The Best Hiking Trails in Banff, Canada

There's an abundance of trails worth exploring in Banff and the environs
There's an abundance of trails worth exploring in Banff and the environs | © Dark Horse / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Patrick Twomey
29 September 2020

In Canada‘s Rocky Mountains and Alberta National Park, Banff is all about walking, hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. From the town of Banff itself to isolated corners of the national park, there are hundreds of trails worth exploring. Here’s our round-up of the best.

Banff is home to a great variety of wildlife, therefore it is important to walk with bear spray, never litter and respect closures. In the spring, be aware of the presence of ticks, and remember that dogs must be kept on leash. Hikers are asked to not take shortcuts on popular and well-defined trails, in order to reduce erosion. If you are planning a multi-day camping trip, make sure to visit Parks Canada online or the Visitor’s Center in town. Campsites fill up quickly.

Tunnel Mountain / Sleeping Buffalo

Natural Feature
Map View
View from Sulphur Mountain down to Banff town, Tunnel Mountain and Cascade Mountain, Alberta, Canada.
© pbpvision / Alamy Stock Photo

The smallest of all the distinct mountains in Banff, Tunnel Mountain has no tunnel. In fact, there is a move afoot to change the name back to its Stoney First Nation name: Sacred Buffalo Guardian. The mountain is often referred to locally as Sleeping Buffalo. The mountain frames the town, and the trail up is easy to find from the center of Banff. Locals jog to the top in under 30 minutes, but count on an hour for your first ascent with the elevation factored in. The summit offers views over the town of Banff and the Bow River Valley.

Hiking around Lake Louise

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Lake Louise is renowned for its natural beauty and emerald colors. Walking to the back of the lake takes less than 1 hour from the parking area and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel and is flat and accessible, making the route a very popular one. When the lake is fully frozen (usually December to March), it is more fun just to walk over the ice! Should you continue walking, the trail leads for 12km (7.5mi) more up to the Plain of the Six Glaciers and involves a 500m (1,600ft) elevation gain – a route best taken from June to August. Another popular trail is the 7km (4.3mi) return walk to the Lake Agnes Tea House. The walk to the tea house has a solid 400m (1,300 ft) rise in elevation. Best to start early in the morning during the busy summer months, in order to avoid crowds.

Sulphur Mountain

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
Map View
Sulphur mountain top
© Itsik Marom / Alamy Stock Photo

This popular mountain hike is the Banff’s only climb that offers a ride down. Starting from the Upper Hot Spring parking lot, the 5.5km (3.4mi) trail follows a series of switchbacks to the summit ridge and the upper terminal of the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. The trail is well maintained and achieves a 655m (2,100ft) elevation gain. Allow 2-3 hours. It is perfectly safe to walk down, and the trail is open year round.

Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls

Natural Feature
Map View

Located on the original 1A highway halfway between Banff and Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon is no longer a local secret, and this popular walk is always beautiful, with the path suspended out into the canyon in certain sections. The Lower Falls can be reached in about 30 minutes, while the Upper Falls are another half hour with more elevation gain. This is a one-way, in-and-out hike – ice cleats are essential in the winter.

Lake Minnewanka and Aylmer Pass

Natural Feature
Map View

The second largest lake in Banff National Park, Minnewanka is close to town with public transport access. The obvious trail from the parking area along the north side of the lake is very popular, but can be long enough to escape the crowds, continuing for more than 18km (11mi). This is an accessible trail for overnight back country trip. Aylmer Pass Junction Campground has bear bins for food as well as tent sites and outhouses.

Sunshine Meadows

Resort
Map View
Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park. Rocky Mountains. Alberta. Canada.
© Marina Vdovkina / Alamy Stock Photo

Banff Sunshine Village is one of the three ski resorts within Alberta National Park and is only 20 minutes west of town. The resort enjoys significant snowfalls and a long ski season. Snow enthusiasts with touring gear will skip the lift lines (and the ticket costs) and hike up the 5km (3mi) ski-out run to the village area. During the summer months, the meadows erupt with wildflowers. Healy Pass is another popular, longer hike that begins from the same location. Lift tickets can be purchased for the resort gondola and chairlifts when operating. Organized hikes are also available.

Mount Temple

Natural Feature
Map View

This challenging scramble is only recommended for experienced hikers. Mount Temple is the highest peak in the Lake Louise area and is capped with a dramatic hanging glacier. The route is over 15km (9mi) out and back with an impressive 1,700m (5,500ft) rise in elevation. The route is generally accessible between July and September.

Bow Summit Lookout

Natural Feature
Map View
Peyto Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada,, from the Bow Summit Lookout
© Robert Bush / Alamy Stock Photo
This hike will be re-established in 2021 when work on the Peyto Lake Viewpoint parking is completed. The trail is considered easy, but begins from the highest point on the Icefields Parkway and therefore involves hiking at elevation. The view of turquoise Peyto Lake shoudn’t be missed, so it is worth allowing 2-3 hours for the bonus hike up to Bow Summit. Bow Lake is the headwater of the Bow River, which flows through Banff and eventually into Hudson Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
These recommendations were updated on September 29, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.