Could there be any better way to spend a day than chasing waterfalls across beautiful Banff National Park? How about chasing waterfalls by bicycle, stand up paddleboard or raft? Better yet, imagine backpacking into a remote campsite and hiking past picturesque waterfalls at sunrise or sunset when you have the whole trail to yourself for a private waterfall viewing. These are just some of the experiences you can have in Banff while chasing waterfalls with a bit of creativity and a healthy sense of wanderlust.
Trip #1 –Try stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and hiking while you explore hidden waterfalls above Lake Louise
The Lake Agnes Teahouse hike is one of the most popular tourist hikes in the Lake Louise area but I wouldn’t write it off for that reason or encourage visitors to find a trail less travelled. After all, there is a reason the hike is so popular with its lovely waterfall en route and charming tea house serving fresh baked goods and snacks. Enjoy this beautiful destination, but consider making your visit unique so that you can capture a photo or two that will really stand out on Instagram.
Suggestions for creating that special experience at Lake Agnes:
- Start your hike at sunrise and be one of the first to grab the prized photo in front of the waterfall below the lake
- Carry up an inflatable stand up paddleboard with you and enjoy a peaceful paddle on Lake Agnes (while everybody else has to stick to the hiking trail that goes around the lake)
- Visit the Tea House for coffee or tea first thing in the morning when it opens at 8:00am and enjoy an extremely peaceful mountain dining experience
- Continue on past Lake Agnes and climb up the Devil’s Thumb for a panoramic view down to Lake Agnes and to Lake Louise far below
Trip #2 – Explore the Sundance Canyon waterfalls by bike
The paved Sundance Trail starts from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in the Town of Banff. It is an 8 km round trip outing on an easy trail that gradually gains elevation most of your bike ride towards the canyon making for a fast descent back to the trailhead. Just save enough energy for the final climb back up to the parking lot at the end of your adventure.
From the end of the paved bike trail and picnic area, you’ll switch to hiking mode as you set out to explore the 2.4 km loop hike through the canyon in search of waterfalls, cascades, bridges, and impressive rock walls.
When you return to the trailhead, it is worth taking a short visit around the historic site to explore the birthplace of Canada’s national park system at the Cave and Basin. Here you can enter the cave where the Banff Hot Springs were originally discovered.
Trip #3 – Visit Bow Glacier Falls by stand up paddleboard , canoe or kayak
The Bow Glacier Falls are usually reached via an easy 9 km round trip hike from Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. Explorers with a taste for “off the beaten path” adventures can enjoy a mixed paddle/hike trip by kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding across Bow Lake. Bring a pair of shoes and a day pack with you, stash your boats at the far end of the lake, and continue on foot to the base of the falls via the normal hiking trail. The trail follows the right hand shoreline and is easily found at the far end of the lake before it cuts up a canyon and climbs a set of stairs.
Paddling won’t save you much time in your adventure, but it will definitely add a new flavor to a simple hike and give you something to talk about at work the next day.
Trip #4 – Enjoy Bow Falls from a private beach or launch a raft for the best view in the house
Saved for last, but not because Bow Falls are the least beautiful on this list. Rather, they are just the easiest to access since they have drive-up access in the Town of Banff.
The first option for snagging that unique photo - Mountain bike or hike the Hoodoos to Bow Falls Trail from the Hoodoos viewpoint on Tunnel Mountain Road. As you get close to the river, look for trails down and you should find one that leads to a private beach directly opposite the normal parking lot for Bow Falls. Enjoy your view of the falls and don’t forget a picnic lunch.
A second option for enjoying a special “Bow Falls Experience” - Sign up for a guided float trip down the Bow River with Rocky Mountain Raft Tours. You’ll launch right below the falls and if you’re lucky, your guide might try to paddle up to the base of the falls so that you can capture that magical photo of you sitting in front of the spray. When I did this earlier in the summer, it was a top ten highlight moment for me and something I’d recommend for every visitor and local alike.
However you choose to enjoy Banff’s many waterfalls, think outside the box and create that one-of-a-kind unique adventure. Don’t forget to come back in winter as well! Sundance Canyon is positively magical when the ice is frozen and is safe to hike if you bring a pair of ice cleats or spikes with you.
Have fun exploring!