A 5 Day Banff Itinerary for Hikers

Author: Dan Brewer

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Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in the world. Encompassing 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 square miles) of stunning Canadian Rocky Mountain landscape, a hiking trip to Banff should be on every hiker’s bucket list. With such a rugged mountain landscape, there are endless hikes to enjoy.

Based on our decades of hiking in Canada’s oldest national park, we are excited to share with you many of our favorite trails in this 5 day Banff itinerary for hikers (with optional arrival and departure day hikes).

The Larch Valley hike in Banff is a feature hike in this 7 day Banff itinerary for hikers.

This post contains compensated links.

Things to Know About Hiking in Banff National Park

We have an extensive amount of information about hiking in Banff National Park on our website. Where applicable, we’ll include a link to the relevant page you should read to be fully prepared for your hiking adventure.

Chances are, if you are reading this post, you are still planning your trip to Banff National Park. The most important things for you to understand during your Banff trip planning are how to get around and how to get access to the most popular areas of the national park, such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

The Sentinel Pass trail is featured in this 7 day Banff itinerary for hikers.
Sentinel Pass Trail.

Due to its incredible mountain scenery, millions of people visit Banff National Park each year. In response, Parks Canada has taken steps to protect the wilderness and the wildlife which calls it home.

In order to fully enjoy this Banff hiking itinerary, you’ll need to understand how the shuttle buses within the park work. Specifically, you should read the following:

I imagine you are a reasonably seasoned hiker, but just to make sure, check out our post on our recommended Banff hiking gear. If you are not familiar with the weather here, reading our guide on how to dress for hiking in Banff is a good idea too.

Dan Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, enjoys Incredible views while hiking the Castle Lookout Trail.
Castle Mountain Lookout Trail.
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A 5 Day Banff Hiking Itinerary

We’ll begin our Banff hiking itinerary exploring the best hikes in the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake area, then we’ll finish off with two of the best hikes around the Town of Banff. In order to minimize the amount of driving time, we recommend you split your stay with a hotel in Lake Louise for the first few nights, then transitioning to a cabin in Johnston Canyon for a night, before finishing in a Town of Banff hotel for the remaining nights.

This Banff itinerary for hikers has ideas for 5 full days of hiking within Banff National Park. We know that sometimes you’ll have a little extra time on your arrival day or departure day, so we’ve added a couple of excellent hike suggestions. If you’re lucky enough to have time on both days, you can turn this 5 day Banff itinerary into a 7 day Banff itinerary for hikers.

View from top of Aylmer Lookout
Aylmer Lookout Trail near Lake Minnewanka.

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You may also be interested in our 7 Day Banff and Jasper Itinerary!

Arrival Day – Ha Ling Peak

Aside from locals, most visitors to Banff National Park will begin their adventure at the Calgary International Airport (YYC). While you can enjoy a surprising number of hikes in Banff National Park without a car, you’ll probably want to have your own rental car to easily reach the trailheads and enjoy freedom of schedule.

Browse rental cars at the Calgary International Airport.

If you have a late night arrival at YYC, consider a stay at one of our recommended Calgary Airport hotels.

The drive from the Calgary Airport to the Banff park gates takes about 80 minutes.

Guide Along App

Recommended App

This GPS activated Canadian Rockies Audio Driving Tour is the perfect companion to your Banff vacation. It’s both entertaining and educational and will greatly enhance any drive in Banff National Park.

Get GuideAlong

I’ve lived near Banff my entire life, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this Banff audio guide. It’s not only fun, but it’s a great way to learn more about Banff and area while you are otherwise wasting time driving.

Arrival Day Hike – Ha Ling Peak, Kananaskis Country

If you are lucky enough to have an early arrival into Calgary, you can sneak in a shorter hike before you check-in to your Lake Louise hotel. My recommendation for an arrival day hike is the Ha Ling Peak trail, located in Kananaskis Country, just outside Banff National Park.

What is Kananaskis Country?

Kananaskis Country is a collection of Alberta provincial parks adjacent to Banff National Park. Popular with locals, and in-the-know visitors, the mountainous scenery of the Canadian Rockies in Kananaskis Country is every bit as spectacular as Banff National Park.

My hometown of Canmore, Alberta is located just minutes outside of the Banff gates. Canmore is blessed with a stunning location in the Bow River Valley, surrounded by beautiful Rocky Mountain peaks, including Ha Ling Peak.

