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Hiking Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos Trail

If you are looking for an easy hike from the Banff Townsite, we highly recommend the Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos trail. Not only does this relatively unknown Banff hiking trail connect two of the town of Banff’s best viewpoints, but the hiking trail itself is very scenic.

As you hike between Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos, you’ll walk in the cliffside shadow of Tunnel Mountain and the shores of the Bow River while enjoying views of some of Banff’s most iconic Mountains.

Sure, there are more popular hiking trails in Banff, like Sulphur Mountain or Tunnel Mountain, but in our opinion, if you are looking for a real Banff hiking trail, the hike from Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos is the best easy hike in Banff. As locals, it’s one of our favorite hikes around the Banff Townsite and we return to enjoy it often.

Banff Hoodoos with Bow River in the background

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Banff Hoodoos Trail – Quick Details

Trailhead: Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos trailhead

Distance: 9.6 km out and back

Elevation: 355 m elevation gain

Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos Trail Highlights

This very enjoyable Banff hike begins at the Surprise Corner viewpoint. Just minutes from downtown Banff, Surprise Corner is one of Banff’s most scenic lookouts. We highly recommend taking a moment to climb the stairs behind the Surprise Corner parking lot to enjoy the views.

From the Surprise Corner viewpoint, you’ll enjoy amazing views of Sulphur Mountain across the shores of the Bow River. Resting on the lower slopes of Sulphur Mountain are two of the best hotels in Banff, the Rimrock Hotel and the world-famous Banff Springs Hotel. If you look carefully, you’ll see the Banff Gondola whisking lucky visitors to the top of the mountain.

Banff Springs Hotel as seen from Surprise Corner Viewpoint

To find the trailhead for the Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos trail, you’ll need to come back down the stairs from the viewpoint and walk to the far end of the parking lot, where you’ll find a trail sign and a set of stairs leading down into the forest.

trailhead marker at the Start of Hoodoos Trail from Surprise Corner

As you take your first steps on the Banff Hoodoos Trail, take a moment to listen to the power of the water rushing down the nearby Bow Falls. At the bottom of the stairs, there are trails leading in all directions. Look for the sign on the left, which signifies where the trail to the Banff Hoodoos begins.

The hiking trail descends towards the Bow River along a double-wide hiking trail into a lush evergreen forest. The well-groomed hiking trail makes it easy to enjoy your walk and notice small details such as moss-covered boulders scattered throughout the forest floor. You’ll also notice the moss growing on the north and west side of the trees.

Mount Rundle is a massive mountain which stretches from the edge of the Banff Townsite to the edge of the Town of Canmore. You’ll get to enjoy a wide variety of views of Mount Rundle on your hike to the Banff Hoodoos – the first of which is the very western edge of the mountain which becomes visible through the trees shortly into the hike.

view of Rundle from Hoodoos Trail - Banff

Being located on the southern edge of the Banff townsite, Tunnel Mountain is one of the most famous landmarks around. The hike from Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos affords hikers some incredible views of the steep rocky cliffs on the southern side of Tunnel Mountain, which are rarely seen by most visitors to Banff.

After 500 m after leaving Surprise Corner, the Hoodoos Trail reaches a junction. The official trail to the Banff Hoodoos is on the left, but the one on the right is an acceptable option too. They are both flat hiking trails through the forest, which converge 500 m later.

Flat section on Hoodoos Trail in Banff

If you go left, you’ll be walking closer to the bottom of the Tunnel Mountain cliff face. Watch for some massive boulders on the forest floor which have fallen from the cliff over time. If you go right, you’ll walk along the shores of a tributary of the Bow River for a short distance. In my opinion, the official trail is the better choice.

large boulders found along Banff Hoodoo Trail

There are some truly massive Douglas Fir trees along this stretch of hiking trail. Sure, they are not as massive as the ones you’ll see in the rainforests of Tofino, BC, but they are massive trees for Alberta. Through breaks in the trees, you’ll get some excellent views of Mt. Rundle as well.

