Hiking Trails in Banff, Canmore, Waterton and Jasper to Try This Summer
If this is the summer you’re finally going to get to the mountains more and use those boots, these hikes are all a great place to start.
Scenic Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park.
Photograph by Ben Morin for Parks Canada
Learning to hike is easy. Place your left foot on the ground. Move your right foot forward and put it on the ground. Move your left foot forward and repeat thousands of times. The mountains offer so many options for any length of hike you can imagine. But where to start? If you’ve rarely stepped off a sidewalk before, start easy and work your way into the backcountry where safety precautions are more important.
Here is a list of hikes that will have you yodelling from the mountaintops in no time.
Hikes in Banff/Canmore
Start with an easy hike near the town of Banff. You’ll get used to wearing your hiking shoes or boots and learn about the animals and vegetation that surrounds you. The Fenland Trail (off the parking lot along Mount Norquay Road on the Banff side of the Trans-Canada Highway) and the Sundance Canyon trail (park at the Cave and Basin Centennial Centre) both have paved and soft trails and are as flat as you’ll find in the mountains.
Canmore has this sweet little hike called the Grassi Lakes Trail. Way back in the 1920s, a miner named Lawrence Grassi took it upon himself to carve out the trail to the lakes named in his honour. It’s only 3.8 kilometres (return), but it includes waterfalls, pristine lakes, petroglyphs and spectacular views of the Bow Valley. The trail has some steep sections, but don’t let that stop you. The trailhead is just beyond the Nordic Centre.
Johnston Canyon Lower Falls is one of Banff’s most popular hikes and it’s easy to see why. The lower falls are only one kilometre from the parking lot on a path that hugs the canyon wall. Walk a short bridge across the thundering creek through a tunnel to see the waterfalls up close. The spray on a hot day is welcome. Most people turn back, but keep going another 1.5 km to the upper falls (don’t tell anyone, but it’s the prettier of the two). Then consider continuing the hike to the Ink Pots (an 11.6-km total round trip from the parking lot). It’s an easy hike to some unique bubbling pools. Also consider coming back in winter to see those falls frozen in time. (Johnston Canyon is 17.5 km up the Bow Valley Parkway from the Trans-Canada.)
photograph by paul zizka; photograph courtesy of banff lake louise tourism
Johnston Canyon near Banff.
Tunnel Mountain is a favourite hike for many hikers because it packs in so much into only 2.4 km. It starts from a small parking lot on St. Julien Road in Banff, has a few steep switchbacks to get the heart pumping and then an easy grade to some stunning views of the town and of the castle in the Rockies.
If you have skied at Sunshine Village, you can imagine how beautiful Sunshine Meadows must be in summer when the alpine flowers are in bloom. Reserve your spot on the shuttle bus from the resort parking lot to the village and drink in the alpine spectacle. Walk the trails to Rock Isle Lake. Use the storyboards to learn about the sensitive alpine meadows, then try to count all the mountain peaks that surround you. Stand along the Continental Divide with one foot in British Columbia and the other still in Alberta. This is the perfect excursion to impress visitors from the prairies or anywhere.
Parks Canada offers free, guided hikes in Waterton, Banff and Jasper during the summer months of family-friendly to somewhat-challenging distances. Taking a hike with a guide will help you get comfortable with the wilderness.
Hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park
Red Rock Canyon is a cute spot to splash in the fresh mountain water and to take a very quick, easy hike – maybe too easy. Add the two-kilometre, 45-minute hike to Blakiston Falls from the same parking lot to make it a gentle adventure. Access the Red Rock Parkway from the Waterton Lakes access road and follow Blakiston Creek 15 km to the parking lot.
Another short hike is The Bears Hump. It’s only 1.5 km, but it is far from easy. All it does is go straight up to the best viewpoint in the park. Yes, it’s a grunt, but you haven’t done Waterton without adding that hike to your “been there” list. Park at the Waterton Visitor Resource Centre as the path starts right there.
Rated as one of the most spectacular hikes in Canada, the Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton should also be on your “to do” list. It’s almost 17 km (return) and involves a 15-minute boat ride to the trailhead. You will pass four waterfalls, climb a steel ladder to crawl through a tunnel and cling to the side of the mountain using a cable as a handrail to avoid falling down a long scree slope to finally arrive at Crypt Lake where the south shore is in Montana. Forget about cross-border shopping – the scenic lake is surrounded by cliffs. It sounds crazy, but it is a hike like no other. Book your shuttle with Waterton Shoreline Cruise.
Hikes in Jasper National Park
Jasper is closer to Calgary than you might think and the drive up the Icefields Parkway is spectacular. Have someone drop your group off at the top of Maligne Canyon for an easy but interesting hike down the canyon ridge. Bridges span the gorge that can be as deep as 50 metres below you. The creek hurries through the cracks, spilling and foaming as it thunders along. Head east from Jasper and turn onto the Maligne Lake Road. Follow the signs.
photograph courtesy of jasper tourism
Maligne Canyon near Jasper.
Get up close and personal with a glacier on the Path of the Glacier Loop at Mount Edith Cavell. Take an hour to walk along the shore of Cavell Pond where chunks of glacier ice float in the turquoise meltwater. See if you can figure out why the hanging glacier is called Angel Glacier. It’s an easy hike, but watch your footing as you manoeuvre through the rocks that have tumbled off the glaciers clinging to the mountain walls. To get to it, follow the directions south of the Jasper town site for Mount Edith Cavell, driving south on Highway 93, then turning onto Highway 93A.