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Tunnel Mountain, Banff National Park
The Real Banff / Published: Wed, 03/04/2020 - 12:41

10 Early Season Hikes in Banff National Park

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Exciting for some, sad for others, but winter hiking is coming to an end as the snow melts in the lower regions. However, the higher elevations are still out of reach with too much snow. Spring is the perfect time to warm up your mountain legs on some lower-elevation trails in Banff and Lake Louise.  To all those eager beavers out there, you don’t need to wait too long to lace up their hiking boots!

Here’s a short guide to snow-free spots when the mountains are still cloaked in white up high:

1. Tunnel Mountain

At 1,692 metres high, this little mountain is perfectly positioned for the best views of the Banff townsite and Mt. Rundle. A local favourite, Tunnel Mountain is a moderate hike that climbs via switchbacks to a rounded summit – one of the most scenic lunch spots around.

Access: Trailhead/parking lot on St. Julien Road

Length: 4.8 km round-trip

Note: The Tunnel Mountain Trailhead parking lot will be closed starting Monday, April 25, 2022. Please visit the town of Banff website to learn more.

tunnel mountain, banff tunnel mountain, tunnel mountain summit
Meghan J. Ward

2. Hoodoo Trail

If you’re keen to see some of Banff’s most striking geological features, you should venture down The Hoodoo Trail, a pleasant, forested trail by the Bow River. The trail is 4.6-km one-way, but you’ll be coming back the way you went, so you choose the length!

Access: Surprise Corner viewpoint parking lot on Tunnel Mountain Drive, or a 1.6 km walk from downtown Banff at Surprise Corner.

Length: 4.8 km one-way

Couple hiking Hoodoo Trail in spring in Banff National Park
Devaan Ingraham
Hoodoo Trail

3. Marsh Loop

Whether it’s early-season or summer at its best, birdwatchers will want to add the Marsh Loop to their list. This short hike through a natural marshland (don’t worry – you’re mostly walking on boardwalks!) is one of the best places in Banff to watch birds, as well as butterflies and dragonflies.

Access: Near the Cave & Basin National Historic Site, 2 km walk from downtown Banff.

Length: 2.8 km loop

sundance canyon, banff sundance canyon, sundance canyon trail
Meghan J. Ward

4. Sundance Canyon Trail

This pleasant trail takes you along the Bow River, past incredible views of the Mt. Edith and the Sawback Range, and to the base of Sundance Canyon. You’ll be sharing the trail with horses and bikes for the first while, but in the quiet of the canyon, you can take some time to explore on your own. You’ll see a 1.6 km trail that loops past the canyon and back to the Sundance Canyon Trail, but it may be too snowy for hiking.

Access: The Cave and Basin National Historic Site

Length: 3.7 km one-way to the canyon 1.6 km moderately difficult loop through a canyon

5. Fenland Trail

This short, meandering trail leads you through beautiful wetlands, old-growth forest, and the banks of Echo and Forty-Mile creeks, and is home to resident wildlife, such as elk, deer, and a variety of birds. Lengthen your walk by connecting this hike with a saunter along Banff’s Bow River trail or Vermilion Lakes Road.

Access: Small parking and picnic area near the Mt. Norquay exit as you enter the Town of Banff

Length: 2.1 km loop

6. Sulphur Mountain

This easy trail switchbacks its way up Sulphur Mountain and offers unparalleled views of the Bow Valley. Once you’re at the top, you can continue along the 1 km interpretive boardwalk to the Cosmic Ray Station and Sanson Peak. 

Access: From the Banff Upper Hot Springs car park.

Length: 11 km return

7. Minnewanka Lakeside

A walk around Banff’s largest lake is a great way to experience this beautiful corner of Banff National Park. This trail winds its way along the shores of Lake Minnewanka – for over 17 kilometres, in fact – so you can walk as far as you like and come back the same way. 

Access: Lake Minnewanka parking lot

Length: 17.1 km one-way (go as far as you like) 

A family of four stops to take a selfie in front of a turquoise blue lake while dressed for time in the outdoors
Damian Blunt

8. Johnson Lake

This leisurely path circumnavigates Johnson Lake and provides wonderful views of the surrounding peaks, such as Cascade Mountain and Mt. Rundle. It is a fantastic way to spend part of the day at Johnson Lake, where you can also enjoy one of Banff’s only beaches and boating on the lake.

Access: Johnson Lake parking lot, off the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive

Length: 2.8 km loop

9. Lake Louise Lakeshore

The beautiful Lake Louise region is at a higher elevation than Banff and it takes longer for the snow to disappear. While hikers need to be careful in this region (there is some avalanche potential on the trails!), the lakeshore trail is the first to open up, and it’s a great place to wander while the snow melts up high.

Access: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise waterfront

Length: 4 km return

Note: Lake Louise is a popular location and parking is limited. We recommend using public transportation or the Parks Canada shuttles for the best experience when visiting the Lake Louise lakeshore.

10. Johnston Canyon

This interpretive walkway follows the edge of Johnston Canyon and leads hikers to the stunning, cascading waters of the Lower and Upper Falls. Keep your eyes out for interpretive panels that provide information along the route, as well as unique rock formations shaped over centuries by the surging water.

Access: Johnston Canyon parking lot, Bow Valley Parkway. Please check road closures prior to travel.

Length: 2.4 km return to the lower falls and 5 km return to the upper falls

Note: The eastern 17-kilometre section of the Bow Valley Parkway will be closed to vehicle access from May 1 to June 25 but remains open to cyclists.

Winter Family Ice Walk, Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
Devaan Ingraham
Johnston Canyon

A few early season hiking tips

1. Hard-packed snow at low elevations may be slippery, but don’t be deterred! Consider renting some ice cleats/micro-spikes from a local gear store (try Snowtips-Bactrax in Banff and Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise) for a good grip.

2. Prior to heading out, check the Parks Canada website for trail conditions, important bulletins, and planned closures that might impact your plans.

3. You might be heading out for a short hike, but as the weather can change at any moment in the mountains, be prepared! Bring extra layers, water/food, and bear spray – everything you need to stay happy and safe on the trail. 

Are you coming to Banff National Park?

Make sure you purchase your Parks Canada Discovery Pass in advance for express entry into the park. All of the details, including frequently asked questions can be found in our Guide To The Parks Canada Pass. 

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Browse and book accommodation and lodging packages with our trip planning tool. To learn about the different types of accommodation available in Banff and Lake Louise, visit our Places to Stay page or Contact Us to speak to a local expert.