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. Which we are grateful for each and every day because it truly is spectacular. And no matter how many times you’ve seen something it still manages to take your breath away. The rocky mountains stretch over 3,000 miles! If you google the Rocky Mountains one of the first pictures that come up is from Banff National Park. But there is SO much more to the Rocky Mountains than just Banff itself. Which is why we have created this list of hikes near Banff and a few within the park itself that might not be packed with other visitors.
So you can make the most out of the Rockies!
Hikes near Banff and inside the park itself can range anywhere from fairly easy to extremely difficult. They can take you through a small meandering dirt path to climbing the side of a mountain which requires a helmet, and anywhere in between.
So how are tourists supposed to know which ones are going to be the best to visit?
While there is no magical formula, we can offer a pretty extensive list. Hikes near Banff and in the Park can get super busy, with thousands of tourists flocking to these destinations each year. But we have included options that are a little lesser known but still offer everything people should see.
Like we mentioned some of these hikes are located in Banff itself and some are hikes near Banff in surrounding areas like Canmore and Kananaskis. For the majority of these hikes, we do recommend hiking boots just to protect your ankles. There would be nothing worse than rolling an ankle and destroying your vacation.
A couple other things we think people who plan on doing hikes near Banff and in its surrounding areas should know is to always follow all signs and warnings. Which means not traveling on trails that are closed and potentially carrying bear spray with you (which we actually always recommend). DO NOT feed any wildlife and DO NOT get out of your car to get close to them. They are wild animals at the end of the day. Stay on all marked trails at all times. There are two reasons for this: 1) walking off the trails destroys natural flora and 2) there is a potential to get lost. Lastly, whatever you bring in with you comes out with you. Always obey the “Leave no trace” rule!
Well now that we have that behind us…let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots
Located just outside Banff’s town site, 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. There will be so many cars you will know you have arrived so don’t worry about that.
It’s extremely well known and is one of those locations that thousands of visitors head to each year. They even have tour buses take people there! So be warned, that it is a busy trail! It’s also part of our Must See Lakes in Banff National Park, even though it isn’t a lake at all. It is open year round.
There are a series of waterfalls along the trail, with the final two being the ‘main focus’ of this Banff hike.
Catwalks are affixed to the limestone cliff walls which take you through the deep canyon. Without these catwalks, this area would most likely only be accessible via climbing.
In the winter the giant cascading waterfalls freeze and ice climbers can be seen making their way to the top. The vivid blue colour of the frozen falls is a site in itself. Crampon’s for your boots is a pretty good idea though as the trail is fairly iced over. In the summer the stunning blue water rages over the rocks creating a therapeutic sound and some very alluring natural eye candy.
If you’re feeling a bit more keen to see more, continue on the trail past the last (and largest) waterfall. This trail will take you up to the Ink Pots. A stunning collection of crystal clear mineral pools with stunning shades of green and blue. To hike to just the lower and upper falls it will take anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours round trip. To carry on beyond the upper falls to the Ink Pots you’ll want to tack on another 2 hours or so.
This is one of our first hikes near Banff that we did together when we first started dating and it’s a Canmore classic! Located just outside of the Banff National Park gates, it’s probably one of the easiest and best hikes to do.
To reach the trailhead, drive around 4.5km’s south of Canmore on the Smith-Dorrien-Spray Lakes Road. Also known as Highway 742…if highways can even be dirt roads. You’re gonna need a car wash afterward. To reach this road you can follow the signs for the Canmore Nordic Centre. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of the pavement just past the Nordic Center, where 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.
We put these in brackets because the hard was is in no way difficult and is a lot more scenic. The easy way to the top is literally down a service road. Whenever we take people on this trail we choose to take the hard way up and the easy way down to make it more of a loop. You’ll see signs along the trail for the ‘hard’ way and just follow that.
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 around the area. If you’re a climber bring your equipment as there are plenty of places for you to climb!
Chester lake is a pretty mild hike with some pretty epic views. The lake itself is nestled right in the middle of towering mountains and amazing alpine fields. 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.
Located directly in Banff at the base of Sulphur Mountain, this is one of our new favourite hikes. The base of Sulphur Mountain is also home to a popular tourist destination: the Cave and Basin. No, you cannot swim in these natural hot springs. A long time ago you were able to sit in and enjoy these springs but recently a rare snail was found living in the bubbling blue water, so human entry is no longer allowed. Nor are you allowed to touch the water, so be cautious of that.
I know you want to feel how warm the water actually is but please don’t!
Getting to the Cave and Basin itself 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 itself is exciting and unique. 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 (and area really), 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 by exiting on the Seebe exit going west.
Why is this one of the most interesting? Because you walk up the creek itself for this hike! 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. Which made for a pretty funny experience. 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.
This one is arguably one of our favourites. While there are ratings that say this hike is more of a moderate one, beginner hikers shouldn’t have any issues with it. 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 itself is only 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 ridge (Sarrail Ridge), this is a much more difficult task but offers some pretty epic views.
If you want a hike near Banff (this one is in the National Park itself not far from the townsite) that has a little bit of everything as far as hikes go, this is it. Sunshine Village is an extremely popular ski resort and in the summer turns into a hiking heaven. Known for their amazing alpine flowers, their trails open up late spring/early summer depending on how the snow melts.
You can access Sunshine Village by taking the Trans Canada highway west. You’ll see the turn off signs, 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. So 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). Sunshine Meadows is probably the best if you want to see lakes, alpine flowers, and epic views. We should just expand this list and count all of these as hikes near Banff because they’re all a bit different.
Lake Agnes Tea House
This is another one of those hikes near Banff that you’ll want to start pretty early in the morning (like 8 a.m.) so you can have the trail a little more to yourself. It can get BUSY. Starting from iconic Lake Louise, this trail takes you through an epic forest, past waterfalls and ends with a view for days and a perfect tea house that was originally built in 1901. They do offer snacks and drinks, but you can only pay with cash. If you do decide to get a little snack, we highly recommend their mountain bars.
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 this hike 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 lake. The lake is a vibrant aqua blue due to rock flour from melting glaciers. There are plenty of amazing photo opportunities in the area to capture this fox shaped lake. It’s one of our favourite hikes near Banff because it’s so unique and just straight up stunning.
A short 3.5 km hike near Banff with an amazing waterfall prize at the end and crazy views along the way. Troll falls is located off highway 40 heading south. You’ll see a sign for the Kananaskis Village turn off, turn here and 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, beautiful waterfall. Bring some lunch and have a little picnic in the area and really take its beauty in!
This list of hikes near Banff just scratches the surface of hiking possibilities. But it’s a good place for beginner hikers to see what the areas around Banff are like. Hikes near Banff open up more possibilities to what the Rocky Mountains have to offer because while Banff is INCREDIBLE and there are some must-see lakes in Banff National Park itself, it’s certainly not the be-all-end-all.
For other hiking trails, give All Trails a try. It’s a website and app that we absolutely love (and no this is not an affiliate link, it’s just a handy tool).