Banff National Park is a tourist favourite for a reason. From gemstone coloured lakes to dramatic mountain peaks to the rich and diverse wildlife, Canada’s first National Park, just one hour west of Calgary, Alberta has something to offer everyone. Whether you’ve come to breathe in that fresh mountain air, take in some of the stunning scenery, or relax in luxury at one of the areas world class resorts, you’d be missing out on something great if you didn’t take time out for a walk in nature.
The park covers more than 6,600 square kilometres of spectacular scenery, but you don’t need a car to get your fill of the great outdoors here. There are many trails that start right in the townsite of Banff, easily accessible to all levels of hiker whether you’re heading out for your first ever mountain adventure or you’re ready to scale all the scree slopes. So grab your hikers and grab your camera because towering trees, fascinating canyons, and totally Instagram-worthy vistas are only steps away from your hotel/hostel/campsite:
The 10 Best Hikes in the Town of Banff for all activity levels
First things first! Always be prepared when you go hiking and make sure you check wildlife notices, trail conditions, and the weather report before you go. Mountain environments can be unpredictable and change lightning fast (hello snow in August!), and while all of these hikes start from the Town of Banff, some of them take you into remote areas where help, and cell service, may not be close by. Everything you need to be smart, safe, and informed is available from the Banff Visitor Centre at 224 Banff Ave; or on the Parks Canada website.
Second things second! To keep this paradise beautiful for everyone to enjoy, make sure you practice “Leave No Trace” hiking. Pack out what you pack in, dispose of waste properly, stick to the marked trails, and leave nature where you found it. If you need to brush up on the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace check out this helpful resource.
Okay, now on to the good stuff: The best walks and hikes from the Town of Banff, ranked (albeit somewhat subjectively) by required effort:
(Mostly) Flat and Leisurely
TRAILHEAD: Fenland Trail parking lot, off of Mt Norquay Rd between the railway tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway, it’s near the Banff Recreation Centre.
STATS: 2.1km loop, no elevation gain, paved and wheelchair accessible.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Wander through old-growth spruce trees and look out for local wildlife all year-round. You can pick up a brochure from the trailhead parking lot which follows along with interpretive signs posted along the route too.
Vermilion Lakes Road
TRAILHEAD: On Mt Norquay Rd just after the Fenland Trail parking lot turn off, between the railway tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway.
STATS: 4.3 km one way, no elevation gain, paved road that you’ll share with road vehicles, wheelchair accessible.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Postcard-perfect views of Mount Rundle, one of the most recognizable mountains in the Banff area. Plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, and a peaceful lake to walk along. Also dotted with interpretative panels, you can learn about the geology, unique environment, and cultural significance of the area.
Bow River Trail
ACCESS: From anywhere in downtown Banff, pretty much! Parking lots at Fenland Trail, Central Park (downtown Banff), or Surprise Corner Viewpoint on Buffalo Street.
STATS: Fenland Trail to Central Park 0.9 km, no elevation gain; Central Park to Surprise Corner Viewpoint 1.4 km, 20 m elevation gain. The trail is mostly paved and wheelchair accessible, except for part of the climb from Central Park to Surprise Corner.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Stroll through downtown Banff on this easy trail with a coffee in hand. It’s a peaceful and quiet walk early in the morning, and Suprise Corner delights with excellent views of Bow Falls and The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Spray River Loop
TRAILHEAD: Spray River Loop parking lot behind the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
STATS: 11.4 km loop, 65 m elevation gain.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Rolling terrain, lung-fulls of spruce-scented air, and beautiful forests. An old fire road that follows the Spray River upstream, it’s popular with cyclists and horse trailriders as well as hikers. You’ll need to cross the bridge at km 6ish and come back down to the Golf Course Road to complete the loop (stay on the trail and don’t cross the fairways at the end, or you could end up being chased down by angry golfers). The golf course is a great spot to spot elk lazing around at the end of the day too.
TRAILHEAD: Surprise Corner Viewpoint on Buffalo Street.
