Visiting Banff and its surrounding area for a lot of people is a dream come true. We are lucky enough to call it our home, and we couldn’t be more grateful that we do. No matter how many times you’ve seen the towering peaks and jagged edges of the Rocky Mountains, they still take your breath away. Stretching over 3,000 miles, the Rockies are world renowned and so are the Kananaskis and Banff hikes that are peppered throughout the region. There are tons of activities to do in Banff National Park, whether you visit in the winter or the summer. But hiking is by far one of the largest reasons tourists come to Banff and the surrounding areas, it’s also a huge playground (of sorts) for us locals.
When visiting the Rockies, you have to make the most of it!
Kananaskis and Banff hikes can range anywhere from extremely easy to extremely difficult. They can be as simple and calming as meandering through the forest beside a babbling creek, or as complicated and challenging as scrambling to the peak with a helmet to fend of falling rocks to find a summit covered in snow in the middle of July.
So if you’re a beginner or a tourist, how do you know which hikes to do?
There is no magical formula or a single post that will tell you all of the easy yet rewarding Banff hikes that are available (same goes for Kananaskis). Hikes in both of these areas can get extremely busy and crowded, especially the Banff hikes since Banff is a HUGE tourist destination. Our list contains hikes in both Banff and Kananaskis because some of the Kananaskis hikes may be lesser known, less busy but still worth the time.
Hiking is an enjoyable activity but it doesn’t necessarily have to be over 20km or take up your entire day. It’s incredibly easy to do a hike in the morning and still get to have a picnic by the lake or walk the streets of Banff. For all of these hikes, we do still recommend a decent pair of hiking boots or shoes (we have recommended ones at the bottom of this post). Hiking shoes and boots are important for a lot of reasons, one of the main reasons we recommend them for each of these hikes is just to ensure you have good grip and you don’t roll an ankle. There would be nothing worse than rolling an ankle in the middle of your vacation and being on crutches for the rest of it.
When doing Kananaskis or Banff hikes it’s really important you always follow all signs and warnings. This is bear country and animals are very active, remember this is their home you are just a guest, bear spray is a good idea. If a trail is closed, there is a very good reason and you should just avoid hiking the trail, simple. It’s also important to know that you CANNOT feed any wildlife you see and DO NOT get out of your car to get close to them. These are wild animals and most of them are large and will not hesitate to protect their lives, sometimes at the cost of yours. You should also stay on all marked trails, getting lost is easier than you think and walking off trails destroys the natural flora. Lastly, whatever you bring in with you comes out with you. Always obey the “leave no trace” rule!
This might sound a bit preachy but safety and preservation are very important. If you want to enjoy the beautiful Kananaskis Country and Banff hikes that are available to tourists and locals alike, you need to respect them so they are available for years to come.
So let’s finally dive right into the 10 Easy And Rewarding Kananaskis And Banff Hikes For Beginners and Tourists.
Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots
Located just outside Banff’s townsite, Johnston Canyon is first on our list because it is already a HUGE tourist spot. You simply take highway 1 (Trans-Canada) west of Banff until you see the large sign for the Johnston Canyon/Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1a) turn off. Follow that road until you reach the parking lot (will be on the right-hand side). There will likely be quite a few cars already parked so you will know right away you are in the right spot.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most well known and loved Banff hikes, thousands of tourists visit the trail each year. They even have tour buses that take people there, so be warned! It’s also part of our Must See Lakes in Banff National Park, even though the main trail is made up of a stream with some incredible waterfalls, the ink pots are still bodies of water (still not technically lakes). The trail is open year round.
There are a series of waterfalls along the trail, with the final two being the ‘main focus.’ Catwalks jet out of the limestone cliff walls and take you through the deep canyon along the flowing river. In the summer the stunning blue water rages over the rocks creating a therapeutic sound and some very alluring natural eye candy. The giant cascading waterfalls freeze nearly completely in the winter and make the perfect spot for experienced ice climbers and an incredible site for anyone. Crampon’s for your boots is a good idea when doing most Banff hikes. But, this is especially true for Johnston Canyon since the traffic is high and the snow gets packed down into ice.
If you’re feeling a bit more keen to see more (which you totally should), continue on the trail past the last and largest waterfall known as the Upper Falls. This dirt trail will take you up to the Ink Pots, a stunning collection of crystal clear mineral pools with stunning shades of green and blue.
Hiking to just the lower and upper falls will take anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours round trip, adding the Ink Pots will tack on another 2 hours or so.
