Banff National Park is one of the most visited parks in Canada and possibly world wide! Millions of visitors flock to Banff every summer to see the Gatorade blue lakes and explore the thousands of trails. As a fellow Canadian I don’t know why it took me 24 years to finally take this trip but now that I’ve seen Banff in person I can truly say it’s one my favourite places in the world! Whether you’re visiting for the day or spending a few days around the National Park, there are so many hikes to pick from. Escape the crowds and venture off to do some of the best hikes in Banff, you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular views of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake!
As always, please practice these Leave No Trace Principles and don’t feed the wildlife. When we do our part, we will protect the beauty of the outdoors for future generations.
Best time to visit
To make the most out of your hikes in Banff and see these beautiful lakes at their peak then I suggest anytime between July and beginning of October. Since you’re at a high elevation the snow doesn’t start to melt until mid June, therefore, if you’re expecting to see a thawed lake in June it probably won’t happen. In the winter months you can skate on Lake Louise and do lots of fun winter activities and accommodation is much cheaper! The hikes around Moraine Lake are only accessible for a few months out of the year. The road opens at the beginning of June and then closes for the season mid October. Even if you miss the hikes around Moraine Lake there are so many other hikes in Banff that are accessible.
How to Get There
By Bus – Roam Transit
This is the local transit system in Banff and it’s pretty well connected to the downtown core, the most popular attractions and to Canmore. Downloading the Token Transit App is the easiest way to get tickets for the bus and then you use blue tooth to tap your phone to the screen on the bus to validate your ticket. The prices range from $2-$10 depending on your destination. The bus schedules are online and pretty frequent for most locations, a few of the routes you do need to book ahead of time to ensure you get a seat. Some of the bus routes end service by the middle of September so check schedule dates ahead of time.
To get to Lake Louise, the quickest route is the Lake Louise Express 8X bus, it departs from the Transit Hub and drops you off at the parking area and then it’s a 2 minute walk to the lake.
To get to Moraine Lake, take the Lake Louise Express 8X bus and then transfer to the Parks Canada Bus which is an additional $10. This transfer is a little tricky because you need to pre purchase your ticket online for the Parks Canada Bus. Then when you arrive at Lake Louise you go to the Green tent and show the rangers your online confirmation for the Lake Connector. They give you a card with your name on it that validates your ride. Then you go wait in line for the Moraine Lake bus, in the summer it leaves every 15 minutes. Show the card to the driver and he will let you on, the card is mandatory to board.
In less than an hour you’ll arrive at Lake Louise and an extra 15 minute drive you’ll reach Moraine Lake. Both parking lots fill up very quickly in the summer and to guarantee a parking spot you want to get here before sunrise, especially on weekends! The Moraine Lake parking lot is small for the amount of visitors it gets every year and there’s only one road in and out. Once the lot fills up you cannot enter and will be turned away by the rangers. Since there’s one road you can’t wait for a spot to open you have to keep driving and try again later on in the day, you may have more success around sunset to just visit Moraine Lake.
Best Hikes in Banff
Lake Louise Start
Length: 2 km
Elevation Gain: 100m
Total Hours: 1 Hour
This hike is one of the shorter ones at Lake Louise so it’s a perfect warm up hike. At only 2 km round trip and 100m of elevation gain it’s a fairly easy hike with little elevation gain. You get a gorgeous vantage point of Lake Louise and the Fairmount from the left side of the lake.
Lake Agnes and Teahouse
Length: 7 km
Elevation Gain: 385m
Total Hours: 3 Hours
This is one of the best hikes in Banff and super unique because it features a European style tea house at Lake Agnes. The trail head starts on the right side of Lake Louise past the Fairmont hotel. Once clearing the tree line there are a few amazing view points of Lake Louise. The first rest stop is Mirror Lake which has a beautiful reflection and lots of room to enjoy the view. From here you can veer off to the Plains of Six Glaciers hike which will take you on the highline trail and then join up with the main trail.
Another 20 minutes or so from Mirror Lake you’ll reach Lake Agnes and the famous teahouse. Teahouses are super common in Europe but this is the first one I’ve visited in Canada and it’s beautiful! They serve a wide variety of drinks and small snacks. You can eat at the lodge on the patio or down at the water. Cash is the preferred payment and anything you eat you have to pack out and bring back to Lake Louise to throw away. If you want to help the staff you can opt to take a bag of trash down the mountain for them.
