Banff National Park in Alberta is filled to the brim with wildlife scenery that will make you wish you were a painter. The best way to explore this unconquered territory is to hike it! Here’s our guide to hiking Canada’s most famous national park.
1. Bow Glacier Falls
Bow Glacier Falls is located in the northwest corner of the park. To get there, you’ll need to head north from Lake Louise on Icefield’s Parkway (Hwy 93). Finding the trailhead is as easy as spotting the Historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on the north end of Bow Lake.
The Bow Glacier Falls Trailhead is clearly marked near the lodge. If possible, arrange for your hike to end as dinnertime approaches. The Elkhorn dining room at Num-Ti-Jah serves a delicious rosemary-marinated beef tenderloin that’ll be sure to hit the spot.
Before hitting the trail, consider taking a short detour from the main parking area to the shore of Bow Lake. There you can get a clear view of the towering wind-swept peaks that encircle the lake.
The hike itself is a three-mile round trip. Access to the beginning of the trail is guarded by a series of wooden bridges that span the surrounding network of creeks. Once across, a 600-foot elevation gain awaits you.
The moderately rocky terrain meanders across a series of streams and creeks before depositing you at the foot of the falls.
2. Consolation Lakes
In Banff, the areas surrounding Lake Louise are a treasure-trove of hidden gems. Consolation Lakes is one of them. The lakes themselves aren’t the most majestic that Banff has to offer, but the trail itself is overflowing with natural beauty.
The trail’s location makes it a convenient morning hike when en route from Calgary to the David Thompson Resort located east of Saskatchewan Crossing.
Consolation Lakes trailhead is easy to access from the Morraine Lake parking area located just above Lake Louise proper. Look for the Rockpile trail/Consolation Lakes trail sign.
You’ll need to hike a mile and a half in before meeting the Consolation Lakes junction. You’re almost there when you start to ascend the stone steps of Rockpile.
This well-maintained trail is both easy on the feet and easy on the eyes. Hikers have the pleasure of gazing across expansive fields of talus boulders set amidst the backdrop of towering glaciated peaks.
This trail packs in a lot of scenic variety into a short hike. One minute you’re gazing across an open rock field at the Tower of Babel and the next you’re wrapped in a cocoon of dense foliage.
3. Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is accessible year-round. In the winter, the waterfalls double as an ice climbing mecca. Two major falls and several minor ones fill the canyon with clean mountain water.
The trail has a mild elevation gain that is accessible for hikers of all experience levels and athletic abilities. Photographers will love the natural growth that clings to the face of the canyon; the vibrant greens set against the backdrop of grey stone brings the inanimate canyon to life.
The trailhead can be found between Castle Junction and Lake Louise on Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A). It begins after crossing a wooden footbridge not far from the Johnston Canyon Resort.
From there, you have nearly four miles of trail to look forward to before arriving at the first set of falls. The trail is reinforced with sturdy construction, making it safe to hike even in the wet, slippery weather of the offseason. The total elevation gain for this hike is only 335 feet.
4. Rockbound Lake
The Rockbound Lake trail is a fairly ambitious day hike that offers expansive views of Castle Mountian.
The effect created by the early morning light as Bow River winds before the craggy peaks is alone worth the trip. Rockbound Lake trailhead can be found off Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) between Lake Louise and Castle Junction.
The hike is a little over 10 miles roundtrip. It’s well-maintained and manageable for most hikers in regular hiking footwear. Hikers are treated to the emerald waters of Tower Lake before beginning the sharp ascent to Rockbound Lake in the shadow of Castle Mountain. Take a well-earned break at the lake to soak in the scenery.
The sheer wall that is Castle Mountain gives the impression that you’re inside the confines of a medieval fortress. Even if you turn around here, this hike is worth the trip.
5. Parker Ridge
Few other hikes in the world capture the raw power of glacial landscapes quite like Parker Ridge. Visitors will be blown away by the massive Saskatchewan glacier, a literal river of ice flowing at turtle’s pace below. The entire glacier is a continuous 3.2 miles long.
Parker Ridge is one of the shortest hikes in the park, transitioning from sprawling forest to alpine terrain in a single route.
The trailhead is located on Icefields Parkway just past the hairpin Big Bend turn. The approaching drive between Jasper and Lake Louise offers some of the most spectacular natural views on the planet.
Be sure to wear warm clothes even during the summer. The Parker Ridge trail starts at a high elevation, ends even higher, and is frequently pelted with strong winds.