Quarry Lake is a good place to see fall colors in Canmore, Canada
Ha Ling Peak as seen from Quarry Lake in Canmore, Alberta.
Ha Ling Peak Trail

The hike to the summit of Ha Ling Peak is one of my favorite hikes in Kananaskis. It’s a reasonably short 8 km / 5 mile hike, but it’s an uphill slog with 800 m / 2600 ft of elevation gain.

The Ha Ling Peak hiking trails recently underwent a series of impressive improvements by Alberta Parks and is now a pleasure to hike. The views of the Spray Valley on the ascent are stunning, but the views of the Canadian Rockies from the summit of Ha Ling are the star of the show.

The sun hides behind an evergreen tree on the hiking trail to the summit of Ha Ling Peak in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.

Standing atop Ha Ling Peak, you’ll get an incredible view of the mountains of the Bow Valley, from the very eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, following the Bow River west all the way into Banff National Park.

The short, yet challenging Ha Ling Peak Trail is an excellent arrival day hike on any Banff hiking itinerary.
The summit of Ha Ling Peak.
Add-on Hike: Miners Peak

If you’d like to bag a second peak, there’s a very convenient option to hike to the summit of Miner’s Peak. Surprisingly, it only adds approximately an hour to your hiking time to summit Miner’s Peak on your way back down the Ha Ling trail.

Enjoy views of Ha Ling Peak while hiking Miners Peak near Canmore.
The view of Ha Ling Peak descending from Miner’s Peak.

Once you complete Ha Ling Peak, why not stop in Canmore for a meal before heading to your Lake Louise hotel. After leaving Canmore, you’ll need to purchase a Banff park pass at the park gates before driving to Lake Louise.

Get full details, including distances, elevation gain, etc. on our posts about the Ha Ling Peak Hike and the Miners Peak Hike.

Recommended Lake Louise Hotel

If you took the time to read about the shuttle buses above, you’ll know that getting around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake can be a bit challenging. If you have the budget, the best Lake Louise hotel for this Banff hiking itinerary is the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel as seen from a canoe on the lake.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

The Fairmont Lake Louise is the only hotel located on the shoreline of Lake Louise. By staying at the Fairmont, you won’t have to worry about finding parking or needing to prebook a Lake Louise shuttle. Several of the hikes on this itinerary begin at the front steps of this hotel. We recently stayed here, so if you’d like more information you can read our review of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Of course, the Chateau Lake Louise won’t be for everyone, especially if you are traveling to Banff on a budget. For your other accommodation options, read our post on the best hotels in Lake Louise.

Dan & Celine Brewer, owners of TravelBanffCanada.com, on a Flytographer photo shoot with their kids at Lake Minnewanka, Banff.

Banff Photoshoot

A Banff photoshoot is an excellent way to preserve memories from your trip! Get $25 off your first Flytographer photo shoot.

Banff Hiking Itinerary Day 1 – Lake Agnes, Big Beehive & The Plain of the Six Glaciers Circuit

The Lake Louise area is home to three of my favorite hikes in Banff National Park – the Lake Agnes Trail, the Big Beehive Trail and the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail. Luckily, all three of these amazing hikes can be strung together for a single day of epic hiking and Rocky Mountain scenery around Lake Louise.

Dan Brewer hikes the Plain of Six Glaciers trail in Lake Louise, Canada.
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail in Lake Louise.

If you are staying at the Chateau Lake Louise, you can begin your first day of Banff hiking right from the front steps of your hotel. If you take a Lake Louise shuttle, you’ll need to make your way to the Lake Louise lakeshore.

Hiking Leg 1 – Lake Agnes Trail

You’ll begin your day of Lake Louise hiking by tackling the Lake Agnes Teahouse trail. The hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is one of the most popular Lake Louise hikes, and for good reason.

As you ascend the lower slopes of Mt. St. Piran mountain, you’ll enjoy incredible elevated views of Lake Louise. Along the way you’ll pass Mirror Lake (at the base of the Big Beehive – you’ll see why it’s called “The Big Beehive” as you stand below it) and a beautiful waterfall.

The Big Beehive soars above Mirror Lake on the hike to Lake Agnes in Banff, Canada.
The Big Beehive from Mirror Lake.

