Okay, I know this is going to sound cliche, but I’m still not tired of Banff National Park. After four trips I can’t get over how beautiful it is. Winding roads surrounded by sky-high mountains. Snow glistening in the sunlight. Vibrant sunrises behind pointy peaks. And still my Banff bucket list remains infinitely long, as I have yet to visit in the summer and take advantage of the many incredible days hikes there are in Banff.
One of the benefits of befriending travel bloggers, however, is that you’re bound to find someone (or many someone’s) who are more than happy to provide their recommendations. In this post you’ll find reviews of the best day hikes in Banff. I hope you find some inspiration for your next hike!
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How to get to Banff National Park
Calgary International Airport is the nearest major airport to Banff National Park. From there you can either rent a car (which I recommend) or catch a shuttle to Banff (there are a few options for this and I’ve listed them below). Banff is a 1.5 hour drive from the Calgary airport, and on the way in you’ll have an opportunity to pay your park admission fee.
Best Time of Year for Hiking in Banff
Summer is the best time of year to be for Banff hiking trails. The summer season technically starts in May, however it’s not uncommon to get bursts of snowfall as late as June. July and August are the warmest months in Banff, however they are also the most popular by far. September gets a little less busy and October is even better – plus, you’ll be treated to the colourful autumn foliage (yellow Lark Trees, here we come!).
Hiking in Banff: Packing List
Whenever embarking on a day hike, especially one in the mountains, preparation is essential.
Day Hiking Backpack (25 – 35 L) – I’ve been using the same day 28 L Deuter backpack for years and still love it. In your backpack you’ll want to have the 10 Essentials of Camping, including (but not limited to):
- Water bottle and snacks (I recommend bringing Aquatabs or a LifeStraw in case you run out of water and need to refill at a lake or river)
- Fire starter & lighter
- Wilderness First Aid Kit (here are some tips for building your own)
Hiking Boots – There are an absolute must! I just started using these Merrell hiking boots and they’re great. If you’ve never purchase hiking boots before, read this post for some tips and what to look for.
Hiking Pants – These can be traditional hiking pants, or athletic pants or leggings.
T-shirt – Anything that isn’t cotton works well.
Mid-Layer – A fleece sweater or light down jacket works well. I’ve been loving this one lately.
Rain Jacket – If all goes according to plan, you can keep this in your backpack the entire day. Since this is a day hike, you don’t need a fancy rain jacket (this is the best budget rain jacket I’ve had, and this is my favourite non-Gore-Tex jacket).
Trekking Poles – If you read my recent post about backpacking, you’ll know I’m a huge advocate for trekking poles. They take a ton of compressive force off your knees and provide stability on steep climbs and descents, of which hikes in Banff have many! These are the ones I have.
Do You Need Bear Spray in Banff?
Yes! Whenever hiking outside the popular places, you should carry bear spray. Banff is home to a healthy grizzly population. None of my friends have ever had to use their bear spray, but they all carry it with them just in case. You can pick up a bear spray canister and leave it in your backpack. Hopefully you won’t need it!
Best Day Hikes in Banff National Park
For each of the following day hikes, you’ll find a few key pieces of information: distance, elevation gain, difficulty, time required and trailhead location. For the most part, all of the trails are suitable for intermediate hikers and some are accessible to novice hikers.
- Distance: 5 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 260 m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 2 Hour Round Trip
- Trailhead: Lower parking area on St. Julien Road
One of the most easy hikes in Banff, the Tunnel Mountain trailhead is right on the edge of the town. Doable in all seasons, it may not be the most difficult or longest hike in the park, but the views are stunning nonetheless. Popular with local walkers and joggers, there’s always someone on this trail.
It takes 30-45 minutes to ascend to the top of the mountain, and the views just keep getting better and better the higher you go. My favourite thing about the Tunnel Mountain trail is that it gives you two very different views. The first is across the town, with Sulphur Mountain on your left and Mt. Norquay on your right. The second, in the opposite direction, shows you the Bow River meandering away down the valley, with Mt. Rundle’s distinct cliff face towering above.
