Waterfalls, Wildlife, and Wilderness: Unforgettable Hikes in Banff National Park

Harshita Kasera
Digital Global Traveler
14 min readJan 1, 2024

Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, boasts some of the most stunning hiking trails on Earth. It was a dream destination for my husband and me, and we finally checked it off our bucket list this past summer.

Bow Lake (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

This post captures just a taste of the many incredible hikes we experienced in Banff. Whether you’re a seasoned trekker or a leisurely wanderer, Banff has a trail perfectly suited to your skill level and interests. Let’s embark on a virtual journey through some of its breathtaking landscapes!

Tips for hiking in Banff National Park

  • Plan your hike: Choosing a hike that is appropriate for your fitness level, experience, time of the year is really important. Always make sure to check the trail conditions and make sure the hike is open. The Official Parks Canada website is a great resource for being up to date.
  • National Park Pass : You must have a valid national park entry pass. Check out the Parks Canada website to get a list of stores where you can get the pass apart from the National Park Entrance Station. Highly recommend getting it before entering the park to avoid waiting in line at the entrance.
  • Be prepared for changing weather: The weather in the Canadian Rockies changes quickly, so be sure to pack for layers.
  • Always carry hiking essentials: This includes food, water, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, rain gear, and a first-aid kit.
  • Always stay on the trail: This helps to protect the environment and prevents accidents.
  • Leave no trace: Pack out everything you pack in and leave the trails as you found them.
  • Be aware of wildlife: Banff National Park is home to bears, bighorn sheep, elk and many other wildlife. Be sure to hike in groups and make noise to avoid startling animals. There are many trails that have recommended group size so please make sure to follow the guidance.
Bear on Icefields Parkway (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Best Time of Year to Hike in Banff National Park

The best time of year to hike in Banff National Park depends on personal preference.

  • If you are looking for a warm and dry climate with moderate crowds with lots of hiking options, then summer is a great option.
  • If you are looking for a more moderate climate with fewer crowds, then spring or fall is a good choice. and
  • If you are looking for snow capped peaks and a winter wonderland, then winter is the perfect time to visit.

We wanted a warm and dry climate so we chose to visit in the month of July. While the peak season buzz brought lively crowds in July, our meticulous planning ensured smooth sailing. Early mornings became our secret weapon, granting us serene solitude amidst the majestic scenery.

Hikes in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is enormous and it is important to plan the hikes in the same region together. On our trip we had a chance to explore the hikes in the following areas -

  • Lake Louise & Moraine Lake Area
  • Bow Valley Parkway Area
  • Icefields Parkway Area

Lake Louise & Moraine Lake Area

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are glacial lakes in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. They are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada and are famous for their turquoise waters and the dramatic backdrops.

Due to their popularity, visiting Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in Banff National Park requires advance planning.

Lake Louise

The Lake Louise parking lot fills up extremely quickly (as early as 7 am) especially in the summer months and stays full throughout the day. Additionally the parking here is paid during peak season.

Check parks.canada.ca/BanffNow for real-time parking status.

When we visited, we arrived pretty early around 5:45 am to watch the sunrise and were able to snag a parking spot. The paid parking was in effect from 7am to 7 pm so we still had to pay the parking fees during those hours.

If you are not an early riser or would like to avoid the hassle of finding parking, you could also take the Parks Canada shuttle or or the Roam Transit shuttle.

Advance reservations are required for all shuttles departing the Park and Ride. The reservations sell up really really fast. Be sure to check parks.canada.ca/banff-transit for transit and shuttle options.

We had a full day to spend on the Lake Louise area so we combined several smaller hikes which I will cover below -

Note: This post contains affiliate links for AllTrails. I earn a small commission through these links (at no additional cost to you).

