Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail in Banff

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

The Cascade Amphitheatre trail is a difficult Banff snowshoe trail which begins at the Norquay Ski Resort. This challenging snowshoe trail winds up the western slopes of Cascade Mountain, one of the most recognizable mountains in Banff National Park.

While the Cascade Amphitheatre trail may be one of the more difficult snowshoe trails in Banff, your efforts will be amply rewarded along the way.

Snowshoe to the Cascade Amphitheatre on Cascade Mountain Banff

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Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Highlights

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail begins at the Mt. Norquay Ski Resort. Walk from the parking lot to the Mt. Norquay Lodge, pausing to put on your snowshoes in front of the Cascade chairlift.

You pass the Mt. Norquay Cascade chairlift on your way to the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail
Norquay’s Cascade Quad Chairlift

Snowshoe in the same direction towards the Spirit chairlift where you will merge slightly right onto a trail into the forest (don’t cross the bridge – that’s the 3.7km trail which winds around Stoney Mountain to the TransCanada Highway).

The Norquay snowshoe trail to Cascade Mountain shares the trail to the Spirit chairlift

As you snowshoe through the forest, you are still close enough to the Norquay Ski Resort that you can look up and watch skiers zip past as you all make your way to the Mystic chairlift. It takes 1km to snowshoe to this point, but as you pass the Mystic chairlift, follow the green snowshoe trail sign into the dense Banff forest leaving Norquay behind.

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail begins below the Mystic chairlift at Mt. Norquay Ski Area
The snowshoe trail is below the Mystic Chairlift

The next 1.7km of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is an easy descent to the bottom of the 40 Mile Creek river valley. Be sure to consciously enjoy this easy downhill snowshoe through a beautiful evergreen forest as the Cascade Amphitheatre trail gets significantly harder afterwards.

Banff snowshoe trails are so beautiful in winter

You’ll know you are getting near 40 Mile Creek when you hear the sound of rushing water and the trees become extra-frosty due to the humidity. Watch for views of a snow-covered Mount Cascade through the trees on your right.

40 Mile Creek runs below Cascade Mountain, Mount Brewster and Mount Norquay
Frosty trees surround 40 Mile Creek

At 2.6km you reach a charming snow-covered bridge over Banff’s scenic 40 Mile Creek. The banks of 40 Mile Creek are covered with snow and ice while the current still flows surprisingly strong in winter.

A snow-covered bridge over 40 Mile Creek - snowshoe trails in Banff, Canada

Take a few moments to hydrate, have a high-energy snack and enjoy this stunning scenery only found in Banff in winter. Then, get ready to remove some layers as the hard snowshoeing is about to begin! The next 3.8km of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is all uphill – some of it very steep.

Looking for an outdoor workout in Banff? Try the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail

The first 1.5km of uphill snowshoeing takes you from 40 Mile Creek onto the western slopes of Cascade Mountain. You’ll snowshoe to a trail junction where you have the option to go right to continue the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail or to go left to Elk Lake.

Be prepared to remove your winter jacket on the difficult Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail in Banff

During the difficult snowshoeing on this leg, you’ll likely be breathing hard and staring at your snowshoes. If you need an excuse for a break, stop and appreciate the views of Mt. Norquay (2,522m), Mt. Louis (2,682m) and Mt. Brewster (2,859m) through the trees.

The Cascade Mountain hiking trail in winter is fun to snowshoe

Turn right at the Elk Lake trail junction to start the final 2.3km uphill leg of the Cascade Amphitheater snowshoe trail. The relentless steep snowshoe trail continues with a series of switchbacks further up Cascade Mountain.

best snowshoeing trails Banff - Cascade Amphitheatre trail

The evergreen forest becomes more sparse allowing more frequent views of the surrounding Banff Rocky Mountains, including the beautiful valley between Cascade Mountain and Mt. Brewster.

The views of Mt. Brewster are excellent from the Cascade Mountain trail in winter

At 6.1km the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail finally levels off, the trees get thicker and the snow gets deeper. Smile – the hard snowshoeing is over! Take this final 400m to catch your breath and congratulate yourself for a job well done!

