Along the spine of the North American continent, the Rocky Mountains poke high into the clouds and blue glaciers cling to their slopes. Green forested valleys provide a vital food source for grizzly bears and other species. This is the Castle Junction area of Banff National Park, a landscape of wonder which has been dubbed the “hiking capital of Canada”. Use the trail descriptions to choose a hike suitable for everyone in your party.

For maps, detailed route finding and trail descriptions, visit a Parks Canada Visitor Centre or purchase a hiking guide book and topographical map. Cell service is not reliable.


Safety

Safety is your responsibility. There are always hazards associated with outdoor recreation. Even short trips from the town of Banff can have serious consequences. Minimize your risk by planning ahead.

  • Check the weather forecast, current trail conditions, warnings and closures or visit a Parks Canada visitor centre.
  • Be prepared for emergencies and changes in weather. Mountain weather changes quickly and it can snow any month of the year. Dress in layers, bring extra food and warm clothing.
  • Study descriptions and maps before heading out. Always choose a trail suitable for the least experienced member in your group.
  • Bring your own water. Surface water may be contaminated and unsafe for drinking.
  • Carry a first aid kit and bear spray.
  • Tell a reliable person where you are going, when you will be back, and who to call if you do not return: Banff Dispatch – 403-762-1470.
  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease may be present in the park. It is important to check yourself and your pet after hiking.
  • Avoid wearing earbuds or headphones. Be alert at all times.
  • In case of EMERGENCY, call 911 or satellite phone: 403-762-4506. Cell phone coverage is not reliable throughout the national park.

Snowy Trails

Snow can remain on some trails well into the summer. When trails are snow covered, route finding can be difficult and travel through deep snow or on hard snow and ice can be unsafe. Be prepared and check trail conditions before heading out.

Seasonal Avalanche Risk

Trails above tree line (2 000 m) may be exposed to avalanche hazard at any time of the year and especially from November through June. Steep slopes that are snow covered have the potential to avalanche. For more information on the avalanche hazard, visit a Parks Canada visitor centre or check the Mountain Safety section.


Recommended Packing List
  • Trail guide and map
  • Full water bottle or thermos
  • High energy food
  • Bear spray
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • First aid kit
  • Headlamp or flashlight with spare batteries
  • Hat and gloves
  • Hiking poles
  • Rain/wind jacket
  • Extra warm clothing in case of an emergency
  • Cell phone or satellite emergency communication device.
Trail Etiquette

Show courtesy to fellow trail users!

  • Leave what you find —it is the law. Natural and cultural resources such as rocks, fossils, artifacts, horns, antlers, wildflowers and nests are protected by law and must be left undisturbed for others to discover and enjoy. 
  • Dispose of human waste at least 100 m from any water source. Bury solid human waste in a hole 15 cm deep. Pack out your toilet paper. 
  • To prevent damage to vegetation, stay on designated trails at all times. 
  • Trails are used by a variety of outdoor enthusiasts. Be sure to yield to others. 
  • Leave no trace. Pack out everything you pack in.
Wildlife and People


Banff National Park is home to wildlife including elk, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and black bears. To successfully raise their young and sustain a healthy population, wildlife need access to as much quality habitat with as few human surprises as possible.

Be aware of possible encounters with wildlife in all areas of the park, including paved trails and roads.

Tips

  • Always carry bear spray, ensure it is accessible, and know how to use it before heading out. Bear spray is available at the Banff Visitor Centre, 224 Banff Avenue, and retail outlets in the town of Banff.
  • Make noise. Being quiet puts you at risk for sudden wildlife encounters. Be alert through shrubby areas and when approaching blind corners. Travel in tight groups and always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Report bear, cougar, wolf and coyote sightings and encounters to Parks Canada Dispatch when it is safe to do so: 403-762-1470.
  • Keep dogs on leash and under control at all times.

More information

Trail Ratings

Easy

  • Suitable for those with little or no trail experience.
  • Flat to gently rolling with no obstacles.
  • Little or no elevation gain or loss.

Moderate

  • Suitable for those with basic trail experience.
  • Gently rolling with short, steep sections and infrequent obstacles.
  • Moderate elevation gain or loss.

Difficult

  • Suitable only for those with trail experience.
  • Long, steep sections with frequent obstacles.
  • Major elevation gain or loss.
Estimated time to complete these trails ranges depending on trail distances, fitness levels, weather and trail conditions.

Moderate Trails | Difficult Trails | Trail Conditions


Moderate trails

Trail Distance (return) Time (return) Elevation
Castle Lookout 3.7 km 3 to 4 hours 520 m
Boom Lake 5.1 km 3 to 4 hours 175 m
Stanley Glacier 4.2 km 3 hours 395 m

Trail descriptions

Castle Lookout

Length: 3.7 km one way
Hiking time:
 3 to 4 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 
520 m 
Trailhead: 5 km west of Castle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). 


Description: In the mid-20th century, Banff erected numerous fire towers where spotters could detect flames from afar. The Castle Lookout tower has long since been removed, but the expansive views of the middle Bow Valley remain.

Boom Lake

Length: 5.1 km one way
Elevation gain:
175 m
Hiking time:
 3 to 4 hour round trip
Trailhead:
7 km southwest of Castle Junction on Highway 93 South.

Description: Travel on a heavily forested trail featuring some of the largest subalpine trees in Banff National Park. Your ultimate destination is a pristine lake backed by an impressive mountain rampart.

Stanley Glacier

Length: 4.2 km one way
Elevation gain:
395 m
Hiking time:
 3 hour round trip
Trailhead:
in Kootenay National Park, 13 km southwest of Castle Junction on Highway 93 South.

Description: The hike to Stanley Glacier features fire and ice in equal measures. The lower trail, which burned in 1968 and 2003, is re-growing with lodgepole pines, willows, and colourful wildflowers. Along the upper trail, you’ll get clear views of Stanley Glacier, and its numerous meltwater falls.


Difficult trails

Trail Distance (return) Time (return) Elevation
Arnica Lake 10.2 km 5 hours 580 m
Twin Lakes 16 km 6 to 7 hours 715 m
Taylor Lake 12.6 km 4 to 5 hours 585 m

Trail descriptions

Arnica Lake

Length: 5.1 km one way
Hiking time: 
5 hour round trip
Elevation:
120 m loss; 580 m gain
Trailhead:
Vista Lake Viewpoint on Highway 93 South, 8 km southwest of Castle Junction, on the east side of the road.

Description: Lose elevation before you gain it en route to Arnica Lake; the views and variety make this destination worth the ups and downs.

Twin Lakes

Length:  8.0 km one way, via Arnica / Vista Lake trailhead
Hiking time: 6 to 7 hour round trip  
Elevation:
120 m loss; 715 m gain
Trailhead:
Vista Lake Viewpoint on Highway 93 South, 8 km southwest of Castle Junction.

Description: Hike under a canopy of larch trees while the continental divide guides you to Arnica and Twin Lakes.

Taylor Lake

Length: 6.3 km
Hiking time: 4 to 5 hour round trip 
Elevation gain: 
585 m  
Trailhead:
Taylor Creek day use area 8 km west of Castle Junction, or 17 km east of Lake Louise, on the south side of the Trans-Canada highway.

Description: Thick forest gives way to subalpine meadows as you climb steadily to this classic glacial lake. This trail holds its snow through the early part of the hiking season, so it’s best from July on.

Side trip to O’Brien Lake: 2.1 km one way; 55 m elevation gain from Taylor Lake.
Extend your Taylor Lake hike by visiting this charming tarn