FROM TRAIL TO PEAK:
8 EPIC HIKES IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK
By Juliette Recompsat
Getting into the wilderness is an unforgettable experience. What’s even more memorable is getting above it. If you’re ready to take your hiking boots higher, consider this list of next-level hikes for the aspiring peak-bagger.
“When you go to the mountains, you see them and you admire them. In a sense, they give you a challenge, and you try to express that challenge by climbing them.”
Sir Edmund Hillary’s words ring eternally true. Any hiker who has summited a peak knows just how empowering it is to meet this challenge, and how apt it is to leave you with a taste for more.
Banff National Park is a hiker’s playground, with more than 1600 kilometres of trails. Following these trails up ridges leads to impressive viewpoints of craggy peaks, surprise waterfalls and massive glaciers. The higher you go, the more you’ll see of the 6,641 square kilometres that make up the park.
Climbing is also a sure-fire way to find the quiet sense of escape that we seek in nature. These hiking trails will lead right to popular Banff National Park spots that you’ve likely heard of. From there, you can aim high for a peak nearby.
Looking for route descriptions? See our list of resources at the bottom of the article.
1/ LAKE AGNES TEAHOUSE → BIG BEEHIVE
Trailhead to Lake: 3.6 km one-way with 390 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: 1.6 km one-way and 135 metres of extra elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: If the aquamarine sparkle of Lake Louise is awe-inspiring from the lakeshore, it’s even more captivating from above. With relatively minimal extra effort and maximum reward, this trail leads you away from the bustle of the popular Lake Agnes to impressive views from the top of the Big Beehive.
Keep in mind: This add-on summit can be linked with the Lake Louise Highline trail for a longer loop hike to the back of Lake Louise, returning along the lakeshore.
2/ SADDLEBACK PASS → FAIRVIEW MOUNTAIN
Trailhead to Pass: 3.7 km one-way with 600 metres elevation gain
Pass to Summit: 1.6 km one-way and an extra 415 metres of elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: Brian Patton and Bart Robinson said it best in their time-honoured Canadian Rockies Trail Guide: “With the glacier-crowned summits of Mount Victoria, Mount Temple and Sheol Mountain close by, and the turquoise waters of Lake Louise a vertical kilometre below, the 2745-metre summit of Fairview Mountain offers a true alpine experience.”
Keep in mind: This is a great hike to keep on the list for autumn, when the slopes around Saddleback Pass light up with golden larch trees.
3/ HELEN LAKE → CIRQUE PEAK
Trailhead to Lake: 6 km one-way with 450 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: 1.5 km one-way and a steep 600 metres of extra elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: The challenging climb is well worth the views that make you feel as though you’re standing equal with giants, looking out at the nearby summits of Mount Hector and Dolomite Peak.
Keep in mind: Hikers that enjoy a bit of downhill sliding will love the soft (and speedy) scree slopes coming down from the summit. On the trail to and from Helen Lake, keep a sharp eye out for wildflowers and grizzly bears – both of which thrive on these open slopes.
4/ SHERBROOKE LAKE → PAGET PEAK
Psst… this one is technically in Yoho National Park, but just south of the Continental Divide. It’s close to Banff and fits the bill!
Trailhead to Lake: 3.1 km one-way with 165 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: After retracing your steps 1.7 km back along the Sherbrooke Lake Trail, it is 4.8 km one-way with 835 metres of elevation gain.
Why go the extra mile: The steep but relatively simple trail up to the summit of Paget Peak sits comfortably on the line between hiking and scrambling. There’s a former fire lookout partway up the trail which offers a prime lunch spot with a view. From this point on, stare down the Kicking Horse Pass where CP Rail first laid tracks into the Rockies.
Keep in mind: You’ll be following in the footsteps of trailblazers; the first known climbers to reach the summit of Paget Peak were A.O. Wheeler and Reverend Dean Paget, both founding members of the Alpine Club of Canada.
5/ EIFFEL LAKE → WASATCH MOUNTAIN
Also referred to as Wastach Mountain.
Trailhead to Lake: 5.6 km one-way with 370 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: 8.5 km one-way and an extra 590 metres of elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: This scramble makes for a long day, but ticks all the boxes for a quintessential day hike in the Rockies – lakes, larch trees, steep scrambling and extensive alpine views. The summit offers rare views of both Paradise Valley and the iconic Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Keep in mind: Loose rock on the lower slopes of Wasatch Mountain make helmets advisable. Seasonal trail restrictions in the Moraine Lake area often limit the minimum group size for hiking parties. Check current restrictions with Parks Canada before heading out on the trail.
6/ ROCKBOUND LAKE → CASTLE MOUNTAIN
Trailhead to Lake: 8.4 km one-way with 760 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: 5.8 km one-way and an extra 540 metres of elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: If there’s one thing the Canadian Rockies can boast of, it’s natural history. This “castle” trumps most man-made structures in both size and history – the limestone ledges of the mountain formed over 500 million years ago. From the top of this ancient massif, views extend all the way along the Bow Valley.
Keep in mind: Snow can linger well into summer on the cliff ridge that surrounds Rockbound Lake and is the route to the summit. Gaiters or long pants, hiking poles and careful footing are helpful here!
7/ BOURGEAU LAKE → MOUNT BOURGEAU
Trailhead to Lake: 7.5 km one-way with 725 metres elevation gain
Lake to Summit: 8.5 km one-way and an extra 770 metres of elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: This is one trail that just keeps on giving. Ascending from the lake will take you past multiple tarns and slopes dotted with wildflowers. Look past deep valleys and alpine meadows to the towering peak of Mount Assiniboine, affectionately known as “Canada’s Matterhorn.”
Keep in mind: If a 1,500-metre day isn’t your cup of tea, you can call it at Harvey Pass about half way between Bourgeau Lake and the summit. The view across the valley and the grassy slopes around this tarn make for a great objective.
8/ CASCADE AMPHITHEATRE → CASCADE MOUNTAIN
Trailhead to Amphitheatre: 6.6 km one-way, with 150 metres elevation loss and 640 metres elevation gain
Amphitheater to Summit: 2.4 km one-way and an extra 820 metres of elevation gain
Why go the extra mile: At 2,998 metres tall, Cascade Mountain is just barely outside the exclusive ranks of 3000-metre peaks. The mountain has been an icon of Banff National Park since the park’s early days and has been photographed from Banff Avenue countless times. The reward for reaching its lofty summit is a true 360-degree view of an ocean of mountain peaks.
Keep in mind: One of Banff’s longest day hikes, this route is not highly technical but does require some route-finding. The elevation loss at the beginning of the trail will feel much steeper at the end of a long day, so save some energy for this last stretch!
Download the Parks Canada scrambler's guide to Cascade Mountain here.
Before heading out on these trails, plan ahead to make sure you have all you need and know where you’re headed. Consult these sources before you go:
- Banff National Park Visitor Centres in Banff or Lake Louise
- Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson
- Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, by Graeme Pole
- Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane
A NOTE FROM CROWFOOT MEDIA: You, the reader, are responsible for your own safety and gathering the information you require to tackle these hikes and trips.
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