The Healy Pass hike is one of the most beautiful larch hikes in Banff National Park. The larch forest on the Healy Pass trail is one of the best and largest we’ve ever seen, and you’ll enjoy incredible views of it throughout this rewarding hike.
The best part about the Healy Pass hike? Unlike many of the other top-tier Banff larch hikes, where it’s near impossible to find parking, the Healy Pass trail has a massive parking lot. This advantage virtually assures hikers the ability to see the amazing larch trees.
Healy Pass Trail – Quick Details
Trailhead: Healy Pass Trailhead
Distance: 18.3 km out and back
Elevation: 890 m elevation gain
Healy Pass Hike in Banff
- Healy Pass Trail – Quick Details
- Healy Pass Hike Highlights
- Healy Pass Trailhead
- Healy Pass Trail Stats
- Healy Pass Trail Map
- Hiking the Healy Pass Trail with Kids
- Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
- Healy Pass Hiking Safety
- Healy Pass Trail Logistics
- What to Bring for Hiking the Healy Pass Trail
- Healy Pass Footwear Recommendation
- Other Banff Larch Hikes
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Healy Pass Hike Highlights
The Healy Pass trail begins by crossing a bridge behind the Sunshine Village gondola building. The hiking trail begins on a gravel dirt road, making it nice for hiking with a group. The open spaces allow enough sunlight in for deciduous trees and shrubs to grow along the side.
The forest is quite dense, but you’ll enjoy occasional views of a towering rock cliff from Mt. Bourgeau through the trees. In the morning, the cliff face is nicely lit up by the soft morning sun. In the fall, look for bright yellow shrubs growing in the track of an avalanche.
There’s a trail junction for Sunshine Village after hiking 1 km on the Healy Pass trail. There are no mountain bikes allowed on the Healy Pass hike after this point.
Beyond the junction the trail narrows to 2 people wide, which is still nice for walking with friends or family. The trail stays this wide for most of the way to Healy Pass.
The Healy Pass hike has a few short steep spots through the forest, but for the most part it’s a steady, but very manageable incline. The hiking trail runs through a beautiful forest of fir trees, with yellow shrubs overtop a carpet of moss. It’s a very atmospheric forest with a lot of charm.
You’ll cross a bridge over Healy Creek at the 3.2 km mark of the hike. Take a moment to look at the very interesting layered rock underneath the surface of the water. If you are hiking to Healy Pass in the morning, you might be lucky enough to see sunlight hitting the top of Wawa Ridge on the right.
Beyond the bridge, you’ll cross a series of small bridges over little creeks, alternating between forest and open meadows. While hiking through the meadows, you’ll enjoy unimpeded views of the ridges on both sides. While in the forest, look and listen for Banff wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a grouse crossing the trail and hear a woodpecker pecking a tree not far from the trail.
At the 5.7 km mark of the Healy Pass hike, you’ll reach the Healy Creek backcountry campground (the ‘E5’ campground). And then 500 m later, you’ll reach a trail junction for Simpson Pass and Sunshine Village Ski Resort. Continue hiking straight ahead for Healy Pass, Egypt Lake and the E13 backcountry campground.
You’ll emerge from the evergreen forest at the 7.5 km mark and you’ll see the first larch trees of the Healy Pass trail. Although the larches are mixed with fir and spruce trees at this point, it marks the beginning of one of the largest stands of larch trees in Banff National Park.
Before long, you’ll cross a bridge over Healy Creek (which is just a babbling brook at this stage) and enter an expansive meadow filled with golden larch trees. With the soothing sound of the brook, a meadow filled with larches and The Monarch (2,904 m) mountain standing guard in the background, this could possibly be the most beautiful location in all of Banff National Park.
As you slowly wander through the stand of golden larches, you’ll cross the little mountain stream a few times. As the trail continues to climb and wind around corners, the views of the Banff National Park mountains continues to change.
