Trip reviews for backpackers, hikers, and travelers
Banff National Park Hiking Highlights
Taking in one of many beautiful views at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park (from atop of the rock pile near the lake outlet stream)
View of Peyto Lake from the upper viewpoint. At this area we saw no other hikers or tourists.
View from the shore of Lake Louise looking towards the Plain of Six Glaciers.
View of the canyon from atop the bridge. You can see Bow Glacier Falls in the distance.
To reach the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, you follow the trail along a skinny moraine (right side of image)
Along the Eiffel Lake Trail you get some really great views of the Ten Peaks that make up the backdrop for Moraine Lake.
Trip overview: We went on four of the signature hikes within Banff National Park during a 6 night stay. We also went on one hike in Yoho National Park. These hikes ranged from 5 to 13 miles in length, are moderate in difficulty, and start at the signature lakes within Banff National Park: Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, and Lake Louise. Highlights include amazing glaciers, large granite peaks, turquoise blue lakes, and snow dusted forests. This trip took place in September of 2018.
Where to stay: We decided to stay within the town of Banff during this trip. Banff has many hotels and lodges that are popular for hikers. You can also camp within the national park, but competition for the camp sites can be high. Info on camping can be found here. A common alternative that is slightly more affordable is staying within the city of Canmore. Canmore is further from the hikes within the park, but has more housing options and is less touristy than Banff.
Overall we liked staying in Banff. It made the drive to the various trailheads shorter (compared to Canmore) and Banff also has some beautiful scenery. There are many good restaurants within Banff, but note that prices tend to be high and the city is full of tourists during the high season.
Permits: When entering the national park, you will need to pay an entrance fee. Day passes for a family/group are roughly $15 (USD) and yearly passes for a family/group are roughly $100 (USD). More info on fees and tariffs can be found here. Once you have paid your entrance fee, you are allowed to go on day hikes free of charge.
If you are backpacking and camping in the backcountry, you will need to secure a backcountry permit. Permits are competitive for many trails and typically can be reserved starting in January. More info on backcountry camping in Banff National Park can be found here. In addition to typical camping, there are a variety of Alpine Huts and Commercial Lodges in the park. These can make for a more relaxing trip for those who do not want to camp. Note that reservations for the huts and lodges also fills up quickly.
Supplies: If you are doing a lot of hiking on remote trails, it may be wise to invest in some bear spray to protect yourself in case you come across a grizzly bear. Banff is known to be the home of many bears, and many hikers like to carry bear spray. If you only plan to hike popular trails and have a large group (more than 4 people), bear spray is probably unnecessary. A good bug repellent is also nice to have because the mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance in the Canadian Rockies. Finally, you will want a variety of layers to carry with you because the weather in the Banff National Park can change quite a bit over the course of a day. It is often chilly in the mornings and evenings and warm on sunny afternoons. For trail maps, I recommend Tim Jensen’s “The Best Day Hikes in the Canadian Rockies.” This book has maps, descriptions, and ratings for many of the hikes in Banff and the neighboring national parks.
Moraine Lake is a 1-1.5 hour long drive from the Banff City Center. The turn off for Moraine Lake is hard to miss because there are typically traffic barriers set up and a sign noting whether or not the Moraine Lake parking lot is full. When the parking lot is full, the traffic officers close the road and do not let anyone else drive up to Moraine Lake. Note that the lot fills up quickly, so you will want to arrive early (before 8am) if you plan to drive yourself. Otherwise you risk needing to wait for a car to leave the lot before you can get in. You can also park at one of the shuttle stops and take a shuttle up to Moraine Lake. This is definitely the easiest and greenest option. Just pay attention to the shuttle schedule so you do not miss the last ride back.
After the turn off for Moraine Lake, you follow a narrow winding road for ~20 minutes before reaching the parking lot. There are rest rooms and a visitors center near the parking lot. Beautiful Moraine Lake is just a short walk from the parking lot, so you do not need to move far to take in the views. For some great views, follow the short hiking path to the top of the hill near the outlet of the lake. This is a good spot to take some pictures before beginning any hikes. After that, you can find one of the maps near the lake and decide which trail you want to hike.
