July 13, 2015
By Meghan J. Ward
Itching to get a mountaineer’s view of our beautiful area? I’ve got good news: there are many peaks in Banff National Park that can be reached without the use of ropes or climbing gear! While many such peaks are classified as “scrambles”, there are a handful of others, such as the ones recommended here, that have a trail all the way to the top. Put in the work to get there, and you’ll be rewarded with a sea of summits as far as the eyes can see.
Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
Before you set off, here are some tips for safe hiking: ● Go with hiking partners that you trust. ● Be mindful of mountain weather. It can change on a dime, so carry warm and waterproof layers, just in case. ● The trail may not always be well-defined and at times you’ll need to rely on your own route-finding skills. Cairns often lead the way. If in doubt, call that your high point and turn around. ● Wear sturdy hiking boots with ankle support, and bring hiking poles for added stability. ● Bring plenty of water and snacks that will motivate you on the trail. ● What goes up must come down! Make sure you can safely descend any terrain you venture up. ● Where you see an *: the route description for these hikes can be found in Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane. Pick up a copy of the book prior to heading out. The options below are listed from shortest to longest, both in terms of elevation gain and time required.
1. Tunnel Mountain
Trailhead: Parking lot on St. Julien Road, Town of Banff
Round-Trip Time: 1.5-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 metres
Why I Love It: Locals have the advantage that Tunnel Mountain is in their backyard. A wander up this trail will give you a glimpse into the lives of locals who frequent this little peak. You’ll get great views of Mt. Rundle from the backside of the peak, and views of the entire town of Banff once you’re at the summit.
View from the summit of Tunnel Mountain. Photo by Meghan J. Ward
2. Sulphur Mountain
Trailhead: Sulphur Mountain Gondola, near the Town of Banff
Round-Trip Time: 2.5-3 hours
Elevation Gain: 655 metres
Why I Love It: Sulphur Mountain offers panoramic views of the Banff area, and while you’re not technically at the very top when you reach the viewing platform, it makes for a great high point! While also close to the town of Banff, this trail offers a bit more challenge than Tunnel Mountain. Go a bit further to the Cosmic Ray Station and the old Weather Station for a window into some history of the area.
Summit of Sulphur Mountain. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
3. Mount Fairview*
Trailhead: Lake Louise, near the canoe boathouse
Round-Trip Time: 5-6 hours
Elevation Gain: 1000 metres
Why I Love It: Tens of thousands of people flock to the shores of Lake Louise each year to catch a glimpse of the indigo waters and glaciated flanks of Mt. Victoria. From the summit of Mount Fairview, you get an even better version of that view, without the crowds. What’s more, you’ve got the gorgeous north face of Mt. Temple to look at along the way.
Approaching the summit of Mount Fairview. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
4. Mount St. Piran*
Trailhead: Lake Louise, trail to Lake Agnes
Round-Trip Time: 5-6 hours
Elevation Gain: 900 metres
Why I Love It: Like on Mount Fairview, the trail up Mount St. Piran gets you more off-the-beaten-track than the Lake Louise lakeshore and many of the trails in the area. Mt. Lefroy stands prominently on the other side of the circle of peaks that create the backdrop to Lake Louise. The broad summit is the perfect place to practise your cairn building.
Summit of Mount St. Piran. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.
5. Cirque Peak*
Trailhead: Helen Lake Trail, Icefields Parkway, opposite the Crowfoot Glacier lookout
Round-Trip Time: 6-8 hours
Elevation Gain: 1050 metres
Why I Love It: Out of all the peaks listed here, Cirque Peak truly gives you a backcountry feel. This is mainly because you’ve got a six-kilometre hike to Helen Lake before venturing up the scree slopes of Cirque Peak. The finale takes some hard work, and the trail is somewhat less defined, but the 360-degree views from the summit are incomparable to the other peaks listed here. My favourite part? The run down the scree slopes just below the summit. You’re back at Helen Lake in no time!
False Summit Cirque Peak. Photo by Meghan J. Ward