Updated April 2018
Hiking in Banff National Park is an outdoor traveler’s dream. With its strange, pastel-colored glacial lakes, its year-round green pine trees, its incredible wildlife and, of course, its beautiful location in the Canadian Rockies, it’s no wonder travelers have started flocking to take on some of the hikes in Banff over the past few years.
One of the best ways to experience and immerse yourself in the wild beauty of Banff is to hit the trails. But if you’re new to hiking, don’t worry! There are several areas to go hiking in Banff for travelers of many different abilities and fitness levels.
To help you plan your trip to Alberta, we’ve compiled a list of the most beautiful hikes in and around Banff National Park, including easy, moderate, and challenging trails. If you’re looking for some of the best trails to go hiking in Banff National Park, our list might give you some ideas to start with.
Hiking in Banff National Park: The Basics
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What to Bring
Hiking in Banff National Park is pretty similar to hiking anywhere. Weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains, so we recommend bringing lots of layers – including a waterproof shell – with you on any hike. Bears and other wildlife are common in the park, so it’s important to carry protection from these as well.
- Waterproof hiking boots – While hiking in Banff, there’s a good chance you’ll be caught walking in mud, snow, and streams. For that, I have my cozy pair of Ahnu waterproof hiking boots (men’s version here) that always do the trick.
- Layers, including a waterproof shell – I don’t go anywhere without my merino wool baselayer (men’s version here), my thermal puffer, and my rain jacket (men’s version here).
- Bear spray – This will help you out in the event of a bear attack (which is rather unlikely to begin with!). You can pick bear spray cans up at any outdoor retailer in Canada, like MEC – just make sure to leave them behind before you fly.
- Mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and sunglasses
- Trekking poles – For the more strenuous hikes, you may want to take a sturdy pair of retractable trekking poles with you for easier leverage on rocky slopes.
- Head lamp – I love my trusty head lamp for hiking before sunrise or after dark.
- Hammock – Trees are abundant in Banff and you may just want to take a little nap with a view… a compact 2-person hammock can help with that.
- Reusable water bottle and filter – I love pairing my rock-solid Hydro Flask with my SteriPen Aqua and Sawyer Products Mini Water Filter for clean, cold water on the go.
- Lots of snacks
- Travel insurance – You don’t want to go ANYWHERE without being protected, especially if you’re hiking in remote areas! Before your trip, be sure to get yourself some travel insurance (our favorite is World Nomads).
Getting to Banff National Park
Unless you live in Alberta or British Columbia, your best bet to getting to Banff is to fly into Calgary International Airport (YYC). Some guided tours and programs may provide transportation to Banff National Park from Calgary, but the most common way to get to the national park will be driving.
From Calgary, you will take the Trans-Canada Highway AB-1 going West. The trip takes just over an hour to get to the front entrance of the park.
Getting Around Banff National Park
By and large, the best way to get around the Canadian Rockies is by renting a car. There’s really no other way to get to the various campsites, landmarks, and hikes in Banff National Park. You can rent a car in the nearby cities of Calgary (~1.5 hours away) or Edmonton (~4 hours away), either at the airport or within the city centers.
Where to Stay Near Banff National Park
Now that you’ve decided to visit Banff, you’ll probably need to find a place to stay. There are four option ‘levels’ for types of accommodation, which I’ll outline below.
There are several front- and back-country campsites available in Banff and the surrounding areas. The cheapest and least crowded of these are in Canmore, which is in between Calgary and Banff.
As you get into the main areas of the park, the campsites become slightly more expensive. If you’re planning on visiting Banff during the summer, your best bet is to reserve your campsites ahead of time on the Parks Canada website.
If you’re on a budget but don’t want to camp, there are a few hostels available in the Banff area that are perfect for travelers on a shoestring. I haven’t personally stayed in any hostels in Banff, but Banff International Hostel is the most popular option for backpackers in the area. For hardcore hikers, HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre and HI Banff Alpine Centre seem like good options.
