Banff Hikes and Trails in Detail

Posted by Banff National Park Editor, Wednesday, February 25th, 2009 at 11:28 am

Banff Hikes and Trails

There are 1,500 km of hiking trails in Banff National Park. That is easily more than any other mountain park in the world. As the trails are generally close to Banff townsite, there are two sides to the coin. They are easily accessible but they are also very well travelled. The further out you venture, generally the better chance you will have of seeing wildlife and nature at its untouched best.

Whether it be a gentle walk to a stunning lake view or a backbreaking hike to the summit of a great range, there is something on offer for everybody. We have drawn up a comprehensive list of options for your perusal. Happy hiking!

Rockbound and Tower Lake Trail

Distance: 17 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elev. gain: 780 meters

Time required: 4 – 6 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

Drive west on the Trans-Canada to the Castle Mountain Junction (highway #93) which is approximately 28 kilometers west of Banff. Drive east on highway #93 towards the #1A. Turn right at the store and cabins on Highway #1A and park in the parking lot for the Rockbound Lake Trail. http://www.canadianrockies.net/maps/backmap_e.pdf

hiking-nice

Hike Description

The hike is very well marked. Once you break through the forest, you will be rewarded with some great views of Eisenhower Peak and Castle Mountain which are comprised of layers of colourful stone.

Approximately 400 meters from the trailhead is the intersection of the Silverton Falls Trail and Rockbound/Tower Lake Trail. The trail to Tower and Rockbound Lakes continues straight ahead and begins to climb and maintains a consistent grade to Tower Lake.

Silverton Falls Trail

Distance: 2.2 km

Difficulty: Easy

Elev. gain: 130 meters

Time required: 1 – 2 hours

Distance: 2.2 km

Difficulty: Easy

Elev. gain: 130 meters

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

Drive west on the Trans-Canada to the Castle Mountain Junction (highway #93) which is approximately 28 kilometers west of Banff. Drive east on highway #93 towards the #1A. Turn right at the store and cabins on Highway #1A and park in the parking lot for the Rockbound Lake Trail.

hiking22

Hazards on trail

This trail can get busy at times and there are sections with steep drop offs so be careful. One foot in the wrong place could be disasterous.

Hike Description

This waterfall is higher than any of the falls in nearby Johnston Canyon and is usually less packed with tourists than some of the other trails, especially off peak.

Again, it is well marked. Start on the Rockbound Lake Trail. Approximately 400 meters from the trailhead is the intersection of the Silverton Falls Trail andInsider’s Guide to BanffRockbound/Tower Lake TrailInsider’s Guide to Banff Turn right and head towards the creek. Beside the creek is a old trail that used to follow the creek bed. The path is now blocked with some logs. Turn left and immediately begin the switchbacks which lead to a spot overlooking the falls.If it wet, take particular care.

hiking5

Vermilion Lakes Trail

Distance: 10.6 km

Difficulty: Easy

Elev. gain: 2 meters

Time required: 2 – 3 hours

Directions to trail head

From the townsite drive north on Lynx Avenue towards the Trans-Canada Highway. After crossing the railway tracks and the bridge over Forty Mile Creek park on the west side of the road immediately after the bridge. Banff Accommodations

Hike Description

For most of this trip, you are actually walking on the roadway below the Trans-Canada. If it wasn’t for the stunning views of the lake, Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain, it would not be a reccomendation. Unfortunately some people still choose on driving the roadway. There are plenty of benches and viewpoints over the lakes.

While the elevation profile makes it appear that there is a lot of climbing on this walk, when you are walking it seems almost flat with a total elevation gain of only 2 meters. From the parking lot walk on the Fenland Nature Trail, cross a bridge and turn right at the first intersection and follow the creek. At the next intersection, which in 600 meters from the trailhead, turn right cross the bridge and turn left onto the roadway. Follow the roadway past Vermilion and Small Lakes. Across the lakes is Rundle Mountain.

hiking-people

Larch Valley – Sentinel Pass Trail

Distance: 12.9 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elev. gain: 720 meters

Time required: 2 – 4 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

At the intersection of Highway #1 (Trans Canada) and Highway #1A exit the Trans Canada and turn west (left if you are coming from Banff). Drive approximately 1 kilometer towards the Chateau Lake Louise and turn left onto the Morraine Lake Road. Drive 14 kilometers down Morraine Lake Road and park in the large parking lot at the end of the road. Banff Maps

Hazards on trail

Grizzly Bears. They make a lot more appearances than one might appreciate from afar. Signs posted in the area indicate that you have to have 4+ people in a group to hike in this area. This is a change from a couple of years ago when 6+ was required. Banff Maps

