The Canadian Rockies offer some of the world’s most scenic and extensive hiking trail networks. There’s over 1,000km of trails within Banff National Park, including UNESCO sites with beautiful sub alpine forests, unparalleled views of towering peaks and turquoise blue glacier fed lakes. The region is an outdoor adventurer’s dream come true!
With trail options to suit all ages, difficulty levels, length and duration, the choices are almost limitless. We’ve selected our favourite hiking trails in Banff below, with an option for all preferred hiking types – no matter the skill level or difficulty!
THE BEST HIKING TRAILS IN BANFF
1. JOHNSTON CANYON
JOHNSTON CANYON IN THE SPRING/SUMMER
LEVEL: EASY HIKE
Johnston Canyon is one of the most unique and fascinating hikes in the Rockies. The narrow canyon, rushing water, potholes and waterfalls make this walk exciting and memorable. It’s suitable for the whole family, plus comfortable for a parent carrying a toddler or a baby carrier.
Look for birds, including the Dipper, Winter Wren, Cordilleran Flycatcher, the Townsends, Yellow-Rumped Warbler and Black Swift. Johnston Canyon is one of three known breeding sites of the Black Swift in Alberta. Look for nests on the canyon walls.
The trail begins as a paved walkway for 1.1km to the Lower Falls, where water plunges 33 feet into a deeply carved pothole. The trail becomes a little more rugged on the way to the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls are stunning with water cascading down more than 100 feet. The final leg of the walk brings you to the Johnston Valley bottom and the Ink Pots, which are six clear, green pools filled with spring water. Interestingly, they remain at a constant 1-degree Celsius all year. Johnston Canyon is shaded and moist, so bring extra clothing even if it’s warm out.
- Time to Ink Pots: 4-5 hours return trip
- Distance: 5.8km (3.6 miles)
- Level of Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 215 metres (700 feet)
ICE WALKING AT JOHNSTON CANYON IN THE WINTER
LEVEL: FUN FAMILY HIKING (6 YRS +)
Marvelling at magnificent, frozen waterfalls makes for a true one-of-a-kind experience.
Explore the majestic, frozen world of Johnston Canyon in the winter. Natural tunnels, deep pools, narrow canyons, frozen waterfalls make this hike spectacular! This is an exciting winter activity for the whole family.
Measuring 30 metres (almost 100 feet) in height, the Upper Falls look like an incredible work of art.
- Distance: 5 km round trip
- Time: 2-2.5 hours round trip
- Ice cleats are highly recommended
Drive towards Banff from Canmore. Continue to drive west from Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway. Take the 1A Hwy (aka Bow Valley Parkway) turnoff and continue west 18 km (11 miles) to Johnston Canyon Resort. A trail sign at the northern end of the parking lot marks the start of the hike.
2. LARCH VALLEY TRAIL, MORAINE LAKE
LEVEL: EASY TO MODERATE HIKE
Ask any local what hike you should do if you only have one day to spare in the Rockies and the answer will undoubtedly be “Larch”. And with good reason, as this hike offers one of the most awe-inspiring and stunning views in the Canadian Rockies.
From the meadows above Moraine Lake, you have an unobstructed view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Mount Fay with its dominant glacier cap. In the summer, the meadows are covered with colourful wildflowers and small lakes dot the upper meadows of the valley.
It only takes about one hour to reach Larch Valley and once here, many hikers spend the day just exploring the surrounding area. But for those who are looking for a more challenging hike, we suggest continuing on to Sentinel Pass or Eiffel Lake for an awesome view of Larch Valley and the Ten Peaks.
From the picturesque canoe dock at Moraine Lake, the path leads you through the forest. Stay right at the 2.4km junction and immediately enter the lower meadows of Larch Valley.
Sentinel Pass is a challenging extension from the upper Larch Valley if your gang is up for it. The trail begins at a switchback climb up the steep slope leading to the pass, which is a 200m ascent. At 2,611m, Sentinel Pass is one of the highest trail-accessible passes in the Rockies. Distance to Sentinel Pass from Moraine Lake is 5.8 kilometres (one way).