After just 3.4 km / 2 miles of hiking, you’ll arrive at the Lake Agnes teahouse, located on the shores of the alpine lake of the same name. The first of two historic Lake Louise teahouses you’ll visit today, the Lake Agnes teahouse is the perfect place to grab a treat. Then, take a few moments to stop and soak in the incredible vistas from the shoreline of the lake.

lake agnes hike leads to beautiful Lake Agnes
Lake Agnes, Banff National Park.

Add-on option: If you are really eager, you can hike from the Lake Agnes Tea House to the Little Beehive before beginning Leg 2 of our day of hiking in Banff. It’s a reasonably short and slightly uphill hike to a viewpoint overlooking the Lake Louise Ski Resort and the Bow Valley. The Big Beehive is the nicer hike of the two, but if you’ve got the legs, the Little Beehive trail is a worthy add-on hike.

View of Lake Louise Ski Resort from Little Beehive hike - Banff, Canada.
Bow Valley views from the Little Beehive viewpoint.

Hiking Leg 2 – The Big Beehive Trail

One you are done enjoying your Lake Agnes teahouse snack, you can continue your Banff hiking adventure by walking along the shoreline to the far end of the lake. Look for cute little pikas in the boulder field at the far end of Lake Agnes before you begin your ascent up the Big Beehive.

Looking across Lake Agnes with Lake Agnes Teahouse in the distance and mountains behind it
Looking back at the Lake Agnes teahouse.

The uphill leg of the Big Beehive trail is a bit of a slog, with a series of tight switchbacks. Luckily the views of Lake Agnes below are incredible and will distract you from any tired legs. Before you know it, the switchbacks will be over and you’ll find yourself on the spine of the Big Beehive.

I love this leg of the Big Beehive trail. It’s a slight uphill as you walk through a beautiful forest of larch trees, navigating through rocks and boulders strewn about the top. On your right, you can enjoy incredible views of Lake Louise from high above.

Dan Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, looks down on Lake Louise from Big Beehive trail while hiking in Banff in October.
Looking down on Lake Louise from the Big Beehive.

Lake Louise is known the world-over for its incomparable turquoise water color. But a secret that only Banff hikers know is that the color of Lake Louise gets even better, the higher up you go. On a sunny day, it’s almost electric. You have to see it to believe it.

At the end of the Big Beehive trail, you’ll reach a wooden lookout hut, originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1916, when they were promoting tourism to Banff to drum up business for their newly built railway. The views from the Big Beehive lookout are among my favorite vistas in all of Banff National Park.

The viewpoint built by the Canadian Pacific Railway on the Beehive Circuit near Lake Louise.

Hiking Leg 3 – The Highline Trail

If you can tear yourself away from the Big Beehive views, hike back down the ridge until you reach the junction where the switchbacks ended. This time, instead of taking the switchbacks back down to Lake Agnes, you’ll take the Highline trail down the other side to meet up with the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

The Highline Trail is a means to an end and won’t be the highlight of your day, but it’s a short, downhill hike through a beautiful evergreen forest.

Hiking Leg 4 – The Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

The competition is fierce, but the Plain of Six Glaciers could very well be my favorite hike in Banff National Park. The full hike begins on the front steps of Chateau Lake Louise, walks the full length of Lake Louise shoreline, before ascending into a valley towards the majestic Victoria Glacier (and five other glaciers, obviously).

By hiking this circuit via Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive, you’ll meet up with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail about halfway through, but not to worry, you’ll hike the full length of it to finish up your incredible day of enjoying the best hiking trails around Lake Louise.

Dan Brewer hikes towards the Victoria Glacier on the Plain of Six Glaciers hiking trail in Banff, Canada.

Once the Highline Trail meets up with the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, you’ll be right in the heart of a glacier-filled valley. The towering mountain peaks on both sides of the valley are both humbling and breathtaking. If you listen, chances are that you will hear the incredible sound of one of the glaciers cracking as they are under pressure from the hot summer sun. It’s a sound you won’t soon forget.

Before long, you’ll arrive at the Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse – the second historic teahouse on your circuit of Lake Louise hikes today. And hey, why not grab another treat? You’ve certainly earned it!!

The historic Plains of Six Glaciers Teahouse was built by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1927.
The Plain of Six Glaciers teahouse.

After taking a well-deserved break at the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house, you’ll finish the hike on fresh legs. The trail becomes a bit more rocky as you reach the far end of the accessible section of this valley.

