Along the spine of the North American continent, the Rocky Mountains rise 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 Lake Louise and Icefields 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.

Easy Trails | Moderate Trails | Difficult Trails | Trail Report


trail rating = easy Easy trails

Trail Distance (return) Time (return) Elevation
Bow Summit Lookout 2.9 km 2.5 hours 245 m
Parker Ridge 2.7 km 2.5 hours 250 m

Descriptions of easy trails

trail rating = easy Bow Summit Lookout

Bow Summit and the Peyto Lake trails and viewpoint closed for rehabilitation on September 16, 2019 and will reopen to summer use in 2021. We invite you to explore some of the many other breathtaking places on the Icefields Parkway.

Length: 2.9 km one way
Hiking time: 2.5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 245 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 40 km north of the Lake Louise junction at the Peyto Lake parking lot.

Description: From the highest point on the Icefields Parkway (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.

trail rating = easy Parker Ridge

Length: 2.7 km one way
Hiking time: 2.5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 250 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 40 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing or 9 km south of the Icefield Centre.

Description: After a series of switchbacks you’ll be rewarded with dramatic views of the Saskatchewan Glacier – headwaters of the Saskatchewan River. Help maintain this fragile alpine ecosystem by staying on the trail.


trail rating = moderate Moderate trails

Trail Distance (one way) Time (return) Elevation (m)
Bow Glacier Falls 4.6 km 3 hours 155 m
Helen Lake 6 km 4 to 5 hours 455 m
Cirque Lake 4.2 km 3 hours 150 m
Chephren Lake 3.5 km 3 hours 80 m
Sunset Lookout 4.5 km 3 to 4 hours 390 m
Wilcox Pass 4 km 3 to 3.5 hours 335 m
Nigel Pass 7.2 km 4.5 to 5.5 hours 365 m

Descriptions of moderate trails 

trail rating = moderate Bow Glacier Falls

Length: 4.6 km one way
Hiking time: 3 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 155 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 36 km north of the Lake Louise junction, 400 m down the Num-ti-jah Lodge access road.

Description: At the base of Bow Glacier Falls, amid the spray and roar, you can witness the birth of a river. The Bow River, part of western Canada’s largest watershed, begins as meltwater tumbling down from the Wapta Icefield.

trail rating = moderate Helen Lake

Length: 6 km one way
Hiking time: 4 to 5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 455 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 33 km north of the Lake Louise junction across from the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint.

Description: Tucked well into the Main Ranges of the Canadian Rockies is a breathtaking lake in a valley abounding with alpine wildlife and grand vistas.

trail rating = moderate Cirque Lake

Length: 4.2 km one way
Hiking time: 3 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 150 m
Trailhead: Same as Chephren Lake.

Description: This path is thickly forested, but offers mountain and glacier views at the shore of the lake. Note that the trail is often muddy.

trail rating = moderate Chephren Lake

Length: 3.5 km one way
Hiking time: 3 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 80 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 57.5 km north of the Lake Louise junction in the Waterfowl Lakes Campground.

Description: Chephren Lake lies underneath the brooding walls of Howse Peak and Mount Chephren. This trail is often very muddy.

trail rating = moderate Sunset Lookout

Length: 4.5 km one way
Hiking time: 3 to 4 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 390 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 16.5 km north of the Saskatchewan Crossing.

Description: There is no question that old fire tower locations offer up great views. A 1.6 km branch off the Sunset Pass trail allows you to enjoy an almost vertical view down to the confluence of the Alexandra and North Saskatchewan Rivers.

trail rating = moderate Wilcox Pass

Length: 4 km one way
Hiking time: 3 to 3.5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 335 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 47 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing, or 3 km south of the Icefield Centre at the entrance to the Wilcox Creek campground in Jasper National Park.

Description: Rise quickly above treeline to the expansive meadows of this glacier-carved landscape. Bighorn sheep are sometimes seen in this area.

trail rating = moderate Nigel Pass

Length: 7.2 km one way
Hiking time: 4 to 4.5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 365 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 37 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing or 13 km south of the Icefield Centre.

Description: A consistent and gentle grade ensures that it doesn’t take long to reach treeline as you head towards the wide-open scenery of the Banff / Jasper boundary.


Difficult trails

Trail Distance (one way) Time (return) Elevation
Molar Pass 10.5 km 7 to 8 hours 530 m
North Molar Pass 11.9 km 8 to 9 hours 760 m
Dolomite Pass 9 km 6 to 7 hours 550 m
Sarbach Lookout 5.2 km 4 to 5 hours 590 m
Glacier Lake 8.9 km 6 to 7 hours 210 m
Sunset Pass 8.2 km 6 to 7 hours 725 m

Descriptions of difficult trails

Molar Pass

Length: 10.5 km one way
Hiking time: 7 to 8 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 530 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 24 km north of Lake Louise.

Description: Travel into Banff National Park’s wilderness as you rise well above treeline to an expansive alpine meadow.

North Molar Pass

Length: 11.9 km one way
Hiking time: 8 to 9 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 760 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 24 km north of Lake Louise.

Description: At the Molar Pass trail junction you have the option of travelling to the alpine meadows of Molar Pass or heading left to this higher pass, a rugged and stark landscape of rocky meadows.

Dolomite Pass

Length: 9 km one way
Hiking time: 6 to 7 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 550 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 33 km north of the Lake Louise junction across from the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint.

Description: After you’ve made it to Helen Lake, you can extend your hike and get a geology lesson at the same time: at the pass you’ll have great views of Dolomite Peak, a picture perfect layer-cake mountain, as well the wine-coloured folds below the summit of Cirque Peak.

Sarbach Lookout

Length: 5.2 km one way
Hiking time: 4 to 5 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 590 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 71 km north of the Lake Louise junction, or 6 km south of Saskatchewan Crossing, at the Mistaya Canyon parking lot.

Description: This trail is a good physical workout, but since the fire lookout closed in 1971, forest growth has increasingly blocked the views.

Glacier Lake

Length: 8.9 km one way
Hiking time: 6 to 7 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 210 m gain / 220 m loss
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 1 km north of the Saskatchewan Crossing.

Description: Snow-free early in the season, this rolling wooded trail takes you to a picturesque lake set below the peaks seen by early European explorers.

Sunset Pass

Length: 8.2 km one way
Hiking time: 6 to 7 hour round trip
Elevation gain: 725 m
Trailhead: Highway 93 North, 16.5 km north of the Saskatchewan Crossing.

Description: Climb steadily through a thick forest to reach an expansive meadow atop Sunset Pass. Look west for a panorama of the largest peaks in the parks, or east into the remote White Goat Wilderness Area.