Backpacking Hikes in Banff National Park

Hiking in Banff

As you spend time in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, consider taking some backpacking hikes in Banff National Park. The park has dozens of trails, waterfalls, canyons, and lakes--a true hiker's joy. There are numerous hikes you can go on, from short trips to hikes that cover a few days and miles.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park has over 1,500 kilometers of trails, 53 back country campgrounds, and two shelters--one in Bryant Creek and the other in Egypt Lake. With many guide services, it is a friendly park for hiking.

The park also has stores to purchase your basic camping needs and if you don't feel like roughing it in a tent, there are other options for spending the night. The Alpine Club of Canada has hostels or huts to suit you and your hiking buddies' needs.

Nine Backpacking Hikes in Banff National Park

Dozens of backpacking hike trails are available and have been traveled within the park. Here are nine to get you started.

  • Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots

This trail through Johnston Canyon may be the most popular one in the park with views of canyons and waterfalls. Near the Upper Falls, there is a tufa rock deposit and if you look closely, you can spot black swifts nesting. The hike ends at the seven quicksand-bottomed ponds, called The Inkpots. These are fed by karst springs.

  • Sulphur Mountain

If you want a wide, well-graded trail with an excellent overview of the whole region, take this trek to Sulphur Mountain. Mountain sheep are often seen here. A gondola follows above the trail at 400 meters from Sanson Peak (named after Norman Sanson, the weatherman who hiked on the trail in the 1930s). There is a fee to ride the gondola up, but the ride down is free.

  • Cascade Amphitheater

This trail is for the avid hiker only. As you venture on grueling paths through pine forests, you will eventually come to the Amphitheater. Explore the lower ridge of Cascade Mountain at the south end of the Amphitheater to see scenic views of Elk Valley. Up on the high slopes of the mountain goats are often present, and Bighorn sheep like to roam the Mount Norquay Road near the trail head.

  • Aylmer Lookout

Once you hike to the Lookout site at Aylmer you see the largest lake in the park, Lake Minnewanka. Breathtaking panoramas of mountains also greet you. Mountain sheep are often on this route, especially near the crest of the hillside on Mount Astley, past Stewart Canyon.

  • Harvey Pass

The hike is steep to Bourgeau Lake, but the views of Harvey Pass makes it worth the climb. En route to Harvey Pass, look behind you to see picturesque views of Bourgeau Lake, which appears more beautiful the higher you climb.

  • Rockbound Lake

This climb is not for the weak, but the views are worth it, including mountain sheep which like to graze on the slopes near Rockbound Lake. Castle Mountain holds spectacular views of Tower Lake, Rockbound Lake, the mighty cliffs, and the amphitheater between Castle Mountain and Helena Ridge.

  • Rock Isle Lake

This is a long and steep climb up to the alpine larches and open country for which Sunshine Meadows is well-known. Continuing up the trail will lead you to the gorgeous view of Rock Isle Lake. Grizzly and Larix lakes are another 4.2 kilometers, or you can climb 120 meters to Standish Viewpoint. If you walk 1.2 kilometers more, the path will take you to a platform overlooking all three lakes. When the day is clear, you can see the highest summit in the park from here-- Mount Assiniboine.

  • Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass

Though a rather long hike at 10.4 kilometers, the trek to Wenkchemna Pass has some of the most gorgeous scenery. For those desiring an easier climb, take the 6 kilometer hike to Eiffel Lake. From a high elevation, you can look down on Moraine and Eiffel lakes and all Ten Peaks. The rock towers below Wenkchmna Pass are called the Eagle's Eyrie.

  • Twin Lakes

This is a relatively easy one- or two-night backpacking trip to two lakes located against the eastern face of Storm Mountain, just southwest of Castle Junction.

Preparing for the Hike

Before setting out, you will want to make a check list of everything you need for your particular hike. Consult travel guides written by experienced hikers, especially those who have already hiked the trail you are planning to embark. There is nothing like having guidance from someone with experience. One helpful book that comes highly recommended by hikers is The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson. Copies are available in most of the bookstores in Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise.

Don't overlook the value of being prepared for anything and everything as you plan your course. Basic hiking tips can help you feel better equipped to embark on any trail.

Items to Pack

Below are some items you don't want to leave without:

  • Compass
  • Matches
  • Map outlining the trail
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Layers of clothing
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Food and water

If You Are Camping

If your hike includes a night or two sleeping under the stars, you will want to be sure to pack the following items:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping bag cover
  • A light-weight tent

Consider the Weather

Some hikes are best taken in late spring or summer. You don't want to be hindered by falling snow or heavy snow on the ground blocking your trail. The season from the end of June until the first of November is usually free of snow. Check the weather before setting out on your backpacking adventure. Keep in mind that weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains.

Be Cautious

Always stick to the trails and watch for falling rocks and slippery paths. While hiking is fun and a great source of exercise, people have died in this park from falling into swiftly moving creeks or getting too close to the edge of the mountain side and falling off.

At campsites, secure everything because bears have been known to even eat toothpaste. At night, keep any food far from your tent and make sure your cooking area or fire pit is removed from your tent. Sleeping at least ten meters off the trail is also recommended.

Never feed any of the animals.

Hiking with a Guide

If you are uncertain about hiking in the park on your own or with your companions, consider bringing a mountain guide. The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides has certified hiking guides to take you on either day hiking trips or longer backpacking excursions. It takes six to eight years to complete the entire process to become a fully certified Mountain Guide, so you know you are in experienced hands.

Enjoy Your Hike in Banff National Park

Now that you have your list of what to pack and some tips on the best trails to climb, you're ready to set out. Enjoy the beauty of the Rockies as you explore them on backpacking hikes in Banff National Park.

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Backpacking Hikes in Banff National Park