Banff National Park
Banff is the oldest national park in Canada. Established in 1885, the park is located in the Alberta Rocky Mountains. Calgary is the nearest city, and the main commercial center of the park is in the town of Banff, in the Bow River valley. Known for mountainous terrain and alpine landscapes — including more than a thousand glaciers, ice fields, forests, valleys, meadows, and rivers — the park is part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage site. Natural sites around the park include Canada’s largest cave system, Castleguard Caves, numerous glacier-fed lakes such as Lake Louise, and the Legacy Trail — a trail for walking, cycling, and in-line skating. The east park gate of Banff is located just over an hour drive, 108km, from Calgary.
Mountains in Banff National Park are 45 to 120 million years old
most iconic views
Banff National Park is notorious for its beautiful sunrises that I could not just pick one. I did, however, narrow it down to the top four placed to hit sunrise. They are all drive-up locations and all get insanely busy during the day so not only will all of these locations produce an amazing early morning experience but they will also allow for you to avoid the crowds and spend your day a little bit further off of the grid.
Two Jack Lake
beginner - Bow Summit Lookout
Length: 5.8 km roundtrip
Hiking time: 2.5 hours
Elevation: 245 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 40 km north of the Lake Louise junction at the Peyto Lake parking lot.
Habitat: A wide paved pathway to the Peyto lake overlook and a short forest trial beyond to Bow Summit.
From the highest point along the Icefields Parkway drive (2070 m), hike beyond the Peyto Lake Viewpoint on the upper self-guided nature trail, then follow an old fire road to the lookout. Watch for pikas, marmots and ptarmigan.
beginner - consolation lakes
Length: 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) roundtrip
Hiking time: 2 hours
Elevation: 60 meters (197 feet)
Trailhead: Drive 14 km from Lake Louise along the Moraine Lake Road. Start at the bridge near the Rockpile at Moraine Lake.
Habitat: A meandering forest trail with slight elevation gain and loss. Several tree roots to watch for along the path. The final few meters present you with a boulder field to traverse.
This hike leads into the heart of the mountains with a rewarding destination of beautiful surroundings. From the lower parking lot, cross the bridge over the stream and follow the pathway past the Rock Pile and through a quartzite boulder field. The trail to Consolation Lake trail takes you through the lush forest, eventually opening up to a meadow just prior to reaching the lower of the two lakes. A large rock slide separates the lower and upper lakes. The impressive glacier-covered cliffs tower above the lakes, contributing to the impressive view.
- notes: seasonal group size restrictions may be in effect due to bear activity in the area (either recommended or required minimum group size of 4, each carrying bear spray)
moderate - Arnica Lake
Length: 5.1 km one way
Hiking time: 5 hours
Elevation: 580 m
Trailhead: Vista Lake Viewpoint on Highway 93 South, 8 km southwest of Castle Junction, on the east side of the road.
Habitat: This is one of those hikes with several big ups and downs along the way but well worth the effort.
An extremely underrated hike in Banff National Park, especially during Larch Season. The trail weaves through the forest, passing by several lakes before reaching Arnica Lake. You can also continue along the trail to Twin Lakes (where there is backcountry camping available - but must be booked online ahead of time). Note that the additional distance to Twin Lakes is not included in the elevation and distance estimates provided.
moderate - Bourgeau Lake / Harvey Pass
Length: 7.2 km one way
Hiking time: 6 hours
Elevation gain: 725 m
Trailhead: Trans-Canada Highway, 13 km west of Town of Banff
Habitat: The trail to Bourgeau Lake is well maintained and a trial runner's dream. It is a wide and well gained path through the forest with a steady grade. From the lake to Harvey Pass the trail is obvious but much less defined.
Description: A steady climb through lush forest and across rushing mountain streams leads to Bourgeau Lake, the closest subalpine lake to the town of Banff. A glacially-carved amphitheatre provides a dramatic backdrop to the lake, with large boulders providing the perfect perch for a picnic lunch. Although most hikers make Bourgeau Lake their final destination, a 2.2 km slightly more difficult trail continues upwards to Harvey Pass, from where exceptional views extend to snow-capped peaks along the Continental Divide.
challenging - Paradise Valley and Giant Steps
Length: 10.3 or 10.9 km one way
Hiking time: 7 - 8 hours
Elevation: 385 m
Trailhead: Follow the Moraine Lake Road for 2.5 km to a parking lot on the right hand side.