Trail #1 : Lake Louise Lakeshore

AllTrails Link | Length 2.8 mi | Elevation 354 ft | Route Out & Back | Duration ~ 1 hr

This is an easy walk along the lakeshore of Lake Louise. There are many viewpoints and benches throughout this route. The backdrop of Victoria Glacier on the mountains behind the lake is spectacular.

Watching the sunrise at the lakeshore is one of the must things to do.

If you are planning to spend a day at the lake and are looking for easy hiking options to warm up, definitely recommend this walk. I would highly recommend watching the sunrise at the lakeshore.

Sunrise at Lake Louise (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trail #2 : Lake Agnes Trail

AllTrails Link | Length 4.6 mi | Elevation 1,427 ft | Route Out & back | Duration ~ 3 hr with ample breaks

The hiking trail to Lake Agnes begins at the lakeshore. It starts with a moderate incline and remains this way throughout the entirety of this hike. The elevation on the way up is steep but it is worth it. At the top of the hike, you can see the beautiful Lake Agnes.

However, the most exciting part of the hike for me was the Lake Agnes Tea House. Lake Agnes Tea House is a historic tea house built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers and to provide refreshments. It is open from early June through October and is located in a stunning setting, with views of Lake Agnes and the surrounding mountains.

Lake Agnes Tea House (Picture Credits : Shot by author)

Due to its popularity the tea house gets crowded and there is a long line later in the day. Since we were early to this hike we didn’t have to wait that long. The tea and the baked goods were delicious.

Tip: Be sure to carry some cash here as the internet is pretty flaky so your credit card may not work.

It was a great place to relax and take a break before heading back or to continue onto other trails that start from here: Beehive Circuit, Devils Hike, Plain of Six Glaciers.

We continued to the Beehive Circuit after this trail.

Trail #3 : Beehive Circuit

AllTrails Link | Length 7.3 mi | Elevation 2,867 ft | Route Loop | Duration ~ 5 hr with ample breaks

You can extend the Lake Agnes Trail with an additional 2.7 mi by adding two viewpoints : Little Beehive and the Big Beehive.

Mirror Lake and the Big Beehive (Shot by author)

Both these viewpoints are a must visit as you get stunning panoramic views of Louise lake, the Victoria Glacier, and many of the park’s most iconic mountains, including Mount Victoria, Mount Temple, and Mount Assiniboine.​​

Lake Louise from Beehive Viewpoint (Picture Credits : Shot by author)

After the beehive circuit we continued further to the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

Trail #4 : Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

AllTrails Link | Length 9.1 mi | Elevation 1,929 ft | Route Out & back | Duration ~ 5 hr with ample breaks

The trail offers stunning views of the Plain of Six Glaciers, a large area of alpine meadows and glaciers located to the south of Lake Louise. There are a few steep sections, but overall the hike is not too challenging. The views are amazing and we felt like we entered a totally different world.

Amphitheatre at Plain of Six Glaciers (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

There is a tea house called the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea house at the end of this trail. Stopping at the tea house was definitely a highlight. They serve a variety of food options and their tea choices were very impressive. It is a good place for a lunch break. We enjoyed a delicious hummus sandwich and a brownie.​​

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trail #5 : Plain of Six Glaciers and The Beehives

AllTrails Link | Length 12.4 mi | Elevation 3,835 ft | Route Loop | Duration ~ 8 hr with ample breaks

This hike combines the above 4 hikes in the Lake Louise Area,

We did this hike and spent an amazing day at the lake. If you have a full day and enjoy hiking this is the one hike I would highly recommend. You will get to enjoy the amazing views of Lake Louise from the Beehive viewpoints, take breaks at the tea houses and see the beautiful glaciers and mountains on the trail.

Plain of Six Glaciers trail (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trail #6 : Fairview Lookout Trail

AllTrails Link | Length 1.4 mi | Elevation 528 ft | Route Out & Back | Duration ~ 1 hr

If you are looking for a short hike in the Lake Louise area this trail is perfect. The hike goes along trees so there isn’t much to see until you get the viewpoint.

