Everyone knows that Banff National Park is one of the best places to enjoy outdoor activities. Whether skiing, hiking, rock climbing or biking, Banff provides stunning scenery and a variety of terrain to suit individuals of any ability. "Alpine running", however - what the heck is that? If you happen to love running on your local trails, consider breaking out above treeline, soaking up some epic views, standing triumphantly on a summit or going on a real adventure. Banff's access to a network of trails has the potential to transform your boring old jog into the experience of a lifetime. Here's a few of my favourite places to run in Banff National Park:
Tunnel Mountain (5km/300m Vertical)
My favourite way to get in some aesthetic running and Bow Valley views quickly and close to home. Tunnel is the perfect place to start running up and down mountains or to push yourself hard if you want to. This diminutive mountain has more variety than meets the eye: my favourite route is up or down its southwest ridge (a loose, scrambly goatpath) combined with a loop around its base via the Bow River/Hoodoos trail.
Trailhead: Located on St. Julien Road near The Banff Centre.
Sulphur Mountain (11km/700m)
Sulphur is my favourite mountain to run in the winter, on rainy days or when I'm trying to stay close to home. Sulphur's trailheads begin conveniently near town and offer more climbing and better views than Tunnel. Sulphur features options for rocky scrambling along its summit ridge or you can get a hot dog and fries at the gondola station instead. My favourite way to run Sulphur is a loop over the mountain: up the main trail to Sanson's Peak, then down the old road on the back of Sulphur to the Cave and Basin. A full loop (without a car) is about 20km and 950m vertical.
Trailhead: Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot at the end of Mountain Avenue.
Mount Bourgeau (21km/1500m)
Bourgeau is my favourite big mountain that’s close to town, has stellar views and great quality of trail for running. You visit four different alpine lakes on the way to a broad summit that overlooks Mount Assiniboine, Banff and the peaks of Lake Louise. My favourite way to get to Bourgeau is early in the morning on my bike. The only bummer is a 7.5km approach in the trees, a blast on the way out.
Trailhead: South side of the Trans-Canada Highway, 13 km west of the Mt. Norquay Interchange.
Mount Fairview (10km/1000m)
Fairview is my favourite way to get into the alpine quickly, surround myself with a bunch of big peaks and get a killer workout. This trail starts at Lake Louise and winds up to a feathery larch forest and onwards to a panoramic summit overlooking the lake, Plain of Six Glaciers and Mount Temple. My favourite time of day to run up Fairview is at dawn or dusk with a headlamp, as fast as possible.
Sunshine Village - Shadow Lake - Highway 93 (42km/1700m)
This route is my favourite way to crank out some serious distance in the backcountry on slightly "flatter" trails amid some of the Rockies' finest scenery. This trip crosses three passes (Healy, Whistling and Gibbon) and visits numerous alpine tarns tucked along the peaks of the Continental Divide. My favourite way to do this route is with a buddy and cars parked at both ends. Don't forget your keys, like I did -- hitchhiking isn’t my favourite way to get home after a long run.
Trailhead: Start at Sunshine Village parking lot and end at the Vista Lake trailhead on highway 93S. Redearth Creek would be one way to bail out to the highway but wouldn't shorten the distance very much.
Larch Valley - Sentinel Pass - Paradise Valley (17km/800m)
My favourite way to experience some really adventurous trail running among huge mountains while never being too remote. You'll need three buddies to accompany you on this trip for bear safety, which is fine because you can surely outrun them, right? Standing on top of Sentinel Pass feels like a scene out of Lord of the Rings, while delicately descending the rocky trail into Paradise Valley requires Jedi-like concentration. My favourite way to get back to Moraine Lake is by running the rest of the way around Mount Temple, via the trail beside the road if it's open (another 8.5km). If not, jogging up the road works too. A more sensible option is to shuttle cars between trailheads or park bikes at Moraine Lake and cruise downhill back to Paradise Valley.
Trailhead: One trailhead would be at the Moraine Lake parking lot, the other would be at the Paradise Valley trailhead along Moraine Lake road.
Cory-Edith Pass Loop (13km/1100m)
My favourite loop of technical, rocky running with a trailhead that isn't far from town. The Cory Pass trail starts with a steep climb right out of the gates, but soon levels out into rolling singletrack that crests a saddle bounded by towering mountain walls. Drop into Gargoyle Valley, sidehilling across talus and tiptoeing through a boulder field at the base of Mount Louis to finish a loop back to where you started. My favourite variation is to combine a scramble of Mount Edith's north peak from Cory Pass, a steep third-class climb that requires research and bit of experience to accomplish safely. My favourite way to reach the trailhead is on my bike via Vermillion Lakes and the Legacy Trail.
Trailhead: The Fireside Picnic Area at the eastern end of the Bow Valley Parkway.
A few tips...
Research your route and read Parks Canada trail reports and bulletins before heading out. - Make lots of noise and carry bear spray. - Pack lightly but make sure you bring the essentials (waterproof jacket, phone, food/water, etc.) - Hike the hills, jog the flats, run the downhills.