Looking for a great day hike near Calgary, Alberta? There are so many hikes in the Canadian Rockies to choose from that it is sometimes difficult deciding which one to do. Here are our top 10 hikes in Banff National Park that can be hiked in a day trip from Calgary.
1. Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass
The hike to Bourgeau Lake is very popular and for good reason. It’s an easy hike that takes you to a breathtaking view of a mountain lake set in a tight cirque. The first 6 km is relatively flat. It travels through a dense forest slowly gaining 400 m in the first 6 km to reach a nice waterfall.
The last 45 minutes is a steady climb to reach the lake 350 m above. Bourgeau Lake has a beautiful setting in a tight amphitheatre formed by Mt. Bourgeau. Depending on the time of year, the meadow before the lake may be filled with wildflowers.
If you have the energy to continue, a good trail climbs the slopes above the lake to reach a second cirque formed by Mt. Brett. There are a few alpine tarns in the green, open cirque and you have a good chance to see hoary marmots.
Continue on the trail as it passes through the cirque heading for Harvey Pass. On the way you’ll pass the small, pretty Harvey Lake. Above the lake is Harvey Pass, formed between Mount Bourgeau and Mount Brett. From the pass you have a great view of the peak of Mount Assiniboine in the distance and in the foreground, a view of Sunshine Village Ski Resort.
Distance – 7.5 km one way to Bourgeau Lake, 9.7 km to Harvey Pass
Elevation Gain – 725 m to Bourgeau Lake, 1020 m to Harvey Pass
Access – There is a parking lot with an outhouse along the Trans-Canada Highway not far from Banff townsite.
2. Larch Valley, Sentinel Pass, Paradise Valley and Mount Temple
Mount Temple is the majestic triangular mountain seen from the Trans-Canada highway and from Lake Louise ski resort. There are a few different options to enjoy the area around Mt. Temple.
Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass – The best time of year to visit Larch Valley is in the fall when the larch trees are a lovely golden colour. But because of this, you’ll be sharing your views with a lot of other hikers. After a climb through the trees you emerge to a large open meadow spotted with larch trees and backdropped by the gorgeous Ten Peaks. As you climb higher the golden larch trees outnumber any other tree and cover the meadow. Many people only make it as far as the valley, but for better views continue up the switchbacks to Sentinel Pass between Mount Temple and Pinnacle Mountain. Beside the pass are the tall, rugged spires called Grand Sentinel.
If you’re still energetic and are experienced in scrambling, you can get to the summit of Mount Temple. From Sentinel Pass the trail climbs scree slopes, scrambles over a few rock bands and leads up over 800 m to the rocky summit. Do not attempt the summit if there is ice or snow, if it is raining, or if you are not experienced in scrambling. The descent follows the same route. Since it’s the highest peak in the area (3,543 m), you can see most of Banff and Lake Louise from every side.
Larch Valley – Paradise Valley Loop – To get down from Sentinel Pass you can retrace your steps through the Larch Valley or go the other way from the pass through Paradise Valley. The trail immediately drops down through steep rocky terrain to the open meadow below. There are great views of Mount Temple as the trail winds its way around it before going back into the trees. Eventually it connects with the Larch Valley trail which takes you back to the parking lot. The Larch Valley – Paradise Valley Loop can be hiked in either direction.
Distance – 5.8 km one-way to Sentinel Pass, 16 km loop with Paradise Valley, 16 km to Temple Summit return
Elevation Gain – 725 m to Sentinel Pass, 1691 m to Temple summit
Access – The trail head is at the end of the Moraine Lake Parking Area. Depending on the time of year, you may have to park in the overflow parking lot on the Trans-Canada and take the shuttle to Moraine Lake.
3. CORY AND EDITH PASS LOOP
This hike spends most of its time above tree-line allowing you to enjoy the scenery for most of the trek. It’s possible to do this loop in either direction, but we think it’s much easier and more enjoyable to hike in a clockwise direction. After a steep, heart-pounding hike up through an open meadow don’t forget to look back at the amazing views of Vermillion Lakes and Mt. Rundle. After 1 1/2 – 2 hours you reach the crest of Edith’s shoulder and are mostly out of the trees. From here you get your first glimpse of the rugged peaks of Mount Edith and Mount Cory.
The trail now follows a long scree slope to reach Cory Pass. There is one section that requires scrambling, but is not exposed. It’s almost always windy and cool at the pass, but with the spire of Mt. Louis in your view, it’s a nice place for a rest.
