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Banff National Park

The 10 Best Hikes in Banff with Breathtaking Views

Banff National Park, the oldest national park in Canada, is the most popular summer destination with millions of visitors each year. While it offers breathtaking mountain views, scenic road trips and excellent wildlife watching opportunities, many visitors take advantage of spectacular hiking trails in Banff – and who can blame them?

With so many hikes in Banff National Park, it’s not an easy task to choose which one to tackle.

This guide includes best hikes in Banff based on the time of the day, length, difficulty and natural wonders along the way:

1. Parker Ridge: Best Sunrise Hike

  • Distance: 5 km
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Located along the famous scenic road Icefields Parkway, this hike is often overlooked due to many easily-accessible lookout points. I highly suggest carving out some time for a truly spectacular view after only a few hours of hiking. It’s a locals’ favorite, and the best view is early in the morning when the surrounding mountain peaks are starting to wake up.

The trailhead is signed along the road, and although the hike is steep, the trail is short and easy. It takes you straight up on several switchbacks until you reach the tree-line. That’s where the wildflower meadows open up in every direction. The steady climb continues up the ridge to the view of enormous Saskatchewan Glacier slowly cascading into a turquoise pool underneath.

2. Lake Minnewanka: The Best Sunset Hike

 Lake Minnewanka
  • Distance: any distance along the shoreline (up to 60 km)
  • Time: 1 hour to 2 days
  • Difficulty: Easy

Lake Minnewanka, only 10 km from the town of Banff, is one of the most popular places year-round. It offers boat tours, kayaking and hiking in summer, mountain biking in spring and autumn, and ice skating in winter. It’s jam-packed during the day and most peaceful at sunset.

While most visitors tend to stick to Lake Minnewanka’s shore and enjoy the day at picnic sites, those who venture further from the crowds will be rewarded with amazing views. The trail along Minnewanka starts just past the picnic sites, continues for a kilometre until you reach Stewart Canyon.

You can hike this section any time of the year, but if you’d like to continue, keep in mind there’s a seasonal restriction in place from July 10 to September 15: No bikes or camping is allowed and hiking is permitted only in a tight group of 4 or more . It’s an important grizzly habitat where they feast on flowers and berries.

3. Mount St. Piran: Best Panoramic Hike

Mount St. Piran
  • Distance: 13 km
  • Time: 4 – 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Lake Louise thousands of times. Now imagine seeing the turquoise lake with the glacier from a bird’s eye view!

Lake Louise area offers several hikes – Fairview Lookout, Big Beehive, Plain of Six Glaciers, and the least visited of all – Mount St. Piran. I suspect it’s because the trail is not marked on the hiking map you can get at Visitor’s Centre. So, you not only get a great view from the mountain top but also leave the usual crowds behind.

From Lake Louise shoreline, follow the sign for Lake Agnes Tea House as the hike starts on the same trail. Going through the forest on switchbacks, you’ll get an occasional view of Lake Louise. When you reach Mirror Lake, continue following Lake Agnes Trail and then Little Beehive Trail. You will see the sign for Mount St. Piran shortly and climb above the tree line.

The views of the whole Bow Valley, Lake Louise and Victoria Glacier open up. Just a few more switchbacks until you reach the mountain top from which you get a panoramic view of surrounding mountain peaks.

This is hands down one of the best hiking trails in Banff.

4. Sulphur Mountain: Best Views-for-Effort Hike

Sulphur Mountain
  • Distance: 5.5 km one-way
  • Time: 1.5 – 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Sulphur Mountain is an excellent year-round hike accessible right from Banff town. You can ride the gondola to the top or choose the steeper and more budget-friendly option of hiking to the top.

You can access the trailhead either by taking a bus from Banff or drive to the Upper Hot Springs parking lot. The trail is a series of switchbacks with a steady incline and offers occasional views of the opposite Rundle Mountain and Banff town.

After 4.5 km, you reach the upper terminal and then walk another kilometre on a boardwalk to the Sanson’s Peak, an old weather station. From the ridge, you get a panoramic view of the mountains. You can also visit the interpretative centre inside the gondola terminal, a restaurant, buffet, or a gift shop. And if you’re tired from the hike, take the gondola down for free after 7 pm in summer and anytime during winter.

5. Healy Pass: Best Wildflower Hike

Healy Pass
  • Distance: 19.4 km
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Banff National Park has so many alpine lakes that wildflowers might not even cross your mind. But wait until you see the ocean of colourful wildflowers on the way to Healy Pass.

Head just outside of Banff to Sunshine Village ski resort where the trail starts, either by car or free Sunshine shuttle. You will follow a narrow path along the Healy Creek and pass several wooden bridges. If you’re carrying a water bottle with a filter, this hike provides plenty of options to fill up as you go.

About 7 km into the hike, you will get out of the forest onto a vast, colourful meadow. Even though it steepens a bit, you most likely won’t even notice the difference as you will be looking at flowers in all colours imaginable. The magenta coloured flowers called Indian Paintbrush create a gorgeous contrast with green meadows.

6. Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots: Best Waterfall Hike

Johnston Canyon
  • Distance: 12 km
  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Johnston Canyon is hiding one surprise after another. When you think you’ve seen a beautiful waterfall, another one is just around the corner. And if you make it to the end, mystic bubbling pools will blow you away.

From Banff, head west on Bow Valley Parkway where the trailhead is. If you drive after sunrise or before sunset, you might see lots of wildlife along the way. Once you arrive at the Johnston Canyon parking lot, you will see the trail heading into a deep canyon.