Banff has some difficult snowshoe trails like Cascade Amphitheatre

This hard Banff snowshoe trail ends as you emerge from the forest into a clearing where the majesty of Cascade Mountain is on full display. The snow-covered folds in the mountainside lead upwards to the summit of Cascade Mountain, which towers nearly 900m overhead at 2,998m above sea level. From this vantage-point, you’ll enjoy 180 degrees of incredible Banff winter scenery. Enjoy it – you deserve it!

Banff snowshoeing on Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail

Cascade Amphitheatre– Winter Hike or Snowshoe?

Most people think of Cascade Amphitheatre in winter as a snowshoe trail, but it’s also possible to do it as a winter hike. So… is it better to do the Cascade Amphitheatre trail as a snowshoe or as a winter hike? This is a tough question to answer as both methods of exploring the western slopes of Cascade Mountain in winter are very enjoyable, but each has its pros and cons.

Use microspikes for winter hiking in Banff
Cascade Amphitheatre with microspikes

Overall, I’d recommend doing the Cascade Amphitheatre as a snowshoe trail. The Cascade snowshoe trail isn’t as well-traveled as some of the super-popular snowshoe trails around Banff. We’ve winter hiked Cascade Amphitheatre with microspikes on and we found it a bit harder as the snow wasn’t hard-packed and our feet were sinking in the snow a bit.

We recommend snowshoes for the Banff Cascade Amphitheatre in winter

Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail Stats

How Long is the Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail?

The Cascade Amphitheatre trail runs from the lower slopes of Mt. Norquay down to the banks of 40 Mile Creek, then up to the western tree-line of Cascade Mountain. The total there-and-back distance of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is 12.8km (6.4km one-way).

The Cascade Amphitheatre trail distance is 12.8km

How Steep is the Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail?

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail has a unique “V-shaped” elevation profile.

Over the first 2.7km you’ll enjoy an easy downhill snowshoe from the Mt. Norquay parking lot to the 40 Mile Creek. Along this stretch you’ll lose 117m of altitude.

Norquay snowshoe trails in Banff, Canada

The final 3.7km of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is a consistent uphill slog from 40 Mile Creek to a meadow in front of the Cascade Mountain amphitheater. Over this stretch you’ll gain 560m of altitude for an average trail slope of 15%. This is a difficult Banff snowshoe trail and you’ll need to be in decent shape and have traction devices for your feet to complete this leg.

Cascade Amphitheatre is one of the challenging Banff snowshoe trails

Combining the challenging uphill snowshoe to the Cascade Amphitheatre and the short uphill leg on the way back from 40 Mile Creek to the Mt. Norquay parking lot, the total elevation gain on this difficult Banff snowshoe trail is 885m.

How Hard is the Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail?

We do a lot of snowshoeing in Banff and Kananaskis, but we really worked up a sweat snowshoeing to the Cascade Amphitheatre.

The Cascade Amphitheatre trail on Cascade Mountain, Banff is challenging
It’s -5C, but I’m too hot for a toque, gloves and jacket!

By way of comparison, the ever-popular Chester Lake snowshoe trail in Kananaskis is a challenging trail for most. The Chester Lake snowshoe has 459m of total elevation gain over 8.5km, while Cascade Amphitheatre gains 885m of elevation over 12.8km.

If you can easily do the Chester Lake snowshoe, then you can likely also enjoy the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail.

winter hiking Banff on Cascade Mountain

Due to its distance and total elevation gain, we rate the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe as a difficult Banff snowshoe trail.

How Long Does It Take to Snowshoe Cascade Amphitheatre?

It should take a typical adult about 3.5 – 4 hours to complete the full there-and-back distance of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail in winter.

Visiting Banff, Canada in winter is very beautiful

Cascade Amphitheatre Trail Location

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail leaves from the Mt. Norquay ski resort within Banff National Park.

It’s an easy drive from Calgary to Mt. Norquay along the TransCanada Highway. After buying your Banff park pass, turn right towards Mt. Norquay on the the second Town of Banff exit. The scenic drive to Mt. Norquay should take you roughly 90 minutes from central Calgary.

