, but you can also enjoy unique views of the whole lake by hiking the trail around the Lake.

Tip: Aim to arrive before sunrise to avoid the massive crowds. During the summer, a minimum group of 4 might be required.

  • Difficulty: 1 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 100m
  • Distance: 3.4km loop
  • Time: 1 hours

How to get there: The trailhead to the rockpile begins at Moraine Lake parking area

Bow River and Bow Falls

Easy hiking trails in Banff
Bow River and Bow Falls, Banff, Canada

Photo by Stephen Goldberg on Unsplash

This hike is one of the easiest, most accessible, and family-friendly hikes in Banff. You can start from anywhere in downtown Banff and meander along the Bow River up to Bow Falls. The close proximity to downtown means you can stop for food or coffee along the way, or even take breaks at the many campgrounds, parks, and playgrounds along the route. Kid approved!

Tip: Pack a picnic to enjoy in Banff Central Park after enjoying the lush scenic views of the forests and river

  • Difficulty: 1 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 60m
  • Distance: 6km return
  • Time: 1.5-2  hours

How to get there: From the Banff Spring Hotel car park, and look for wooden stairs leading down to the Bow River.

Best hikes in Banff – Moderate

If you want to spice up your visit to Banff, a moderately challenging hike is the way to go. These hikes will get your heart rate up and get you sweating but not too much. Pack a lunch because these hikes will take up a big chunk of your day.

InkPots

Best hikes in Banff
Ink Pots, Banff, Canada

Photo by Tom Gainor on Unsplash

The Inkpots trail is a magical hike that rewards those who go the extra mile – literally!. Escape the crowds at Johnston Canyon and continue from the Upper Falls for another 3km through beautiful forests, until you emerge on to a stunning plateau meadow with views of the surrounding mountains.

The highlights of this hike are the ‘Inkpots’, small naturally green/aqua colored mineral pools dotting the meadow, and roaring rivers, waterfalls, and bridges.

Tip: If you want to avoid the crowds completely, you can also reach the Inkpots via the Moose Meadows trail

  • Difficulty: 3 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 330m
  • Distance: 5.4km one way from the parking lot
  • Time: 4 hours

How to get there: Trail starts from right behind Johnston Canyon Lodge. Continue from Johnston Canyon Upper falls following the sign marked ‘Inkpots’

Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass

Offering spectacular views of the Ten Peaks and Paradise Valley, this hike is a must-do for avid hikers who want to experience Banff National Park backcountry. Passing through larch forests, lakes, beautiful alpine meadows, and up onto picturesque switchbacks, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass is one of the best hikes in Banff National Park.

Tip: The Larch Valley is especially beautiful in the autumn when the larch trees turn golden yellow. During certain periods of the year, the hike might require a minimum of 4 per group.

  • Difficulty: 4 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 795m
  • Distance: 11.6km return
  • Time: 4-6 hours

How to get there: Starting from Moraine Lake Lodge and with the lake on your left, follow the trail marked ‘Sentinel Pass’

best hikes in Banff
Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass, Banff, Canada

Photo by S&B Vonlanthen on Unsplash

Cascade Amphitheatre

Amazing rock formations and stunning views, paired with a moderately challenging route make the Cascade Amphitheatre trail one of the top hikes in Banff. The magnificent 360-degree views in a lush green valley give this trail it’s Amphitheater name, with stunning views of the Canadian Rockies and forests all around.

Tip: You might see some hikers scramble up to the Cascade Mountain peak. Do not attempt to follow them unless you are an experienced hiker, as this trail is quite dangerous.

  • Difficulty: 3 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 675m
  • Distance: 12.4km return
  • Time: 4-6 hours

How to get there: The trailhead is located near the Mt Norquay Ski Resort parking lot, behind the Mystic Chairlift.

Best hikes in Banff – Difficult

Top hikes in Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Image by Jeromy Reimer from Pixabay 

Healy Pass

Healy Pass is arguably one of the top hikes in Banff. Exquisite views of quiet forests, bubbling creeks, calm lakes, idyllic alpine meadows, and finally majestic peaks give hikers on Healy Pass a variety of breathtaking experiences. 

Although the trail is quite long, it is not overly steep and inclines are gradual. The first 8km stint of the hike is through dense forests, but the panoramic views at the pass are worth pushing through. 

Tip: Autumn is one of the best times to do this hike, as the larch trees will turn golden yellow. For a change in scenery, you can descend through the Simpson Pass, which will add 2km to your route. 