The magnitude of the surrounding Canadian Rocky Mountains and the glaciers which cling to their slopes really becomes apparent here. When you reach the end of the trail, grab a rock and just sit and soak it all on. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The hiking trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers lookout in Banff National Park

To conclude your first day of your Banff hiking itinerary, simply follow the full length of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail all the way back to the Chateau Lake Louise. This time you’ll get to walk the full Lake Louise Lakeshore trail, which is one of the nicest easy hikes in Banff National Park.

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Get full details, including distances, elevation gain, etc. on our posts about the Lake Agnes Trail, the Big Beehive Trail and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

Recommended Post-Hike Activities in Lake Louise

We have lots of things to do in Lake Louise in our 2-day Lake Louise itinerary, but here are some of the best post-hike activities:

Fairview Lookout Hike

Chances are that if you just finished hiking the Lake Agnes, Big Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers circuit, you won’t want to go for yet another hike, but if you can muster up a little more energy, the Fairview Lookout hike is worth it.

From the Lake Louise lakeshore near the canoe hut, it’s only 1 km / 0.6 miles to a lookout point on the lower slopes of Fairview Mountain. From up here, you’ll get an excellent aerial view of Lake Louise, the Fairmont hotel and the mountains which you just hiked through. It’s a quick and relatively easy hike, which adds on a ton of Lake Louise scenery.

Rental canoes on Lake Louise - seen from Fairview Lookout.
The view from the Fairview Lookout.
Canoeing Lake Louise

If you’d rather not go hiking as your post hike activity, why not try getting out on the water and rent a canoe? After enjoying the beauty of Lake Louise from the hiking trail, add another dimension to your experience by renting a canoe on Lake Louise and enjoy the water up close.

Canoeing on Lake Louise allows you to see the incomparable water color up close, feel how cold the glacial water is, and gives you a chance to appreciate the mountain landscape you just spent the day hiking through.

Canoeing in Lake Louise - Banff National Park.
Lake Louise Summer Gondola

Another excellent post hike activity in the area is to take a ride up the Lake Louise summer gondola. In the summer, the Lake Louise Ski Resort keeps one of their gondolas running, allowing guests to ride up the mountain to enjoy incredible views of the Rocky Mountains.

The Lake Louise Ski Resort is an important grizzly bear habitat and riding the summer gondola is one of the best chances you’ll have to see a grizzly bear in Banff National Park. We love the Lake Louise summer gondola, and while we still haven’t seen a grizzly here, we have spotted a lynx – the first wild cat sighting we’ve ever had in Banff!

lake louise summer gondola view.
Views of Lake Louise from the Lake Louise Ski Resort summer gondola.

Banff Itinerary Day 2 – Larch Valley to the Sentinel Pass Trail

You’re in for a real treat on your second day of your Banff hiking itinerary. This time you’ll take advantage of staying in the Lake Louise area by enjoying the best hike in Moraine Lake.

Again, be sure to read the articles about how to get to Moraine Lake – the competition for shuttle spaces can be fierce, so be sure you don’t get left behind. (Pro tip: Staying at the Moraine Lake Lodge is a good way around the need for a shuttle).

Surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in Banff National Park. Watching the sunrise at Moraine Lake is an especially popular thing to do in Banff.

Woman and daughter visiting Moraine Lake for sunrise.
Celine watches the Moraine Lake sunrise with our daughter.

The Larch Valley Trail is well known for being the best larch tree hike in Banff. Larch Valley is home to one of the largest stands of larch trees in the park, and if you visit Banff in September, their needles turn a brilliant golden color. It’s a breathtaking sight in season.

If your hiking trip to Banff is not in the fall, don’t worry as Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass is one of the best hikes in Moraine Lake, no matter the season. All throughout the Banff hiking season, you’ll bask in the incredible views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks surrounding Moraine Lake.

Hiking Leg 1: Moraine Lake to Eiffel Lake Trail Junction

Once you make your way to Moraine Lake, the Larch Valley Trail begins along the shoreline of the lake, just beyond Moraine Lake Lodge. The first 2.5 km of the Larch Valley hike is almost exclusively uphill switchbacks through an evergreen forest (the larches are at a higher altitude).

Although it’s mostly treed-in, you’ll still enjoy occasional glimpses of the summits of the Valley of the Ten Peaks as well as the incredible water color of Moraine Lake down below.

Moraine Lake from Larch Valley hike in Banff National Park
The Moraine Lake water really looks like this.

