Banff Hikes: 8 Best Hikes in Banff National Park
Nestled amidst the Canadian Rockies, the beauty of Banff National Park draws thousands of tourists every year. This picturesque destination is home to Instagram-worthy sights like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (located within the Valley of the Ten Peaks, accessible via Larch Valley), as well as some of the best hiking trails the rocky mountains have to offer.
Located only a few hours outside of Calgary, Banff National Park makes for the perfect day trip or basecamp for visiting nearby sites like Jasper National Park to the north and Kootenay National Park, a quick five-minute drive to the south. Banff town center also features numerous resorts, including Fairmont Banff Springs, where Marilyn Monroe famously stayed during her trip to Alberta in 1953.
Are you ready to channel your best Marilyn poses and cut yourself a slice of this gorgeous destination? Keep reading — we’ve got you covered.
In this post, we’ll highlight some of the best hikes in Banff. Whether you’re looking for easy, moderate, or challenging, there are different Banff hikes for everyone.
What to Know About Hiking in Banff National Park
Is Hiking in Banff Hard?
Banff hiking can be about as hard as you want it to be! With over 1600 kilometers of maintained trails available, you’ll find all different routes ranging from novice to difficult. The Parks Canada website also provides consistent updates regarding trail difficulty. But there are trails that even kids can conquer, which is why Banff is a great family trip destination.
Is Hiking in Banff Free?
Hiking in Banff is free. However, Banff National Park charges a small entry fee for vehicles entering the national park, which goes towards the upkeep of facilities. Day passes are available for pre-purchase online or at toll booths located near the entrance to the park.
The day pass excludes fees associated with fishing, overnight camping for Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, and Castle Mountain, as well as parking along the Lake Louise shoreline. A complete fee list can be found on the Parks Canada website.
While hiking is free, staying in Banff National Park isn’t. You can either opt to camp at the somewhat price-y campgrounds or go more luxurious at a hotel with a private hot tub to soak after a day on the trails.
Best Time to Hike in Banff
For hikers looking to take advantage of ideal weather conditions, Banff’s hiking season runs from early July to mid-September. At this point, snow has usually melted off trails with moderate elevation gain during these months meaning you can hike without too much iciness.
Easy Hikes in Banff National Park
Want to get your hiking butt in gear, but not too much? These hikes are for you!
1. Johnston Canyon Hike
Distance: 5.1 kilometers (3.2 miles)
Elevation: 262 meters (860 feet)
Highlights: Waterfalls, wildflowers
Johnston Canyon Trail to Upper Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Banff and it’s easy to see why — that waterfall! Due to its popularity, you’ll want to prepare for the possibility of getting stuck on the Bow Valley Parkway during the summer months.
2. Rock Isle Lake
Distance: 8.0 kilometers (5 miles)
Elevation: 316 meters (1037 feet)
Highlight: Mountains, lake views
Rock Isle Lake is part of the Sunshine Meadows Hike, and offers beautiful sights of the surrounding mountains. Grizzly Lake and Larix Lake are part of the same trail, making this one of the most spectacular hiking trails for catching both tree line and lake views. Catch the shuttle bus or gondola lift from the Sunshine Village parking lot to the trail entrance.
3. Bow Glacier Falls Trail
Distance: 8.9 kilometers (5.5 miles)
Elevation: 298 meters (978 feet)
Highlights: Bow lake, waterfalls
Located within the Icefields Parkway, Bow Glacier Falls Trail is a family-friendly hike that features the pristine blue waters of Bow Lake. A true feast for your eyes, the lake and falls are named after the reeds growing on the floor of the Bow Valley. Explorer Chick’s Hiking and Hut-to-Hut Backpacking tour features a TON of these beautiful glacier-fed lakes.
Icefields Parkway is also home to the Peyto Lake Panorama Overlook, Helen Lake (the Helen Lake parking lot is located across from the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint), and Parker Ridge trail via the Saskatchewan Glacier.
Hikers looking to take refuge along the parkway will want to check out Waterfowl Lakes Campground, a 116 spot campsite that provides the ultimate camping experience amidst the Canadian Rockies.
The Two Jack Lake trail is an excellent choice for first-time hikers with a distance of 3.2 kilometers round trip. Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail and Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail (accessible via the Lake Louise parking lot) are also easy hiking options. Carry bear spray when hiking these trails, as bears are especially active in these trail areas.