After hiking 8.5 km on the Healy Pass Trail, we entered a meadow and suddenly could see larch trees everywhere in every direction for miles. I literally stopped in my tracks and said, “Wow!”. I’m a local and have been enjoying Banff larch hikes for years, but I was that blown away by the incredible fall scenery along the Healy Pass hike.
As you near the top of the Healy Pass trail, you can see a few small lakes below Monarch Ramparts (2,393 m), surrounded by golden larch trees. If you look behind you, you’ll see the true extent of the larch forest, stretching all the way to the alpine zone of The Monarch.
The sheer size of the larch forest prompted a debate between us over which Banff hike had the most larch trees – the Healy Pass hike or the Larch Valley hike. It’s a close call, but the extent of the Healy Creek larch forest just may make it the winner.
When you reach the point in the Healy Pass hike when the trees are small and stunted from the wind, you’ll know you are near the top of Healy Pass. Less trees mean better views, so hike slowly and soak in the splendor of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park.
You’ll reach the top of the Healy Creek Pass after 9.7 km of hiking. From this vantage point atop the pass, you’ll enjoy incredible views of Banff National Park from all directions. The views behind you of the path you just hiked are breathtaking, but you’ll be enjoying these on your way back to the parking lot. Be sure to seek out the distinctive summit of Mount Assiniboine in the distance, poking its head above a mountain with a flat top.
Looking northwest beyond the Healy Creek Pass, you’ll marvel at the stunning views of the Canadian Rockies and the ongoing extent of the larch forest, which seems to continue for miles. From here you can clearly see The Sphinx (2,487 m), Scarab Peak (2,918 m) and Pharoah Peaks (2,711 m). With so many Egyptian named mountains, it goes to follow the lakes that rest at the bottom of these peaks are called Scarab Lake, Mummy Lake and Egypt Lake!
If you properly prepare and have the time and energy, you can extend your hike all the way down to Egypt Lake. This add-on hike increases the overall distance to 24.8 km and 1,345 m elevation gain. Due to the distance, the Egypt Lake Trail is typically done as a multi-day hike, with an overnight at the Egypt Lake campground (“E15”) or Egypt Lake shelter.
The Healy Pass Trail earned a spot – now check out the rest of the Best Hikes in Banff National Park.
Healy Pass Trailhead
The Healy Pass trailhead is found behind the Sunshine Village lower gondola building. Simply walk west towards the VIP parking area and you’ll see the Healy Pass trail sign pointing the way.
It’s a short 20 minute drive from the Town of Banff to the lower Sunshine Village gondola terminal. As you drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway, watch for the Sunshine Village turnoff.
Being one of the most popular ski resorts in Banff National Park, Sunshine Village has a massive parking lot. In the summer, Sunshine Village operates the gondola to transport visitors to the ski area to enjoy hiking Sunshine Meadows (one of our favorite hiking experiences in Banff!). Despite how amazing Sunshine Meadows is, the parking lot will still be well below capacity, even on the busiest days.
Many of the most popular larch hikes in Banff National Park have limited parking, or require shuttle buses to get to, so the sheer size of the parking lot ensures that everyone will get to enjoy the Healy Pass hike.
If you come back in winter, be sure to check out the best beginner ski trails at Sunshine Village.
Healy Pass Trail Stats
How Long is the Healy Pass Hike?
The round-trip distance of the Healy Pass hike is 18.3 km (one-way distance of 9.1 km) from the Sunshine Village parking lot all the way to Healy Pass.
How Hard is the Hike to Healy Pass?
Due to the length and elevation gain, we rate the Healy Pass hike as a “moderate-to-challenging hike”.
Looking purely at the stats for the Healy Pass trail (18.3 km and 890 m elevation gain), it sure looks like a difficult hike. But, we found the Healy Pass hike is easier than the numbers look.
