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Meghan Ward
The Real Banff Blog / Published: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 14:04

9 Bucket List Hikes in Banff National Park

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Banff. For many, the word conjures up breathtaking scenery of turquoise-blue lakes and a panoramic sea of peaks, of wildflowers dancing in the breeze and wildlife minding their young next to flowing creeks. For many more that same scene includes endless trails just beckoning hikers to engross themselves in the landscape to gain those lofty views on their own two feet. 

With over 1,600 kilometres of trails, Banff National Park offers adventurers some of the best hiking on the planet, whether it’s an easy hike to incredible vistas or a more strenuous trek deep in the backcountry. Choosing just nine bucket list hikes is about as big a task as climbing the biggest peaks in the Park, but here’s a start: 

Please note: before setting out on your adventures, be sure to check the latest trail conditions with Parks Canada.

1. Cory Pass – Mt. Edith Circuit

The hike to Cory Pass​ requires some serious leg power, but the view from the pass is one of the most spectacular and rewarding in all of Banff National Park. The sheer south face of Mt. Louis surprises hikers as they crest the pass – a great place to sit and enjoy a packed lunch. Continue the circuit upon reaching the pass by descending down the other side and around Mt. Edith (a bit easier on the legs), or return the way you came.

Distance: 13 km loop

Elevation gain: 1000 m

Time required: 5-6 hours

Difficulty: Challenging

2. Cascade Amphitheatre 

This hike begins at the Mt. Norquay ski area, crosses a bridge over Forty Mile Creek, then zigzags its way through dense forest to the Cascade Amphitheatre. As you emerge into the amphitheatre, impressively enclosed by limestone cliffs, keep your eyes out for wildflowers. Adventurous hikers can make a full day trip of it and, with adequate preparation, tackle the summit of Cascade Mountain.   

Distance: 13.2 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 640 m

Time required: 4-6 hours 

Difficulty: Moderate

3. Bourgeau Lake & Harvey Pass

Bourgeau Lake and the Harvey Pass area above it deserve a full day’s trip. The trail climbs steeply through a forest of lodgepole and spruce before opening out into meadows that lead to the shores of Bourgeau Lake. From there, continue 2.2km (310m up) past several smaller bodies of water to the lake at Harvey Pass for impressive views of Mt. Assiniboine, “The Matterhorn of the Rockies.”

Distance: 15 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 725 m

Time required:  5-6 hours 

Difficulty: Moderate

4. Lake Agnes Teahouse/Big Beehive

The hike to Lake Agnes in the Lake Louise area and the historic teahouse on its shores is a relatively easy hike through old-growth forest. A beautiful waterfall flows out of Lake Agnes just below the teahouse, where you can enjoy a cup of tea and fresh piece of pie. For an added challenge, continue 1.6 km around the far end of Lake Agnes and up switchbacks to the top of the Big Beehive for views of the Bow Valley and the turquoise-blue waters of Lake Louise.

Distance: 7.2 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 390 m

Time required: 3-4 hours

Difficulty: Easy

5. Plain of Six Glaciers

By far one of the most accessible and scenic hikes in Banff National Park, the Plain of Six Glaciers trail offers expansive views of the impressive mountain features that surround Lake Louise, including Mt. Lefroy, Mt. Victoria and the Victoria Glacier. After your steady hike up, enjoy a snack at the historic Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse before continuing 1 kilometre to talus slopes that provide a view of Abbot Pass and the Abbot Pass Hut (see Bonus section below). If you’re not grabbing a bite at the teahouse, this is a great spot to have your lunch.

Meghan Ward

Distance: 13.8 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 380 m

Time required: 4-6 hours

Difficulty: Easy

6. Saddleback Pass/Mt. Fairview

The hike to this gap between Mt. Fairview and Saddle Peak promises stunning views of the 11,000-foot Mt. Temple and, in autumn, the stunning gold shimmer of alpine larches. Scramble up Saddle Peak to enhance your views of Mt. Temple and Paradise Valley below. From Saddleback Pass, hike up Fairview Mountain (an additional 2-hour return trip, 400m up) for a spectacular birds-eye view of Lake Louise. 

Meghan Ward

Distance: 7.4 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 600 m

Time required: 3-4 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

7. Moraine Lake Shoreline/Rockpile

The hike around the Moraine Lake Shoreline is the easiest way to appreciate the beauty of this famous alpine lake. A flat, easy trail weaves its way through shoreline trees and offers extraordinary views of the Ten Peaks, a dramatic row of summits all over 10,000 feet. Hike up the Rockpile for an alternative view of these indigo waters and the nearby Tower of Babel.

Distance: 3 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 0 m

Time required: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Easy

8. Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass

The hike into Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass is a must for any hiker wanting to have an experience that closely resembles the backcountry of Banff National Park. This moderate hike offers remarkable views of the Ten Peaks and, if you head up Sentinel Pass, the dreamlike vista of Paradise Valley (look for climbers on the Grand Sentinel!). As the name suggests, this valley is spectacular in autumn, when the larch needles turn gold.  

Note: This hike requires a minimum group of four at certain times of the year. Check Parks Canada seasonal restrictions prior to heading out. (The restrictions do not affect the Moraine Lake Shoreline or Rockpile.)

Devaan Ingraham

Distance: 11.6 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 725 m

Time required: 4-5 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

9. Helen Lake/Dolomite Pass

After a steady hike up through forest, the Helen Lake trail emerges into an alpine wonderland that remains above tree line until you reach one of Banff’s best lunch spots: Helen Lake. During a few weeks in summer, the resident marmots are joined by a stunning collection of colourful wildflowers. To lengthen your day, continue along the trail into Dolomite Pass and towards Katherine Lake, where you will be treated to a view of the impressive pyramid of Mt. Assiniboine.

Meghan Ward

Distance: 12 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 450 m

Time required: 4 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

BONUS: Abbot Pass Hut (overnight)

Nestled between the dramatic flanks of Mts. Lefroy and Victoria, on the border of Banff and Yoho national parks, the stone shelter at Abbot Pass is one of Banff’s most intriguing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built in 1922, Abbot Pass Hut was originally built to shelter some of Canada’s first mountaineers, and today hikers and climbers can enjoy a cozy overnight after the rigorous hike up from Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. 

Note: This hike is a more of a scramble with backsliding scree, and hikers should be prepared with adequate footwear and overnight gear. Due to the steep/loose terrain, helmets are also recommended. 

Distance: 14 km RT (Return Trip)

Elevation gain: 810 m

Time required:  5-6 hours

Difficulty: Challenging

Be sure to get your Parks Pass online before you visit Banff National Park!