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The Best Hikes in Banff and Lake Louise you can do Without a Car

Published Date
Feb 13, 2024|
Themes
Active Travel, Sustainable Travel
Five friends walk along the boardwalk on the shores of Lake Louise with the lake and mountains behind them in the fall.

A trip to the Canadian Rockies doesn’t happen every day. Chances are, when you get to make that trip you’ve got a solid list of points and places to see. And, of course, one of the best ways to see them is by taking to the trails.

While there’s plenty of space for everyone on the extensive hiking trail network of Banff National Park, the same doesn’t necessarily go for the small parking lots at many trailheads. Luckily, there are plenty of options to get to the trails without a car and without a hassle.

Some of our favourite hikes can be reached by foot or by bike right from the town of Banff. A guided tour is a great way to be dropped off and picked up steps from the trailhead and soak up some mountain wisdom from the incredibly knowledgeable tour guides on your way.

The Roam Public Transit system also makes it a breeze to get around Banff and Lake Louise. The reasons to hop on board speak for themselves – support the long-term sustainability of the park, cut down your carbon impact, meet fellow adventurers and skip the disappointment of a full parking lot that could keep you from your hike.

Visit one of the gear outfitters in Banff to ensure you have the essentials like bear spray, rent gear including hiking poles, and get some locals’ tips on their top trails. Then, head out for one of these 13 hikes at every level, all easily accessible by Roam Transit. Happy trails!

Hikes in the Banff Townsite Area

The mountain community of Banff is a hub for refuelling, resting up, and finding a Roam Transit bus heading just where you need to go. In some cases, that might mean not far at all. There are several top hikes just outside of Banff, some of which you don’t even need the help of Roam to get to.

  • Sundance Canyon
  • Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos
  • Guardian Buffalo/Tunnel Mountain
  • Sulphur Mountain
  • Aylmer Lookout at Lake Minnewanka

Sundance Canyon

Access: Walk, bike or Roam Transit Route #4

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3.7 km one way / 7.4 km return (plus 1.6 km loop through the canyon itself)

Elevation gain: 155 m

What we love about this hike: While this is a great walk, Sundance Canyon is an even better bike-and-hike destination. It follows the banks of the Bow River before heading into the forest to a charming canyon where you can park your bike and explore on foot. Start your hike and bike at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

People stand on a bridge at Sundance Canyon with a waterfall underneath of them in Banff National Park.
A waterfall in Sundance Canyon in Banff National Park.

Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos

Access: Walk, guided tour or Roam Transit Route #2

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4.8 km one way (plus 1.6 km to the trailhead if you walk from downtown Banff)

Elevation gain: 115 m

What we love about this hike: It’s just a 20-minute walk from Banff Avenue to the well-named Surprise Corner, and then a pleasant hike along the Bow River to the ancient hoodoos and a nearby Roam Transit stop, taking you right back to town.

Tunnel Mountain at sunset in the summer from the Hoodoos Trail in Banff National Park.Tunnel Mountain at sunset in the summer from the Hoodoos Trail in Banff National Park.Tunnel Mountain at sunset in the summer from the Hoodoos Trail in Banff National Park.

Guardian Buffalo/Tunnel Mountain

Access: Roam Transit Route #4. Or bike or walk from the center of town to the start of the trailhead, which is a little over 1km.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 2.4 km one way / 4.8 km return

Elevation gain: 260 meters

What we love about this hike: The Tunnel Mountain hike offers tremendous views of the surrounding valleys and Banff townsite. The trail moves slowly up the mountain through several switchbacks and offers various viewpoints into the Bow and Spray Valleys. Once you reach the top ridgeline, you are offered spectacular views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.

It's a mostly easy route that allows folks to get accustomed to hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains while still offering great views. Locals love it for its accessibility, and you can hike it year-round. It's just one of those things you need to do in Banff.

The view of the Banff townsite from the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.The view of the Banff townsite from the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.The view of the Banff townsite from the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.

Sulphur Mountain

Access: Roam Transit Route #1

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5.5 km one way / 11 km return

Elevation gain: 655 m

What we love about this hike: A short ride from town, the Sulphur Mountain trail winds steadily uphill to the summit, where you’ll get views of six different mountain ranges. While you are up there, grab a snack and take in the views from the Banff Gondola. And, if you don't feel like walking down, you can buy a ticket for a one-way ride down the mountain.

