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Banff National Park, the oldest national park in Canada, is the most popular summer destination with millions of visitors each year. While it offers breathtaking mountain views, scenic road trips and excellent wildlife watching opportunities, many visitors take advantage of spectacular hiking trails in Banff – and who can blame them?

With so many hikes in Banff National Park, it’s not an easy task to choose which one to tackle.

This guide includes best hikes in Banff based on the time of the day, length, difficulty and natural wonders along the way:

Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park

1. Parker Ridge: Best Sunrise Hike

  • Distance: 5 km return
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Located along the famous scenic road Icefields Parkway, this hike is often overlooked due to many easily-accessible lookout points. I highly suggest carving out some time for a truly spectacular view after only a few hours of hiking. It’s a locals’ favorite, and the best view is early in the morning when the surrounding mountain peaks are starting to wake up.

The trailhead is signed along the road, and although the hike is steep, the trail is short and easy. It takes you straight up on several switchbacks until you reach the tree-line. That’s where the wildflower meadows open up in every direction. The steady climb continues up the ridge to the view of enormous Saskatchewan Glacier slowly cascading into a turquoise pool underneath.

2. Lake Minnewanka: The Best Sunset Hike

  • Distance: any distance along the shoreline (up
    to 60 km)
  • Time: 1 hour to 2 days
  • Difficulty: Easy

Lake Minnewanka, only 10 km from the town of Banff, is one of the most popular places year-round. It offers boat tours, kayaking and hiking in summer, mountain biking in spring and autumn, and ice skating in winter. It’s jam-packed during the day and most peaceful at sunset.

While most visitors tend to stick to Lake Minnewanka’s shore
and enjoy the day at picnic sites, those who venture further from the crowds will
be rewarded with amazing views. The trail along Minnewanka starts just past the
picnic sites, continues for a kilometre until you reach Stewart Canyon.

You can hike this section any time of the year, but if you’d like to continue, keep in mind there’s a seasonal restriction in place from July 10 to September 15: No bikes or camping is allowed and hiking is permitted only in a tight group of 4 or more . It’s an important grizzly habitat where they feast on flowers and berries.

3. Mount St. Piran: Best Panoramic Hike

  • Distance: 13 km return
  • Time: 4 – 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Lake Louise thousands of times. Now imagine seeing the turquoise lake with the glacier from a bird’s eye view!

Lake Louise area offers several hikes – Fairview Lookout,
Big Beehive, Plain of Six Glaciers, and the least visited of all – Mount St.
Piran. I suspect it’s because the trail is not marked on the hiking map you can
get at Visitor’s Centre. So you not only get a great view from the mountain top
but also leave the usual crowds behind.

From Lake Louise shoreline, follow the sign for Lake Agnes
Tea House as the hike starts on the same trail. Going through the forest on
switchbacks, you’ll get an occasional view of Lake Louise. When you reach
Mirror Lake, continue following Lake Agnes Trail and then Little Beehive Trail.
You will see the sign for Mount St. Piran shortly and climb above the treeline.

The views of the whole Bow Valley, Lake Louise and Victoria
Glacier open up. Just a few more switchbacks until you reach the mountain top
from which you get a panoramic view of surrounding mountain peaks.

This is hands down one of the best
hiking trails in Banff
.

4. Sulphur Mountain: Best Views-for-Effort Hike

  • Distance: 5.5 km one-way
  • Time: 1.5 – 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Sulphur Mountain is an excellent year-round hike accessible right from Banff town. You can ride the gondola to the top or choose the steeper and more budget-friendly option of hiking to the top.

You can access the trailhead either by taking a bus from
Banff or drive to the Upper Hot Springs parking lot. The trail is a series of
switchbacks with a steady incline and offers occasional views of the opposite
Rundle Mountain and Banff town.

After 4.5 km, you reach the upper terminal and then walk
another kilometre on a boardwalk to the Sanson’s Peak, an old weather station.
From the ridge, you get a panoramic view of the mountains. You can also visit
the interpretative centre inside the gondola terminal, a restaurant, buffet, or
a gift shop. And if you’re tired from the hike, take the gondola down for free
after 7 pm in summer and anytime during winter.

5. Healy Pass: Best Wildflower Hike

  • Distance: 19.4 km return
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Banff National Park has so many alpine lakes that
wildflowers might not even cross your mind. But wait until you see the ocean of
colourful wildflowers on the way to Healy Pass.

Head just outside of Banff to Sunshine Village ski resort
where the trail starts, either by car or free Sunshine shuttle. You will follow
a narrow path along the Healy Creek and pass several wooden bridges. If you’re
carrying a water bottle with a filter, this hike provides plenty of options to
fill up as you go.

About 7 km into the hike, you will get out of the forest
onto a vast, colourful meadow. Even though it steepens a bit, you most likely
won’t even notice the difference as you will be looking at flowers in all
colours imaginable. The magenta coloured flowers called Indian Paintbrush
create a gorgeous contrast with green meadows.

6. Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots: Best Waterfall Hike

  • Distance: 12 km return
  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Johnston Canyon is hiding one surprise after another. When
you think you’ve seen a beautiful waterfall, another one is just around the
corner. And if you make it to the end, mystic bubbling pools will blow you
away.