Eiffel Lake is a more leisurely option than Sentinel Pass, but still delivers in rewarding views. This trail runs along the north side of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, starting from where the Larch Valley trail first enters the meadows. The trail emerges onto open slopes where all of the ten summits are visible across the valley. At 5.6km, the trail passes across a slope above Eiffel Lake. If you feel you still want more, it is possible to hike past Eiffel Lake for another four kilometres to the 2,600-metre-high Wenkchemna Pass. This trail continues west from the Eiffel Lake viewpoint across alpine meadows, then climbs along the rocky ridge of Wenkchemna Peak before descending between Wenkchemna Peak and Neptuak Mountain. The pass is 9.7 kilometres from Moraine Lake. You should allow 3-4 hours one way.
Details for Larch Valley Trail
- Distance: 4.8km round trip
- Length: 2-2.5 hours round trip
- Elevation gain: 350m (1,150 ft)
- Note: If restrictions concerning grizzly bears are in place, hiking in Larch Valley and to Eiffel Lake may require a group of four people walking in close proximity to one another.
The trailhead is a 60 minute drive from Canmore. From the village of Lake Louise, follow Lake Louise Drive up to the Moraine Lake turn-off. The starting point is at the end of Moraine Lake Road, which is 12.5km from Lake Louise Drive. Arrive early in the day, as this parking lot fills up early.
3. TUNNEL MOUNTAIN HIKE
LEVEL: MODERATE HIKE
This is an excellent family hike, offering impressive views of Banff, the Bow Valley, Mount Rundle and the surrounding Rocky Mountains. The trail on Tunnel Mountain has existed since the founding of Banff National Park. Near the top, the trees open up to reveal great views of Mount Rundle. Surprisingly, there is no tunnel on this hike -it was named “Banff Tunnel Mountain” due to a proposed route for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1882. The plan was to blast a half-mile tunnel through the mountain but this idea would have cost the CPR millions of extra dollars and was discarded. The CPR eventually decided on an alternate route around the mountain, but the name stuck!
- Distance: 4.3km round trip
- Time: 2-3 hours round trip
- Elevation: 300m (948 feet)
From downtown Banff (south end of Banff Ave.) turn east on Buffalo St. (which turns into Wolverine St.) and drive to Saint Julien Road. The trailhead begins on the north side of Saint Julien Road. A shorter option of the same hike (3.6km return) begins at Tunnel Mountain Drive, which is north of The Banff Centre.
4. PLAIN OF 6 GLACIERS AND TEAHOUSE
LEVEL: MODERATE HIKE
The Plain of 6 Glaciers is an awesome hike that offers stunning views of Lake Louise and hanging glaciers on Mount Aberdeen, Mount Lefroy, Popes Peak, Mount Victoria and Lower Victoria Valley glaciers. This is a hike that wows even the long-time locals! On the cliffs north of the tea house, look out for mountain goats with their white coats and black horns.
Similar to hiking in the European Alps, one of the best parts of this hike is enjoying a cup of tea at trail’s end. The Plain of 6 Tea House was built by Swiss mountain guides in 1924 and they still bake fresh bread in this quaint hut. The Swiss mountain guides are an integral part of Western Canada’s tourism history. On a quest for new mountaineering challenges, Austrian and Swiss mountain guides started coming to Western Canada in the 1880s. At the same time, Canada’s federal government created Canada’s first national park in Banff (1885).
The first 2.5km of this hike is mostly flat. After tracing the north shore of Lake Louise, you hike below the cliffs of the “Back of the Lake”. Here, hikers will find various climbing routes that are a perfect challenge for experienced rock climbers. The trail then runs along the delta at the west end of Lake Louise. A sign that reads “End of Nordic Ski Trail” marks the beginning of a few avalanche chutes. These slide paths are dangerous for cross-country skiers in winter, but can also constitute a hazard for people hiking in early spring.
- Distance: 5.5km – Lake Louise to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (one way)
- Time: 1.5 – 2 hr (one way)
- Elevation Gain: 370m (1215 ft)
- Maximum Elevation: 2100m (6890 ft)
Lake Louise is a 45 minute drive from Canmore. You will find the trailhead at the northeast corner of Lake Louise. Pass in front of Chateau Lake Louise from the public parking lot.