Hike Description

The hike starts at Morraine Lake and follows the lake shore for a short distance. The trail is well marked with two intersections. At both keep to the right. The trail climbs through the forest along a series of switchbacks. At points you will see Morraine Lake below. After climbing 360 meters in elevation and walking 2.6 kilometers you will enter Larch Valley. In the fall, the needles of the Larches, a deciduous conifer, turn a stunning gold and then fall off the trees. The window to enjoy them is only two or three weeks long in the fall so pre plan if possible.

hiking4

From Larch Valley, Sentinal Pass is an additional 2.5 kilometers and a further elevation gain of approximately 360 meters. You will cross Larch Valley and as you approach Sentinel Pass you will be surrounded by Eiffel Peak and Pinnacle Mountain to the left and Mount Temple on your right. At the top of Sentinal Pass you will be looking over Paradise Valley. These views are hard to beat in Banff.

Distance: 16.4 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elev. gain: 530 meters

Time required: 6 – 8 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: No

Banff Hiking

Bow Glacier

Directions to trail head

This trailhead is at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on Bow Lake. It is located 40 kilometres north of Lake Louise on Highway 93. (Icefields Parkway)

Hazards on trail

There is a bit of scrambling to be done here as trail is quite rough on places. Be prepared to scramble over rocks and boulders in places. There are also several small stream crossings involved but nothing too serious. Banff Maps

Hike Description

This is a challenging but very rewarding hike from Num-Ti-Jah Lodge to Bow Hut, and then to the edge of the Bow Glacier. Follow the trail along the north bank of Bow Lake, and then along the creek coming into it. As you head southward, you enter a canyon with steps built into the hill. Shortly beyond the steps is a junction, with the right branch leading to Bow Falls and the left branch going toward Bow Hut and Bow Glacier.

hikinh-bear

Follow the trail through the valley until you reach the bowl below the glaciers. Look for Bow Hut on the ridge above and to the right. To get there, you will need to enter the bowl, and cross several small streams along the way. Be careful here as the rocks can be slippery. Proceed up the ridge to the hut.

Sunshine Meadows to Citadel Pass

Distance: 18 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elev. gain: 200 meters

Time required: 5 – 7 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: No

Directions to trail head

Take TransCanada Highway west out of Banff. About 10 Km beyond Banff, take the Sunshine Ski Area turnoff and go up the access road to the Sunshine Gondola parking lot. You can take the shuttle bus up to Sunshine Village ski area to begin the hike. ($24)

Hazards on trail

This is bear country but another danger is stroms. It is very wide open terrain up here. If a storm comes along, take shelter until it has passed if you can. Banff Maps

Hike Description

A really enjoyable and popular day hike that takes you across a high meadow filled with many flowers and many great views of mountains and lakes. Leave from Sunshine Village on the trail leading to Quartz Ridge and Citadel Pass. The trail has a gentle rise in the beginning, then levels off for a while, falls, and then rises again to a peak on Quartz Ridge. Citadel Pass is another 4-5 Km beyond on a trail that continues to rise and fall.

hiking221

Lake Bourgeau Trail

Distance: 15.2 km

Difficulty: Strenuous

Elev. gain: 705 meters

Time required: 4 – 6 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

From Banff drive west on highway #1 approximately 12 kilometers. There is a sign for the Bourgeau Lake Trail. The parking lot is on the south side of the highway.

Hazards on trail

There is no bridge at the second stream crossing so prepared to jump across some logs or to get your feet wet. The stream is actually quite fast flowing so be careful. Banff camping

Hike Description

This is a highly recommended hike. If you are bringing the rods with you, make sure you have a national park fishing license and check with the Banff Information Center to make sure there are no fishing restrictions. This trail through the forest averages a 10% grade and is well sheltered both from the wind and sun. The lake is teeming with fish who come to the surface to catch mosquitoes.

hiking33

The hike starts in a lodgepole pine forest and about halfway up turns into spruce forest. As you hike through the forest it opens in spots for views of the Bow Valley. Along the way you will cross two separate streams, the second of which is a waterfall and see some impressive cliffs towering above the trail on the left side. After 5.5 kilometers, once you cross the stream at the waterfall the climbing really starts as the trail switchbacks to the upper valley floor. At this point you are only 2 kilometers from the lake. As you cross the valley to the lake Mount Bourgeau is to the left and Mount Brett is to the right. If you are ambitious you can continue from Bourgeau Lake to Healy Pass and even to the summit of Mount Bourgeau. The climb to the Pass is an additional elevation gain of 290 meters and the top of Mount Bourgeau is 760 meters. It really is worth it.