Grassi lakes is technically not included in either the Kananaskis or Banff hikes realm because it is located just outside of Banff and is part of the gateway to Kananaskis. Located in Canmore, Grassi lakes is one of the first hikes we ever did together and is a classic Canmore location. Why have we included it on our list? Mainly because it is very easily accessible to individuals looking to do easy hikes in Kananaskis or Banff, it’s also super beautiful and worth the time!
To reach the trailhead, drive around 4.5km’s south of Canmore on the Smith-Dorrien-Spray Lakes Road (also the road that leads to Kananaskis Country from Canmore). It’s also known as Highway 742…yes we have dirt road highways here in Canada. The road is really dusty, so close the windows and plan some time to perhaps get a car wash afterwards. To reach this road you can follow the signs for the Canmore Nordic Centre and eventually you’ll reach the end of the pavement. When the pavement ends (just past the Nordic Centre) you’ll see a sign for Grassi Lakes, in about 500 meters the trail will appear on the right.
The entire hike takes probably around an hour. There are two ways up, the ‘hard’ way and the ‘easy’ way.
If we are being honest (which we always are) the hard route is in no way that hard and is a LOT more scenic than the easy route. The easy route is in fact just a service road, so if you want a nice walk through forest take the hard route on the way up and the easy way down. Doing it in this way also makes the trail more of a loop than an in and out. You’ll see signs that show you where each trail begins.
Along the trail, you pass little waterfalls and openings in the trees that showcase the beauty that is Canmore and the Rockies. Once at the top the coloured pools become the focus of your attention. Their unique colour surrounded by massive walls of rock are truly stunning. Bring a picnic basket and spend some time in the area. If you’re a climber bring your equipment as there are plenty of places for you to climb!
Chester Lake is a located in Kananaskis and offers some pretty epic mountain and meadow views. The lake itself is nestled right in the middle of towering mountains among the amazing alpine fields, in the spring alpine flowers bloom and add extra colour and brilliance. In the fall the trail is lined with fallen orange needles from the Larch trees.
This hike can be accessed via the Smith-Dorian/Spray Lakes road in Kananaskis. It’s pretty well marked so you shouldn’t miss it, it’s around 20km north from the Kananaskis Lakes. The hike itself is around 10km and can take anywhere from 4-5 hours depending on the person. The steepest part of the hike is right at the beginning and then it levels out, so don’t be alarmed when you start off.
Located directly in Banff at the base of Sulphur Mountain, this has quickly become one of our favourite Banff hikes. The base of Sulphur Mountain is also home to a popular tourist destination: the Cave and Basin (the starting place of Banff itself).
Getting to the Cave and Basin is pretty easy, there are plenty of signs throughout the townsite that point you in the right direction. Basically, if you head south into the town and across the bridge you’ll see even more signs and be on the right track. Once you’ve found the location you won’t see any signs for the hike. But don’t worry, you’ll see the paved path behind the building that you need to take. If you can’t find it the employees at the front will know exactly what you’re looking for. Yes, getting into the Cave and Basin itself does come with a small cost, but the hike does not!
Follow the paved path for a short distance along the Bow River and eventually, the path will turn into a dirt trail. Continue straight and you will come to a small fork in the road. The trail you want to take is pretty worn down and is on the left, you’ll know which one you should take it’s pretty obvious. After around 300m you’ll see a plaque for the start of the hike. The hike itself has a small elevation gain but some pretty epic waterfalls and the trail is exciting and unique for how small it is. Completing the loop will also take you along a forest path at the tail end, with some nice viewing platforms!
The morning we hiked this trail was a hectic one. To the point we were debating not going. We did anyways. Had we not gone it would have been one less adventure under our belts. One less day spent with some amazing friends. And one more memory left unwritten. Well thank goodness something in the universe told us to go. . #banff #waterfallwednesday #travelalberta #travelblogger #parkscanada #wednesdaywisdom
Out of all the Banff hikes (okay fine this one is again closer to Canmore, so not technically Banff), this one is arguably one of the most interesting. It’s located just outside of Canmore via highway 1A, this can be accessed from the Trans Canada highway by exiting on the Seebe exit going west.
Why is this one of the most interesting? Because you walk up the creek itself! When we visited this little-hidden gem it was winter so the entire creek was frozen over. We didn’t actually have any ice cleats when we did this, so there was a lot of slipping and sliding around (so we recommend bring crampons). But not having the proper equipment made for a pretty funny experience (still doesn’t mean you should go unprepared). Luckily we didn’t fall down but saw quite a few people who did, which we will admit is HILARIOUS.
It’s a 4km hike that starts with some pretty epic views and goes through a winding canyon, ending up in an open valley with some waterfalls. If you want to get away from the crowds and still soak in everything the Rockies have to offer, look no further.
