Hikes to Lakes and Waterfalls
There’s nothing quite like an afternoon spent sitting quietly at the edge of an alpine lake, surrounded by soaring peaks and fresh mountain air. The stunning turquoise lakes of Banff National Park have been drawing visitors from all over the world for more than one hundred years, so dip your toes into the icy water, take a look around, and soak in the silence. You’ll feel like you’ve been frozen in time.
Here are a few of our favourite local lakes and waterfalls to start your adventure.
Hikes to Lakes:
- Rockbound Lake - Located just off the Bow Valley Parkway at Castle Junction, Rockbound Lake is a classic example of a high-alpine lake. Surrounded by stunning cliffs, the scenery is worth the moderate 16.8 km (return) hike.
- Taylor Lake - A great place to check out the famous fall larch trees, Taylor Lake is also home to a few cozy backcountry campsites. 12.6 km return.
- Lake Minnewanka - The Minnewanka Lake shoreline is perfect for everyone. Backpackers will enjoy several campsites along the shore (starting at 8 km, one way), while day hikers can continue as far as their legs will take them before returning to the picturesque picnic area.
- Helen Lake - Well known among local hikers as a “must-do” hike during wildflower season, Helen Lake is an amazing choice for a day hike. Travel 12 km (return) and enjoy stunning views of endless alpine meadows.
- Cephren Lake - Departing from Waterfowl Lakes Campground on the Icefields Parkway, the quiet 7 km return hike to Cephren Lake is the perfect way to start your day. As a bonus, you can also include Cirque Lake with a short detour on your way back.
Hikes to Waterfalls:
- Bow Glacier Falls - Starting at stunning Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway, travel 4.6 km (one-way) to the roaring falls and witness the stunning origins of the Bow River.
- Silverton Falls - On your way to Rockbound Lake, take a short detour up to Silverton Falls - a classic Banff hidden gem.
- Johnston Canyon - If you’re after waterfalls, this is the place to go. The iconic catwalks of Johnston Canyon offer amazing access to several thundering waterfalls. A 1.1 km forest walk will bring you to the lower falls, but it is always worth continuing an additional 1.6 km to the upper falls.
- Bow Falls - Located in the heart of downtown Banff, Bow Falls has been a classic stop for visitors since it was featured in Marilyn Monroe’s 1954 film, River Of No Return. Start in downtown Banff and stroll along the Bow River until you reach the beautiful waterfall. A great walk for all abilities.
Looking for more hiking inspiration? Check out 9 Bucket List Hikes in Banff National Park.
GUIDED HIKING AND HELI-HIKING
One of the best ways to experience the mountains is with the help of a friendly guide. Joining a guided hike will not only give you access to incredible trails and scenery, but it will give you a much deeper appreciation of your surroundings. Want to know why the water is turquoise? They’ll tell you. Is that a goat or a sheep? They’ll have the answer.
BOOK AN INTERPRETIVE OR GUIDED HIKE
A variety of companies offer interpretive and educational hikes in Banff and Lake Louise, including:
- Canadian Rockies Alpine Hiking
- Discover Banff Tours
- Great Divide Interpretation
- Forest Fix
- Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
- The Lake Louise Summer Gondola
- White Mountain Adventures
- Yamnuska Canadian Rockies Hiking
- Alpine Air Adventures
- Banff Walk (Guided interpretive walks in Banff townsite)
For more on guided hikes, check out The Outdoor Classroom: Our guide to guided hikes in Banff and Lake Louise.
Book a Heli-Hiking Experience
Another great option for guided hikes involves the addition of a helicopter! Heli-hiking offers you the chance to reach the wildest and highest locations in comfort. An exhilarating helicopter flight will sweep you over some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world, and then you’ll be dropped off in the alpine, far from any other hikers or signs of civilization, to trek through the wilderness.
Book a heli-hiking trip with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) for multi-day trips through the breathtaking backcountry, including access to remote lodges and via ferrata; Rockies Heli Tours Canada offer both summer and winter heli-hiking adventures in the Canadian Rockies; White Mountain Adventures and Alpine Helicopters offer heli-hiking day trips including guided hiking; Canadian Rockies Alpine Hiking can create bespoke multi-day adventures for small groups.
