Best Hikes in Banff National Park: 15 Spectacular Trails

Our guide provides all the information you need to explore the best of Canada’s Rocky Mountains. From glaciers, rocky peaks, and alpine lakes to historical tea houses and mountain huts, these are some of the most epic hikes anywhere!

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Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Sitting in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Canada’s oldest national park is vast. Banff National Park was formed in 1885 and now covers 6,641 square kilometers of unrivaled terrain. Turquoise-colored lakes, dense coniferous forests, sweeping valleys, glaciers, and soaring rock spires, this place will make you feel so small, and yet, so connected.

There are dozens upon dozens of great trails in Banff National Park. However, to help you make the most of your time there, we’ve compiled a list of our favorites. In addition to cluing you into all the highlights on each hike, we provide further logistical info on parking and permits, as well as detailed route descriptions.

Banff National Park: What You Need to Know

Banff National Park is 1.5 hours from Calgary International Airport, and with buses, shuttles, rideshares, and private tours departing daily, access is easy. Transportation within the park is also great, though we suggest booking buses ahead, especially in July and August. Up-to-date information is available on the app BanffNow.

A daily fee or annual Parks Pass is required to enter the park. However, every penny is worth it, for once you enter, the Icefields Parkway begins. For 140 miles, Highway 93 traces the Continental Divide from Lake Louise north to Jasper National Park. It is hard to fathom the size of the surrounding mountains, but keep your eyes peeled for wildlife!

There are over 100 species in the park, including grizzly bears, elk, moose, wolves, and more. To encounter them in their natural environment is a special experience, but it is crucial to respect the animals and their homes. 

Banff National Park shares their #WildLife rules: 

  1. Properly dispose of food and garbage in designated areas.
  2. Follow speed limits. 
  3. Keep your dogs on a leash. 
  4. Respect all area closures.
  5. Do not approach or feed wildlife. 

15 Best Hikes in Banff National Park

1. Parker Ridge

Parker Ridge
A short hike leads to this epic view of the longest outflow Glacier from the Columbia Icefield.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 2.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

This hike toward a treeless and windswept ridge provides incredible views of the 8-mile long toe of Saskatchewan Glacier, Big Bend Peak, Mount Saskatchewan, and Castleguard Mountain. It is a great way to breathe the fresh Rocky air, stretch your legs, and break up a long drive.

The Parker Ridge trailhead parking lot is halfway between Lake Louise and Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. 

As you begin this scenic hike, Mount Athabasca and Hilda Peak tower over you on the west behind trees. The path weaves through the trees until reaching a series of switchbacks above the treeline.

From here, enjoy the alpine meadows and wildflowers, and the incredible views on all sides. Nigel Peak is looming behind you in the North. Eventually, part of the Saskatchewan Glacier comes into view. Keep walking to the lookout point. 

2. Sulphur Mountain Hike

Sulphur Mountain Hike
This mountain is named for the two sulfurous hot springs at its base!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 6.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

There are two ways to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain: via the Banff Gondola, or by hiking. While the latter is more challenging, it is cheaper and much more rewarding! 

The trail begins at the Northwest end of the Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot. After passing a heap of signs, a relentless series of switchbacks cuts through the dense evergreen forest, with Old Man’s Beard and lichen everywhere. 

Clearings through the forest offer views over Mount Rundle, Cascade Mountain, the Bow River flowing beneath Tunnel Mountain toward Calgary, the Goat Creek valley, Lake Minnewanka, Mount Inglismaldie, Mount Norquay, and the impressive 45-degree angle Banff Gondola Tower!

At the summit, you might think you’ve suddenly been transported to the Alps! Along with incredible views – perhaps the best in Banff – there is the Sky Bistro, the Rimrock Hotel, an interactive learning center, and a boardwalk leading to the historic Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site

3. Two Jack Lake

Two Jack Lake
This trail offers one of the best views of Mount Rundle in the national park.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 2.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

Two Jack Lake is only fifteen minutes by car from Banff town. The views of Mount Rundle over the emerald lake are spectacular and can be enjoyed with fewer crowds than Lake Louise or Lake Minnewanka. During the summer months, it is a popular destination for kayakers, swimmers, and paddleboarders, while in the winter many go ice skating or snowshoeing

No trail traces the circumference of Two Jack Lake, but all the hikes are easy and scenic. This is a great stop for anyone traveling along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.

There are two campgrounds, Two Jack Main Campground and Two Jack Lakeside Campground. Both facilities offer toilets, running hot and cold water, grills and fuel, and picnic areas. 