From the pass you can add in a scramble to the top of Mount Edith. It will add approximately 45 minutes to your day.
From Cory Pass the trail winds around Mount Edith taking you through Gargoyle Valley and closer to the impressive tall spire of Mt. Louis. The sheer limestone walls on Mt. Louis host a number of great technical climbs. If you look closely, you may see climbers high on the wall.
The trail is quite vague as it travels around Mt. Edith so watch for cairns to help you through the boulder field. Once you arrive at Edith Pass, you’ll be back in the trees until you reach your car.
Distance – 13 km
Elevation Gain – 915 m
Access – Usually you can park at the Fireside Picnic Parking lot on the Bow Valley Parkway 500 m from the Trans-Canada Highway Junction. The trail leaves from the parking lot for both Cory and Edith Passes. After 1 km of hiking, the turn off for Cory Pass is on the right, the trail continues straight to Edith Pass. Note: in summer 2021 the Bow Valley Parkway is closed so you have to park just off the Trans-Canada and walk an extra 1 km on asphalt to reach the Fireside Picnic parking lot.
4. CASTLE MOUNTAIN
This iconic mountain looks like a castle on a ridge above the Trans-Canada Highway. The long hike to its summit offers breathtaking views along the Bow Valley toward Lake Louise. It begins on an old gravel access road and climbs steeply through the trees. After 5 km or so you can see Eisenhower Tower above and shortly after you reach the small green coloured Tower Lake surrounded by spruce, fir and larch.
Continue around the right side of the lake before climbing a steep headwall. Above the headwall you’ll reach Rockbound Lake at the base of Castle Mountain cirque. The lake is aptly named as it is surrounded by large boulders. From the lake’s north shore a faint trail can be seen climbing up to the scree filled bench on the cirque above. It’s a long walk around, slowly increasing in elevation as you go until finally, you’ve reached the end. From the summit you have a bird’s eye view of Eisenhower Tower, which is a spire of Castle, as well as up and down the Bow River.
Distance – 8.4 km one way to Rockbound Lake, 13.5 km to summit
Elevation Gain – 760 m to Rockbound Lake, 1300 m to summit
Access – The parking lot is 200 m east of Castle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway.
Castle Mountain Fire Lookout – An easy hike climbs the south side of Mount Castle to reach an old fire lookout. Experienced scramblers can continue beyond the lookout to reach Goat Plateau, one of the ledges seen from the Trans-Canada Highway. This route requires scrambling, and is used by climbers to access the Alpine Club of Canada Hut. A rope and harness is needed for the descent.
Access – The trailhead for the Castle Mountain Fire Lookout is a small pullout located on Highway 1A a 5 km west of Castle Junction.
5. Bow Lake to bow Hut
This alpine lake is a popular rest spot along the Icefields Parkway, but also offers a great hike. Snow remains around the lake well into the summer, so either be prepared to hike in snow or plan to do this hike later in August. The trail begins by walking around the pretty Bow Lake. After the lake you arrive at a narrow, rocky canyon guarded by steep cliffs. The winter route goes through the tight canyon, but the summer trail climbs above it on a large moraine. Above the canyon are great views of the hanging Bow Glacier ahead.
After walking along the ridge for a while the views open up and you can see Bow Hut perched up high above on the morraine. The trail follows the lower morraine until you’re under the hut and then has a steep hike up the ridge. The views from the hut toward the Dolomites and Mt. Crowfoot are spectacular. If you’re energetic you can continue to hike up the hut to the toe of the Wapta Glacier.
Distance – 9.8 km one way
Elevation Gain – 714 m
Access – Park in the Bow Lake Parking Lot beside Num Ti Jah Lodge on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). The trail begins on the other side of the lodge.
6. HELEN LAKE AND DOLOMITE PASS
This hike is popular in both summer and winter. Leaving the Helen Lake trailhead the route quckly climbs through the trees with a couple of nice lookouts of Crowfoot Glacier. Helen Lake is a small pretty lake surrounded by talus slopes. It’s a great place for a rest.
If you wish to continue, a steep series of switchbacks climbs above Helen Lake to a ridge. This is actually the high point of the hike and offers great views of Katherine Lake and across the highway to the Waputik mountains. Katherine Lake is actually nicer than Helen, but most people don’t bother to hike up to it. If you continue beyond Katherine Lake, the trail descends to Dolomite Pass. It’s a wide open grassy pass with amazing view of the ragged peaks of Dolomite Peak. This is the view of the mountain that reminded early mountaineers of the Dolomites in Italy.
