In Banff National Park, the power of the elements is on full display. Discover the forces of nature at play in the Canadian Rockies by taking to the trails that lead to mesmerizing cascades of water.
We’ve gathered up a list of our favourite waterfall hikes, from the heart of the Bow Valley all the way up to the mountainous alpine. Begin your waterfall tour with a stop at the Parks Canada Visitor Information Centres in Banff or Lake Louise for maps, trail conditions, and tips to get you off the main routes and into new territory.
Distance: 3.7 km one way, plus an optional (though highly recommended) 1.6 km loop around the falls
Difficulty: Easy (main trail) / Moderate (falls loop)
What we love about it: The Cave and Basin National Historic Site on the outskirts of town is well-known as the birthplace of Banff National Park, but it’s also the trailhead for one of Banff’s best local hikes. Beyond the Cave and Basin, a seemingly non-descript wooded trail leads downhill before opening up along the shores of the Bow River. This panoramic section of trail eventually turns upwards to the forested entrance of Sundance Canyon, where a rocky loop winds around the impressive canyon falls.
Locals’ tip: The paved section along the river and the wide alley through the trees make this a perfect trail for a bike-and-hike. Even the little ones will be able to pedal up the gentle slope, and there are bike racks at the canyon entrance.
Distance: 1.2 km to the Lower Falls, 2.5 km to the Upper Falls
What we love about it: This popular hike is well-loved for a good reason; the pleasant riverside trail leads to suspended metal catwalks firmly anchored to the canyon walls that offer a unique perspective over the rushing waters below. Make sure to go the extra 1.3 km to witness the immense power of the plunging Upper Falls and three other waterfalls along the route between the upper and lower falls.
Locals’ tip: Johnston Canyon is particularly busy during peak daytime periods, and parking is limited. Jump on board Roam Transit’s Johnston Canyon Route 9 bus from Banff to make this a stress-free hike.
Distance: 0.9 km one way
What we love about it: Only 6 km further down the Bow Valley Parkway from Johnston Canyon, Silverton Falls is about as different as it gets from the busy trail. The trailhead is shared with Rockbound Lake but soon branches off into the peace and tranquillity of the forest. Your destination is the enchanting Silverton Falls, which tumble 50 metres down narrow ledges.
Locals’ tip: The quiet trail feels much more untouched than others in the area, which means there are fewer artificial protective barriers, and caution should be taken in slightly exposed sections.
Distance: 0.7 km one way
What we love about it: The thundering Takakkaw Falls are hidden away from most travellers by the steep and winding Yoho Valley Road just past Lake Louise. The treasure that awaits at the end of the road and the short walking trail make the side trip very worth it. At more than 250 metres high, this is among the tallest waterfalls in Canada and undoubtedly one of the most captivating.
Locals’ tip: Just 10-minutes from Yoho Valley Road, you can find Emerald Lake and the shoreline-centred Emerald Lake Lodge. Stop in for lunch and bask on the shores of the vivid turquoise waters.
Distance: 1.8 km loop
What we love about it: The intriguingly-named Mistaya Canyon is a gateway for rushing waters that have come all the way from Peyto Lake, high on the Icefields Parkway in the north of Banff National Park. From the parking area just off the parkway, a smooth trail leads down to a mist-covered bridge and viewing area of wide, flat rocks alongside the twisting falls.
Locals’ tip: Many visitors don’t go beyond the viewing area, but those who do are rewarded with a short-but-sweet loop trail that offers more viewpoints over the canyon and valley.
Bow Glacier Falls
Distance: 4.6 km one way
What we love about it: At the edge of the treeline begins the alpine zone of the Canadian Rockies – a rugged realm of rocky features and wide-open vistas. This is where you’ll find the picturesque trail that leads to Bow Glacier Falls. This cascading waterfall belongs to the headwaters of the Bow River, which winds its way down the valley to Lake Louise, Banff, and the foothills beyond.
Locals’ tip: This is one of those hikes where every moment of the journey is as delightful as the destination. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the shores of the iconic Bow Lake and views of the glaciers above.