Shortly after the trails converge, you’ll reach a bend in the dry tributary below. Look behind you and to the right for a nice view of Sulphur Mountain. There are some of the largest boulders of the Hoodoo Trail hike next to the trail here. Not only are these boulders incredibly impressive in size, but they are great fun for kids to explore and play on.

At the 1.1 km mark of the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike, you’ll finally meet up with the Bow River. Look through the trees on the far shore of the river and you’ll see the famous Banff Springs Golf Course. By this stage, you’ve walked far enough north to start to see the east-west slopes of Mount Rundle.

view of Surprise Corner to Hoodoos from Tunnel Mountain summit
View from Tunnel Mountain

The easy walking comes to an abrupt halt 100 m later when you encounter a set of stairs which takes you over a short rocky hill next to the Bow River. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with an excellent view of Mt. Inglismaldie and Mt. Girouard from the top of the stairs. It also provides a nice, elevated view of the Bow River flowing towards Calgary and onwards to the Hudson Bay.

woman walking up stairs on Hoodoos Trail in Banff

As quickly as you went up the stairs, you descend back down to the Bow River flood plain. The forest through the short descent is especially lush and mossy. Don’t get too distracted through as there are many tree roots protruding from the hiking trail here.

Views of Mt Rundle on Hoodoos Trail in Banff National Park

There’s a 4-way trail junction at the bottom of the hill. To continue your hike from Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos, go left. Take a second to remember this junction as it tends to get a little confusing on your way back to Surprise Corner.

The Hoodoos Trail is nice and flat here with a thin forest, which allows a lot of light to reach the forest floor. Again, there are some really big Douglas Fir trees along this stretch of trail. Take a moment to enjoy them as it’s rare to see bigger trees anywhere in Alberta.

Large Douglas Fir tree on Hoodoo Trail Banff

Shortly after the junction, there is an unmarked trail on the left. This is a connector trail coming off one of the most fun mountain biking trails in Banff – Star Wars. Mountain bikers typically ride down Star Wars and back up Return of the Jedi. You can also connect to Return of the Jedi from this trail. Star Wars is one of our favorite mountain biking trails in Banff!

After 1.7 km of hiking from Surprise Corner, Cascade Mountain, another of Banff’s iconic mountains, comes into view. Just as you are getting used to the beauty of Cascade Mountain, you’ll be treated to yet another vantage point of Mt. Inglismaldie.

Eventually, the trail crosses a short wooden bridge and enters a large treeless meadow. As you’d expect, there are outstanding 180-degree Banff mountain views here, looking all the way across the Bow Valley from Mount Rundle to Mt. Inglismaldie (standing guard over Lake Minnewanka).

easy, flat section of easy Banff hike - Hoodoos Trail from Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Viewpoint

The rule of hiking in Banff is what goes down, must go back up. After 2.1 km of hiking, the incline up to the Banff hoodoos begins. Thankfully, the first section is hill is only 200 m long and is a slow and steady climb.

When the Hoodoos trail flattens out, you’ll be following along the top of the edge of the hill looking down on the Bow River flood plain. The forest is especially beautiful here, with nicely spaced-out trees. With less tree density, it’s a great spot to look for Banff wildlife, such as elk, deer, squirrels, birds, etc.

The second incline begins at the 2.8 km mark of the Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos trail. As you get higher above the Bow River, you’ll enjoy excellent views of the Banff Springs Golf Course and mountain vistas looking all the way down the Bow Valley as far as Canmore.

Views of river and mountains from Hoodoos trail in Banff National Park

And with scenery that good, you’ll barely notice the uphill trail for the next 800 m to the top of the hill. When you reach the top, you’ll see the Tunnel Mountain campground, with the majestic Cascade Mountain peeking out behind.