You don’t need to be the fittest person, or even a hiker at all, to enjoy Tunnel Mountain. The numerous switchbacks along the trail mean that, while it is uphill the whole way, it’s not particularly steep for the most part. Starting through a coniferous forest, you then emerge onto large granite bedrock, perfect for taking in the views.
By: Dearbhaile of This Wild Life of Mine
East End of Rundle Hike
- Distance: 5.8 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 869 m
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Time: 5-6 Hour Round Trip
- Trailhead: Ha Ling Peak Trailhead
The East End of Rundle Hike (often nicknamed with the acronym EEOR) is a hike located in Canmore, Alberta, just south of Banff. This is a challenging hike, but climbers are rewarded with unobstructed views of the Bow Valley!
To reach the trailhead, take the 15-minute drive east from Canmore to Ha Ling Peak Trailhead, which shares a trail parking lot with EEOR. It’s a simple dirt lot on the side of the road, there are no official signs that mark the trail, so keep your eyes sharp! You can recognize the trailhead entrance by a group of rocks spelling out the letters “EEOR” on the ground across the road where you should park your car.
The trail is short in distance (at 3.6-miles out and back) in comparison to other hikes in Banff, but the elevation gain of 2,854 feet makes it much more difficult than you’d expect. This is one of the most famous hiking trails in Banff for its iconic views that overlook Ha Ling Peak and Whiteman’s Reservoir across the valley. This overlook is about halfway up the trail and is used a very common turnaround point for the majority of visitors. However, if you choose to hike the entire way, you are rewarded with panoramic views of the Bow Valley, and incredible opportunities for photos!
By: Emily of The Mandagies
- Distance: 5.4 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 236 m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 2 – 2.5 Hour Round Trip
- Trailhead: Johnston Canyon Parking Lot
The hike to Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular day hiking trails in Banff National Park, but its beautiful blue waterfalls and unusual pathways clinging to the cliffside make it well worth a visit. The hike is located along the Bow Valley Parkway and is accessible all year, with the highest flow of water in the springtime, plenty of shade in summer and frozen waterfalls in the winter months.
The first section of the hike runs to the Lower Johnston Falls, covering 1.1 km / 30 minutes on fairly flat ground. Elevated catwalks have been fixed to the rocks so you can make your way up through the canyon, where you’d have originally had to rock climb. There’s a great view from the bridge at the end, but for an even better one squeeze your way through a tunnel in the rock to get an up-close view of the thundering waters.
The trail carries on to the Upper Johnston Falls for another 2.7 km / 1 hour. This section is more of a climb through the forest, but is usually quieter. Along the way you catch glimpses of the river and smaller waterfalls through the trees, before reaching the 30-metre-high Upper Johnston Falls. There are two viewing platforms so you can see them from below and above. And if you’ve not had enough, the path carries on another 3 km /1 hour to the bubbling green mineral springs of the Ink Pots.
By: Lucy of On The Luce
- Distance: 20.1 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1800 m
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Time: 7 – 10 Round Trip
At 2998 m high, Cascade Mountain towers over the north side of Banff town and provides an iconic view for anyone who strolls along Banff Avenue. One option for a great day of exploring the mountains is to complete the out and back hike to the summit of this classic pyramid-shaped mountain.
This hike is a challenging one that can take anything from 7 – 10 hours to complete. However, the reward from Cascade’s summit is most certainly worth the hard work, with impressive 360 degree views that are truly hard to beat.
Starting from the base of Mount Norquay ski area, the hike initially climbs up through the forest until Cascade Amphitheatre is reached. This huge bowl is a great place to take a break and admire the ridge that leads to the summit. Trekking on from the amphitheatre requires finding a route through the boulder field and a small amount of scrambling, but for the most part is a spectacular ridge hike which provides ample opportunity to admire the vastness of the Canadian Rockies.
Take a good amount of time at the top to enjoy the deep blue waters of Lake Minnewanka and views of the Bow Valley before retracing your steps back down the mountain. This hike is certainly not for beginners but is an excellent choice for experienced hikers. The optimal time of year to attempt this hike is between June and September when the snow near the top has melted.
By: Louise of Wandering Welsh Girl
Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
- Distance: 14 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 365 m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 4 Hour Round Trip
The Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail is a great hike that starts at Lake Louise, one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada. It’s an out and back trail with a total length of 14 kilometers and a 365 meters of elevation gain.
