Banff National Park is a gateway to some of the most jaw-dropping natural scenery and unblemished wilderness in Canada. It’s where turquoise glacial lakes shimmer in the sunshine at the foot of soaring Rocky Mountain peaks, frozen waterfalls lay hidden in lush green valleys, meadows bloom with carpets of wildflowers, and wildlife roams freely along riverbanks. This is Canada’s flagship national park, and over 3 million visitors travel throughout the year for outdoor pursuits amid breathtaking landscapes. For hikers there’s more than a thousand miles of trails to explore and these are four of the best.
Cory Pass Loop - Mt. Edith Circuit
Strap on a pair of comfortable hiking boots and set off on a strenuous loop circuit to one of the park’s most impressive limestone monoliths, Mt. Louis. The trail first travels uphill in the shadow of dramatic pinnacles and forested mountain sides. At the crest of the trail, the southern face of the 2,682-meter-tall Mt. Louis comes into view and astounds with its limestone spire. The peak is legendary for being one of the ascents made by Conrad Kain and Albert MacCarthy in 1916. This is a good spot to sit and refuel with a picnic while admiring the views. Return via the same route or continue on the connecting Edith Pass Trail, which descends into the ethereal Gargoyle Valley.
Trail length: 8 mile return
Elevation gain: 3,280 feet
Time: 5 to 6 hours
Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail
Starting from the eastern shores of Lake Louise, a trail shoots uphill via switchbacks and through dense areas of old-growth forest. As you climb higher you’ll catch glimpses of the lake through breaks in the trees. Take a short detour to Mirror Lake, where on sunny days the Big Beehive reflects perfectly in the lake waters. Then it’s just a short walk to Lake Agnes and the quaint Lake Agnes Teahouse. Grab a table on the teahouse terrace, order a pot of tea, a bowl of soup, or slice of cake and take pleasure in drinking in the postcard-perfect surroundings. If you are feeling energetic then you can explore deeper into the wilderness from Lake Agnes. Use the switchbacks on a mile-long route to reach the summit of Big Beehive and enjoy views back toward Lake Louise. A shorter trail brings you to the Little Beehive, which overlooks the Bow Valley.
Trail length: 4.2 mile return
Elevation gain: 1,264 feet
Time: 2.5 to 3 hours
Redearth Creek - Shadow Lake Trail
Hiking to Shadow Lake grants the opportunity to explore a lesser-traveled area of the park, and thus a huge measure of natural beauty all to yourself. But rather than mountain vistas, you’ll be treated to the solitude of beautiful forests and the soothing sounds of gently flowing creeks. Redearth Creek Trail leaves from the Trans-Canada Highway and at a fork links up with Shadow Lake Trail. The final stretch leads into the pretty Shadow Lake, behind which rises 10,863-tall Mount Ball. Return the same day or stay the night at the Shadow Lake Lodge and set off on either of the Gibbons Pass Trail or Pharaoh Trail the following day.
Trail length: 9 mile return
Elevation gain: 1,066 feet
Time: 6 hours
Sulphur Mountain Trail
If you are looking for the best views of the Bow Valley then this is the trail for you. The trail features an enjoyable series of continuous switchbacks that cling to the mountainside and pass amid thick forests. The last section is a suspended wooden boardwalk, which brings you to the historic Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. From here the views reach for miles over the valley and down on the town of Banff. After the climb you might be feeling tired, in which case you can ride the Banff Gondola back to the trailhead. Otherwise, return via the switchbacks and reward yourself with a soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Late afternoon is particularly impressive at the top of the mountain, when the sun begins to set behind the towering peaks. The Sky Resort, at the gondola’s upper station, is the perfect spot for a sunset drink.
Trail length: 8 mile return
Elevation gain: 2,440 feet
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Mid-June to September is the prime hiking season in the national park, although several trails are open all year round. Check the current conditions via the official website of Banff National Park.