From Banff, head west on Bow Valley Parkway where the trailhead is. If you drive after sunrise or before sunset, you might see lots of wildlife along the way. Once you arrive at the Johnston Canyon parking lot, you will see the trail heading into a deep canyon.

You can hike to the Lower Falls, about 1.2 km one-way, to
Upper Falls, about 2.7 km one-way or to Ink Pots making the whole trip 12 km
long.

You’ll be passing several cascading waterfalls of different
heights and walking on a dirt trail or built catwalks right above the creek. After
the last waterfall, I highly recommend you continue to Ink Pots, a series of
five blue-green bubbling mineral springs set on a vast meadow surrounded by the
mountains.

If you visit Banff in
winter
, visit Johnston Canyon for a walk through a frozen wonderland.

7. Peyto Lake: Best Lake Views Hike

  • Distance: 2 km return
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

One of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway is
Peyto Lake, a glacial-fed turquoise lake with an unusual shape.

Fed by the water from Peyto Glacier, the colour of Peyto Lake comes from rock flour, which is created by the glacier when it’s sliding down the valley. Because Peyto Lakes lies in a high altitude, it starts to thaw at the end of May and is usually covered by ice and snow by October.

When driving from Banff or Lake Louise towards Jasper, you
will see the sign for Bow Summit, the highest point of Icefields Parkway at
2,088 m. The parking lot is just a short walk away from the wooden viewing
platform.

For more suggested stops and secret local places, read this
comprehensive Icefields
Parkway itinerary
.

8. Glacier Lake: Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Hike

  • Distance: 18 km return
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

As the name suggests, the Glacier Lake is overlooked by a giant glacier. What makes this a great hike is that even though the trailhead is signed along the Icefields Parkway, it seems that not many people know about it. You can enjoy an easy hike with a great reward at the end in peace.

The trailhead is located just past the Saskatchewan River
Crossing when driving towards Jasper. It starts flat and quite dull until about
a kilometre into the hike when you reach a bridge across the North Saskatchewan
River. Another kilometre into the hike, you arrive at Howse River viewpoint
with the famous red chairs.

The trail follows the river for a while until it disappears
into the forest. When you reach the end, an ice-cold blue Glacier Lake will
appear in front of you. There is a backcountry campground right on the shore so
you can make it an overnight trip.

9. Tunnel Mountain: Best Easy Hike

  • Distance: 4.3 km return
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

There’s no need even to leave Banff if you’d like to go
hiking. There’s Sulphur Mountain mentioned above and also a more relaxed and
scenic hike up the Tunnel Mountain. You can see the Tunnel Mountain from the
top of Sulphur Mountain as it’s located in the center of Banff. Compared to its
neighbours, it looks like a hill rather than a mountain.

 You can access the
trail from several signed points in Banff, and Visitor Centre can provide you
with a map for easier orientation. A short trail leading to the top of the
Tunnel Mountain leads to a viewpoint of Banff, Bow Valley, Vermilion Lakes and
Rundle Mountain. Due to the easy trail, it’s popular among visitors of all ages
and fitness levels.

10. Boom Lake: Best Half-Day Hike

  • Distance: 10.6 km return
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Boom Lake is tucked at the border of Banff and Kootenay National Parks. It’s a fantastic year-round destination either for hiking, trail running or cross country skiing.

You’ll find the trail 38 km from Banff along the
Banff-Windermere Highway towards Radium Hot Springs. The day-use area has
picnic tables, an outhouse and a map. The trail through the forest is very
straight forward and easy to follow. Once you arrive at Boom Lake, choose a
flat looking boulder and relax while looking at the Boom Mountain with a gentle
breeze from the lake.

If you visit during summer, a quick dip in the lake is a
great cool down. On the other hand, if you visit in
winter
, you might be able to cross country ski across the lake.

Tips for Hiking in Banff National Park

National Park Pass

When entering any national park in Canada, you’re required to purchase a park pass. You can choose a daily or yearly option. The annual Discovery Pass is valid for all national parks.

Trail conditions

Before you head out for any hike, make sure to check trail conditions on the Parks Canada website before you go. It’s a very helpful resource for early-season hiking to know where the avalanche dangers are or where the trail is closed due to poor conditions or bear presence.

Bear country

Hiking in the Canadian Rockies means that you’re hiking in the bear country. Parks Canada highly recommends carrying bear spray within arm’s reach and knowing how to use it. Read these instructions to learn more about the bears. You can purchase a bear spray in Banff’s outdoor stores (however you cannot fly with it!).

Camping in Banff

Banff National Park has 14 campgrounds located in town or along the Icefields Parkway. You can reserve some of them in advance here. Most campgrounds are open seasonally from mid-May to mid-October and are increasingly popular places to stay while in Banff. I highly recommend this option if you visit. Waking up with a lake view among the giant mountains and fresh mountain air is a great way to start the day.

Here are 10 of the best hikes in Banff National Park, Canada, including Parker Ridge, Lake Minnewanka, Mount St. Piran and more. Learn about the time needed, distance, and difficulty of each hike, and 4 important things you must know before you go. #Banff #Canada
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Whatever your preferences are, prepare for unforgettable views.

Happy Hiking!

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By Sarah