Taylor Lake Trail

Distance: 12.8 km

Difficulty: Moderate

Elev. gain: 636 meters

Time required: 3 – 5 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

This hike starts on the west side of the Trans Canada, Highway #1. The parking lot is 36 kilometers west of the Banff townsite or 9 kilometers west of the Castle Mountain Junction. It is not extremely well sign posted so keep your eyes open.  Banff Maps

Hike Description

The hike starts at the west side of the Taylor Creek Parking Lot. First. you cross a wooden foot bridge and then stay to the right following the creek. The trail is an abandoned fire road that climbs through the forest until it opens into a meadow a few hundred meters from Taylor Lake. At this intersection you can turn to the left and make your way to O’Brien Lake which is only about 2 kilometers to the south over a trail that involves some route finding or continue west to Taylor Lake. On the north shore of Taylor Lake there are some camping spots that are in an ideal spot for the stunning views of Mount Bell to the south and Panorama Ridge to the North.

hiking55

Johnston Canyon Trail to the Ink Pots

Distance: 11.5 km

Difficulty: Easy

Elev. gain: 210 meters

Time required: 3 – 5 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

From the west side of Calgary, drive 116 kilometers on highway #1 towards Banff. Take the Bow Valley Parkway/Promenade (highway #1A exit). This exit is clearly signed listing Johnston Canyon. Drive 18 kilometers on Bow Valley Parkway and there is a sign where you turn right and park.

Hazards on trail

Snow and ice make this trail very slippy at times during the winter. Proper shoes and YakTrax are suggested.  http://www.banffnationalpark.com/the-park-ranger/backcountry-trips-in-banff-national-park/

Hike Description

This is probably one of the most popular trails in Banff. There are a series of catwalks anchored to walls of the Canyon and viewpoints above the river and falls. Even on a weekday the trail to the Upper Falls is crowded, espcially in the peak of summer. The majority of the trail is paved and has hand rails. The trail starts near the washrooms and crosses Johnston Canyon within the first couple of hundred meters. The trail heads to the right and the Lower Falls (immediately below) are only 1.1 kilometers from the trailhead. The Lower Falls are 10 m (33 feet) high and there is a tunnel at the one side that you can kneel and walk through to get a close up view and feel the spray in your face.

hiking66

From the Upper Falls the Ink Pots are 3.5 kilometers. Not many people venture this far. The trail heads up into the forest away from the Canyon and there is only one intersection where you turn right. It is well signed. The trail is described as back country but it is as well worn as a country gravel road. The first 3 kilometers are in the forest and then the trail opens into the Johnston Valley with impressive views of the surrounding mountains and the Ink Pots which are six greenish blue pools that are filled with spring water.

Lake Minnewanka to Warden’s Cabin

Distance: 29.2 km

Difficulty: Easy

Elev. gain: 42 meters

Multi-day: Yes

Time required: 7 – 9 hours

Bikes permitted: Yes

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

Assuming you are in Banff, head north on Banff Avenue and then continue on Minnewanka Loop. Stay to the right on Minnewanka Loop and ultimately enter the Lake Minnewanka Picnic Area. There are lots of signs to this destination. From Calgary, drive on highway #1 and take the exit toward Banff/Minnewanka Loop. Drive 400 meters and turn right at Banff Avenue and then continue on the Minnewanka Loop. This trail starts at the far end of the Lake Minnewanka Picnic Area.

hiking-44

Hike Description

This is one of the best scenic hikes in the Banff area. Over 14 kilometers the elevation gain is only 42 meters and the total climbing is only 165 meters so anyone with a bit of fitness can do at least part of it. In the mountains this is as flat as you can get. The Aylmer Pass hiking trail junction in approximately 8 kilometers from the trail head (one way) and the warden patrol cabin is approximately 15 kilometers from the trailhead (one way).

Sulphur Mountain

Distance: 5.5 km

Difficulty: Strenuous

Elev. gain: 742 meters

Time required: 2 – 5 hours

Bikes permitted: No

Dogs permitted: Yes

Directions to trail head

Once you arrive in Banff continue south through town on Banff Avenue. On the south side of town you will cross the bridge over the Spray River. Once you have crossed the bridge you will turn left, travel approximately 100 metres and then turn right at the fork in the road up Mountain Avenue. If you go to the left at the fork you will end up at the Banff Springs Hotel. There are plenty of Gondola signs up Mountain Avenue which will lead you to the upper and lower parking lots at the base of the mountain. The Gondola leaves from the lower lot (waypoint #141) and the trail head is at the north west side of the upper lot (waypoint #143). http://www.canadianrockies.net/banff/townsite.html

Hazards on trail

In winter, as ever, be aware of avalanches. This is a particurarly bad spot.

