Discovering a new language or cultural way of being is always easier if you immerse yourself in the place you’re learning about, with the people who know it best.
The same goes for mastering the language and ethos of hiking in the mountains. To become a fluent Canadian Rockies hiker, you just need to spend a week on the trails of Banff National Park.
DAY 1: TALK TO THE LOCALS - TUNNEL MOUNTAIN
Stroll through downtown Banff to fill your hiking pack with the essentials like sturdy boots, bear spray and hiking poles. Buy or rent from local experts like the folks at Bactrax and pick up some hiking tips while you’re there.
Once you’re stocked up, grab a snack from a local bakery and make your way up Tunnel Mountain – your first official summit. From here you can get the lay of the land and find plenty of inspiration for the week to come.
DAY 2: GET YOURSELF A GUIDE - GUIDED HIKES
The experienced hiking guides of Banff and Lake Louise are like translators – keepers of the key to the ways of the mountains. A guided hike with Great Divide Nature Interpretation, Banff Hiking Company, or Canadian Rockies Alpine Hiking will provide you with invaluable knowledge about flora, fauna, safety and making the most of your time on the trails.
DAY 3: PRACTICE THE LANGUAGE - STANLEY GLACIER
Making Banff your basecamp means your newfound hiking knowledge will stay as sharp as the peaks around you. With new insights in mind, head up the Highway 93 South to the Stanley Glacier trailhead. This 10 km hike will take you through wildly varying terrain, from wooded paths to a landscape shaped by wildfire and a final rocky route where ancient sea fossils are known to be found.
DAY 4: TAKE TO THE ALPINE - LARCH VALLEY & SENTINEL PASS
Build on your hiking basics with a stop at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre to check on hiking conditions and wildlife activity, then catch a Parks Canada shuttle up to the famed Moraine Lake. A pleasant trail follows the shoreline before heading upwards to Larch Valley, framed by towering peaks. Strong hikers will find the extra 2.5 km and 200 metres of elevation gain to the aptly-named Sentinel Pass well worth the endless views.
DAY 5: EXPLORE EMERALD LAKE - BOW LAKE & BOW FALLS
Staying local gives you a morning in the company of high mountain peaks and an afternoon to rest and soak up their splendor. From Lake Louise it’s a quick trip up the Icefields Parkway to the turquoise waters of Bow Lake, where trail options lead around the lake and up to Bow Glacier Falls - the headwaters of the Bow River.
Rest your legs in the afternoon with a horseback ride, a visit to the artisan shops or even a spa treatment. Cap it off by grabbing a seat at a local watering hole to swap hiking know-how and let the stories flow.
DAY 6: STRETCH YOUR MOUNTAIN LEGS - LAUGHING FALLS & ICELINE TRAIL
Today’s hike begins and ends below some of the Canadian Rockies’ best waterfalls. Deep in the Yoho Valley you’ll find the mesmerizing Takakkaw Falls – among the highest falls in Canada – and the 5 km trail that leads to Laughing Falls. Hikers looking to give their legs a true test can then follow the spectacular Iceline circuit for an extra 15 km and 500+ metres of elevation. Just don’t forget to make time for a stop at the Natural Bridge (the name says it all) and Emerald Lake Lodge for tea or a locally-inspired cocktail.
DAY 7: THE GRAND FINALE - HELI-HIKING
To join the birds that soar above the Rocky Mountains, you need wings of your own. Book a heli-hike with Rockies Heli to go far beyond where your legs can take you. Marvel at rugged peaks and pristine rivers from above before touching down to hike through the infinite meadows of the alpine. Up here in the wide open spaces of the high Canadian Rockies, you might just find that you can learn the most by letting the mountains speak.
Are you more of a paddler than a hiker? Check out Summer Itineraries: 4 days to Canoe, Kayak, or SUP in Banff National Park.