The first part of the hike is easy, as you’ll walk along the shoreline of pretty Lake Louise, but after that the path gradually leads upwards and when you look behind you, you can see the lake and the famous Fairmont Chateau hotel getting smaller and smaller in the distance.
As you would expect, the Plain of the Six Glacier trail gets its name from the impressive surrounding mountains and glaciers you can admire from the trail, such as the hanging glaciers of Mount Aberdeen, Victoria and Lefroy.
In the last few kilometers, the trail is the steepest and you will need to tackle several switchbacks that will eventually lead to the cute Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse. Here you can relax, admire the view and of course drink a nice cup of tea. Payment is cash only so be sure to bring some along.
While not a difficult trail I do recommend to wear sturdy hiking boots. Also, be sure to carry bear spray as both black bears as well as grizzlies can be seen in the area.
By: Lotte of Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog
Grassi Lakes Trail
- Distance: 4 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 523 m
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Time: 2 Hour Round Trip
Grassi Lakes is located right out Banff in the nearby town of Canmore. The scenery here is no less spectacular; you are still surrounded by beautiful Rocky Mountain peaks. As one of the hikes near Banff but outside the national park, the trails location in Canmore means that it’s free to visit and it’s the perfect place for a quick hike between Calgary and Banff.
Grassi Lakes hike is a 2-hour hike that takes you up the side of a mountain. This hike is perfect for families as there are two routes to get to the top. There is a more challenging route that requires going up some rock steps and an easy route which is up a gentle incline. The more challenging route does give better views.
On the hike up you will go by a waterfall that makes for a great stop. From the cliffside hike you will also get good views of the reservoir lake below and a wildlife corridor where you may even spot some bears. Across the way, you will see Ha Ling Peak, one of the most distinctive views in the area, and another popular hiking spot in Canmore.
At the end of the hike, you are rewarded with views of Grassi Lakes. The lakes here have impossibly crystal clear teal waters. There are also views of the cliffs at the top that are popular with rock climbers. If you are looking for a great hike just outside of Banff, this is one spot not to miss!
By: Brianne of Curious Travel Bug
- Distance: 9 km round trip
- Elevation Gain: 600 m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 2.5 – 3 Hour Round Trip
The relatively short, incredibly scenic hike to Rawson Lake in Kananaskis Country isn’t strictly within Banff National Park, but is still well worth a stop on any Rocky Mountain road trip. The trailhead is located at Upper Kananaskis Lake, roughly an hour and a half drive from Banff townsite. Unlike most of the hikes in the Kananaskis area, the Rawson Lake trail is only moderately difficult, with a total out and back length of 9 kilometres and around 600 metres of elevation gain.
Upper Kananaskis Lake is fairly picturesque in its own right, treating you to enjoyable scenery right from your first step. From there you follow a gently rolling path around the end of the lake before working your way up a steep – but relatively short – stretch between the two that will get your heart racing. Then, suddenly, you emerge to a fabulous panorama – glassy, tree-lined Rawson Lake, backed by a massive, looming rock wall.
Make sure to continue on to the far end for the best views and reflection photos (the lake is located within a bowl that typically stays quite calm). If you’re still feeling energetic, you can add another 2.5 kilometres and 450 metres of elevation climbing up to Sarrail Ridge, where you’ll find more spectacular views from above.
By: Dean & Laynni of Routinely Nomadic
Where to Stay in Banff
You’ll want to book your accommodation very far in advance. Hotels and hostels in Banff, especially in the summer, sell out quickly. I’ve had the opportunity to stay at almost a dozen different hotels and hostels in Banff / Lake Louise, and here are my recommendations. If you’d like to read more about them, I have an entire post dedicated to this.
- Luxury: Fairmont Banff Springs is amazing and, in my opinion, worth the price. Their spa has hot pools and whirlpools and a sauna and steam room, and oh my goodness I need to go back ASAP.
- Mid-Range: I really like the Royal Canadian Lodge. It’s comfortable and cozy and has a nice dining room.
- Budget: Having stayed at multiple hostels in Banff, Samesun is by far my favourite.