STATS: 4.2 km one way, 60 m elevation gain.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: You’d never know you were still in the middle of Banff as you follow the trail along the Bow River and skirt the cliff face of Tunnel Mountain. Gorgeous river valley views, interesting geological formations, and the possibility to spot elk and predatory birds along the way.
Get That Blood Pumpin'
Sundance Canyon Trail (with Cave & Basin Trail and Marsh Loop)
TRAILHEAD: Cave & Basin Historic Site at the end of Cave Ave.
STATS: Discovery Boardwalk 0.4 km one way; Cave & Basin to Sundance Canyon 4.3 km one way, 20 m elevation gain; Sundance Canyon 1.2 km loop, 145 m elevation gain; Marsh Loop 2.5 km loop, 10 m elevation gain.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: A mashup of hikes, the Discovery Boardwalk shows off the literal birthplace of Banff National Park (it was here that railway construction workers first discovered the hot springs that started it all.) The flat trail out to Sundance Canyon is paved and wheelchair accessible, offering views of stunning Mount Edith before you explore the scenic canyon (and where almost all of the elevation gain happens along this route). Top it all off with a loop through the marshes along the Bow River for views of Mount Norquay and the Bourgeau Range.
Upper Hot Springs Trail
TRAILHEAD: Spray River Loop parking lot behind the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
STATS: 1.1 km one way, 170 m elevation gain.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Short and sweet, this trail climbs through spacious Lodgepole pines and ends at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, which, conveniently enough, is the perfect place to soak your tired muscles. The Sulphur Mountain gondola is also at the end of this trail, jump into a gondola cabin and soar to the top for some amazing views of the Bow Valley, or if you’re not feeling the burn yet, you can continue hiking all the way up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (see Sulphur Mountain trail below…).
TRAILHEAD: Lower trailhead on St. Julien Road near the Banff Centre, Upper trailhead on Tunnel Mountain Drive.
STATS: 2.3 km one way, 300 m elevation gain (from Lower trailhead).
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: A mountain right in the middle of town, steep(ish) switchbacks reward you with sweeping views of the Town of Banff, and the Bow and Spray River valleys. This trail is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Lung-Busters! But the views are totally worth it!
Sulphur Mountain Trail
TRAILHEAD: Banff Upper Hot Springs parking lot at the end of Mountain Ave, or combine with the Upper Hot Springs Trail and start from the Spray River Loop parking lot behind the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
STATS: 5.5 km one way to the upper gondola station, 655 m elevation gain; 1.0 km loop from upper gondola station to Sanson Peak and the old Cosmic Ray Station.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Strenuous and filled with switchbacks, Sulphur Mountain is here to test you, but try not to spend the entire way up thinking about why you decided NOT to get on the gondola instead. Once at the summit, a boardwalk connects the gondola terminal with the remnants of a cosmic ray station (which is actually exactly what it sounds like - it was built to measure cosmic rays and space particles entering Earth’s atmosphere) and you get amazing, almost 360 degree views of the surrounding area.
Mount Rundle Trail
TRAILHEAD: on the Spray River Loop east of the Spray River Bridge and past Fairway 15 on the golf course.
STATS: 11 km round trip, 1,577 m elevation gain.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Incredible views with a significant portion of the trail above the tree line. Walk along the “Dragon’s Back” a spine of rock separating two gullies, and test your scrambling skills on the seemingly endless scree slopes. This mountain is not for the faint-hearted. Challenging and unforgiving, this scramble shouldn’t be attempted unless you are confidant in your fitness and hiking abilities. It’s considered an “easy” climb but only because you don’t require any technical gear to reach the summit. Not to be taken lightly, several people have died on Mount Rundle in the past so make sure to always stay on the trail, and turn back immediately if bad weather approaches. Read through Parks Canada’s A Scrambler's Guide to Mount Rundle before attempting this climb for a suggested gear list, tips, and a detailed description of the route.
Do you have questions about hiking in the Town of Banff or elsewhere in Banff National Park? Do you want to share your experience of hiking in Banff, or add a trail missing from this list? Leave a comment below!