The Healy Pass hiking trail has a steady, but manageable incline for the first 7.5 km, after which it transitions to a slightly steeper trail. It’s all uphill, but it’s never grueling.
With a starting elevation of 1,660 m above sea level and an ending elevation of 2,330 m, you end up 670 m higher than you began. Over the one-way distance of 9.1 km, this is an average slope of only 7.3% (meaning you only gain 73m of elevation for every 1 km hiked). That’s a pretty manageable slope for most hikers in the Canadian Rockies, as long as you can handle the round-trip distance.
How Long Does the Healy Pass Hike Take?
The AllTrails app states that it takes the typical adult around 6.5 hours to complete the Healy Pass trail. That must include time to stop and enjoy the epic Rocky Mountain scenery as that seems pretty long. One our most recent visit to Healy Pass, it took us 4 hours and 15 minutes to complete the hike (not including breaks).
Healy Pass Trail Map
The Healy Pass hike is easy to follow the entire distance to the top. If you are feeling uncertain, or simply like to track your hiking stats, you can use the AllTrails app while hiking to Healy Pass, but you likely won’t need it as the hiking trail is also well signed.
To find the Healy Pass trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Healy Pass Trail”. With unreliable cell service around the outskirts of the Sunshine Village ski resort, be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, but if you are like me and love looking at topographic hiking maps, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps.
I love looking at my Gem Trek hiking maps; they are exceptional 3D topographic maps which give an excellent overview of the mountains and hiking trails in the area. It really helps you understand how the Healy Pass trail fits into bigger picture.
The Healy Pass trail map is found in the Gem Trek map entitled, “Banff and Mount Assiniboine Map”.
Hiking the Healy Pass Trail with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, and are regular hikers, this is an good option for a long family hike. With the steady climb and a long stretch of forest without views, this hike may be challenging for some kids, but it’s very rewarding to make it to the top.
We haven’t (yet) hiked to Healy Pass with our kids (7 and 9 years old) yet, but they recently hiked the Lake O’Brien trail, which has nearly identical stats.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The absolute best place to stop for lunch is when you reach the top of Healy Pass, where you can enjoy the incredible views towards Egypt Lake. But, realistically you can stop anywhere in the vast meadow of the larches. There are plenty of spots to stop next to the creek and enjoy a well-deserved break.
Healy Pass Hiking Safety
There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Healy Pass hiking trail. The Healy Pass trail is well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the pass.
That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray (in a holster, not inside your bag), 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 and Lake Louise are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
We typically recommend you check the Parks Canada trail report for each hike, but in this case there is no published Healy Pass trail report. As a proxy, you could always look at the Bourgeau Lake trail report (this trail is one valley west of Healy Pass). The trail report will identify trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Healy Pass Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Healy Pass hike.
- You may ride your mountain bike for the first 1 km of this trail, but bikes are not allowed beyond. Given it’s such a small distance, you may as well leave your mountain bike at home.
- There are toilets in the main Sunshine Village building where you can buy tickets for Sunshine Meadows.
- Due to the distance, pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- Due to the proximity to the Sunshine Village ski resort, you may get pick up an occasional cell signal, but it’s very intermittent, so please don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking the Healy Pass Trail
Check out our list of Banff 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 we recommend bringing:
- 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 (not in your bag).
- Water – the Healy Pass hike is a consistent uphill climb and on a hot summer day you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a long Banff hike.
- We don’t often use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The Healy Pass trail runs through a valley for a good stretch, keeping you in the shade with much cooler temperatures. In addition, you must always count on rapidly changing weather in the mountains.
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. For fall hiking, a toque, mitts, and jacket may be necessary.
Healy Pass Footwear Recommendation
The Healy Pass trail is in decent shape for most of its length, with a few rocks and roots along the way. You can easily get by with a good pair of hiking shoes.
The Healy Pass hike is one of the best larch hikes in Banff. With a massive parking lot, you are guaranteed a parking spot, even in the peak of larch season.