If you find yourself in Banff, you might find yourself faced with the same dilemma I was – there’s a seemingly endless list of things to do with a limited time to do them.
With so many options to choose from, you might wonder where to start. While there’s no wrong way to enjoy this stunning little mountain town, here are a few favourite hikes, ranked from easiest to hardest, that let me soak in all the beauty Banff has to offer.
Bow River Trail was the very first trail I walked during my time in Banff and it’s definitely a great place to start for many reasons. First, the trail is paved, making it wheelchair- and stroller-friendly and safe for all ages to enjoy! It even has multiple benches lining the path making it easy to take breaks and soak in the view. Second, the trail runs parallel to the river, allowing you to take in its gem-blue colour and enjoy the sounds of the babbling water as it rushes past. Third, it’s steps away from downtown making it extremely easy to pop into your favourite restaurant for a quick bite and drink and to finish it off with a walk to burn it all off.
This trail offers hikers a leisurely stroll through the marshlands and forest bordering Vermilion Lakes. Although not a challenging hike by any means, this flat looped trail shouldn’t be overlooked due to it’s difficulty level. Sometimes, it’s not about the journey but the destination and this couldn’t be any more true here. I recommend hopping out at Vermilion Lakes Road and wandering over to the water. Standing on the shore and overlooking the crystal clear reflection of Rundle Mountain on the sparkling water is second-to-none.
Hoodoos Trail is another excellent hiking option for all skill levels. At 10-kilometres long, with shorter alternatives as well, the pine forest trail descends to the river then follows it, sharing some incredible views of the Bow Valley and of the Hoodoos, nature’s spectacular sandstone creations!
Similar to Bow River Trail and Fenland Trail, Hoodoos is more of a walk than a hike, but it’s a step up and slightly more challenging than the previous two. I recommend this walk for spotting wildlife – I actually saw a coyote on my stroll!
Dubbed the best mountain to tackle for beginners, Tunnel Mountain gives hikers a relatively short hike with moderately steep switchbacks. Known as Banff’s smallest summit, it offers panoramic views of the town and surrounding peaks. Reward yourself and rest your tired legs in the iconic red Parks Canada chairs at the top. If they’re taken, there’s plenty of bare rocks at the top to lounge on and take five!
Sulphur Mountain is a more moderate hike, but taking plenty of breaks and resting when needed helped to make it easier. Approximately 10km long with plenty of switchbacks, the trail offers a heavily forested view as you make your way to the top, with the occasional lookout spot, including one with a waterfall! The obstructed view on your way up will be entirely forgotten once you reach the top. The lookout is almost indescribable, offering the most stunning views. Breathtaking 360 views overlook mountains and valleys, with mountain ranges stretching across the horizon. I’d recommend saving this hike for last because the view boasts every angle Banff has to offer. It’s pretty neat to look down on the town and see all the places you’ve gone and hikes you’ve done!
With so many options of what to do in this quaint outdoorsy town, hopefully learning a bit about my favourite hikes helps to narrow some of them down! All these routes are heavily used so you’re sure to see plenty of friendly faces along the way!
Do keep your distance and don’t push yourself too hard, bring water, wear layers and prepare for changeable weather. Most importantly, take the time to soak everything in – it’s not often that we get the privilege to be surrounded by such beauty.
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