Aylmer Lookout at Lake Minnewanka

Access: Roam Transit Route #6

Difficulty: Difficult

Distance: 11.8 km one way / 23.6 km return

Elevation gain: 560 m

What we love about this hike: This hike is basically a 2-in-1, following the Lake Minnewanka shoreline before climbing to the old fire lookout with views of Banff National Park’s biggest lake. Roam makes it possible to avoid the busy parking lot and focus on enjoying the picturesque ride.

A woman takes a photo while on a tour bus at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.A woman takes a photo while on a tour bus at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.A woman takes a photo while on a tour bus at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.

Hikes on the Bow Valley Parkway

A short distance from Banff, the Bow Valley Parkway splits off from the Trans-Canada and leads to several very unique hikes. In May, June and September, the first 17 km of the Parkway are closed to vehicles and saved exclusively for cyclists (and the resident wildlife, naturally).

  • Johnston Canyon & the Ink Pots
  • Rockbound Lake

Johnston Canyon & the Ink Pots

Access: Bike, guided tour or Roam Transit Route #9

Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Distance: Johnston Canyon is 2.5 km one way / 5 km return, and the Ink Pots trail is 5.7 km one way / 11.4 km return

Elevation gain: Johnston Canyon 120 m / Ink Pots 330 m

What we love about this hike: This trail leads through a deep canyon to the thundering lower and upper falls, and then up to the Ink Pots where water bubbles up from deep below in colourful shallow pools in a mountain meadow. One of our favourite ways to do this is to rent a bike and ride from the Banff townsite during the 1A road closure in the summer.

Rockbound Lake

Access: Bike from Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 8.4 km one way / 16.8 km return

Elevation gain: 760 m

What we love about this hike: This trail rewards those willing to power through long switchbacks with a glacial cirque dotted by boulders and Rockbound Lake itself.

Rockbound Lake as seen from above during a day hike in the summer.Rockbound Lake as seen from above during a day hike in the summer.Rockbound Lake as seen from above during a day hike in the summer.

Hikes in Lake Louise

Lake Louise was one of the first additions to the transit network, and now getting up here is easier by bus than by personal vehicle.

For Moraine Lake hikes, check out our blog for full details.

Read on for hikes around Lake Louise, which are all accessible by guided tours, Roam Transit Route #8X or Parks Canada shuttle.

  • Lakeshore Trail
  • Fairview Lookout & Fairview Mountain
  • Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse
  • Lake Agnes and Big Beehive

Lakeshore Trail

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 2 km one way / 4 km return

Elevation gain: minimal

What we love about this hike: Step off your bus at Lake Louise, and you’ll find yourself essentially on the lakeshore of this place you’ve heard so much about and the trail that leads all around it to the back of the lake.

Fairview Lookout & Fairview Mountain

Difficulty: Easy / Difficult

Distance: Fairview Lookout is 1 km one way / 2 km return, Fairview Mountain is 5.1 km one way / 10.2 km return

Elevation gain: Lookout 100 m / Mountain 1013 m

What we love about this hike: Leaving from the boathouse that’s also very close to the transit stop, this trail leads quickly to a fork in the woods. The short lookout trail offers a different perspective from above Lake Louise while the route to the summit climbs up through a larch forest and alpine slopes to peer down at the lake far below.

A girl hangs off the fence on the Fairview Lookout trail in Lake Louise.A girl hangs off the fence on the Fairview Lookout trail in Lake Louise.A girl hangs off the fence on the Fairview Lookout trail in Lake Louise.

Plain of Six Glaciers

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5.3 km one way / 10.6 km return

Elevation gain: 365 m

What we love about this hike: Beyond the shoreline trail, you’ll discover a glacial moraine that leads gradually up and away from the lake into a whole new territory with views of the many peaks that enamoured the Swiss guides and all the hikers who’ve followed.

The Plain of Six Glaciers tea house in Banff National Park.
Mountains at Lake Louise in the fall.

Lake Agnes & Big Beehive

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: Lake Agnes 3.4 km one way / 6.8 km return, Big Beehive is 5 km one way / 10 km return

Elevation gain: Lake Agnes 385 m / Big Beehive 520 m

What we love about this hike: These are two great hikes bundled into one that fit easily into a day of exploring by transit. You’ll be treated to forested trails, a historic summer teahouse on the shores of Lake Agnes, a rocky path into the alpine and views all across Lake Louise from high above.

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