Distance – 6 km one way to Helen Lake, 8.9 km to Dolomite Pass
Elevation Gain – 455 m to Helen Lake, 550 m to high point before Dolomite Pass
Access – There is parking in a small lot on the the Icefields Parkway on the opposite side of the highway to the trail head. This lot is 5 km north of Mosquito Creek parking lot.
7. MOSQUITO CREEK TO NORTH MOLAR PASS
The first seven kilometres of this hike follow Mosquito Creek through the trees before emerging onto the gorgeous Molar Meadows. This vast area is backdropped by the impressive Dolomite Peak.
The beauty of this meadow is overwhelming. Rolling hills slowly lead up to North Molar Pass (2,590 m) with spectacular views of the meadow behind you as you climb. The final push up to the pass is steep and depending on the year, is often snow covered and can be impassable so check the route conditions before heading out.
Distance – 11.5 km one way
Elevation Gain – 760 m
Access – Park in the Mosquito Creek parking lot on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93), 24 km north of Lake Louise.
8. NIGEL PASS
The hike begins at the trailhead for Nigel Pass in Banff National Park, just before its border with Jasper National Park. It is a gentle climb that first takes you through a spruce and fir forest. Higher up, you walk through meadows filled with low shrubs allowing you to enjoy the surrounding peaks. Nigel Pass is a large open area covered in smooth limestone rocks and offers spectacular views of the wide Brazeau River Valley in front and as far as Mt. Saskatchewan behind.
Distance – 15.5 km round trip
Elevation Gain – 317 m
Access – Park at the Nigel Pass trailhead which is 2 1/2 km north of the Big Bend switchbacks on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93)
9. Cascade Mountain
Looking down Banff Avenue in Banff town, Mt. Cascade appears to be right at the end of the street. There are technical climbing routes on the front and a long hike to the summit on the mountain’s backside. After passing through Mount Noquay Ski Resort the trail begins to climb the west ridge of Cascade. Don’t forget to look behind on occasion where you have terrific views of Mt. Louis and Mt. Edith. There are a few steep switchbacks that end at the Cascade Amphitheatre. This large cirque is beautiful with an open meadow closed in by the tall ridge of Cascade and is home to marmots and pikas. Many people stop at the amphitheatre as the next section to the summit is more challenging
From the amphitheatre basin you can see the First Peak, False Summit and the Main Summit far above. Getting to the summit involves a few sections of scrambling and exposed terrain so if you’re not experienced, you should not go further. Negotiating around the False Summit takes a bit of route finding,so read up in one of the many hiking trail books available. Do not attempt to go beyond the amphitheatre if there is snow or ice.
Upon reaching the summit you are rewarded with open views of Bow Valley including Mt. Rundle, Lake Minnewanka and Mt. Aylmer in front, Banff town to the south and majestic Mt Louis and Edith behind.
Distance – 7.4 km one way to amphitheatre, 9 km to the summit
Elevation Gain – 610 m to amphitheatre, 1460 m to the summit
Access – Park in the Mount Norquay Ski Resort, the trail begins beyond Mystic Chair.
10. Boulder Pass and Deception pass
Most people think of Skoki as a winter destination, but this area has incredible scenery in the summer too. It’s reached from the top of the ski out road at Lake Louise Ski Resort near Larch Chair. The trail skirts along the side of the resort before climbing up toward Boulder Pass. The name is well suited as it is an open area filled with large boulders in all possible shapes and sizes.
After the pass, the trail follows around Ptarmagan Lake before reaching the base of Deception Pass. Climbing to the top of the pass is a steep, climb over loose ball-bearing like gravel to the top of the pass so watch your footing on the way down. From Deception Pass you can walk down to see the amazing Skoki Lakes.
Distance – 4 km road to resort, 8.6 km to Boulder Pass, 11 km to Deception Pass
Elevation Gain – 640 m to Boulder Pass, 785 m to Deception Pass
Access – Park in the Mount Norquay Ski Area, the trail begins beyond Mystic Chair.
Hiking Tips in the Canadian Rockies
- Expect sudden changes in weather. Bring a rain jacket, an extra sweater, gloves and a toque.
- Hiking poles are useful in many areas and can help save your knees when going down steep descents.
- Bring enough water. Many hikes do not have fresh water sources on the trail.
- Bring bear spray and/or bear bangers and educate yourself on wildlife safety.
- Don’t forget the usual – good hiking shoes, bug spray, sunscreen, snacks.
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