The hiking trail to the Banff hoodoos then follows the Tunnel Mountain Road for a few minutes, but before long you arrive at the first Banff hoodoos viewpoint. From here you will enjoy an excellent view of Tunnel Mountain, the Rimrock Hotel on Sulphur Mountain and, of course, your ever-present companion for this hike – Mt. Rundle.

After leaving the first hoodoos viewpoint, the trail leaves the road and reenters the forest. Watch for an unmarked trail 300 m later which leads to the second Banff hoodoos viewpoint. You’ll know it’s the correct trail if you can see the wooden viewing platform through the large Douglas Fir trees.

Banff Hoodoos Viewpoint sign and mountains in the distance

There are some benches at this Banff hoodoos viewpoint, where you can stop and enjoy a great aerial view of the terrain along the hiking trail from Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos. This is also one of the best viewpoints of Tunnel Mountain, where you can see why the Stoney people used to call this small Banff peak, “Sleeping Buffalo”. Looking the other direction, you’ll enjoy unobstructed eastward views down the Bow Valley as far as Pigeon Mountain and Mount Lady Macdonald near Canmore.

Tunnel Mountain as see from Hoodoos Viewpoint - Banff

The final 600 m of the Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos trail is very scenic. There are no trees obstructing your 180-degree view looking south over the Bow River.

When you reach a large parking lot, you’ll know you reached your final destination – the Banff hoodoos! The parking lot is large for good reason; this is an excellent, and accessible stop for all visitors to Banff, complete with toilets and paved walking trails.

Hoodoos from the Hoodoos Viewpoint in Banff

Take a slow meander down the paved trails and read the interpretive signs along the way. When you reach the Parks Canada Banff red chairs, you’ll officially be at the end of the hike to the Banff Hoodoos from Surprise Corner. It’s a great spot to soak in the views and look at how far you’ve come. Surprise Corner is very close to the Banff Springs Hotel, which you can see from the red chairs near the hoodoos.

Look down and to the left at the base of Tunnel Mountain and you’ll see the Banff Springs Hotel. It’s not often that you can see you entire hiking trail below when you reach the end of your hike. It’s another of the many reasons we consider this one of the best easy hikes near the Banff townsite.

Some popular hiking apps, like AllTrails, suggest that hikers make this trail a loop by walking 3 km down Tunnel Mountain Road back to downtown Banff. What a terrible idea – why hike along the side of a busy road, when you can enjoy an incredibly beautiful mountain, forest and river hike back to Surprise Corner?

Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos Trailhead

The Banff Hoodoos trailhead is found in the Surprise Corner viewpoint parking lot. Surprise Corner is found at the corner of Buffalo Street and Tunnel Mountain Drive.

There is a small parking lot at the Surprise Corner viewpoint. You can reach Surprise Corner from downtown Banff in a 4 minute drive or a 20 minute walk.

Roam Bus Stop at Surprise Corner

An alternative for anyone visiting Banff without a car is to use the Roam bus. The Roam Route 7 will take visitors to the Surprise Corner viewpoint (note: This route has been temporarily cancelled).

Banff Hoodoos Trail Stats

How Long is the Surprise Corner to Banff Hoodoos Trail?

The one-way distance from the Surprise Corner viewpoint to the Banff Hoodoos viewpoint is 4.8 km (total return distance of 9.6 km).

How Hard is the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Trail?

We rate the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike as “easy”.

Rating a hike is difficult, as everyone has different physical abilities. While this hike is almost 10 km if you do it as an out-and-back, it’s really quite easy.  The majority of the hike feels like an easy walk along the river.

There are a couple of short sections that will get your heart pumping as you ascend from the Bow River up to Tunnel Mountain Road, but then it flattens out again. As long as you can manage the distance, you shouldn’t have any issue completing the entire Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos Viewpoint hike.

Stairs on Hoodoos Trail - Banff easy hikes

The popular AllTrails hiking app rates this as a “easy” hike, which we agree with. Parks Canada’s rating of the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos viewpoint as “moderate”

How Long Does the Banff Hoodoos Trail Take?

