Some of the best hikes in Banff National Park are to some of it’s most famous lakes. On any given day, you’ll see hordes of happy hikers on the trails to Agnes Lake, Boom Lake, the Consolations Lakes, etc. If you’d like to enjoy the beauty of a Banff lake without all the crowds, why not try this easy Banff hike which visits two Banff Lakes in under 5 km.
Copper Lake and Smith Lake sit along the lower northeastern slopes of Storm Mountain, providing a resting place for water destined for the Bow River on its way to the Hudson Bay. While it’s true that Copper Lake and Smith Lake lack the ‘wow!” factor of some of the more famous lakes in Banff, they are both very nice lakes.
If, like us, you enjoy getting away from the crowds, the two-lake hike to Smith and Copper Lakes give a nice feeling of being away from it all.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Copper Lake and Smith Lake Hike in Banff:
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Copper Lake & Smith Lake Trails– Quick Details
Trailhead: Twin Lakes Trailhead
Distance: 4.6 km out and back
Elevation: 280 m elevation gain
Copper Lake and Smith Lake Hike Highlights
The trailhead for this easy Banff hike to two lakes begins on the same trail as the Twin Lakes trail. Take a moment to look to your left to enjoy an excellent view of Castle Mountain, one of the most majestic mountains in Banff National Park.
Almost immediately, you’ll cross a long wooden bridge over a river which originates upstream at Arnica Lake, Vista Lake and a variety of other mountain streams along Storm Mountain. Just beyond the bridge, the hiking trail arrives at a T-intersection. The Copper Lake trail is to the left, while the trail to the right goes to Smith Lake, the Twin Lakes and even to Shadow Lake (via the Gibbon Pass Trail).
Copper Lake Trail
We turned left to hike the Copper Lake trail first. The Copper Lake hiking trail becomes a single-track trail through a charming evergreen forest with a lush carpet of moss. The trail is well groomed with few rocks or roots to contend with.
If you look up through the trees straight ahead during the first section of the Copper Lake hiking trail you’ll get a great view of Eisenhower Peak (2,752 m).
The Copper Lake trail leads hikers through a stretch of forest with many young pine and spruce trees, with more mature trees standing guard behind. The forest is not very dense, which unfortunately means you can hear traffic from the nearby TransCanada Highway. The highway traffic noise is certainly noticeable, but it’s not bad enough to ruin the experience.
After 0.8 km of either flat or downhill hiking, you’ll arrive at the shores of Copper Lake. This lesser-known Banff lake is quite beautiful with crystal clear water. A shallow lake, you can see plenty of sunken boulders and fallen tree trunks within the clear waters of Copper Lake.
It’s an equally quick and easy hike from Copper Lake back to the trail junction where you can continue hiking the Smith Lake trail.
Smith Lake Trail
The first 100 m or so of the Smith Lake hike is along the Twin Lakes trail (which also continues on to Shadow Lake). Watch for a Parks Canada trail sign on the left-hand side of the trail which identifies where the Smith Lakes hike officially begins.
If you’d like to hike to the Twin Lakes, we also recommend the Upper Twin Lake Trail from Arnica Lake. Hiking to Arnica Lake then on to the Twin Lakes is a scenic hike, with plenty of larch trees in the fall
After turning left off the Twin Lakes trail, you’ll enter a very beautiful evergreen forest with a lush moss floor. Unlike the Copper Lake trail, the trail to Smith Lake is not groomed, so you’ll need to deal with sections of rocks and roots protruding from the ground.
The first stretch of the hike to Smith Lake begins on a flat stretch of trail, following along the bottom of a hill on the left.
After 500 m of hiking the Smith Lake trail you begin climbing a hill on the opposite side of the little valley. Keep an eye on the trail for puff balls! I’ve loved stepping on puff balls as a kid, and decades later, I still get great joy from puff balls.
In addition to the puff balls, there are a wide variety of interesting mushrooms growing in the dark and moist conditions along the forest floor. The forest is much thicker here and the trees do a great job of blocking the noise from the nearby TransCanada Highway.
At the 0.9 km mark of the Smith Lake hike you’ll arrive at a small lake within a small meadow. Take a moment to enjoy the small lake, but it is not Smith Lake, so you’ll need to continue hiking.
Beyond the small lake, the hiking trail is flat for a little bit until you turn a corner and begin the final climb to Smith Lake. After 300 m you reach the top of the hill and Smith Lake comes into view below.
Smith Lake is a gorgeous Banff lake which has the feel of being in a bowl – almost like a lake in a caldera at the top of a volcano. Surrounded on all sides by evergreen trees, the beautiful waters of Smith Lake are well protected from the wind, giving you an excellent opportunity for great reflection pictures.