Hike Description

If you have been to Banff you have probably done this hike. Many people hike up the mountain and ride the Gondola down. It used to be free to take the Gondola down but there is a charge now.

This hike is approximately 5.5 kilometres one-way. The elevation gain is 742 metres with an average grade, according of 17 percent. Once you are at the top of Sulphur Mountain you can get to Sanson Peak via the short walkway. If you want to get into peak bagging here is a chance to bag a second without much additional effort. At the top of Sulphur the view is 360 degrees of fantastic with a view of the Banff townsite and valley, Mount Rundle and the Sundance Range. Truly spectacular.

camp1

Fenland Trail

Fenland Circuit – 2.1 km (1.3 mi)

The Fenland trail is an excellent choice for a peaceful, easy walk. Leading you through stunning forest, it runs beside the gentle waters of Echo and Forty Mile Creeks. It is right beside downtown Banff so it is not difficult to get to and it can be hiked all year round barring short periods when the snow is too heavy.
There are two accesses to do the Fenland trail. Follow the trail from the rear of the Forty Mile Picnic Area, cross a bridge over the creek, and continue 100 m to a trail split. At this point, you have the option to turn left or right. Either way, in less than 2km, you will be returned to the junction.

If you want a more challenging trip, start your hike from the Vermilion Lake Road which will extend the hike by another 4km along one of the best wetland environments in the Bow Valley.camp3

“Female elk have used the Fenland area as a calving ground for a number of years, and the trail is usually closed from late May through early June when these protective new mothers can be very aggressive.” – Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Tunnel Mountain

St. Julien Road to Tunnel Mountain summit – 2.3 km (1.4 mi)

Just like the Fenland Trail, this is easily accessible from downtown Banff and is by no means a difficult hike. The summit is 300m above the town and the views of the town below are to die for (literally if you are not careful!) There are also views of Mount Rundle and a good 30km stretch of the Bow Valley. This is one of the favourite trails of Banff locals.

After climbing 0.4 km from the St. Julien Road trailhead, the trail crosses Tunnel Mountain Road at a viewpoint-parking area. From here, it gets a little steeper. There are some great teaser glimpses of the view as you make your way up, which culminates in an awesome view from the top.

camp5

Access: It is an easy walk from downtown Banff on Wolf St. to St. Julien Road. Follow St. Julien 0.3 km to the trailhead parking area. To cut the hike time and distance down a little, drive to the viewpoint-parking area on the Tunnel Mountain Road above the Banff Centre

“On the summit ridge, the trail doubles back and runs above the mountain’s sheer east-facing cliffs. Views along the ridge extend over the Banff Springs Golf Course and down-valley to the park’s eastern boundary. (Stay well back from these dangerous cliff-edge viewpoints).” – Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Sundance Canyon

Cave and Basin to Sundance Canyon – 4.3 km (2.7 mi)

  • Half-day trip, allow 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 145 m (470 ft)
  • Maximum elevation: 1545 m (5,070 ft)

It was only in the mid 1980′s that Parks Canada eventually decided to convert most of this trail to a paved pedestrian-only area. Since then, the sights and wildlife have really enjoyed the newfound tranquillity. Many people bike to the canyon on the broad, paved trail, but the first half of the trip is an open and pleasant route for walkers as well.

camp6
From the Cave and Basin, the trail descends calmly through protective forests to the Bow River. For almost 2km it winds gently along the river offering views of the rugged peaks to the north including the impressive Mount Edith spire. There is pavement and bike access at the Sundance picnic area where there is another little foot trail to have a go at.

“The 1.6 km trail around the north side of the Cave and Basin marsh is an interesting way to return from Sundance Canyon.” – Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Healy Creek

This roadbed branches right from the Sundance Canyon trail at 2.2 km and rolls through forest along the south side of the Bow Valley to Brewster Creek junction (2.9 km) and the Sunshine Road (4.6 km). Although a lovely trail, it is used more by mountain bikers and skiers, depending on the season.

Access: From the intersection at the south end of the Bow River Bridge in Banff, follow Cave Avenue 1.2 km to the parking area for the Cave and Basin Centennial Centre. Follow the walkway for 200m and you will be on the trail.

