Last September I visited the beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada for the first time. Banff is lined with rocky mountain peaks, turquoise lakes, and Instagram-worthy hikes. The park attracts over 3 million visitors a year and is part of many peoples bucket lists around the world (including mine).
One of the biggest things I ran into when planning my trip was the number of people who had recommendations for different hikes to do in the park. Obviously, you go to Banff to hike or participate in outdoor activities within the park, but I was overwhelmed with the number of recommendations I got and recognized pretty quickly that my 2 days in Banff was not going to be near enough time to even scratch the surface of the recos people provided me with.
Thankfully I live in Canada so a quick trip across the country is something that I can easily do multiple times in my lifetime, so I picked some of the most recommended hikes that looked to fit my level of hiking (I had never really hiked in mountains before) and agreed that I’d save the rest for another trip!
Now there are a few things I need to warn you about when it comes to the most recommended hikes I’ve included below:
- This is definitely not inclusive of all the hikes you can do Banff National Park. Do your own research to determine what ones you want to do. Perhaps they aren’t even on this list!
- AllTrails is a great app/website that allows you to read reviews of different hiking trails. This allows you to determine the state of the trail before you go on it, get some insider tips, and access if it’ll be a trail at the right level for you.
- I visited in the summer/fall and of course, Alberta gets some wild winter weather. We saw snow on some of our hikes even in September. So make sure you not only dress and pack appropriately, but also recognize that some of the hikes below may not be recommended when visiting in the winter months.
First things first, it’s important to note that Banff National Park gets exceptionally busy and parking is very limited. The majority of your hikes will begin at either Moraine Lake or Lake Louise, both have parking lots that fill up often before sunrise during the busy season. To avoid this madness, I recommend you book (in advance) the shuttle. The area offers a cheap shuttle where you’ll catch at a park & go lot nearby. The shuttle runs frequently and will take you to either starting point, between the two, and/or back to your starting point. You can learn more and book here.
You will also need to purchase a park pass. You can do this at a variety of different stops in the area or online. However, if you book online, note that you’ll need to print the pass to have it presented in the window of your car.
Without further ado, here are the most recommended trails that I received from a variety of people, and from the research and reading, I did prior to the trip…
Super Easy Hikes
I think it’s important to add some of these into the “super easy” category because literally anyone can do these at any age. These are great for people who still want to see views without the effort of hiking, kids, or anyone that have limited mobility or low fitness levels.
Johnston Canyon Lower & Upper Falls
I did this hike while in Banff and went to both the lower and upper falls, however, you can choose to just go to the lower. To the lower falls it’s only a 2.3KM trail (out and back), to the upper, it’s 5.1KM (out and back), however, if you’ve already hiked to the lower falls, you basically have already gone halfway to the upper. This trail is primarily a board walk and super family friendly. We did this hike after a long, exhausting hike in the rain, and had no problems. There was even someone hiking it on crutches!
Moraine Lake Viewpoint
It’s hard to really call this a hike because it’s legit under 1KM to get to the viewpoint. Lots of people who aren’t in Banff for physical activity, or may just be not in a condition that allows them to hike opt for this viewpoint trail. It is right by the parking lot and takes you up to a beautiful vantage point of the popular Moraine Lake. This is an easy thing to tack onto any other hike you do at Moraine Lake as well.
Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail
Another very family-friendly hike/walk around Moraine Lake. We again added this on after a bigger hike at the end of the day as we weren’t ready to leave the beautiful views yet. This trail is 5.1KM (out and back) and allows for great and different views of the turquoise lake with minimal effort. We grabbed a coffee at the coffee shop near the parking lot and took it for a walk around the lake.
Lake Louise Lakefront Trail
This easy trail is similar to the Shoreline Trail at Moraine Lake in that it takes you around Lake Louise on a 4.5KM (out and back) walk/hike. This is a great, family-friendly trail to see some great views with minimal effort.
Peyto Lake Panorama Overlook
I was so bummed that Peyto Lake was closed to tourists when I visited in September. This is the beautiful glacier lake that is shaped like a dog. This Panorama Overlook trail is an easy 2.4KM (loop) that is family-friendly and provides an excellent viewpoint of the lake.
Tunnel Mountain is a 4.5KM trail (out and back) to an amazing viewpoint on top of the famous Tunnel Mountain that overlooks the town of Banff and the surrounding area. This is an easy trail whether you are a novice hiker or not and can be a great starting point to get you ready for bigger hikes during your time in Banff.
Consolation Lakes Trail
A popular route that starts at Moraine Lake, Consolation Lakes Trail is said to be easier, but the less busy route to take from the popular lake. It’s a 7.6KM hike (out and back), the trail starts from the Rockpile Trail to the left, and goes through a rocky section, into the forest, and continues on fairly flat. A great hike for beginners or anyone looking for something easier to do after a more challenging hike.