It should take a typical adult around 2-3 hours to hike from Surprise Corner to the Banff Hoodoos viewpoint.

We recently hiked the Banff Hoodoos trail and it took us 2 hours. This is the total time it took us to hike out-and-back, including time for pictures at both viewpoints.

Views of Hoodoos and Rundle from Hoodoos Viewpoint in Banff

Banff Hoodoos Trail Map

The Banff Hoodoos trail is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the AllTrails app.

To find the Banff Hoodoos trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Tunnel Mountain Hoodoos Trail”. Just be aware that this map skips the hoodoos viewpoints and doesn’t go all the way to the main Banff Hoodoos viewpoint. Don’t miss these as the views are worth it!

Trail marker on Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike

While you should have cell coverage the entire time, you should still download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you can’t always count on having a cell signal in Banff National Park.

Hiking Banff Hoodoos Trail with Kids

If you are visiting Banff with kids, the Banff Hoodoos Trail will be a fun hike for families. There are plenty of places to stop along the river and rocks for kids to climb on.

We hiked the Banff Hoodoos Trail with kids (who are 8 and 6 years old) recently and our kids had no issues completing this hike. If they would have had it their way, they would have spent the entire time playing near the river and climbing on every large boulder along the way.

Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

Take the time to enjoy the spectacular views at the Banff Hoodoos viewpoint. Banff and all its majestic peaks will be the perfect backdrop for lunch or a snack.

Enjoy excellent views of Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain and Tunnel mountain from the Banff Hoodoos

Alternatively, reward yourself with lunch back in town at one of Banff’s best restaurants.

Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Hiking Safety

There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Banff Hoodoos trail. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. As with most hiking trails around Banff, you’ll encounter a moderate amount of rocks and roots, but they are easy to navigate.

That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.

Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.

We recommend you check the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos trail report (under Town of Banff Area) for the Banff Hoodoos Trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

woman in blue jacket hiking Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Trail - Banff National Park

The Surprise Corner to Hoodoos Trail makes an excellent Banff winter hike, just remember to pack your microspikes as you’ll find the ascending and descending to be quite slippery in the winter.

Banff Hoodoos Trail Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Banff Hoodoos Trail.

  • Mountain biking is allowed on the Banff Hoodoos Trail. You’ll find more mountain bikers as you get closer to Tunnel Mountain Road.
  • There is a bike rack at Surprise Corner, if you want to bike from downtown and lock up a bike.

  • There are no toilets at the Surprise Corner viewpoint, but you will find toilets at the Hoodoos viewpoint parking lot.
  • You will likely get cell service for the entirety of the Banff Hoodoos trail, but don’t count on having a cell signal for your safety.

What to Bring for Hiking the Banff Hoodoos Trail

Man hiking on Banff Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike

Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.

Here are a few items that we recommend bringing on every Banff hike:

  • Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.

  • Water – The Banff Hoodoos Trail isn’t a difficult hike, but you should still always ensure you have plenty of water with you. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hike.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pantsT-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.

  • Traction devices like these microspikes are a must for hiking in Banff in winter.

  • We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Rock steps at Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike

Banff Hoodoos Trail Footwear Recommendation

The Banff hoodoos trail has sections covered in roots or rocks. You’ll be better off doing this hike in normal hiking shoes, but you could get by in regular running shoes. If you hike this trail in the winter, don’t forget microspikes or other traction devices for your boots.

roots and rocks along the Surprise Corner to Hoodoos trail - Banff

The Banff hoodoos trail offers two outstanding viewpoints in Banff that shouldn’t be missed!

Other Banff Hikes

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The Surprise Corner to Hoodoos hike in Banff is an easy hike with tons of mountain scenery. While the Hoodoos trail, which leads from Surprise Corner to the Hoodoos viewpoint, has some short steep sections, they never last long. This is an easy Banff hike right from the town site and also makes a great easy winter hike in Banff.

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