Length: 3km from Lake Agnes
Elevation Gain: 135m from Lake Agnes
Total Hours: 1.5 Hours
A more difficult but rewarding hike once you reach Lake Agnes is continuing up to the Big Beehive. It does have panoramic views of Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. Towards the outhouses on the right is the start of the Big beehive trail, it takes you around Lake Agnes and then you slowly climb up to the peak to a small hut. We heard it’s more of a scramble at the top and that the views are similar to the Little Beehive so we chose to conquer the easier trail.
Length: 2 km from Lake Agnes
Elevation Gain: 105m from Lake Agnes
Total Hours: 1 Hour
Are you looking for gorgeous birds eye view point to see Lake Louise? Well look no further than this amazing hike! You can start this trail from 2 areas, either behind the Teahouse and head right or take the same trail you came up and you’ll see a sign for the Little Beehive that will take you up the mountain. The quicker and easier way would be to continue from the teahouse since you aren’t back tracking. It’ll add another hour or so to the overall hike but the views are so worth it! You get to see the mountains, glaciers and Lake Louise below.
Moraine Lake Start
Length: 0.5 km
Elevation Gain: 10m
Total Hours: 15 minutes
The best spot to view Moraine Lake is at the top of the Rockpile. Right beside the outhouses is the trail head for the rockpile. It takes 5 minutes to walk up and the views are spectacular! It does get busy so go early or get creative with your photos. Alternatively, you can walk the lakeshore around Moraine Lake which gives you a different perspective.
Length: 6 km
Elevation Gain: 80 m
Total Hours: 2.5 Hours
Follow the trail for the rockpile and you’ll see a sign that points you towards the trail head. You’ll see a big sign about bear safety and the group recommendation depending on the time of year. If it’s checked that it’s recommended to travel in at least a group of 4 then you can do it alone, however if it says it’s mandatory that you be in a group then join a group on the trail. The penalty is a large fine if you’re caught by the rangers.
I visited at the beginning of September and it was only recommended so I started by myself and then later on joined a couple that I met on the trail to finish the hike. I highly recommend this hike to get away from the crowds at Moraine Lake. It’s a pretty flat hike to the lake and once you arrive the water is super clear and you get great views of the surrounding mountains!
Minnestima Lakes via Larch Valley
Length: 8.5 km
Elevation Gain: 535 m
Total Hours: 5 Hours
This is a great trail to escape the crowds in the summer, walking between the mountain passes are beautiful! If you want a longer trail, continue on past Minnestima Lakes and you’ll arrive at Sentinel Pass which features 2 famous valleys, Larch Valley and Paradise Valley. Once fall arrives this becomes the most popular trail to witness the Larch trees turn a beautiful shade of orange but it only lasts a few weeks.
Length: 5 km
Elevation Gain: 250m
Total Hours: 2.5 Hours
Bus Route: #9, service from May 21 to September 19
Right off of the Bow Valley Pkwy is Johnston Canyon, it’s a great trail with paved walkways above waterfalls, between the canyons and pools of water. If you want to escape the crowds then you can hike further to the Ink Pots. It’s an additional 5km round trip from upper falls but I have heard it’s worth the trip! The perfect post hike snack is the yummy soft serve from the café at the trail head!
Tips for Hiking in Banff
When hiking always leave no trace and be mindful of your surroundings, we want to preserve these areas for generations to come! Also DO NOT feed wildlife, this only encourages the behavior and we don’t want that. You will be hiking in bear country so knowing what to do when you encounter a bear is super important. I have heard mixed reviews on if people should carry bear spray, however, the visitors center does sell it for $35.
The weather in the mountains changes so quickly, bringing layers is key even in the summer months.
Having multiple hiking options is important, especially because parking can be difficult at the most popular spots. If you happen to get turned away because you arrived to late then know where you’re going to visit next.
When driving in from Calgary, Jasper, BC etc. you will need a National Park pass that is valid for 1 year and provides entry to over 100 national parks in Canada. If you’re just visiting for the day than it makes more sense to buy a day pass instead which costs $10.
Downloading Alltrails offline maps is a great resource to have on your hikes in Banff. In the backcountry there is little to no service so knowing where you’re going is very important! The visitors center will also give you free maps and lots of suggestions on the best hikes to visit in Banff depending on what you’re looking for.
Hiking in Banff is such a treat because the views never disappoint! The best hikes in Banff above are just a few of the many around the National Park and you’ll probably need a whole summer to visit all of them. Which is all the more reason to come back and explore more the Rockies. I fell in love with Banff and i’m going to make it a tradition to visit every year now that I live on the west coast!