From this vantage point atop the ridge, you’ll see Copper Mountain (2,795 m) peeking out over the hills at the back of Smith Lake.
To get to the shores of Smith Lake, follow the trail along the top of the ridge for a bit. At the next clearing, you’ll get a great view of Storm Mountain (3,100 m) on the right.
The hiking trail turns sharply right and descends rather steeply all the way to the shores of Smith Lake. This section of trail can be quite slippery, so be sure to have hiking shoes with good grips.
As you descend into the bowl which holds Smith Lake, try yelling “HELLO!” as loud as you can. This area is great for echos! In-between our loud echo calls, we were lucky enough to hear a woodpecker in the nearby forest – who knows, perhaps it was trying to get in on the fun?
Smith Lake is a beautiful tree-lined Banff lake. There’s a small clearing next to the water at the bottom of the trail where you can stop and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. If you are very quiet, you can hear the stream flowing into the west side of Smith Lake.
Copper Lake and Smith Lake Trailhead
The Copper Lake and Smith Lake trails both leave from a parking lot off Highway 93S. You get to the Copper Lake and Smith Lake trailhead by taking TransCanada Highway 1 west to the exit for Castle Junction/Radium Hot Springs. Turn left at the ramp towards Radium. Shortly after turning left, you’ll see a small sign for “Twin Lakes”. Turn left again to follow the sign onto a small road that leads to the parking lot.
Copper Lake & Smith Lake Hike Stats
How Long is the Copper Lake / Smith Lake Hike?
Copper Lake is 1.4 km out and back from the parking lot. Smith Lake trail is 3.2 km out and back from the parking lot.
The total distance visiting both lakes is approximately 4.6 km and 280 m elevation gain.
How Hard is the Hike to Copper Lake and Smith Lake?
We rate hiking to Copper Lake and Smith Lake as “easy”.
The distance hiking to both of these Banff lakes is under 5 km. The Copper Lake hike is relatively flat. The Smith Lake hike has some small uphill climbs, but they are short and easy to manage.
The descent down to Smith Lake is steep, but again, it’s short and manageable.
Hiking to both of these Banff lakes is an easy hike.
How Long Does the Smith Lake and Copper Lake Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult around 1-2 hours to hike to both lakes. We recently did the Smith Lake and Copper Lake hike and it took us 2.5 hours. We hiked this with our two kids, so there was plenty of time for stopping to inspect mushrooms and throw rocks into the lake. We were enjoying a warm autumn day, so we also had a very length lunch on the shores of Smith Lake.
Copper Lake & Smith Lake Trail Map
The trail to both lakes is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the AllTrails app while hiking Smith Lake trail and Copper Lake trail, but the hiking trails are easy enough to follow and there’s really only one way to go.
To find the trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Copper Lake and Smith Lake”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you can’t always count on having a cell signal in Banff National Park.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
Hiking Copper Lake and Smith Lake Trails with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, these are two easy Banff lakes you can enjoy without the crowds.
We recently did this hike with our two kids (8 and 6 years old) and while this was a pretty easy hike for them, it was the perfect Sunday afternoon outing. They enjoyed the easy trail and stopping at the two lakes. We did this hike mid-October and were treated with a warm sunny day.
The only real challenge along the hike was the steep section down to Smith Lake, but it’s short and even the kids managed it.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
We recommend doing Copper Lake first, as it’s closer and the trail is less enjoyable with the highway traffic. Smith Lake is worth a stop to enjoy a snack or lunch.
Truthfully, this hike is so short that you may not need to plan a break…
Copper Lake and Smith Lake Hiking Safety
There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Smith Lake and Copper Lake hiking trails. The trail to Copper Lake is well maintained and easy to follow. The trail to Smith Lake has a few more roots, but again they are easy to navigate the trail is easy to follow.
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 Smith Lake trail report (under Bow Valley/Castle Junction Area) for the trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Copper Lake and Smith Lake Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on both trails.
- Mountain biking is not allowed on the trails.
- There are no toilets in the parking lot.
- Fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- You will likely have cell service for the duration of your hike, but don’t count on having a cell signal for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking the Copper Lake/Smith Lake Trail
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 – Though these hikes are pretty easy, 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 pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Smith Lake Trail Footwear Recommendation
The Smith Lake trail has sections covered in roots or rocks. You could do this hike in regular running shoes, but if the roots are wet and the trail is muddy you’ll be more comfortable in normal hiking shoes.
Other Easy Banff Hikes
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.