You can hike to the Lower Falls, about 1.2 km one-way, to Upper Falls, about 2.7 km one-way or to Ink Pots making the whole trip 12 km long.

You’ll be passing several cascading waterfalls of different heights and walking on a dirt trail or built catwalks right above the creek. After the last waterfall, I highly recommend you continue to Ink Pots, a series of five blue-green bubbling mineral springs set on a vast meadow surrounded by the mountains.

If you visit Banff in winter, visit Johnston Canyon for a walk through a frozen wonderland.

7. Peyto Lake: Best Lake Views Hike

Peyto Lake
  • Distance: 2 km
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

One of the most popular stops along the Icefields Parkway is Peyto Lake, a glacial-fed turquoise lake with an unusual shape.

Fed by the water from Peyto Glacier, the colour of Peyto Lake comes from rock flour, which is created by the glacier when it’s sliding down the valley. Because Peyto Lakes lies in a high altitude, it starts to thaw at the end of May and is usually covered by ice and snow by October.

When driving from Banff or Lake Louise towards Jasper, you will see the sign for Bow Summit, the highest point of Icefields Parkway at 2,088 m. The parking lot is just a short walk away from the wooden viewing platform.

For more suggested stops and secret local places, read this comprehensive Icefields Parkway itinerary.

8. Glacier Lake: Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Hike

Glacier Lake
  • Distance: 18 km
  • Time: 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

As the name suggests, the Glacier Lake is overlooked by a giant glacier. What makes this a great hike is that even though the trailhead is signed along the Icefields Parkway, it seems that not many people know about it. You can enjoy an easy hike with a great reward at the end in peace.

The trailhead is located just past the Saskatchewan River Crossing when driving towards Jasper. It starts flat and quite dull until about a kilometer into the hike when you reach a bridge across the North Saskatchewan River. Another kilometer into the hike, you arrive at Howse River viewpoint with the famous red chairs.

The trail follows the river for a while until it disappears into the forest. When you reach the end, an ice-cold blue Glacier Lake will appear in front of you. There is a backcountry campground right on the shore so you can make it an overnight trip.

9. Tunnel Mountain: Best Easy Hike

Tunnel Mountain
  • Distance: 4.5 km
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

There’s no need even to leave Banff if you’d like to go hiking. There’s Sulphur Mountain mentioned above and also a more relaxed and scenic hike up the Tunnel Mountain. You can see the Tunnel Mountain from the top of Sulphur Mountain as it’s located in the center of Banff. Compared to its neighbors, it looks like a hill rather than a mountain.

 You can access the trail from several signed points in Banff, and Visitor Centre can provide you with a map for easier orientation. A short trail leading to the top of the Tunnel Mountain leads to a viewpoint of Banff, Bow Valley, Vermilion Lakes and Rundle Mountain. Due to the easy trail, it’s popular among visitors of all ages and fitness levels.

Tunnel Mountain Trail is a 4.5 kilometer heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Banff, Alberta, Canada that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, running, and nature trips and is best used from June until August. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Tunnel Mountain is a short hike to an amazing viewpoint on top of the mountain overlooking the town of Banff and surrounding scenery. The trail begins from Tunnel Mountain Drive in Banff. It follows along long, nicely graded switchbacks along the side of the mountain through the forest. Some of the switchbacks are steeper than others and some of them level out which provides a chance to catch your breath. There are some glimpses of the views along the way through the trees.

The best views can be seen from the top of the mountain at the end of the trail. There are some bare rocks surrounded by forest which are perfect places to sit and admire the views overlooking Banff and the surrounding mountains and valleys. It is beautiful!

Would recommend this short hike for a good leg workout and opportunity to see great views.

10. Boom Lake: Best Half-Day Hike

Boom Lake
  • Distance: 10.6 km
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

Boom Lake is tucked at the border of Banff and Kootenay National Parks. It’s a fantastic year-round destination either for hiking, trail running or cross-country skiing.

You’ll find the trail 38 km from Banff along the Banff-Windermere Highway towards Radium Hot Springs. The day-use area has picnic tables, an outhouse and a map. The trail through the forest is very straight forward and easy to follow. Once you arrive at Boom Lake, choose a flat looking boulder and relax while looking at the Boom Mountain with a gentle breeze from the lake.

If you visit during summer, a quick dip in the lake is a great cool down. On the other hand, if you visit in winter, you might be able to cross country ski across the lake.

Tips for Hiking in Banff National Park

Banff National Park

National Park Pass

When entering any national park in Canada, you’re required to purchase a park pass. You can choose a daily or yearly option. The annual Discovery Pass is valid for all national parks.

Trail conditions

Before you head out for any hike, make sure to check trail conditions on the Parks Canada website before you go. It’s a very helpful resource for early-season hiking to know where the avalanche dangers are or where the trail is closed due to poor conditions or bear presence.

Bear country

Hiking in the Canadian Rockies means that you’re hiking in the bear country. Parks Canada highly recommends carrying bear spray within arm’s reach and knowing how to use it. Read these instructions to learn more about the bears. You can purchase a bear spray in Banff’s outdoor stores (however you cannot fly with it!).

Camping in Banff

Banff National Park has 14 campgrounds located in town or along the Icefields Parkway. You can reserve some of them in advance here. Most campgrounds are open seasonally from mid-May to mid-October and are increasingly popular places to stay while in Banff. I highly recommend this option if you visit. Waking up with a lake view among the giant mountains and fresh mountain air is a great way to start the day.