The switchbacks end when you reach the trail junction for the Eiffel Lake trail (this is an excellent add-on option if you’re up for more hiking). Otherwise, continue hiking right into the heart of the famous larch forest.

Hiking Leg 2: Larch Valley Trail

The massive stand of larch trees extends for approximately 1.5 km. As mentioned, in mid-to-late September, this is an incredible show of fall colors, but the mountain scenery is equally epic all year around.

Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley Banff National Park
The larch trees in fall are spectacular.

The massive mountain looming overhead is Mount Temple (3,554 m) – one of the tallest mountains in the area. About halfway through the larch trees, you’ll enter a meadow, where the views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks mountains will knock your hiking socks off. You won’t find many locations in Banff where you are surrounded by so many jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies at once.

the Valley of the Ten Peaks on Larch Valley hike in Banff, Canada.
Valley of the Ten Peaks.

The end of the larch forest is marked by a series of benches at the 4 km / 2.4 mile mark of the Larch Valley hike. The majority of hikers turn back here, but we encourage you to continue on to the Sentinel Pass for some additional epic Banff scenery.

Hiking Leg 3: Sentinel Pass Trail

You enter the alpine zone beyond the benches, with just a few sparse, spindly larch trees daring to grow in the harsh conditions. With no trees to block the view, the Ten Peaks views are truly stunning.

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, walks through a meadow with small larch trees adjacent to the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

The official end of the Larch Valley trail ends when you arrive at the biggest of the Minnestimma Lakes. Take a load off on one of the boulders and enjoy the mountain reflections in the lake, while you rehydrate and have lunch or a snack.

From here, the Sentinel Pass trail winds its way up a series of switchbacks in-between Pinnacle Mountain (3,070 m) and Mount Temple (3,544 m). It’s just a mere 1.3 km / 0.8 miles from the Minnestimma Lakes to the top of the Sentinel Pass, but the increase in scenery is amazing.

Hiking Sentinel Pass Trail in Banff National Park, Canada.

From the top of Sentinel Pass, you can look back over the huge larch forest and take in a rare glimpse of almost all of the 3,000 m peaks of the Valley of the Ten Peaks (I counted nine). But, that’s not all…

Looking to the opposite side of the pass, you’ll be treated to incredible views of Paradise Valley, lined with even more rugged Rocky Mountains. My favorite part is the view of the Grand Sentinel, a large quartzite pinnacle on the northern slopes of Pinnacle Mountain.

The top of Sentinel Pass is one of the most scenic spots in all of Banff National Park. Take a moment to plop down on one of the many rocks and soak in the views which you travelled to Banff National Park for.

View of Ten Peaks and Minnestimma Lakes from Sentinel Pass Trail in Banff.
View from Sentinel Pass.

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Get full details, including distances, elevation gain, etc. on our posts about the Larch Valley Trail and the Sentinel Pass Trail. If you feel up to it, the Eiffel Lake Trail is an excellent add-on hike on your way back down.

Recommended Post Hike Activities in Lake Louise

Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail

If, after hiking to Sentinel Pass and back, you still want to keep your hiking boots on, you can enjoy the short, but rewarding hike along the Moraine Lake shoreline. As with most shoreline hikes, there’s little to no elevation gain, but you’ll enjoy views of the Ten Peaks looming far overhead.

In addition, you’ll pass many charming waterfalls flowing into the beautiful turquoise waters of the alpine lake. The Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail provides a ton of scenery for practically no effort at all.

easy hike at Moraine Lake with kids in Banff.
Moraine Lake shoreline trail.
Moraine Lake Canoeing

Another very popular thing to do at Moraine Lake is to go canoeing. After a long day of hiking in the upper reaches of the surrounding mountains, it’s very satisfying to glide along the glass-like waters of Moraine Lake and look up at the terrain you conquered earlier in the day.

Canoe Rentals on Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.

Banff Hiking Itinerary Day 3 – Johnston Canyon Trail to the Ink Pots & the Castle Lookout Hike

After checking out of your Lake Louise hotel, skip the TransCanada Highway and drive the more scenic Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon – the single most popular hike in all of Banff National Park. The Guide Along audio tour offers insights to the Bow Valley Parkway area as well.