C Level Cirque

Upper Bankhead Picnic Area to C Level Cirque-3.9 km (2.4 mi)

  • Half-day trip, allow 1.5 hours one way
  • Elevation gain: 455 m (1,500 ft)
  • Maximum elevation: 1920 m (6,300 ft)

This is another trail favoured by Banff locals. It is less than 4km and climbs past artefacts of the old Bankhead coal operation and a fully 3D viewing of Lake Minnewanka. It begins with a gentle ascent through a pleasantly varied forest of lodgepole pine, aspen and spruce, where there is a cacophony of colours and smells.

camp4

From a coal tailing pile 100 m beyond the buildings there is an excellent view out to Lake Minnewanka. Ascend further and you will eventually get great views of the Bow Valley to Mount Rundle, the Three Sisters and other mountains beyond the town of Canmore.

Other than hiking this great trail, you can also bring some hot chocolate with you, take a comfortable seat and watch the local residents go about their business. This trail is called home by a host of animals from hoary marmots to golden-mantled ground squirrels. Every neighbourhood has a bad neighbour and it is the wood tick here. Don’t lounge on the grass for too long or you will soon find out where he gets his bad name.
Access: From the Trans-Canada Highway at the Banff East Exit interchange, follow the Lake Minnewanka Road 3.5 km (2 mi) to the Upper Bankhead Picnic Area. The trail begins at the far (west) end of the picnic area parking lot.

“Cirque is a French word you will not likely find in your English dictionary-a term used by geologists to describe a semicircular, bowl-shaped depression created by an alpine glacier. C Level Cirque is a miniature example of the phenomenon.” – Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Cascade Amphitheatre

Mt. Norquay Lodge to Cascade Amphitheatre-6.6 km (4.1 mi)

  • Day trip, allow 2 to 3 hours one way
  • Elevation loss: 150 m (490 ft)
  • Elevation gain: 640 m (2,100 ft)
  • Maximum elevation: 2195 m (7,200 ft)

This is one of the more testing and strenuous day trips near Banff. Leading up the western flank of Cascade Mountain, it culminates at the huge and impressive natural amphitheatre at just over 2100m. It is at the centre of a hanging valley enclosed by great limestone cliffs and stunning wildflowers.

Begin at the ski area’s lodge complex at the far end of the main parking area. Be careful with the first kilometre as things can get a bit confusing. You have to pass the base station of a good few ski lifts but keep at the bottom and keep your eyes open for trail markers.

Just before the 3km mark, you will reach Forty Mile Creek. Turn right and cross the creek 200 m beyond on a substantial bridge. This is a good place to fill your water bottles as you will soon be sweating like a criminal in a line up and there is no more water for the rest of the ascent.

While the ascent of Cascade Mountain from the Amphitheatre is not particularly difficult, it is quite tricky and in winter can be quite dangerous too so keep all senses at the ready.
Access: From the Trans-Canada Highway at the Banff West Exit, follow the Mount Norquay Road north from the Trans-Canada Highway 6.0 km (3.5 mi) to the Mount Norquay Ski Area.

“Two small sink lakes also appear in the meadows with the spring snow melt, but these usually disappear by early July. Rockslides enclosing the upper end of the cirque are home to hoary marmots and pikas as well as the occasional white-tailed ptarmigan.” – Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

One Response to “Banff Hikes and Trails in Detail”

Leave a Comment


Canadian Rockies Lodges & Inns

Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge
Get great deals on lodging in our newly renovated rooms & cabins surrounded by Jasper scenery.

Johnston Canyon
The Johnston Canyon Resort is the best way to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Canadian Rockies in beautiful Alberta.

Mount Robson Inn
A Jasper hotel offering family friendly accommodations in the Canadian Rockies with landscapes that will capture your heart.

Mountaineer Lodge
Comfortable lodge located in Lake Louise, nestled in a pine forest with tremendous views of Mount Temple and its summit glacier.


Canadian Rockies Activities

Banff Backpacking & Mountaineering
We are the premier provider of trekking, mountaineering, and rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies.

Banff ATV Tours & Zipling
Experience the beauty of the Canadian Rockies on an ATV Tour. Or have fun Ziplining in Banff, Alberta!

Winter Icewalk Tours
in Jasper, Alberta

Join us on the three-hour Maligne Canyon Icewalk, where you will discover frozen waterfalls & elaborate ice caves!

Whitewater Rafting in Jasper, Alberta
Raft the exciting Sunwapta or the Athabasca River, or try the Fraser River in B.C. Raft Jasper!

Raft the Kicking Horse
in Banff, Alberta

The Kicking Horse River is one of the best
known for rafting tours...

White Water Rafting in
the Canadian Rockies

Experience whitewater adventure in the Canadian Rockies...

Golf Banff
Golf Jasper
The best & most beautiful golf courses in the Canadian Rockies...

Canadian Rockies
Golf Guide

Golf BC, Jasper, Banff and the beautiful Canadian Rockies....