Moraine Lake

Starting 2023, Moraine Lake Road is closed to personal vehicles. So the only option to get here is either by the Parks Canada Shuttle, Roam Transit, Private Company Tours or Hiking/Biking.

We wanted to watch the sunrise in Moraine Lake and the only viable option to watch sunrise in the park in summer is via a Private Company Tour. We booked a sunrise tour from Moraine Lake Bus Company.

Trail #1 : Rockpile

AllTrails Link | Length 0.5 mi | Elevation 32 ft | Route Out & Back | Duration ~ 10 min

This Moraine Lake viewpoint is an incredibly popular destination for photographers. We reached here before sunrise and we were amazed to see so many people at the viewpoint. I still can’t get over the view of this picture perfect lake.

Moraine Lake (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trail #2 : Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail

AllTrails Link | Length 2.4 mi | Elevation 643 ft | Route Out & Back | Duration ~ 1hr 30 min

Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail is an easy trail along the shoreline of Moraine lake. During the summer season, canoes can be rented for use on the lake.

Trail #3 : Consolation Lakes Trail

AllTrails Link | Length 4.6 mi | Elevation 1059 ft | Route Out & Back | Duration ~ 2 hr 30 mins

Consolation Lakes Trail is a gorgeous hike that stems off from the Rockpile Trail to the left, just before the climb to the top of the rock pile. The hike goes through a very rocky section and can be a bit tricky as the rocks and boulders can be loose, smooth, and very large.

Bears are common in this area so carrying bear bells, spray and usually hiking in groups is recommended.

Bow Valley Parkway

The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic highway located in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. It runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise. It is a great place to enjoy the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Trail #1: Johnston Canyon to Upper Falls

AllTrails Link | Length 3.3 mi | Elevation 862 ft | Route Out & back | Duration 1.5 h — 2 h

Johnston Canyon Trail is an extremely popular trail in Banff National Park. It is a relatively easy hike and enjoyed by everyone. The trail winds through the canyon created by the flow of Johnston Creek. On the way you will see many waterfalls of which two are the most popular : Lower falls, and the Upper falls.

Lower Falls

The hike to the Lower Falls is relatively easy on a boardwalk. There is a small cave that you can walk through to get a closer view of the falls. It gets pretty crowded and you may have to stand in a line so it is best to arrive early.

When we visited in summer, we didn’t have to wait in huge lines as we arrived here by 7:30 am.

Johnston Canyon Lower Falls (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Upper Falls

The hike to the upper falls is also on a well-maintained trail but it is much higher. This part of the trail is relatively less crowded. There are multiple areas to view the falls from a different perspective.

Depending on which time of the year you visit, you might have to wait in line for a photo op.

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Additionally there is an extension to go further up to Ink Pots. This would add another ~3.5 miles to the trip. We didn’t get a chance to do this extension on our trip this time but will definitely check it out on our visit.

Trailhead Parking

The parking near the trailhead is limited. I recommend starting early in the morning for this hike (no later than 7:30 am) to secure a parking spot and have a pleasant experience. We arrived here by 7 am and managed to find a parking spot.

Trail #2: Bow Falls Viewpoint

AllTrails Link | Length 1.7 mi | Elevation 167 ft | Route Out & back | Duration ~30 min

Bow Falls (Picture Credits : Shot by author)

The trail begins in the town of Banff, just at the south base of the pedestrian bridge across the Bow River. It is a quick and pretty trail to do within walking distance from the center of town.

It is one of the easiest and shortest hikes in Banff. We were exploring the city of Banff and brought a cup of coffee and sat on one of the benches tucked alongside the river to enjoy the views of the falls.

Parking near the trailhead is free.

Trail #3: Johnson Lake

AllTrails Link | Length 1.8 mi | Elevation 226 ft | Route Loop | Duration ~45 min

Johnson Lake hike is an easy hike that takes you through a forest and meadows to a beautiful lake. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow.

