Banff is a hiker's dream come true. The trails are incredibly varied and rewarding, ranging from easy 1-hour strolls to demanding full-day outings. For a good listing of popular hikes, pick up the free Banff/Lake Louise Drives and Walks brochure from the national park information center at 224 Banff Ave. Here are a few of my favorites.
Cory Pass, at 5.8km (3.6 miles) each way and climbing 915m (3,002 ft.), is one of the most strenuous and challenging hikes in Banff, but it's also by far the most spectacular one near the town of Banff. The highlight is the 2,300m (7,546-ft.) monolithic limestone cliffs of the Sawback Range. It'll take you about 6 hours.
Johnston Canyon, 24km (15 miles) north of Banff on Highway 1A, is one of the best day hikes and also among the most popular. Round trip to the Inkpots is a good 4 hours; but budget for longer -- the meadow, with a swift-running creel, is as scenic a spot as you'll find anywhere and relatively untraveled.
Lake Agnes/Beehives is a classic hike above Lake Louise into a picturesque hanging valley with a treasure-like emerald lake. An historic teahouse awaits after hiking 5.1km (3.2 miles) up a moderate and wide trail. Connect to the Beehive trail down, looping along the shores of Lake Louise. This hike is good for families.
Paradise Valley/Larch Valley, near Lake Louise, is a 17km (11-mile) hike that runs the gamut of alpine terrain, from high meadow and steep cliffs to the fringe of towering peaks, beside thundering falls, and over a majestic pass before ending at spectacular Moraine Lake. This is a difficult hike that will take you 7 or 8 hours to complete; you might not want to attempt it if you're not in good physical condition. Parks Canada often requires hikers to stay in groups of six or more due to bear activity in the area. Often, small groups of less than six gather at the trail head to join forces.
Peyto Lake/Bow Summit is a short, 20-minute stroll heading out from the Icefields Parkway (Hwy. 93); this trail takes you to a jaw-dropping viewpoint of Peyto Lake, Peyto Glacier, and the Mistaya Valley. Interpretive displays along the 1.2km (.7-mile) loop explain the basics of the subalpine and alpine landscape.
Plain of the Six Glaciers is beautiful but busy; you'll want to leave early to avoid the crowds on this glorious hike. The trail begins at the far end of Lake Louise (the lake itself, not the town) and ascends to an exposed moraine below Victoria Glacier. It offers an exceptional view of six other glaciers (hence the name). You can have lunch or just a warming cup of tea at the historic Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse; if you're suitably fortified, you can hike the last half hour to the Victoria Glacier Viewpoint.
To reach Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk, take the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, in the town of Banff, to the top, where this gentle stroll begins. Wander along an elevated boardwalk for about 1km (.6 mile) that takes you to the top of Sanson Peak, where you'll find an historical weather-monitoring station. Along the way, interpretive plaques will tell you all about the stunning vista that lies below the ridge you're now skirting from the comfort of a steady, level surface.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.