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. It is Canada’s first national park and home to the resort town of Banff as well as the hamlet of Lake Louise. The towns offer beautiful mountain lodgings from where you can access many of the park’s trails.
Just outside of Banff Town sits the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, which you might want to visit before heading out on the trails. It’s a good place to go to learn about the history of Canada’s national parks before immersing yourself in one of them. The site also includes a cave and sulfurous hot springs that you can explore and then make sure to head up to Banff Hot Springs for a dip in the soothing baths.
Best Hikes in Banff National Park
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If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the national park, head to the base of Sulphur Mountain and take the Banff Gondola up. After taking that all in, you’ll be ready to head out on the marked trails. Many of them are accessible within a short drive from the town of Banff or Lake Louise Village. Read more: Canoe Lake Louise and Banff National Park, Alberta.
There may be some restrictions on trails and activities as Canada slowly opens up to tourism, so be sure to check to see what is open before starting any hikes in Banff National Park. Visit the Park’s Canada website for more details. And the Alberta government website for updates.
Whichever way you decide to go, the towering mountains of the Canadian Rockies surround you, making for picture-perfect scenery at every turn. Up next we are going to tell you about the 12 best hikes in Banff National Park. To visit Banff National Park you need a parks pass you can purchase it here.
Looking for more information on Banff National Park
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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 moderate and is possible to do with the whole family. This is a 2.8-mile trail with an 875-foot elevation gain.
Sawback Backpacking Trail
If you want to backpack and spend a few nights under the stars, the Sawback Trail is perfect. It is a 45-mile trail and comes with elevation changes of 7150-feet. 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.
Lake Agnes Trail
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. If you want to experience that feeling, you’ll want to do the hike out to Lake Agnes Teahouse, which has been serving tea since 1905.
The lake itself was named after the wife of the first prime minister of Canada, Lady Agnes MacDonald, who visited the national park and fell in love with the lake. The teahouse 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.
You’ll start your hike out on a paved path and then get into the lush forest and nature’s path. From there you’ll reach the glistening Mirror Lake, alpine meadows, the falls, and the popular rock face called the Big Beehive. Less than a mile from there you’ll descend to the Lake Agnes Teahouse where some pie, sandwiches, tea, and magnificent views will be waiting for you.
This is a 4.5-mile hike with an elevation change of 1280 feet. It is considered a moderate hike and you can get to it from Chateau Lake Louise which is a mile outside of Lake Louise village. The trailhead is right off the parking lot of Chateau Lake Louise.
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 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 round trip distance is 7.5 miles. That will have you gaining 1475 feet. It is considered a moderate hike. You can get to the trailhead from the Icefields Parkway at Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint.
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 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 deer and even cougars in the area.
This is an 8-mile beautiful 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.
Johnston Canyon Trail off Bow Valley Parkway
One of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park, 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).
You will be making somewhat of a steep climb to the Upper Falls for truly dramatic views of the falls pouring down into a pool surrounded by canyon walls. This is a 3.1-mile hike with a 350-foot moderate elevation gain and is considered moderate. You can get to the trail by taking the Bow Valley Parkway off of the TransCanada Highway.
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.
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 pika 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.
This trail has a 9.2-mile round trip distance near Lake Louise with an elevation gain of 2400 feet. You can get to the trail by taking the exit for Sunshine Village Ski Resort off of the TransCanada Highway. You can park in the parking lot and there are restroom facilities.
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. 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.
This is an 8.5-mile round trip hike that will have you making an elevation gain of 1250 feet and is considered an easy trail. 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.
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 an 8-mile hike and one of the highest elevation trails in the park with a gain of 3200 feet.
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 forest. 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 come 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 4-5 mile hike and will have you making an elevation change of 1980 feet. It is considered a moderate 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.
Larch Valley Trail
Although all of Banff National Park seems remote and rugged, if you really want to get a taste of a backcountry trail then the Larch Valley Trail is it. This trail will also give you one of the best 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 a 7-mile hike with an elevation change of 725 feet. 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. This lot is super busy so you might want to park at the Lake Louise Lodge and head out from there. There are also shuttles available from the Lake Louise area.
Moraine Lake Shoreline Hike
You’ll actually be hiking on the Rockpile and Lakeshore Trail when you do this hike. This hike is for everyone in the family and can be done in under two hours. You’ll be doing a 2-mile 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. 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 and enjoy the scenery from the middle of the lake. In 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.You can get to the trail from the Moraine Lake parking lot, but there are just a handful of parking spots. Alternatively, you can park at the Chateau Lake Louise parking lot or take a shuttle from Lake Louise Village.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 1 mile to almost 50 miles. The shortest of hikes will take you less than an hour but the long hikes like the 45-mile 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 7 to 10 miles.