Eiffel Lake Trail to Wenkchemna Pass– 11.5 mile out and back, +/- 3,200 feet of elevation
The Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass hike is an out and back hike that starts at Moraine Lake. This hike is a great option because you get great views of Moraine Lake and the Ten Peaks which frame it. Furthermore, you get to see Eiffel Lake and then some great additional views if you make it all the way to Wenkchemna Pass. The hike to Eiffel Lake is well marked and not too strenuous. The final stretch from Eiffel Lake to the pass is more strenuous and requires a little route finding and scrambling. The start of this trail is shared with the Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass Trail. After an initial climb the two trails split off from each other. We hiked the Eiffel Lake Trail on a morning in early September. It has snowed the night before, so the scenery was very beautiful!
UPDATE: per the Parks Canada website the Peyto Lake day use is likely to be closed for much of 2019. You can check for updates on the Parks website.
“The entire day use area, including parking lots, restrooms, trails and viewing platforms, will be closed while the restrooms are replaced and the parking lots reconfigured for improved traffic flow and increased capacity. Note: This project is at a preliminary stage and construction timelines are not yet confirmed. Updates will be provided.”
Peyto Lake is a roughly 1.5 hour drive from the town of Banff and is one of the most photogenic lakes in Banff National Park. The parking lot at the lake is right off the Icefields Parkway. From there you are just a short 0.5 mile hike from the main observation deck at Peyto Lake. The view here is great, but there is often a crowd of tourists. Better views can be attained and you can get away from the crowd by hiking further up to higher ground. One hike that is modest in length and provides views of both Peyto Lake and nearby Bow Lake is called the Bow Summit Lookout Trail. Peyto Lake and nearby Bow Lake are both beautiful and easily accessible, so they should be included on any trip to Banff National Park!
Bow Summit Lookout Trail – 4.5 mile out and back, +/- 1,200 feet elevation
The Bow Summit Lookout hike starts and ends at the Peyto Lake parking lot. The trail leads you past a couple lookout points that provide prototypical amazing views of Peyto Lake. At the summit and turnaround point, you have a view of Bow Lake, which sits in the distance. This is a great overall hike with views that are very rewarding. One of the main advantages of doing this hike is that it gets you away from the large crowds near the Peyto Lake parking lot.
Bow Lake lies right off the Icefields Parkway and is a common stop for most visitors to Banff National Park. It is about 1 hour from the town of Banff and sits close to Peyto Lake. Bow Lake is highly photogenic with the Crowfoot Mountain forming an intimidating backdrop. Near the Bow Lake parking area you will find the Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which sells beverages, snacks, and souvenirs. Near the lodge you will find the trailhead for the Bow Glacier Falls Trail, which is described below.
Bow Glacier Falls Trail – 5.5 mile out and back, +/- 800 feet of elevation
The Bow Glacier Falls hike is a very scenic 5.5 mile hike that provides views of Bow Lake and the beautiful Bow Glacier Falls. The trail meanders along the shore of Bow Lake before eventually following the river that flows between the lake and the falls. You can then hike to a great viewpoint of Bow Glacier Falls (120 meters tall).
This hike provides a great view of the water system that feeds Bow Lake. You see the Bow Glacier high above the falls. The melt from this glacier forms a tarn (not visible on this hike, but visible from nearby peaks), which is the water source for Bow Glacier Falls. The water from the falls then feeds into the stream system that flows into Bow Lake. The views along the entire trail are very nice and the hike is not overly difficult.
Lake Louise is possibly the most photographed lake in Banff National Park, and the Plain of Six Glaciers hike is one of the more popular day hikes in the park. Despite the crowds, it is still worth a trip to see Lake Louise in person. The milky turquoise water and mountain backdrop make for a great view. Many tourists also enjoy renting canoes and exploring the lake via the water. It’s also possible to stay in the Fairmont Chateau Hotel that sits right near the shore of Lake Louise.
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail – 9 mile out and back, +/- 2,500 feet of elevation
The Plain of Six Glaciers hike is the most popular hike in the Lake Louise area. When you arrive at Lake Louise you will first want to enjoy the scenery and take a few photos of the lake. Then, begin the hike as is meanders along the shore of Lake Louise. When you reach the end of the lake, the trail begins to climb up a valley that was carved out by several glaciers. Near the end of the trail, you will find a teahouse where you can grab a snack. If you continue past the teahouse, you reach the turn around point, which provides some great views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. You can then either retrace your steps back to Lake Louise or you take the Highline Trail up to the Bee Hive to see Lake Agnes (and return to Lake Louise from there). You are likely to encounter other hikers throughout the entire hike as it is busy and popular.