For more inspiration, check out our Beginner’s Guide To Heli-Hiking.
Hikes For Families
A first trip to the mountains will be a magical experience, but finding the right adventure is key to a great day. Banff and Lake Louise offer a number of hikes and walks for all ability levels. Just because your little one isn’t ready to hike over a mountain pass doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice on scenery. Here are a few incredible, year-round trails to get your adventure started.
- Lake Minnewanka - While ambitious backpackers can use Lake Minnewanka for several days of hiking, the first few kilometres of the trail are perfect for a family day hike. Wander around the lakeshore and then enjoy a picturesque mountain picnic in one of the several shelters available. Take Roam transit for the most convenient experience.
- Johnston Canyon - Children will love the thundering falls of Johnston Canyon. The paved trail to the lower falls (1.1 km one way) will make the perfect first mountain adventure. For the best experience, visit before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Take Roam transit for the most convenient experience.
- Johnson Lake - Take the family for a 3 km jaunt around Johnson Lake and enjoy stunning views of Cascade Mountain and Mt. Rundle. Local tip: Johnson Lake is a great place to swim on a hot summer day. Take Roam transit for the most convenient experience.
- Lake Louise Lakeshore - A classic 2 km stroll in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. For the best experience, visit before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Take the Parks Canada shuttle or Roam bus for the most convenient experience.
- Hoodoo Lookout - On your way down Tunnel Mountain Road, don’t miss the HooDoo lookout viewpoint. Here you’ll get the best view of Banff’s geological wonders while enjoying a short, mostly paved interpretive trail.
- Fenlands Loop - Discover stunning old-growth forest just steps away from Banff Ave on this gentle 2.1 km trail. This is a great spot to watch for birds and wildlife along the river.
- Bow River to Bow Falls - Walk through the Town of Banff along the Bow River. Most of this 2 km path is well-graded, making this a great accessible option for an afternoon stroll.
Tea House Hikes
Perched by the lake and amongst the peaks surrounding Lake Louise you’ll find historic Tea Houses perfectly positioned for your well-earned rest.
With breathtaking views and delicious food and refreshments, hiking to a cosy backcountry tea house is a must-do experience for your visit to Lake Louise.
Starting at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House is a moderate 3.4 km climb up switchbacks. Along the way, you’ll pass numerous viewpoints and the stunning Mirror Lake. Once you arrive at Lake Agnes, you’ll be well positioned to enjoy a snack and then head off on another adventure, including side-trips to the Big Beehive and Little Beehive.
For those looking to continue their tour of tea houses in the Lake Louise area, continue on a 4km moderate hike up to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House where you'll be rewarded with dramatic views of the glacial valley and the vastness of the area, and have more opportunity to spot wildlife. Relax and enjoy a well-deserved hot cup of tea with a delicious selection of homemade treats, before your return journey either via Lake Louise or via Lake Agnes.
There are many opportunities for hiking during the winter months. It’s worth the effort to put on some extra layers and venture outside into the crisp mountain air and sparkling snow - and there’s no doubt it will make hot chocolate by the fire afterwards even more enjoyable.
You’ll want to use ice cleats (an accessory that fits over your shoes or boots to give you traction in ice and snow) and/or snowshoes when hiking in Banff and Lake Louise during the winter. What you choose will depend on the trail conditions and the amount of fresh snow. Cleats and snowshoes can be rented or purchased from a number of stores, including Snowtips-Bactrax in Banff and Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise.
Sentinel Pass, Moraine Lake
Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka Drive
Mistaya Canyon, Icefields Parkway
Little Beehive, Lake LouisePaul Zizka
Larch Valley, Moraine LakeDevaan Ingraham
Johnston Canyon, Bow Valley Parkway
Purchase Your Park Pass Online
All visitors to Banff National Park must purchase (or already hold) a current Parks Canada Discovery Pass. You can purchase your Parks Canada Discovery Pass online before you visit so you can easily enter the park and spend more time hiking. You can learn more and purchase your pass online in our Guide To The Parks Canada Pass.