  • Difficulty: 4 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 705m
  • Distance: 20km loop
  • Time: 5-6 hours

How to get there: Follow the marked pathway near the Sunshine Village Ski Resort off the Trans-Canada Highway

top hikes in Banff
Healy Pass, Banff, Canada

Image by sergei akulich from Pixabay 

Mount Rundle

If you want bragging rights for one of the most challenging hikes in Banff, hiking up Mt. Rundle trail is the one for you. Steep and strenuous, Mt. Rundle is a must-do for hikers looking to test their stamina and willpower.

Starting in forests, you quickly ascend to switchbacks and rise above the treeline. After traversing the famous Dragon Back spine ridge and scrambling to the final peak, you will be rewarded with amazing panoramic views of the whole of Banff Valley. Take a moment (or two) to rest and revel in your incredible feat!

Tip: The weather on this trail can change quickly as you ascend. Be prepared for strong, cold winds.

  • Difficulty: 5 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 1733m
  • Distance: 18km return
  • Time: 7-8 hours

How to get there: The trailhead is located just after the bridge across Spray River

Cory Pass – Mt Edith Circuit

Get ready for a serious leg workout of the steep dry ridge of Cory Pass. Featuring steep inclines, scraggly scrambles, narrow trails, and vertigo-inducing drops, this is not a trail for the faint-hearted. 

If you manage to conquer your fears, you will be rewarded with some of the most spectacular views of Banff and the sheer face of Mt Louis once you crest the pass. Descend via the Edith loop through lush forests

Tip: Taking the route clockwise will reduce strain on your legs as you descend

  • Difficulty: 4 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 1160m
  • Distance: 13km loop
  • Time: 5-7 hours

How to get there: Take the Fireside turnoff from the south end of Bow Valley Parkway. The trail starts from the Fireside parking lot

top hikes in banff
Cory Pass, Banff, Canada

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Best Banff day hikes

Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail

Best Banff day hikes
Lake Agnes, Banff, Canada

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Enjoy a delicious spread of tea, biscuits, and more at the end of this beautiful hike. This relatively gentle hike takes you through old forest switchbacks, past a beautiful waterfall, and finally the brilliant turquoise waters of the glacier-fed Lake Agnes.

Hiking in autumn will treat you to golden larch trees. For an added challenge, you can continue the hike around Lake Agnes and up to Little Beehive, which adds on 100m of elevation and 2km of return trail to your route

Tip: The teahouse is open June-October, and only accepts cash, so make sure you have some on you if you want to enjoy a warm cup of tea after your hike.

  • Difficulty: 3 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 390m
  • Distance: 7.2km return
  • Time: 2-3 hours

How to get there: From Lake Louise Chateau, take the trail on the right of the lake and follow the Lake Agnes signs.

Tunnel Mountain

Best hikes in Banff national park
Tunnel Mountain, Banff, Canada

Photo by Lukas Kloeppel from Pexels

The smallest summit in Banff National Park, this trail is also one of the most accessible from the Banff downtown area, perfect for a morning hike. Enjoy views of Banff town, surrounding peaks, and the Bow River while you hike the switchbacks and lush forests. 

Tip: Some sections of Tunnel Mountain may be closed between May-June to protect elks calving

  • Difficulty: 2 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 266m
  • Distance: 4.2km out and back
  • Time: 1-1.5 hours

How to get there: The lower trailhead is located next to the Banff Centre, on St. Julien Road and is easily accessible by foot from downtown.

Best winter hikes in Banff

If skiing is not up your alley, you can still enjoy numerous winter hikes in Banff. Ice cleats, spikes, and snowshoes are all readily available to rent or purchase from many of the stores downtown.

Spray River Trail

Best winter hikes in Banff
Spray River, Banff, Canada

Photo by Zachary Kyra-Derksen on Unsplash

If you want to try hiking in snowshoes, this is the trail for you! Trekking through beautiful forests following the turquoise waters of Spray River, you will also enjoy glimpses of majestic Mt. Rundle along the way.

Once you reach the bridge you can turn back, or continue for a more challenging hike to Goat Creek Trailhead.

Tip: Cross the bridge and walk back on the opposite bank of Spray River for views of frozen waterfalls. If you’re lucky, you might even see ice-climbers!

  • Difficulty: 2 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 65m
  • Distance: 11.4km return if you hiked to the bridge
  • Time: 3-4 hours

How to get there: After the Banff Springs Hotel, continue straight for approximately 100m towards a marked parking area for Spray River Trail users. The trailhead is at the parking lot.