5. LAKE MINNEWANKA/AYLMER LOOKOUT + PASS
LEVEL: MODERATE HIKE: DAY TRIP
When Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, made the first recorded visit to Lake Minnewanka in August, 1841, he marvelled at the beauty of the lake and exclaimed that “the surrounding mountains were very grand, of every varied form…their craggy summits resembling battlements among which dizzy heights the goat and sheep delight to bound.” Hikers who journey to Aylmer Lookout and Pass can retrace part of Sir George’s route and visit those dizzy heights where many sheep delight to bound. Note: this area is also known for being home to wood ticks, so be on lookout!
BEGIN AT LAKE MINNEWANKA
Strong hikers can reach Aylmer Lookout and return in a day. However, those bound for both the lookout and the pass usually prefer to camp at Aylmer Pass Junction Campground (Lm8) and day hike from there.
Though the first 7.8km of the journey follows Lake Minnewanka’s north shore over gentle, undemanding trail, you should be ready for what lies ahead. Forking uphill, away from the tranquillity of the lake, the trail to the pass and the old Aylmer fire lookout site is strenuous.
Stock up on water at the stream near the Lake Minnewanka trail junction in preparation for gaining nearly 600 vertical metres over the next 2km. The next area to refill your water is at least an hour beyond this stream.
Most day hikers opt for the shorter trip to the fire lookout site, which is situated on the end of an open ridge below the summit of Mount Aylmer. As you labour up the steep incline leading toward Aylmer Pass, watch for the lookout trail branching right 2.3km beyond the Minnewanka junction.
The trail to the lookout continues steeply upwards, angling southeast toward the crest of the ridge. From the 2040m viewpoint nearly all of Lake Minnewanka can be seen.
Across the lake stand the twin summits of Mount Inglismaldie and Mount Girouard, displaying massive cliffs of Mississippian and Devonian age limestone. Looming above the ridge, less than 3km to the north, is Mount Aylmer — the highest peak in the Banff-Lake Minnewanka area standing at 3162 metres. The Mount Rundle massif and the Bow Valley near Banff can be seen to the southwest.
Though the lookout tower and cabin are long gone, the open ridge is often visited by herds of mountain sheep who, perhaps, have some ancestral memory of the days when fire lookouts used to live here and put out salt blocks. Another form of wildlife found here in abundance in the spring is the wood tick (check your body and clothes carefully upon returning from this trip).
From the fire lookout trail junction at 10.1km, the left fork continues its steady climb to the park boundary and the open alpine meadows of Aylmer Pass. The pass lies well above the last forest cover and is covered in snow much later into the season than the lookout ridge.
From the crest of the pass, views open into the highly folded and faulted mountains of the Palliser Range. Directly above the pass to the east is the summit of Mount Aylmer, a gruelling but straight-forward scramble for hikers with good boots. Like the Aylmer Lookout area, the slopes above the pass are prime mountain sheep habitat.
Backpackers with a few days to spare can continue over the pass to explore the Ghost River Wilderness Area. The trail is well maintained and continues down the north side of the pass to Spectral Creek, but the descent to Ghost River and beyond is strictly for experienced explorers.
- Minnewanka parking area to Aylmer Lookout — 11.8 km
- Minnewanka parking area to Aylmer Pass — 13.5 km
- Hike: Day trip or an overnighter are suitable, but allow 4 to 5 hours to lookout
- Elevation gain: 575 m (1,890 ft)
- Maximum elevation: 2055 m (6,750 ft)
Access: From the Trans-Canada Highway at the Banff East Exit interchange, follow the Lake Minnewanka Road 5.5 km (3.5 mi) to the parking area at the lake. Walk to the access gate leading to the tour boat concession.
PLANNING A TRIP TO BANFF?
Did you know that many of Banff’s trails can be accessed via horseback? We offer access to a variety of horseback riding tours in Banff National Park – some paying homage to the original cowboys with camping in the outback and campfire dinners. You can view our Banff tours here.
We also offer a number of great accommodations in Banff, ranging from hotel rooms to fully-equipped vacation rentals. You can view our selection of Banff accommodations here. Call our highly knowledgeable Destination Experts who can answer any questions you may have about the hiking trails in Banff, or about the accommodations in the area. They’re available 7 days a week!