For travelers who want a good level of comfort but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, there are several inns, hotels, and lodges available in Banff town and on its outskirts where visitors can stay. Again, these book up very early for the summer months, so be sure to reserve far in advance. Mid-range travelers might find the Rundlestone Lodge and the Banff Park Lodge to be fantastic options.
If you’re hoping to make your Banff vacation a big splurge, you can’t go anywhere else than the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. With stunning views of the lake, access to two hiking trails from hotel’s the back door, and hotel dining available, what could be more luxurious or convenient?
List of Hikes in Banff National Park
Easy Hikes in Banff National Park
1. Johnston Canyon Trail
Waterfalls meet narrow stone gorges in this beautiful and easy hike, which is perfect for solo hikers and groups alike. There are a few different options for this hike, including a short version that takes hikers right up to the first set of falls, or the longer version that extends all the way to the “Ink Pots,” a colorful phenomenon that occurs in some natural pools in Banff National Park.
Distance: 2.7 to 5.8 km
For more on hiking Johnston Canyon >> Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots Guide
2. Moraine Lake Trail
The picturesque image of snow-capped, rocky mountains reflecting off a teal-glue glacial lake is one of the most iconic sights of Banff National Park. Moraine Lake is the name of that famous scene. Needless to say, the Moraine Lake “rockpile” is not only an Instagram-famous spot, but it’s also one of the best hikes in Banff National Park.
Located near the famed Lake Louise, Moraine Lake has several areas to hike, and it is a stunning easy day trip if you’re crunched for time. Pro tip: Go early in the morning to avoid crowds in the late spring and summer.
Distance: 1.6 km to rockpile
For more on hiking Moraine Lakeside >> Moraine Lake Rockpile Guide
3. Two Jack Lake Hiking Trail
The glistening Two Jack Lake is a peaceful respite located just off the main Trans-Canada Highway, with hiking trails all around its perimeter. With the gorgeous Mount Rundle in the background, this glassy lake is an incredible and easy morning hike to embark on, especially if you are planning on camping in the Two Jack Lakeside campground.
In the early morning, fog covers the crystalline water, and on clear days you can witness the near-perfect reflection of the evergreen trees and Mount Rundle.
On a side note, Two Jack Lake tops my list for best camping spot in Banff National Park.
For more on hiking/camping Two Jack Lake >> Two Jack Lake Guide
4. Hoodoos Hiking Trail
Some of the most unique rock formations in all of Banff National Park are known as the hoodoos, or fairy chimneys. Famous in places like Cappadocia or the American Southwest, the hoodoos are rocks that look like spears sticking out of the earth. The Hoodoos Trail gives hikers a unique viewpoint with which to admire these magical natural phenomena.
Distance: 3 to 4.6 km
For more on hiking Hoodoos >> Hoodoos Trail Guide
5. Lake Agnes Hike
Want to treat yourself to tea and cookies on a fairly easy hike to a secluded glacier lake? The Lake Agnes Teahouse Hike, situated just a few km from Lake Louise, might be the perfect short hike for you. The teahouse is cash only (CAD and USD accepted), so make sure you have some change with you if you want to buy a snack or drink.
Although it’s an uphill trail to get to the teahouse, the incline is fairly gradual and is suitable for hikers of all levels. This is one of the more popular hikes in Banff, so head there early in the high season to avoid large crowds.
Distance: 7 km
For more on hiking the Lake Agnes >> Lake Agnes Guide
Moderate Hikes in Banff
6. Cascade Amphitheatre Hike
Cutting through a valley with rocky mountaintop views, forested trails, and bubbling streams, this hike is a tranquil adventure into the woods. The Amphitheatre itself is a green valley surrounded by almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. It really does look like a naturally-formed amphitheatre, showcasing some of nature’s greatest displays.
Distance: 12.4 km
For more on hiking Cascade Amphitheatre >> Cascade Amphitheatre Guide
7. Chephren Lake Hiking Trail
If you’re looking for a tranquil hike that’s outside of the main tourist drags in the park, head to Chephren Lake. This lesser-known hike off the Icefields Parkway in Banff boasts beautiful forests and winding trails. Hikers that make it to the end are rewarded with an incredible mountain view amidst a quiet, teal blue alpine lake.
