Banff National Park is a place I dreamed about traveling to for years before I finally had the chance to visit. After seeing pictures of the glacial lakes and beautiful mountains, it quickly moved to the top of my “must visit” list. During the summer of 2015, Drew and I visited and experienced the trip of a lifetime. Banff National Park offers so many incredible ways to connect with nature, including some amazing hikes. If you’re looking for some of the best hikes in Banff, lace up your boots and strap on your pack and hit the trails below.
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
This hike is a doozie, but totally worth it! Starting at Lake Louise by the Fairmont, you walk the perimeter of Lake Louise on the lakeshore trail into the mountains in the distance and ultimately into the woods where you’ll find the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
The trail is ~7 miles round trip with a 1200 foot elevation gain. Along the trail you will see Lake Louise from the mountains, several glaciers, and great alpine scenery.
The tea house offers basic food and drink which are helicoptered out to the tea house at the beginning of the season and supplemented by horses and hikers throughout the season. The tea house doesn’t have any running water or electricity, but does offer a nice place to rest before completing your hike. Even though the hike was a little challenging, we really enjoyed it and I felt like a champ afterward (and finished wearing substantially less clothing since it was hot hot hot.)
This was Drew’s favorite hike on our trip and it’s one of the most popular day hikes in all of Banff–get an early start. Seriously. If you can start hiking between 6 and 7 a.m., you will be able to beat the crowds and truly enjoy the canyon.
Inside the canyon, the trail is comprised of raised walkways and bridges with safety rails that hug the wall and overlook the river. There are two major waterfalls (Upper Falls and Lower Falls) along the path before you hit a dirt path that takes you to a meadow at the top of the canyon. In the meadow, there are numerous ink pots–bubbling water in turquoise pools.
If you start early, you should be able to make it to the ink pots quickly and without running into too many other hikers. By the time you turn around, you’ll likely run into mass crowds at Upper Falls that will stay with you the entire walk back through Johnston Canyon to the parking lot.\
While Lake O’Hara is technically located in Yoho National Park, if you’re in Banff, it’s definitely worth visiting as it’s just a stone’s throw away.
The best way to enter Lake O’Hara is by making a bus reservation through Parks Canada. Reservations open in April and fill up pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, your only other option is to hike the 7 mile access road into Lake O’Hara…I definitely recommend the bus!
Since Lake O’Hara essentially requires reservations to access the park, there are typically only a couple hundred people hiking within the park at any given time, making this a nice, intimate experience.
Take the Lake O’Hara trail to the Oesa Lake trail for picturesque views of both lakes and the surrounding mountains.
I know this list is supposed to be the best hikes in Banff–and what I’ve listed so far shouldn’t be missed. However, I’m going to switch things up and recommend you get off the beaten path and hit the water at Moraine Lake. While there are plenty of trails around Moraine Lake, the true beauty of the lake can be best appreciated from a canoe.
Check in at the dock and rent a canoe for 60-90 minutes. If you’ve never canoed before, fear not! It’s pretty easy to figure out and the water is super calm on the lake.
I hope you enjoy exploring Banff National Park and the surrounding areas as much as we did. It’s so stunning there that sometimes it doesn’t seem real. We’re already trying to figure out when we can go back because we loved it so much. If there’s something you think we need to try next time we’re in Alberta and British Columbia, let me know in the comments!