The trail begins at the Johnson Lake day use area and ample parking is available. There are several picnic tables at the lake, making it a great spot for a picnic lunch.

Johnson Lake (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trail #4: Two Jack Lake

AllTrails Link | Length 3.0 mi | Elevation 741 ft | Route Out & back | Duration ~2 hr

This is another easy hike with beautiful views of the Two Jack Lake. We got a chance to see lots of paddle boards and kayaks on the lake. The views of Mount Rundle over the lake are breathtaking.

Two Jack Lake (Picture Credits : Shot by author)

Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, with stunning views of the Canadian Rockies and several glaciers. The parkway connects the town of Jasper to the town of Lake Louise. There are several scenic viewpoints and hikes along this parkway. We got a chance to do two of the many amazing hikes here.

Trail #1: Bow Glacier Falls

AllTrails Link | Length 5.5 mi | Elevation 925 ft | Route Out & back | Duration ~ 3h

Bow Glacier Falls is one of the many spectacular waterfalls on an epic drive along the Icefields Parkway. This is one of my favorite trails on the trip as it features an impossibly blue lake, gorgeous waterfalls, views of majestic mountains, and glaciers.

Did you know? Bow Glacier Falls is the largest waterfall along the Icefields Parkway

The trail starts at Num-Ti-Jah lodge. The lodge has a cute cafe to grab a bite. The start of the trail is mostly flat and easy. The trail gets harder towards the second half as you get closer to Bow Glacier Falls. The trail has so many beautiful waypoints to admire so take your time exploring each of them.

The trail runs along the shores of Bow lake. The panoramic views around the lake are gorgeous. Crowfoot Mountain rising from the shores of the lake looks stunning. You will cross the bow river and reach the never ending stairs along the canyon which are the hardest part of the hike.

After the stairs, you will walk into a boulder field left by glaciers. Eventually you will reach the incredible Bow Glacier Falls

The return trip feels like a completely different journey when you look over Bow Lake from above. The view of Num-Ti-Jah lodge looked incredible. There is a dedicated parking lot at the lodge.

Trail #2: Peyto Lake

AllTrails Link | Length 1.5 mi | Elevation 324 ft | Route Loop | Duration ~45 min

Peyto Lake is my favorite lake in the area and my favorite stop on the Icefields Parkway, despite how popular it is. If you are planning to drive the Icefields Parkway, this lake is one of the must stops. This stunning turquoise-colored glacier lake is picture perfect.

First Viewpoint

This part of the trail is paved and the hike is short. There is a viewing platform with multiple different viewpoints of the lake. You can also choose to just do this 0.8 mi short hike.

Panorama Viewpoint

This part of the trail has poor signage so be sure to have a trail map. It is less busy as compared to the first viewpoint and the additional walk is definitely worth it.

Peyto Lake (Picture Credits : Shot by my husband, Antriksh Saxena)

Trailhead Parking

The main parking lot is signposted as Bow Summit Peyto Lake parking. This parking lot is completely free. It is best to get there early in the morning if you are planning to visit in the summer.

P.S. : Can you figure out what the lake looks like from the top? (hint: woof woof)

Hope this guide helps you in planning hikes in the Banff National Park. There are numerous other trails in the region and one visit to the park is definitely not enough. You can also check out the official park brochure for other hiking options.

Photos

Enjoy!

This blog post is just a peek into the incredible hikes we experienced in Banff. The fresh mountain air, the breathtaking scenery, and the sense of adventure make it a true paradise for hikers of all levels. So lace up your boots, grab your backpack, and start planning your own Banff adventure!

Enjoying my travel stories? Leave me a clap (👏) or a comment on this post, to let me know. I would love to hear from you!

Join AllTrails+ to enjoy features like offline maps, 3D views, and wrong-turn alerts.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to get an email whenever I share a new travel itinerary you can subscribe here.

--

--