Parking is free at Mt. Norquay and you will not need a skiing lift ticket to enjoy the Banff snowshoe trails in the area, but you will need to have a Banff park pass. Cars without valid park passes are often given tickets.

Trail sign below the Norquay Mystic chair showing the Cascade Amphitheatre trailhead

Directions from Calgary to Mt. Norquay Ski Resort

Cascade Amphitheatre Trailhead Location (behind the Mystic chairlift)

Cascade Amphitheatre Trail Map

Having a Cascade Amphitheatre map on your phone makes good sense. For our Banff snowshoe trail maps, we use and recommend the AllTrails app. Within the AllTrails app, the trail called “Cascade Amphitheatre Trail” correctly shows the winter snowshoeing trail. Be sure to download this Banff snowshoe map for offline use as you will not have a reliable cell signal anywhere along the trail.

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is reasonably easy to follow, even without a trail map. Within the Mt. Norquay ski resort simply follow the large green “Snowshoe Trail” signs. As you near the boundary of Mt. Norquay, you’ll start seeing the familiar brown rectangle Parks Canada trail signs which point the way. Sometimes the arrows on these signs are a bit hard to decipher, which makes the trail map on your phone useful.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

You likely won't need a Cascade Amphitheatre trail map as it is well signed

Snowshoeing Cascade Amphitheatre with Kids

Our kids (aged 5 & 7) are strong little hikers and snowshoers. Although they have (in summer) successfully completed the Wind Ridge hike in Kananaskis, which has very comparable distance and elevation stats, I’m not sure I’d bring my kids on the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail yet.

Our experience snowshoeing with kids is that they tend to get bored faster vs. summer hiking. This is likely because they can’t run wild and most of the things they find interesting on a hike (finding treasures etc.) are now buried under the snow.

There’s no physical reason why you can’t snowshoe Cascade Amphitheatre with kids. If your kids are older and/or strong snowshoers who can keep themselves entertained, you’ll enjoy a great day of challenging snowshoeing in Banff with your kids.

Another fun activity to do while snowshoeing Cascade Amphitheatre with kids is to look for animal tracks in the snow – find as many different kinds as you can and try to guess which animal made them.

If you are considering a visit to Banff with kids or pets, check out our recommendations for family-friendly-hotels in Banff and pet-friendly hotels in Banff.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

If you’d like to have lunch after your Cascade Mountain snowshoe, you’ll find some picnic tables on the north side of the Mt. Norquay Lodge. It’s a fun spot to sit and watch the hive of activity around the Lodge and the Cascade chairlift. If you’d like a hot lunch, you can go inside the Norquay Lodge and order something from their cafeteria.

The best place, of course, to stop for lunch or a break is at the Cascade Amphitheatre. It’s a hard snowshoe to the top and the views of Cascade Mountain are truly incredible. Reward yourself with a break surrounded by beautiful Banff winter scenery.

Banff snowshoe trails from Norquay Ski Resort - Cascade Amphitheatre Trail

There are no picnic tables or benches on the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail, so a winter picnic blanket is a nice treat if you have room in your pack. We always seem to forget ours and we end up standing…

Cascade Amphitheatre Trail Safety

Banff Wildlife Safety

In the dead of winter, the bears around Banff should be hibernating (be careful in early winter or early spring though!) But that’s not a reason to let your guard down as wolves, cougars, elk, etc. still provide a safety risk to Banff visitors.

Although the most vicious animal we saw on this Banff snowshoe trail was a squirrel, I had read online reports of cougar tracks near the trail recently. It only takes a few minutes to learn about wildlife safety in Banff National Park.

Norquay snowshoeing trails - Cascade Amphitheatre trail

Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail Report

It’s always a good idea to check the Cascade Amphitheatre trail conditions before you leave home. Parks Canada doesn’t publish a Cascade Amphitheatre trail report, but you can read recent reviews on AllTrails to get a sense for current trail conditions.