Today, you’ll be doing two hikes – the Johnston Canyon Trail to the Ink Pots, followed by one of my personal favorites; the Castle Lookout hike. You’ll actually pass the Castle Lookout hike on the way to Johnston Canyon, but we highly recommend going to Johnston Canyon first to beat the crowds and get a coveted parking spot (which are much harder to find later in the day).

We recommend staying a night at the Johnston Canyon Bungalows, which not only provides you with a guaranteed parking spot, but also breaks up the drive between Lake Louise and the Town of Banff. You can read our review on the Johnston Canyon Bungalows for more information.

Ideally located between Lake Louise and Banff, Johnston Canyon is a great place to stay.

Hike #1 – Johnston Canyon to the Ink Pots

One of the reasons I enjoy hiking in Banff National Park so much is the solitude. The Town of Banff can get very congested, and the hiking trails offer a peacefulness not found in town. So, I hope you’ll forgive me for leading you to the madness of Johnston Canyon – it can get incredibly busy, but it’s a popular Banff hike for a reason. The Johnston Canyon hike is one of the most fun hikes in Banff, with a ton of excellent scenery along the way.

a waterfall on the Johnston Canyon Trail - a must for any hiking itinerary in Banff National Park.

Why is Johnston Canyon such a popular hike in Banff? Simple – Johnston Canyon is a short, easy hike through a deep mountain canyon – most of which is on elevated boardwalks right over the river below. Along the way, you’ll be treated to a series of beautiful waterfalls, including two of the best waterfalls in Banff National Park.

Ever since I was a kid, the elevated walkways have been my favorite part of the Johnston Canyon hike. Much of Johnston Canyon would be impassable without these elevated walkways, which make it possible to venture deep into the deep, tight canyon.

the elevated pathways on the Johnston Canyon hike in Banff National Park, Canada.

Two of the best waterfalls in Banff are along the Johnston Canyon Trail. The Lower Falls can be enjoyed by entering a small cave which gets you very close to the waterfall – be prepared to get soaked! The Upper Falls are much taller, and more impressive than the Lower Falls and there are two separate viewing platforms to enjoy it from.

An arial view of the elevated walkway in front of the Lower Falls and viewing cave on the kid-friendly Johnston Canyon hike in Banff
The viewing cave near the Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon.

Hike #2 – Upper Falls to the Ink Pots

Most of the hikers at Johnston Canyon turn back at the Lower Falls. This pattern again hold true at the Upper Falls, where most of the hikers who made it there also turn back. But, they are all missing out on the rewarding add-on hike from the Johnston Canyon Upper Falls to the Ink Pots.

Once you pass the Upper Falls, you exit the canyon and enter a dense evergreen forest. For the most part, this leg of the hike is mostly treed-in, offering only occasional views of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Mountain scenery from the Ink Pots in Banff National Park.

The miles pass quickly on this moderately easy hiking trail and before long you enter a huge meadow. After being in the trees, the openness of the meadow feels especially freeing. The meadow is surrounded by mountains and a river passing through adds to the scenery.

As nice as the mountains are, the real star of the show are the Ink Pots. There’s a series of walkways around the Ink Pots, which are a series of pot-shaped spring-fed pools. On a clear summer day, the water color of the Ink Pots is otherworldly and must be seen.

Celine Brewer at Ink Pots in Banff at the end of April.
We recently hiked to the Ink Pots on a nice day in April.

Note, that the sun must be out to enjoy the colors of the Ink Pots. Given that the Ink Pots trail is mostly in the trees, if it’s a cloudy day, you may wish to skip the Ink Pots and head to the Castle Lookout Trail instead.

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For more details on the these two popular Banff hikes, see our posts on the Johnston Canyon Trail and the Ink Pots Trail.

Hike #3 – Castle Mountain Lookout Trail

Ready to leave the craziness of Johnston Canyon behind? Lucky for you, solitude and scenery are only a few minutes away at the Castle Mountain Trail. Castle Mountain is one of my favorite mountains in Banff National Park, and this hike is a fun opportunity to hike on it to one of the best viewpoints in all of Banff National Park.

It almost feels like the Castle Mountain Lookout trail is showing off at the beginning. A babbling brook runs near the trail, with wildflowers carpeting the mossy forest floor. The first 1 km or so is an easy walk through a dense forest, but soon you start to gain altitude, and the mountain views start as well.

Orchid wildflowers on Castle Mountain Lookout hike in Banff, Canada.
Calypso Orchids growing on Castle Mountain.