Distance: 7.9 km
For more on hiking Chephren Lake >> Chephren Lake Guide
8. Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
As one of the most popular trails for hiking in Banff National Park, the longer, more difficult (and arguably more beautiful) sister of the Lake Agnes hike is the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. Rocky, winding dirt trails take hikers from the crowded shores of Lake Louise into secluded getaways deep in the Rocky Mountains.
Visitors can expect to see beautiful, towering glaciers, craggy mountain peaks, and scenic passes through the wilderness. In the summer, hikers can stop for a quick rest at the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house, where they serve hot beverages and snacks for passers-by.
Distance: 15.1 km
For more on hiking the the Plain of Six Glaciers >> Plain of Six Glaciers Guide
9. Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass
One of the most incredible day hikes in Banff National Park, Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass is a challenging but memorable hike to try. This full-day hike brings you to some of the best landscapes in the park, including many peaceful, secluded lakes, and panoramic views of the park. Although this is the longest “moderate” hike on our list, it’s well worth the effort.
Distance: 20.1 km
For more on hiking Harvey Pass >> Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass Guide
10. Healy Pass
The Healy Pass Trail in Banff National Park has a little bit of everything – quiet forests, rolling alpine pastures, cold creeks, and more. But perhaps the most stunning thing about Healy Pass is its breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys nearby, some covered in snow year-round.
This hike is a fairly moderate trail, albeit long, that has a very gradual incline and is accessible to most hikers who are willing to traverse the 19 km trail.
Distance: 19 km
For more on hiking Healy Pass >> Healy Pass Guide
Difficult Hikes in Banff
11. Helen Lake and Cirque Peak Trail
The Helen Lake and Cirque Peak hike is a difficult one, but worth it for stunning views of the glistening lakes and emerald valleys tucked beneath snowy, gray mountaintops. This is one of the least technical peaks, making it one of the most accessible – but challenging – summit hikes in Banff National Park.
Towards the top of Cirque Peak, this hike involves some rock scrambling, but doesn’t require any advanced technical skills or knowledge. Breathtaking views from the summit boast panoramic access to the valleys below.
Distance: 14.5 km
For more on hiking Helen Lake and Cirque Peak >> Helen Lake and Cirque Peak Guide
12. Aylmer Lookout via Lake Minnewanka
With stunning views of nearby mountains, steep valleys, and the popular Lake Minnewanka below, the Aylmer Lookout hike is one of the best viewpoints in Banff National Park.
Although the trail is nearly 26 km, hikers can see incredible views much earlier in the hike, making the trail as long (or as short) as they’d like. Starting from the shores of Lake Minnewanka and climbing up into the mountains above, this trail has a variety of terrain and difficulty that’s suitable for hikers of all levels.
Distance: 25.8 km
For more on hiking Aylmer Lookout >> Aylmer Lookout Guide
13. Cascade Mountain Trail
Another mountain summit, the Cascade Mountain hike is a challenging yet rewarding experience with spectacular views. It requires some scrambling near the top of the trail, but boasts amazing views of the nearby mountains.
Cascade Mountain is a continuation of the Cascade Amphitheatre hike, so if you’re up for more of a challenge, this one is a wonderful adventure to try.
Distance: 19.8 km
For more on hiking Cascade Mountain >> Cascade Mountain Guide
14. Mount Rundle Trail
Some say that Mount Rundle boasts the cream of the crop in terms of views down into the Banff Valley. We believe it. This 13.7 km difficult hike climbs up a steep trail on the mountainside, finally reaching a rocky ridge that leads to the panoramic summit.
Hikers who have finished this hike have said that it’s very challenging, but with enough willpower and stamina, the breathtaking views are truly worth it. Known as one of the most difficult hikes in Banff National Park, completing this trail is huge feat.
Distance: 13.7 km
For more on hiking Mount Rundle >> Mount Rundle Guide
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For those of you who have visited, what are your favorite hikes in Banff National Park? Did we miss anything?
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Featured image from Pixabay