Moderate Banff Hikes
4. Plain of Six Glaciers
Distance: 14.6 kilometers (9.1 miles)
Elevation: 588 meters (1929 feet)
Highlights: Mountain views, wildlife
Plain of Six Glaciers begins as an incline towards Lake Agnes, increasing in elevation gain and steep cliffs. However, hikers who tackle the second portion of this hike, are rewarded with a beautiful lookout of the surrounding mountain peaks.
5. Lake Agnes Trail
Distance: 7.4 kilometers (4.6 miles)
Elevation: 435 meters (1427 feet)
Highlights: Waterfall, forest, lake Agnes
Considered one of the best hikes in Banff for its accessibility and scenery, this moderate Banff hike is wider when compared to other trails, making it ideal for those in a wheelchair or with small children.
While the 3 hour round trip trail and steady elevation gain may throw off some groups, stick with it and you’ll get the satisfying treat of the Lake Agnes Tea House at the end. The tea house provides light refreshments and beautiful views of the Lake Louise area, as well as seasonal sightings of larch trees along Lake Agnes.
Lake Minnewanka is ideal for groups wanting to stay close to downtown Banff, while Bourgeau Lake is considered to be the most underrated of moderate Banff hiking trails.
Difficult Banff Hikes
Ready to really get those quads burning and challenge yourself? These hikes are for you!
6. Sulphur Mountain
Distance: 10.9 kilometers (6.8 miles)
Elevation: 756 meters (2480 feet)
Highlights: Wildflowers, mountain peaks, gondola down
If you’re thinking “less than 7 miles? No biggie!” Pause and look at that elevation gain. This hike has some serious climbing to get to the peak.
However, don’t sweat too much (yet) — if your knees aren’t about the downhill or you’re just pooped at the top, you have an out. A gondola awaits hikers at the top of the mountain for the trek back down. We recommend crampons and hiking poles.
7. Cirque Peak
Distance: 15.9 kilometers (9.9 miles)
Elevation: 1,135 meters (3,724 feet)
Highlights: Steep challenge, lake and mountain views
This hike will kick your butt… and reward you with beautiful views of the Bow River, and the Icefields Parkway. Via the Helen Lake trail, the scenery transforms from grassy meadows to mountainous terrain.
8. Tent Ridge Horseshoe
Distance: 10.9 kilometers (6.8 miles)
Elevation: 852 meters (2,795 feet)
Highlights: wildflowers, scrambling, ridge views
A challenge for even the toughest of Explorer Chicks, Tent Ridge Horseshoe is not for the faint of heart (or heights!), but will make you feel on top of the world when you reach the summit. The trail has exciting rock scrabble opportunities with scree slopes and exposure galore, but at the end, you’ll feel like a massive BAMF. 😉
For the most experienced of hikers, alternatives include Cascade Mountain, Paradise Valley via Lake Annette, and Vista Lake, which eventually leads to Arnica Lake.
Explore Banff with Explorer Chick!
Experience wild Canada one mountain peak at a time with Explorer Chicks’ Guided Hiking in Banff Tour, showcasing the best of Banff National Park. Book now to reserve your spot!
AmandaAugust 26th, 2019
Yesterday I saw the sunrise on a glacier. After 5 straight days of hiking with the most amazing women and Explorer Chick Adventure Co, we woke up in our little hut in the middle of nowhere on a glacier to end our epic journey. We were up at 4am, strapped on our gear, and set off… straight up a glacier- in the dark, in the rain. Two chewed up feet, two very janky knees and one incredibly large smile (through the pain). After this sunrise, we continued to hike for 7 more hours.
There’s so many amazing moments from this adventure I’m not sure how to express them all. Except, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunity, I’m grateful for a body that made me able to do it and I’m grateful for every strong, amazing woman I met along the way. Don’t wait to do your own adventure, whatever that means to you. Don’t wait for the perfect timing or the perfect body. Perfection doesn’t exist. Live your life today, the way you want to live it. I’d rather live with sore knees and a lighter bank account than to miss out on filling my life with amazing experiences. Tomorrow’s sunrise isn’t promised, make sure you make today’s count.
Meet the Writer
Lindsay Stroud is a freelance content writer and ghostwriter from Vancouver, Canada. Her published works can be found on Jiyubox and Passion Passport, in addition to producing ghostwritten content for Owl Labs and Wonderment. Her favorite destinations include Berlin, Stockholm, and Florence. In her spare time, you’ll find her exploring local foodie joints throughout her neighborhood, or planning itineraries for future trips.
Favorite Outdoor Adventure: spending time by the ocean and exploring walking trails in her local neighborhood.
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