Here’s a chance to enjoy great views of Mount Temple, identify midsummer wildflowers and witness dramatic surroundings at the Giant Steps Waterfall.
For more to do in Banff National Park check out my complete hiking guide to Moraine Lake
note: the ratings and estimated hiking times have been provided by Parks Canada, I have personally done all of these hikes. There is no technical sections of these hikes and no additional equipment outside of comfortable hiking shoes or boots, water and snacks should be required.
If you are looking to complete more challenging objectives in Banff National Park I recommend this book - I have no vested interest in your purchase but personally utilize it for planning my trips.
- The name “Banff” is derived from Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of two of the original directors of the Canadian Pacific Railway
- Banff National Park has over of 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) of hiking trails over 2,468 campsites.
- The highest mountain located entirely within Banff National Park’s borders is Mount Forbes at 3,612 meters (11,850 feet). Mount Assiniboine, which occupies not only Banff National Park but Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is slightly higher at 3,618 meters (11,870 feet).
- Banff is located at an elevation of 4,537 feet (1,383 metres) making it the highest town in Canada
- Banff National Park was the fourth National Park to be designated in the entire world world - extra fun fact, the first was Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia - established in 1783 (NOT Yellowstone NP as one country a little south of here likes to claim).
- Lake Louise is one of the most visited and photographed lakes in the world, Lake Louise is home to the world-renowned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. First called Emerald Lake, the lake’s name was later changed to Lake Louise after Princess Caroline Alberta Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of Canada’s Governor General.
Banff National Park is home to 53 species of mammals. This incredible diversity of wildlife is a reflection of the wide range of habitats found in the park due to variations in elevation, climate, and plant communities. In Banff National Park you will regularly see elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Hiking in the mountains you may come across grizzly bears, black bears, mountain caribou, moose, wolves, hoary marmots, wolverines, bald eagles, beavers, owls and pumas.
It is possible to see Northern Lights in Banff National Park. The best time to see them is in August and September.
passes and permits
note: all prices in CAD and include all taxes and fees
Adult - $ 9.80
Senior - $ 8.30
Youth - free
Family/Group - $ 19.60
Parks Canada Discovery Pass - these passes are valid for entry to all National Parks in Canada for a full year
Adult - $ 67.70
Senior - $ 57.90
Family/Group - $ 136.40
Tunnel Mountain (water, sewer, and electrical) - $ 38.20
Tunnel Mountain (unserviced with washroom building having toilets and showers) - $ 27.40
Tunnel Mountain (electrical) - $ 32.30
Two Jack Main (unserviced with washroom building having toilets only) - $ 21.50
Two Jack Lakeside (unserviced with washroom building having toilets and showers) - $ 27.40
Lake Louise (unserviced with washroom building having toilets and showers) - $ 27.40
Lake Louise (electrical) - $ 32.30
Lake Louise (overflow) - $ 10.80
Johnston Canyon (unserviced with washroom building having toilets and showers) - $ 27.40
Castle Mountain (unserviced with washroom building having toilets only) - $ 21.50
Protection Mountain (unserviced with washroom building having toilets only) - $ 21.50
Mosquito Creek (primitive) - $ 15.70
Waterfowl (unserviced with washroom building having toilets only) - $ 21.50
Rampart Creek (primitive) - $ 15.70
Silverhorn Creek (primitive) - $ 15.70
Coleman (primitive) - $ 15.70
Fire permit - $ 8.80
Campsite day use permit - $ 8.80
Dump station - $ 8.80
BACKCOUNTRY USE AND CAMPING*
Bryant Creek and Egypt Lake Shelter, per person - $ 6.80
Overnight, per person - $ 9.80
Reservation fee, per reservation- $ 11.70
Camping and backpacking in Banff National Park can be booked here. A map of the park is added below.
*all fees indicated are per night unless otherwise noted