4. Cascade Mountain Trail

Cascade Mountain Trail
Steep, strenuous, and thigh-burning, this is a spicy scramble for the keen adventurer.
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 12.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

This hike is for the keen adventurer who likes exposure, sweeping views of the mountains, and using more than just their feet to reach the summit! The total elevation gain is 1,460 meters (4,790 feet).

The trail begins at the Cascade Amphitheatre. To get here, park at the Mt. Norquay Ski Area and follow signs for the Cascade Amphitheatre Trail (4.6 miles). See #10 below for the full instructions.

Once in the Amphitheatre Meadows, look at your incredible scrambling route: First Peak, False Summit, and Main Summit. The trail takes you along the side of the mountain with incredible views of Cascade Amphitheatre below, through a boulder field, and then up the crest of peaks. 

Tread with caution. There are many loose rocks. The trail appears and reappears, so look back as you ascend and record waymarkers in case the weather turns bad before descending. It is also recommended to bring bear spray with you. 

5. Lake Agnes Tea House & Big Beehive

Lake Agnes Tea House & Big Beehive
History, natural beauty, a way to escape the crowds – what else can you ask for?
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 6.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate/Challenging

Unlike some of the other hiking trails in the Lake Louise area, this trail offers a multitude of landscapes. With gentle forests, emerald-colored lakes, a historic tea house and mountain shelter, this is easily one of our favorite Banff hiking trails! 

The Lake Agnes Trail begins out front Chateau Lake Louise. 

The first part of the trail toward the tea house is a relatively easy hike, meandering through dense forest. Past Mirror Lake, dip away to visit Little Beehive. Then, at the big waterfall with an incredible backdrop of Big Beehive, a wooden staircase leads up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, where you can enjoy a snack overlooking the lake. 

The second part of the hike is much less crowded. Walking along the crest of Lake Agnes, there are spectacular views of Mount Whyte and the Devil’s Thumb. At the end of the lake, a steep series of switchbacks takes you to a four-way junction. Go left. Near the end of the trail is a shelter erected in 1916 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

While there is no official viewpoint to mark the summit, there are many spots to look down at Lake Louise. 

6. Plain of Six Glaciers (Six Glaciers Trail)

Plain of Six Glaciers
Walk along the Lake Louise shoreline and up high to reach a quaint mountain tea hut. 
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 9.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate/Challenging

This trail traces the Lake Louise shoreline away from the crowds of tourists, offering views of dark and imposing rock faces (look for rock climbers!), exposed airy drops, and panoramic views over Mount Victoria, Victoria Glacier, and Mount Lefroy. 

The second half of this hike is steep, but the scenic rewards are well worth it. The higher you go, the better your chance of seeing some of the incredible wildlife that lives in Banff National Park.

From the Chateau Lake Louise, follow the wide path that goes right along the lake. At the end of the lake, the trail steepens and the forest thins out, providing great views over Lake Louise. Two steep sets of switchbacks bring you to the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House, where you can enjoy a snack. 

From the tea house, a flat 0.9-mile trek brings you to Abbots Pass Viewpoint. Marvel at the glaciers and mountain pass that separate the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. On the right, you can spot a small climber’s hut, built over 100 years ago, in 1922!

7. Mount Rundle Trail

Mount Rundle Trail
Climb Banff’s iconic wedge-shaped mountain via the ‘Dragon’s Back’!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 9.4 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

This is another hard and strenuous classic in the national park. A scramble along the ‘Dragon’s Back’ leads you to the summit of the iconic wedge-shaped mountain, Mount Rundle. It is one of the best Banff hikes and, consequently, sees loads of traffic in the summer. 

Begin near the Spray River bridge. Park in the Bow Falls parking lot near the Banff Springs Hotel and Golf Course, or walk 20 minutes from town. Follow signs along a well-packed road until reaching a dozen switchbacks. The trail ends at Central Gully. While it is here that the ‘fun’ (if you like spice!) begins, do not climb Central Gully. Numerous deaths have occurred. 

Climb down, around the gully and outcrop, then steeply up the forest ridge. This takes you to the ‘Dragon’s Back’, which is a narrow ridge between two steep gullies. Watch your footing here, but admire the incredible position you are in! Continue up the loose scree along the ‘Back’ until reaching the summit cairn. 

The summit is only the halfway point, for you still have to descend. This is where most accidents occur. Be vigilant. Yellow markers guide you back to the trailhead at the bottom of Central Gully.

8. Wilcox Pass

Wilcox Pass
Sit on the iconic red chairs and enjoy the glaciated scenery!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 6 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Wilcox Pass offers spectacular views over the Columbia Icefield, and the chance to see mountain goats, bears, elk, and in the winter, wolves. When on the pass, look below at the boulders, glaciers, and the low parallel ridges formed from ice flow. Here, geological time becomes tangible. 

