By Ray Lumfardo
Banff National Park covers a 6,641 square km (2,564 square mi.) area of unparalleled mountain scenery in the heart of the magnificent Canadian Rockies.
Besides glaciers, icefields, some of the tallest peaks and most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies, Banff National Park has a trail system that covers 1,600 km (1,000 mi.).
To get some ideas of how a hiker might tackle these trails, we spoke to two local experts, Gordon Stermann, a 30-year resident of Banff and owner of White Mountain Adventures, and Bud Ettinger, owner of Back of Beyond Adventure Company since 1993.
Taking it easy
Stermann had a couple hikes he recommended that are both easy and rewarding.
“If you were to ask anybody in the Banff area about Sunshine Meadows, they’d say you had to go,” he says.
From Sunshine Meadows, you’ll get views of Mount Assiniboine, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies, you’ll cross the continental divide, see three different mountain lakes and “wild flowers like crazy,” according to Stermann.
Stermann notes that the trail is easy and accessible to any level of hiker, and that his company operates a shuttle that will cut off a significant portion of the hike, allowing you to spend more time at the top.
For first timers, Stermann also suggests hitting the Lake Louise area, just 4 km out of the town of Lake Louise, which, he notes, is a busy place “for a very, very good reason.”
One hike to check out there is the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail, which starts in front of Chateau Lake Louise, and is just 4 km total with little to no elevation gain, which makes for a quick 1-hour round trip. The trail is easy to walk for just about anyone, yet offers amazing views of the lake and surrounding peaks, and access to several longer trails.
For people willing and able to do a more difficult trip, Ettinger strongly recommended hiking Cory Pass, noting, “It’s a fairly gruesome hike.”
According to Parks Canada, in fact, this is “One of the most difficult hikes in Banff National Park,” and is recommended “for strong hikers with good route finding skills.”
Cory pass is a 13 km loop, with an elevation gain of 915 m, and takes about 6 hours round trip.
It’s all worth it, according to Ettinger, “You go through a very high pass, where you can see the whole basin back behind you.”
“When you drop back down the other side, it’s true wilderness,” he says. “You’ll see sheep for sure, and it’s great bear country.”
The hike starts from Fireside Picnic Area at the eastern end of the Bow Valley Parkway. From there you follow a 1 km access road from the parkway to the picnic area.
You return from Cory Pass by making a loop around Mount Edith and descending the Edith Pass trail. Check a trail guide for detailed directions.
Make like Santa Claus
For experienced hikers, Stermann recommends hiking Mount Yamnuska, a mountain just east of Canmore, which is technically outside of the park, but hey, it’s a great hike, so we’ve included it.
“It’s a very steep face, but it’s relatively easy if you go around back,” he says.
The hike involves scaling a small chimney (which is a cut in the rock that is a narrow chute, like a small chimney with one wall missing).
From there you hike to a wire that you hold as you walk past a steep ledge, you scramble up to the peak, which affords some of the most amazing views of the valley, then back down along a trail below a 1,000 ft. cliff, to a scree field that you can slide down. The whole trip takes about four to six hours, Stermann says.
Because this hike is difficult and involves some climbing/scrambling, we recommend getting a guide or talking to Parks Canada before attempting it.
We hope these suggestions help you find what you’re looking for in Banff. Stay tuned for updates on more Banff hikes.