Little Beehive via Lake Agnes Trail
This was one of the hikes we did while in Banff. However, we went on a day that was legit pouring rain which was kind of disappointing as we didn’t get all the gorgeous views due to their being low visibility. Saying that, we still really liked this hike so I can only imagine what it be like on a clear day. This hike starts at Lake Louise and is 9KM (out and back). Although there is a steady incline, I found this trail well maintained and rather easy despite the “Moderate” ranking on All Trails. You’ll hit some great view points and make it up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for a tea or coffee to warm you up (note it’s cash only and isn’t always open so check the hours beforehand).
Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Viewpoint
Despite its “Moderate” ranking, most people say this hike is pretty easy although no walk in the park. This 6.6KM (out and back) trail will take you through the touristy portion of the Peyto Lake Viewpoint and past the beautiful (and challenging) hike of the Bow Summit.
The Big Beehive
If you want, you can continue onto The Big Beehive from The Little Beehive trail mentioned above. The Big Beehive hike is 10.9KM and is a loop that’ll bring you back down to Lake Louise. I’ve flagged this as moderate, as we were told it’s not very hard or overwhelming if you are decently in shape. You’ll hit some amazing views of Lake Louise, and the area. We would’ve added this onto our Little Beehive hike but when we stopped at the Lake Agnes Teahouse they told us on a rainy day with low visibility it wouldn’t really be worth it as you wouldn’t see anything. Sadly I guess we will need to return back for this one.
Lake Agnes Trail to Plain of Six Glaciers Loop
The Lake Agnes Trail starts at Lake Louise and brings you to a variety of different options you can go for at various levels. I did hike part of Lake Agnes, but not to Plain of Six Glaciers, which was a very popular and highly recommended route among everyone I talked to/read. This trail is 10.8KM (loop). This trail is ranked as moderate on AllTrails, but it’s said to be on the easier end depending on your fitness level. Since I didn’t hike it myself, I’ve left it under moderate. On this trail, you’ll see lakes, mountains, and incredible views.
This trail is only 5.1KM (out and back) and takes you along the famous Icefields Parkway. You’ll go through beautiful forests with creeks, waterfalls, and be rewarded with dramatic views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and river. This is a unique trail to tackle if you’re looking for something that you don’t see on as many people’s highly recommended lists but it looks like a hidden gem.
Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots
If you’re at Johnston Canyon hiking to the lower or upper falls, you have the option to also hike to the Ink Pots. This is on SO many people’s recommended lists for the first time you visit Banff but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to squeeze it in. This trail will take you 11.7KM (out and back), past the lower and upper falls that are more popular, and to some beautiful vantage points. Bonus! This trail is accessible year-round.
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley Trail
This was one of the hikes we did on our trip to Banff and my favourite. Sentinel Pass is ranked “Hard” on AllTrails which really intimidated me but I would put it more under the moderate category for anyone that is relatively in-shape as once you get past the first 2.5KM (approximately) of uphill climbing, then the trail completely flattens out and it becomes way easier. This trail is 11KM (out and back) and takes you via the Larch Valley Trail which is absolutely beautiful in the fall as the Larch’s change colour. You’ll be rewarded with some incredible views on this hike. You can also do just the Larch Valley Trail and turnaround vs. continuing to Sentinel Pass.
Cirque Peak via Helen Lake Trail
A challenging 15.9KM (out and back) trail that starts at Bow Lake and climbs to the summit of Cirque Peak. It has beautiful views along the way of the park, including sights of Dolomite Peak, Wapta Icefields, Peyto Lake, and more. It is recommended that you tackle this trail with poles and proper footwear.
Mount St. Piran
Starting at the base of Lake Louise, Mount St. Piran trail is a 13KM (out and back) trail that is made up of mostly switchbacks. This route will take you past Lake Agnes and the teahouse, where the trail is naturally busier, then will die down as most people opt for the Little Beehive route instead. This trail, however, gives you a bit more of a challenge and is a good intro to scrambling. This hike includes beautiful views of Devil’s Thumb, Fairview, and Little and Big Beehive (to name a view). The 360-degree view on a clear day is supposed to be phenomenal.
Devil’s Thumb via Lake Agnes Trail
As you can tell, the Lake Agnes Trail offers a lot of extensions you can take beyond it. This Devil’s Thumb route is 12.9KM (out and back) and brings you beyond Big Beehive. The hike will be moderate until that point, however, if you are willing to take the challenge, this trail offers incredible views, and you can see more than four glaciers at the top along with views of Lake Agnes, and Lake Louise.
Fairview Mountain Summit
Last but not least, another challenging mountain hike that was recommended to me was the Fairview Mountain Summit. This 9.2KM (out and back) trail starts at Lake Louise and is a well-maintained trail until you hit Saddleback Pass where it becomes a bit of a scramble. If you are willing to make the hike, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at the top.
I know these aren’t close to all the wonderful trails that are offered in Banff National Park, so I want to know what ones you would add to this list or what your favourite is. Let me know in the comments!