The first part of the hike leads you through a forest from the trailhead. At the top, you reach two red Adirondack chairs. These have been placed throughout national parks and national historic sites across Canada, providing visitors the opportunity to relax and enjoy the incredible scenery the country has to offer. From the chairs, walk steeply through a meadow toward Wilcox Pass. 

The final section to the Wilcox Viewpoint is steep and is often covered in snow up until late June, so it is advised to hike in July or August. Crossing over two knolls and alpine meadows, the exposure and scenery are sublime. 

9. Helen Lake and Cirque Peak Trail

Helen Lake and Cirque Peak Trail
360-degree views of sheer Banff beauty!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 9.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Starting at Bow Lake, this steep and challenging hike takes you to the top of Cirque Peak, providing 360 degrees of the most spectacular terrain in Banff National Park. From dense coniferous forests to scrambling up rock, you will never forget your day spent on this trail. 

From the parking lot, the trail ascends steeply along Crystal Ridge. Crossing over six rivers, a clearing in the trees suddenly provides incredible glacial views. Continue along the path toward Helen Lake. From here, the trail goes right along the lake and exits the trees into alpine terrain.

This last slog toward Cirque Peak is strenuous. You gain 500 meters/1,640 feet of elevation in 0.8 miles! 

Ascend steeply along the ridge. After navigating a tricky rock formation with your hands, you are there. 360 degrees of exposed, sheer beauty await: Dolomite Pass, the submarine-like formation of Dolomite Peak, Peyto Lake, the Wapta Icefields, Bow Valley toward the town of Banff, and Lake Katherine. 

10. Cascade Amphitheatre

Cascade Amphitheatre
Glacier-marked rock? Yep – a full amphitheater of it!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 8.6 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate 

The hike up to Cascade Amphitheatre is one of the most popular hikes in Banff, and with good reason. Standing in the alpine meadows, surrounded by wildflowers and joined by marmots, pikas, and good friends, this is an incredible place to marvel at the ways glaciers have carved the rocks over time. 

As for the Cascade Mountain Trail (#4), start at the Mt. Norquay Ski Center, 3.7 miles off the Trans-Canada Highway. Past the lodge on the other side of the Mystic Chair, follow the well-marked trail toward Forty Mile Creek. Turn right toward Elk Lake at the first junction, and right again through forest at the second. Cross Forty Mile Creek over a bridge.

Soon, look out for rock climbers on the incredible walls of Mouth Louis in the west, or South on Mount Edith. Continue onward, steeply ascending switchbacks through alpine terrain. Soon, you come face-to-face with the incredible Cascade Amphitheatre. 

For the keen adventurer eyeing the summit, see above for the Cascade Mountain Trail (#4).

11. Johnston Canyon & The Ink Pots

Johnston Canyon & The Ink Pots
Walk through canyon walls, over the mouth of a gorge, and sit by bubbling mineral springs! 
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 7.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots is one of the busiest hikes in any of Canada’s national parks, but if enjoyed at sunrise or sunset, it is easily one of our favorite hikes in Banff. Featuring waterfalls, limestone walls, catwalks that penetrate overhanging canyon walls, and bubbling mineral springs, this fairly easy hike through Johnston Canyon has so much to offer! 

The well-marked trail begins behind Johnston Canyon Lodge and heads toward Lower Canyon Falls. To get a better view, cross over a bridge and through a tunnel. 

The walk to Upper Falls is steeper and goes through an ecologically sensitive area. Stay on the designated paths. The trail conditions in Johnston Canyon are great and offer many viewpoints over the gorge. Hiking pants and a warm shirt are recommended because the temperatures in the gorge can be cool.

From the Upper Falls, head through a forest, meeting the trail from Moose Meadows. Continue along to Johnston Creek, then to the Ink Pots, which are surrounded by towering peaks. Swimming is prohibited in these bubbling mineral springs. However, enjoy a picnic and the lovely scenery, for it is quite unique!

12. Bow Glacier Falls

Bow Glacier Falls
A hike jam-packed with Rocky Mountain elements!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Fancy a quintessential Rocky Mountain experience? With glacial-blue lakes, roaring waterfalls, thick pine forests, looming mountains, and an abundance of wildlife, this is a spectacular trail for anyone who wants to make the most of a short stay in Banff National Park. 

The trail starts in the Bow Lake Parking Lot, just off the Icefields Parkway, and behind the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. From here it makes its way around the crest of the lake. From the junction at the far side of the lake, head up the staircase to Bow Glacier Falls. Going left brings you to Bow Hut. 