I love trails like this which follow the side slope of a mountain. With the trail below you on one side, it’s much easier to see over the trees. For example, you’ll start to see the imposing Storm Mountain on the far side of the Bow Valley.

A short while later, you’ll also get your first glimpses of the rocky cliffs that make Castle Mountain so striking. Keep your eyes peeled for an old, abandoned cabin in the trees – makes you wonder what their life was like in such a remote wilderness way back when.

Looking at Castle Cliffs of Castle Mountain, Banff.

After nearly 2.5 km / 1.6 miles, you’ll have gained nearly 300 m / 1,000 feet in elevation, so as you approach the alpine zone and the forest starts to thin, the views start to get better and better. There’s a series of switchbacks here, but it’s easy to distract yourself from the effort with incredible up-close views of Castle Mountain.

Before long, you’ll arrive at the Castle Mountain Lookout. I’m fortunate enough to live in these majestic mountains, but the view from the Castle Mountain Lookout always takes my breath away. From here, you can see as far as the Three Sisters Mountain in Canmore.

Celine Brewer, of TravelBanffCanada.com, enjoys the views of Bow Valley from Castle Lookout Trail in Banff National Park.

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Get all the pertinent details on this excellent Banff viewpoint hike in our full post on the Castle Mountain Lookout Trail.

Alternate Day 3 Idea

If the idea of going to a huge tourist attraction like Johnston Canyon simply doesn’t appeal to you, then the nearby Rockbound Lake Trail is a perfect alternative hike for your third day of this Banff hiking itinerary.

Banff Itinerary Day 4 – Aylmer Lookout Trail

Once you check out of your Johnston Canyon cabin, you can continue the scenic drive down the Bow Valley Parkway to the Town of Banff, where you can check into your Town of Banff hotel. I’ll give recommendations for the best Banff hotels below.

It’s hard to beat the scenery you’ve enjoyed from the Sentinel Pass and the Castle Mountain Lookout, but if there is one place that can top them it’s the Aylmer Lookout trail. Lake Minnewanka is one of the most popular lakes in Banff National Park – most visitors only get to enjoy the views from the day-use area, but the Alymer Lookout Trail takes you to a spot halfway down the length of the lake to an outstanding viewpoint.

Banff Lake Minnewanka for Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park.

Hiking Leg 1: Lake Minnewanka Trail

As with many of the hikes in this Banff hiking itinerary, you can’t drive to the Alymer Lookout trailhead. To get to the trailhead, you must first hike the first 8 km / 5 miles of the easy and very scenic Lake Minnewanka Trail. In certain parts of the hiking season, you can mountain bike this portion – we’ve done it – it’s fun!

Hiking Lake Minnewanka lakeshore trail in Banff, Canada.
Lake Minnewanka Lakeshore Trail.

Hiking Leg 2: Alymer Lookout Trail

Upon arriving at the Alymer Lookout trail junction, you enter a beautiful mountain river valley between Mt. Aylmer and Mt. Astley. It’s a steady uphill for the first 2.5 km / 1.6 miles, but we encourage you to stop at regular intervals to soak in the breathtaking views of Lake Minnewanka.

After the uphill slog, the trail levels out and even goes downhill for a while. Be prepared to stop a lot as the upcoming photo opportunities are incredible. At first, you can see all the way down Lake Minnewanka to where you started. Shortly thereafter, Two Jack Lake and Tunnel Mountain and beyond appear.

Mountain views in distance on Aylmer Lookout trail
The views on the way up Alymer Pass Trail.

Even though I live here, I gasped, “Wow….” when this view appeared – I just couldn’t help it. If you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the iconic Lake Minnewanka cruise boats in the water below.

Your last stop is the Aylmer Lookout! It took quite an effort to get here, but you will be amply rewarded for your efforts with some of the best scenery in Banff National Park. From here, you can see two legs of Lake Minnewanka stretch out for over 20 km 12 miles, lined by magnificent Rocky Mountains the whole way.

Incredible Scenery from Aylmer Lookout hiking trail - Best hikes in Banff National Park.
Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake from Aylmer Lookout.

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Get all the pertinent details on this excellent Banff viewpoint hike in our full post on the Aylmer Lookout Hike.

Recommended Post Hike Activities in Lake Minnewanka

Unlike the smaller lakes you’ve already visited on this Banff hiking itinerary, Lake Minnewanka is too big to enjoy a satisfying canoe. Instead, the feature attraction here is the Lake Minnewanka boat cruise.