Rawson lake quickly became one of our favourite hikes (and summits) in Kananaskis. The epic views and beautiful lake make this hike well worth your while! Bring a nice lunch and enjoy your time by the lake side. Some ratings for this hike say it is a bit more moderate but honestly, if you are a beginner you shouldn’t have any issues following his trail.
To reach the trailhead you’ll want to park at Kananaskis Lakes and follow the trail on the west, it’s fairly well signed so don’t worry too much! The hike is around 4km round trip and has a very mild elevation gain of 305m (1,000ft). You can go around to the opposite side of the lake and scramble up to the top of Sarrail Ridge, which offers an awe-inspiring view of the lakes below that stretch into the horizon. Be warned that Sarrail Ridge is not easy, it is a scramble and is very challenging because it’s basically straight up.
Sunshine Meadows is located about 20 minutes outside of the Banff townsite at a popular ski resort, Sunshine Village. But in the summer the area turns into the holy grail (of sorts) of Banff hikes. Sunshine Meadows is known for their amazing alpine flowers, epic panoramic views and perfectly still water. The trails open in the late spring/early summer depending on how quickly the snow melts. Ski season here in Canada in some regions doesn’t end until May!
You can access Sunshine Village by taking the Trans Canada Highway west. You’ll see the turnoff signs that read Sunshine Village – follow those down the access road until you reach the parking lot. Be warned, you do have to pay to gain access to the hiking area. Why? The meadows are at the top of the mountain and the dirt road to the top is approximately 6km with a 500m elevation gain, with an abundance of traffic the road is not big enough nor safe enough for drivers. Also there is not nearly enough parking at the top, so there’s that. You can either hike to the top or pay for the bus/gondola ride.
There are five different hikes that begin from the top: Rock Isle Lake (3.2km), Grizzly-Larix Loops (8km), Sunshine Meadows Loop (6.6km), Citadel Pass (18km), and Healy Pass (22km).
Rock Isle Lake will be the easiest option out of all of these hikes, if you want something a bit longer we recommend doing the Sunshine meadows Loop.
Lake Agnes Tea House
Lake Agnes is arguablly one of the most popular Banff hikes simply because of it’s easy accesibility from Lake Louise. We highly recommend starting this hike as early in the morning as you can (like 8 a.m.). The trail can get really really busy, so if you want the trail ‘all to yourself’ you’re going to have to start pretty early.
Like we mentioned, this hike starts from the iconic Lake Louse. It takes you past the famously blue lake through an epic forest, up past rushing waterfalls to the top where you’ll find a perfect little tea house, after grabbing a little snack and admiring Lake Agnes itself, the trail finishes off with an insane view of the Valley of Ten Peaks. The Lake Agnes Tea House was originally buit in 1901 and offers snacks, drinks, and a great place to sit back and enjoy the mountains. They do only accept cash, so if you want to try one of their absolutely delicious mountain bars (which you should) bring your wallet!
Just like Lake Agnes, this hike should be started earlier in the morning, that’s if you want this place to yourself. Otherwise, expect a LOT of other people in the area. It’s a paved trail for the most part and can be steep in places, but the view is worth it. To access Peyto lake take the iconic Icefields Parkway near Lake Louise until you see the sign and turn-off for Peyto. Get your camera ready while driving down the Parkway because it’s been known as one of the most incredible drives in the world.
It’s a pretty short hike at around 1.5km. You get an amazing view from Bow Summit’s viewing platform of the uniquely coloured and wolf-shaped lake. The vibrant aqua blue colour of the glacial lake is caused by rock flour (sediment) from melting glaciers that get suspended in the water and reflects light to create a stunning shade. There are plenty of amazing photo opportunities in the area!
Troll Falls is located in Kananaskis and is a short 3.5 km that features an amazing waterfall at the end. Just off highway 40 heading south, you’ll see a sign for the Kananaskis Village turn off, after turning you’ll want to drive straight until your first right. It’s a gravel road that will take you to the Stoney Trail Day Use Area.
Your adventure begins from there!
The trail takes you through a heavily forested area that opens up to a view of the mountains. Eventually, the trail meanders through towards a tall, thin, and simply stunning waterfall. Bring some lunch and have a little picnic in the area and really take its beauty in!
All of these Kananaskis and Banff hikes are just a sample of some of the amazing trails the Canadian Rockies have. These hikes are a great place to start if you are just beginning your hiking journey, or if you’re a tourist who doesn’t have a lot of time but wants to see a lot of stuff. If you do have a short amount of time in Banff we highly recommend checking out our winter and summer 72-hour itineraries.
If you’re interesting ins finding other hiking trails, All Trails is a great resource. It’s a website and app that we absolutely love (and no this is not an affiliate link, it’s just a handy tool).