While the staircase is thigh-burning, the reward is incredible. At the top, walk along the right side of the stream toward the falls. Many streams cross the path, so follow the cairns on the side of the trail. The views up here are absolutely incredible and, if you’re hot, you can almost have a shower in the mist from the waterfalls! Enjoy the sublime views of the lake on your descent. 

13. Sentinel Pass & Larch Valley

Sentinel Pass in fall, Banff, Canada
This is one of the best hikes to do in fall when the golden larches glow beneath the snow-clad peaks! 
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 6.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Of all the top hikes on our list, this may very well be the hardest to actually start. This isn’t because it begins with an absolute slog. Rather, it is because you stand in one of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies, on the shore of Moraine Lake looking across at the glacial blue water sitting in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Quite simply, it is stunning.

The trail begins from the flat path along the lake and climbs steadily through the forest, offering occasional views of Moraine Lake below. Keep plodding uphill, passing Eiffel Lake to eventually reach the larch valley. 

Ascend steep switchbacks to reach Sentinel Pass, where you can see tall spires rising in the distance, the ten iconic peaks, and all of the larches. It is windy up here, so we recommend bringing a warm layer.

The parking spaces are very limited and fill up very quickly (Lake Louise tourism is a thing). We recommend arriving before 6 a.m. or after 8 p.m. 

14. Moraine Lake Lakeshore

Moraine Lake Lakeshore
Have you ever seen a postcard from the Canadian Rockies? Chances are, it’s from here!
  • Type: Out and Back 
  • Length: 2.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Shoreline and Rockpile Trails are fantastic ways for families, young children, and inexperienced hikers to soak in the wonderful views of Moraine Lake. 

From the parking lot, enter the forest on the left behind a massive rockpile. The well-built path and stairs guide you to the top of the rockpile, where the Valley of the Ten Peaks soars above the glacier-fed lake. Fun fact: the image of Moraine Lake featured on the $20 note in 1969 and 1979 was taken from here!

After taking your own photographs and soaking in the scenery, head back down the path, trace the shoreline, and enter the forest on the right side of the lake, enjoying views of Mount Fay and the Fay Glacier. 

15. Lake Annette & Paradise Valley

Lake Annette Paradise Valley
A hidden gem, well away from the crowds!
  • Type: Out and Back
  • Length: 7.1 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The last trail on our list of the best hikes in Banff National Park is one of our favorites. Paradise Valley and Lake Annette don’t dominate the Lake Louise tourism websites and pamphlets, and as a result, the trail sees far less traffic. It is not uncommon to find yourself alone by the lakeside, enjoying the azure waters and marveling at the sheer beauty of the mountains surrounding the lake.

The trail begins at the Paradise Creek parking lot, though it is possible to start at Lake Louise. From the lot, follow the path through the forest, where the air is incredibly fresh. 

Soon, the trees clear, offering spectacular views of Mount Aberdeen, Temple, Hungabee, and the hanging glacier, all towering above the lake below. Cross a few more bridges. Then, the crown jewel: Lake Annette, glistening. This will take your breath away. The size of Mount Temple is hard to grasp, let alone capture in a photo! 

Continue up through Paradise Valley, crossing bridges over Paradise Creek, always beneath the presence of towering peaks, such as Sheol, Fairview, and Saddleback Mountains. The trees, too, are immense. Lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, or subalpine fir, the greens are incredible. Along the way, you will also catch views of the Bow Valley in the distance.

Camping in Canada

Hiking not enough? Check out our other guides to camping in Canda:

So, What Are You Waiting For? To the Rockies!

Some of the best hiking in the world can be found in Banff National Park. On almost every trail you are bound to encounter glistening blue, glacier-fed lakes nestled between some of the biggest mountains in North America. 

While not all of the hikes in Banff are grueling slogs, don’t be afraid to push yourself. Crossing the treeline into alpine meadows and being bombarded with magnificent mountains is something incredibly rewarding, and an experience you will never forget. 

If you liked this post, feel free to share it with your friends or anyone bound for Banff National Park this summer! Drop us a line in the box below if you have any questions or comments. 

Last update on 2023-05-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Alexandre Marceau is a French-Canadian writer, editor and keen mountaineer based in Edinburgh, UK.

During his undergrad in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, at the confluence of the Saint-François and Massawippi Rivers, he discovered that literary timelines, much like veins, carry the timeless stories that shape the regional identities of place. As a result, in 2019, he co-founded yolk, a Canadian literary journal for which he serves as Fiction Editor.

Alexandre’s work has appeared in various journals, newspapers and websites in Canada and Scotland, and he is the Creatives Editor for the Scottish Mountaineering Press. His time is divided between climbing, trail-running, snowboarding and writing.

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