Parks Canada doesn't publish a Cascade Amphitheatre trail report

Cascade Amphitheatre Avalanche Risk

The main reason to snowshoe to the amphitheatre on Cascade Mountain is the incredible alpine scenery at the meadow. The peak of Cascade Mountain looms nearly 900m overhead with rugged mountain walls all around. Being at the intersection of the treeline and the alpine level of Mount Cascade has a flip-side though – avalanche danger.

The risk of a Banff avalanche increases above the treeline into the alpine zone

We highly recommend consulting the Banff Avalanche Bulletin published by Parks Canada before you go.

We are not avalanche experts, so please educate yourself and make smart decisions while enjoying the beauty of Cascade Mountain in winter.

Cascade Amphitheatre Snowshoe Trail Logistics

  • Snowshoe rentals are available in the North American Lodge (near the Norquay Tubing area)

  • There are toilets located inside the Cascade Lodge in the main area of the Mt. Norquay ski resort.

  • There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your water bottles or hydration packs before you leave. Drinks are available for purchase inside the Norquay Lodge.

  • Dogs are allowed on-leash.

  • The Cascade Amphitheatre trail is not a Banff fat bike trail. Fat biking is not allowed.
A tree branch frames a woman snowshoeing in Banff National Park

What to Bring for Snowshoeing in Banff

When attempting a difficult Banff snowshoe trail, it’s essential to dress properly in layers. The uphill sections of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail are really hard work, so you’ll get hot and will start to sweat.

A proper base layer needs to effectively wick that moisture away from your skin. If the sweat remains on your skin, the cold wind will evaporate it, cooling you quickly which could be dangerous.

What to wear on Banff snowshoe trails - dress in layers

You’ll probably start putting your layers back on very shortly after arriving at the Cascade Mountain meadow. Your internal body heat will drop and you’ll start to feel cold fast.

We recommend learning about dressing in layers before you enjoy any snowshoe trails in Banff. Make sure you have a good daybag to store your unused layers in.

Cascade Amphitheatre Foot Traction Recommendations

The uphill sections of the Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail can be very steep in spots. If you wish to attempt this difficult Banff snowshoe trail, you will need some form of traction device on your feet.

Snowshoes for Cascade Mountain

If you are going to snowshoe up Cascade Mountain, make sure you have multiple crampons underneath your snowshoes – some on the front toe and a pair under your heel. Also, if possible, look for a pair of snowshoes with double-ratchet bindings and avoid snowshoes with any form of buckle bindings – they tend to come undone, which gets annoying quickly.

We prefer snowshoes vs microspikes on the steep Cascade Amphitheatre winter trail in Banff National Park

Shop for snowshoes

Cascade Mountain Winter Hike Traction Devices

If you are going to winter hike to the Cascade Amphitheatre you will need some form of traction device on your feet.

We own and highly recommend Kahtoola MICROspikes. Look at the steel spikes on the bottom of the Kahtoola MICROspikes and you’ll see why we love these winter traction devices so much. They are a scaled-down recreational version of the crampons you’ll see on mountain expeditions.

micro spikes are better than yaktrax for a difficult Banff winter hike

Yaktrax are another popular multi-purpose traction device used around Banff for winter walking or running. They are popular as they are very comfortable for walking on winter hikes or snow-covered walking trails in Canmore or Banff. The lack of spikes makes them comfortable to walk on, but they are not great for ice walking.

Shop for traction devices

Trekking Poles

No matter which traction device you use for your feet, you should consider using trekking poles to help your balance. We’ve tried trekking poles and to be honest, we don’t like them nor use them, but we seem to be in the minority. Trekking poles are widely used around Banff and Kananaskis in winter.

It makes sense… winter hiking on snow or ice in the mountains is often very slippery and trekking poles add two more points of contact with the ground, thus greatly reducing your odds of slipping.

Shop for trekking poles

Snowshoeing in Banff in winter is so beautiful

The Cascade Amphitheatre snowshoe trail is a difficult Banff snowshoe trail, but it has a really excellent reward. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Interested in other winter trails around Banff and Kananaskis? See our list of Easy Kananaskis Snowshoe Trails and Easy Winter Hikes around Banff

Visiting Banff in Winter

Winter Activities in Banff and Area

Banff Planning Resources

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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.