best hiking trails Banff

Best Hikes In Banff National Park That Blow Your Mind

Banff is one of the most popular National Parks in Canada, and, for a very good reason!

Nobody can resist the charm and untouched natural landscapes such as the famous Lake Louise that are part of this National Park. Hiking, therefore, is one of the most popular activities!

In this guide, you’ll find the best and most popular hikes you should consider doing in Banff National Park that will blow your mind. All these hikes are contributed by other travel bloggers who hiked the trails themselves and can provide first-hand tips!

With the hiking trials below, you’ll be guaranteed mesmerizing views and impressions that last for years to come!

Are you ready to find out which hike is the right choice for you?

Related: the best west-coast National Parks

Best hikes in Banff

Sentinel Pass

Sentinel Pass - best hikes Banff National Park

Contributed by Dean and Laynni of Routinely Nomadic

Distance: 11 km

Duration: 4-5 hours

Level: hard

If you love the thrill of reaching a high pass – standing proudly on the ridge between two great valleys admiring the extraordinary view – then Sentinel Pass is just the hike for you. However, this hike in Banff National Park isn’t easy. It may be only 11 kilometres (return) but involves around 800 metres of elevation gain (and descent on tired legs) and will take 4-5 hours.

It is well worth the effort, though, as views from the top are stunning. Starting off at Moraine Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in Canada, the trail follows pleasant forest switchbacks until you reach the wonderful Larch Valley. It is impressive any time of year but in the fall this is one of the most spectacular larch hikes in the Rockies.

Many people turn around there, but for the best views continue up to the mesmerizingly reflective Minnestima Lakes, where you can now see the intimidating wall of Sentinel Pass. Do not despair, however, as the relatively gentle switchbacks make the climb much less difficult than it looks, and from the top of the pass, the panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and peaks are simply phenomenal.

Any time in summer or early fall works well to visit Sentinel Pass, although being there in late September with the larches in all their spectacular golden glory is an experience you will never forget. Also, the Moraine Lake parking lot fills up by 6 am in summer so plan to arrive at sunrise or wait until around 9:30 or 10 am when the first wave of sunrise hikers is already leaving.

Devils Thumb

Devils Thumb

Contributed by Luke of Wild About BC

Distance: 12 or 15 km

Duration: 4 hours or more

Level: hard

With a mixture of steep scrambles, glacial lakes and stunning mountain scenery, the Devils Thumb that overlooks Lake Louise is a hike not to be missed on any visit to Banff. This is a difficult, 12-kilometre hike with around 900 metres of elevation gain and can be made into a 15-kilometre hike if you include the viewpoints at Big Beehive and Little Beehive as well (which you absolutely should try and do). You’ll need at least 4 hours to complete this trail and the best time of year to do it is in the summer when it is free of snow.

The hike starts right on the edge of Lake Louise, one of the most famous lakes in Canada, and you walk a short distance around the glacial blue lake before you make your ascent. The first part of this hike is a moderate climb until you reach the Lake Agnes Tea House. From here the hike becomes much more difficult. The final ascent to the Devils Thumb is a ridiculously steep scramble up loose rocks and a dirt path that will test even the most experienced hikers and is what makes this trail so difficult.

Once you do make it to the summit you are rewarded with absolutely jaw-dropping views over Lake Louise, Lake Agnes and the surrounding mountains and Glaciers. It is a tough trail to get here but the views at the end make it all worthwhile. The difficulty of this hike also means fewer people are on the trail so you don’t have to share the view with hundreds of other people which is awesome. This isn’t a hike for the faint-hearted but those who do tackle it will be very glad that they did.

Lake Agnes Tea House

Lake Agnes Tea House hike

Contributed by Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Distance: 7.7 km

Duration: 2 – 3 hours

Level: easy

The Lake Agnes Tea House hike is a popular 7.7 km round trip hike starting from the main Lake Louise parking area. The hike is rated as moderate as the first part runs beside the lake on a paved path. Pass Lake Louise and the elegant Chateau Lake Louise to find the sign for the Lake Agnes Tea House hike trailhead.

The trail ascends gently through the woods for 2 km. At the first switchback, the aqua color of Lake Louise below comes into view. Enjoy views of the surrounding peaks as you ascend higher. The hike has a 392-meter elevation gain.

Soon the impressive Big Beehive dome comes into view right before you reach Mirror Lake. Gorgeous emerald Mirror Lake is a perfect place for a photo break. Enjoy the reflections of Big Beehive on the glassy surface of Mirror Lake.

The Lake Agnes Trail ascends another .8 km, partially on a wooden staircase, to reach Lake Agnes. The views of the Devil’s Thumb and Mount Whyte across this beautiful alpine lake are spectacular.

In season, a tea break at the historic Lake Agnes Tea House is a delight. The teahouse was built in 1901 by workers of the Canadian Railroad as a hiking shelter. Watch for cheeky Gray Jays as you sip a cup of tea with a pastry on the tea house porch. Bring cash as the teahouse doesn’t take credit cards.

The Lake Agnes Tea House hike is realistic for beginning hikers. Therefore, the trail and tea house tend to be crowded. If you want a bit more solitude, continue on one of the side trails from Lake Agnes to the Plain of Six Glaciers, or lookouts on either of the Beehives.

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon hike Banff National Park

Contributed by Nathan, Emily, Noah & Samual of Love Life Abroad

Distance: 5 km

Duration: 2 hours

Level: easy

Johnston Canyon is a great hike to do when in Banff National Park, and it’s suitable for all levels. While it can be crowded in the summertime, it’s still a bit quieter than downtown Banff or Lake Louise.

The hike is divided into two sections: the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls.

Reaching the Lower Falls is 1.2 km (2.4 out-and-back). At the Lower Falls, you’ll get to admire the waterfalls from the bottom. There is also a little cave that you can enter and get closer to the falls. Then, if motivation is still there, it’s another 1.3 km (one-way) to reach the Upper Fall.

The hike starts in a beautiful forest. Then, the canyon slowly appears and the rest of the hike is along the canyon. There are safety railings throughout the entire hike, so no worry about safety issues. It’s super safe, even with little children. Take your time and admire the views. After the hike, you can treat yourself at the restaurant by the parking lot.

Johnston Canyon is a great hike to do year-round, summer, and even winter. It’s a super popular place in the summer, so it can be crowded. For more tranquility in the summer, you may want to arrive early in the morning or later in the day. But it’s important to check the status of the road, as the Bow Valley Parkway, the road to get to Johnston Canyon, is closed at the moment for motor vehicles. Shuttle bus service will be in place as of May 2021.

Conclusion

I really hope that you loved these hikes and found the perfect one for your hiking level!

Whichever you choose, I’m sure that all these hikes in Banff will give you amazing views and scenery that will make your jaw drop all the way to the ground.

Let me know in the comments, which one is your favourite? Do you have any other recommendations?

Can’t get enough of National Parks? Take a look at my blog post about the best National Parks on America’s west coast!

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