The Lake Minnewanka boat cruise is one of the signature attractions in Banff National Park. This scenic boat tour takes just under an hour and takes you to approximately the point in the lake just below Aylmer Lookout.

The Minnewanka Lake Cruise is a great post-hike activity in Banff National Park.
Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise.

Recommended Hotel in the Town of Banff

The Town of Banff is the centre of the action in Banff National Park. In this very charming alpine town, you’ll find endless shopping and eating options. As a hiker, I tend to avoid the Town of Banff, not because I don’t like it, but I prefer the solitude on the hiking trails.

If you have the budget, the very best place to stay is the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. This world famous hotel is the “Castle in the Rockies” and will be a highlight of your trip. Do yourself a favor and check out our review of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is one of the best Banff hotels for families

As with the Chateau Lake Louise, the Fairmont Banff Springs won’t be for everyone, although we recommend you visit the hotel even if you are not staying there. For your other accommodation options, you can read our post on the best hotels in the Town of Banff and the best affordable hotels in Banff.

Banff Hiking Itinerary Day 5 – Sunshine Meadows

In the winter, Sunshine Village is one of the Big 3 ski resorts in Banff National Park. When the snow is gone, the ski resort transforms into “Sunshine Meadows” – an incredibly beautiful alpine meadow, with some of the most stunning mountain scenery anywhere in the national park.

We had to include Sunshine Meadows in our itinerary for hiking in Banff as it’s one of our favorite hiking areas in Banff National Park. Granted, the hiking here isn’t as challenging as some of the hikes earlier on this itinerary, but Sunshine Meadows offers the best scenery-to-effort ratio you’ll find anywhere in the park.

Rock Isle Lake at Sunshine Meadows in Banff NP

The main draws for Sunshine Meadows are the incredible Rocky Mountain views all around the ski resort, and it’s also one of the best places to see alpine wildflowers in Banff National Park.

Sunshine Meadows is full of short, easier hiking trails, but we’ve found a route which strings together almost all the trails in the area, making for an excellent day of easy hiking – perfect for the final day of your Banff hiking trip.

Our blog post on Hiking at Sunshine Meadows details our recommended hiking route which is a nearly complete circuit of the area. Over 11 km / 7 miles of hiking, you’ll visit every important viewpoint and natural attraction within the beautiful alpine meadows.

Standish Viewing Deck in Banff National Park at Sunshine Meadows.
I never get tired of the views from Sunshine Meadows.

You may be interested to know that you can also stay at the Sunshine Village Lodge in summer. I’ve stayed here in winter, but have always wanted to stay in the summer. I imagine the chances for seeing wildlife in the early morning before the crowds appear are excellent.

If you’d rather not pay to take the gondola up to Sunshine Meadows, another excellent wildflower hike in the area is the Healy Pass Trail, which departs from the Sunshine Village parking lot.

Departure Day – Sulphur Mountain Hike

As with the arrival day on this Banff hiking itinerary, I’ve included an idea for an excellent short hike which you might be able to sneak in before you leave. Given you are based out of the Town of Banff, you could check out of your hotel and then swing over to do the Sulphur Mountain hike.

You may recognize Sulphur Mountain as it is the location of one the Banff Gondolaone of Banff’s premiere tourist attractions. The views from the top of the Banff Gondola are truly amazing, but here’s a secret that hikers will love…  you can hike up to the top of Sulphur Mountain for free!

Wave hello to the paying customers as you hike up for free. (It’s much less snowy in summer!)

Similar to Ha Ling Trail on your arrival day, the Sulphur Mountain hike is a short, steep trail which pays off with epic Banff National Park views. The great news is that if you hike to the top, you can enjoy all the same facilities at the top as the paying customers do!

Banff Mountains from Sulphur Mountain Gondola.
Celine enjoys the Rocky Mountain views from the top of Sulphur Mountain.

If you still have time after hiking Sulphur Mountain, you can cap off your hiking trip to Banff National Park with a soak in the nearby Banff Upper Hot Springs.

Summary: 5 Day Banff Itinerary for Hiking

We hope you got some great ideas for your epic hiking trip to Banff National Park. Within this Banff itinerary, I’ve shared my favorite hikes in Banff and it’s my hope that you will love them too!

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Standing at Aylmer Lookout Banff National Park

Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.