Sulphur Mountain

Best winter hikes in Banff
Sulphur Mountain, Banff, Canada

Photo by JD Gipson on Unsplash

Named after the sulfur smell coming from the natural hot springs at the base of the mountain, Sulphur Mountain is located close to Banff town and is one of the best winter hikes in Banff. Ice cleats or spikes are essential for this hike in winter.

After climbing the switchbacks, you can take a break and enjoy the views from the mountain peak while sipping coffee at the cafe. There is also an interactive museum atop the mountain that is a crowd-puller.

Tip: You are eligible for a free gondola ride down the mountain if you’ve hiked up. For an easier trail, take the gondola up to the viewpoint and hike down. 

  • Difficulty: 3 / 5
  • Elevation gain: 740m
  • Distance: 10km out and back
  • Time: 2.5-3 hours

How to get there: The hike starts from the parking lot near the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs and ascends steadily up forested switchbacks

What is the best time to hike in Banff

Late spring (May) to early autumn (October) is the best time to hike in Banff. The weather is more pleasant, the views are magnificent, wildlife is more active, and nature is in full bloom. The downside is that during the peak season of July-September, popular trails can get extremely crowded.

Most of the lakes in Banff will be frozen well into spring and even early summer. If you are looking forward to picturesque blue lakes, come starting in June.

If you are hiking in winter, you must bring or rent crampons/spikes as many of the trails will be covered in slippery ice.

Best winter hikes Banff
Mount Fay in Banff, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Ryan Stefan on Unsplash

Things to watch out for when hiking in Banff

Wildlife

As a gazetted national park, Banff is a haven for flora and fauna, with bears, elk, bighorn sheep, wolves, cougars, and countless other species calling it home. 

Although wildlife sightings are exciting, respect that these are wild animals and could seriously injure you. Keep well away from any wildlife you may see, make sure your food and trash is packed well, and remember: it is illegal to feed the wildlife! 

best hikes near Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Peter Scholten on Unsplash

Forest fires & Avalanches

In summer, forest fires are a natural occurrence. The smoke can cause breathing discomfort, poor visibility, as well as closures to roads, trails, campgrounds, and activities. Always keep yourself updated.

Avalanches can happen at any time of the year, but especially between November and June. Look out for signboards indicating the avalanche risk areas and do not enter these areas unless you have avalanche training and equipment. 

Weather & Conditions

Always check and double-check trail conditions and weather predictions before your hike. Heed warnings and remember – it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

It’s also best to keep tabs in case of any trail closures, restrictions, or alerts that could affect your itinerary. The best way to check is through the official Parks Canada website

Best winter hikes Banff
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Andrew Ly on Unsplash

Things to bring for hiking in Banff

The climate of Banff is infamously fickle, with sudden temperature drops something every visitor should be wary of. Be prepared for weather extremes by dressing in layers. 

Hiking is a strenuous activity, so keeping hydrated and fueled is key. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Here is a list of things you should bring when planning your hike in Banff

Essentials

  • Comfortable lightweight backpack
  • Trail guide and map/directions
  • Travel insurance
  • Thermal base layers
  • Waterproof jacket/windbreaker
  • Compressible down jacket
  • Comfortable waterproof hiking boots/shoes
  • Hiking socks
  • Quick-dry hiking pants
  • Hat and gloves
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Insect spray
  • Reusable water bottle/thermos
  • Energy bars/snacks
  • Emergency blanket
  • Basic first aid kit

Gear

  • Hiking poles
  • Headlamp or flashlight including spare batteries
  • Extra set of warm clothing
  • Bear spray
  • Solar-powered power bank/battery pack
  • Cellphone/satellite phone
  • Camera
  • Watch

Extras

  • Cash
  • Hammock
  • Hiking knife
  • Binoculars
  • Wet wipes & hand sanitizer
  • Face cover/mask
  • Water purification system
Banff best trails
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

It’s almost impossible to leave Banff National Park feeling underwhelmed or disappointed. The rugged beauty of the Canadian Rockies continues to bring millions of hikers of all ages and levels of experience through the stunning scenery to enjoy the best hikes in Banff.

From its beautiful scenery, wealth of activities, and well-maintained facilities, it’s no surprise that Banff is considered to be one of the top hiking destinations in the world. So, which of these Banff best trails is your next adventure?

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14 Best hikes in Banff

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