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Hidden Lake Trail – Banff National Park

If you are looking for a very scenic, yet less busy Lake Louise hiking trail, why not try the Hidden Lake hike? The Hidden Lake trail offers a pleasant walk to an alpine lake through a mixed evergreen forest with wonderful views of the surrounding Canadian Rockies.

One of the best hikes in Banff, the Hidden Lake trail also offers brilliant golden needles in fall to complement the already stunning scenery around this remote lake in Banff National Park.

A golden larch tree in front of Hidden Lake in Banff, Canada

Hidden Lake Trail – Quick Details

Trailhead: Hidden Lake trailhead

Distance: 

  • 16.6 km out and back (non-guided hike)
  • 10.6 km (for guided conservation hikes)

Elevation: 

  • 670 m elevation gain (non-guided hike)
  • 375 m elevation gain (for guided conservation hikes)

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Westslope Cutthroat Trout Conservation

Hidden Lake is a beautiful mountain lake in Banff which is at the heart of an inspiring conservation success story. Since the Westslope Cutthroat Trout were designated a Threatened species in 2013, Parks Canada has been working diligently to save this important fish species. As you will learn via modern interpretive signage along the way, Hidden Lake plays an important role in the conservation of the Westslope Cutthroat Trout.

A sign about Westslope Cutthroat Trout on the Hidden Lake hiking trail

Hidden Lake Hike Highlights

The Hidden Lake hike begins at the Skoki parking lot, near the Lake Louise Ski Resort. The first 3 km of the Hidden Lake hike is along a service road. As you might expect, hiking along a gravel service road isn’t the best hiking in the world, but for most hikers on their way to Hidden Lake, it’s a means to an end.

We were very fortunate to have enjoyed the Hidden Lake hike as a guided Parks Canada hike. Not only did we have the company of an amazing Parks Canada interpretive guide, but we also got to take a shuttle bus, allowing us to skip the 3 km service road. Read on for more information about Parks Canada guided conservation hikes below.

The Hidden Lake guided tour shuttle bus

After the wonderful Parks Canada shuttle bus ride, we began our hike to Hidden Lake along a wide gravel road. Pika Peak (3,053 m) and Ptarmigan Peak (3,035 m) are visible straight ahead. These majestic Banff mountain peaks sit immediately behind Hidden Lake and will be a near constant companion during your hike.

a group of hikers on a guided tour to Hidden Lake in Banff, Canada

The Hidden Lake trail shares the same hiking trail as the Skoki Lodge trail for a while. This portion of the Hidden Lake trail is a fun walk along the bottom of the back bowls of the Lake Louise Ski Resort, taking you past the Ptarmigan Quad chairlift and the Larch Express chairlift. It’s always fun to look up at the bare ski runs in the summertime.

As typical while hiking in Banff National Park, it always pays to stop every now and then to look around you. If you look behind you at the 0.3 km mark you’ll be treated to a great view of the Victoria Glacier and Saddleback Mountain (home to another of our favourite larch hikes around Lake Louise).

A view of Victoria Glacier from the Hidden Lake guided hike

At this stage of the Hidden Lake trail you’ll be hiking along a wide trail through a forest of primarily spruce and fir trees, with a carpet of moss and colourful shrubs. You’ll cross Corral Creek a few times on simple wooden bridges. If you are hiking to Hidden Lake in the fall, you’ll start to see golden larch trees on Whitehorn Mountain (2,637 m) to your left.

the larch trees on whitehorn mountain are a golden color in september

At the 1.4 km mark of the Hidden Lake trail you’ll walk through your first stand of larch trees. It’s a small patch of larch trees, but it’s a taste of things to come.

800 m later Mount Richardson (3,086 m) becomes visible next to Pika Peak as you enter a meadow. Corral Creek is especially scenic as it runs through this clearing.

The next clearing features more larch trees and a nice view of Redoubt Mountain (2,902 m) on the right. As you cross Corral Creek on a wooden bridge, take a moment to look back towards Lake Louise for a great view of Mount Temple (3,544 m) – the highest mountain in the Lake Louise area.

a bridge over Corral Creek, Banff

At the 3.7 km mark, you’ll reach the “Halfway Hut”, which used to be used as accommodations for skiers making their way from the Lake Louise train station to Skoki Lodge. There’s an outhouse here, but if you walk a few minutes more there’s a ‘nicer’ outhouse in the campground. This is the point where the Hidden Lake hike and the Skoki Lodge trail diverge.

The halfway hut on the Hidden Lake trail, Banff

There’s a surprisingly nice three-sided interpretive sign about the Westslope Cutthroat Trout here. It’s a real good news story, so if you have the time take a moment to read about it.

In addition to the the ‘nicer’ outhouse, the Hidden Lake backcountry campground (SK5) offers a few picnic tables surrounded by larch trees. You’ll also enjoy a great view of Pika Peak and Ptarmigan Peak.

The final stretch to Hidden Lake is up a moderately steep hill. At this altitude, the trees are thinning a bit, allowing excellent views of the surrounding mountains. This is another great spot to look behind you for a great view of the Corral Creek river valley. In fall, you’ll be amazed at the number of golden larch trees in this valley.

a vista of golden larches on the Hidden Lake hike in Banff, Canada

You’ll arrive at Hidden Lake after 5.2 km of hiking. It’s a dramatic setting for this medium sized Banff lake, with Mount Richardson, Pika Peak and Ptarmigan Peak soaring directly overhead behind the water. Larch trees hug the shores of Hidden Lake, making this an especially nice place to have a picnic lunch in fall.

Hidden Lake sits below Ptarmigan Peak in Banff National Park, Canada

Parks Canada Guided Conservation Hikes to Hidden Lake

One day we were browsing the Parks Canada Reservation Service looking for bus tickets to go hiking at Lake O’Hara, when we noticed there were a few spots open on the guided hike to Hidden Lake. We eagerly signed up!

af amily on a guided hike to Hidden Lake crosses a bridge over Corral Creek

As mentioned, one of the big benefits of the guided conservation hikes to Hidden Lake is the ability to take a shuttle ride and skip the first 3 km of road hiking. Several hikers in our group were older hikers who signed up simply because the shorter distance made Hidden Lake accessible to them. But the shuttle ride is just the beginning of the benefits.

Our Parks Canada guide was a very friendly, energetic guide full of interesting information about the local geography, flora and fauna. I came prepared with several questions about Banff National Park and our guide was able to answer them all. She was also very patient with our kids, who wanted to talk to her constantly.

a Parks Canada guide gives a talk on the Hidden Lake guided hike

One of the reasons Parks Canada runs guided conservation hikes to Hidden Lake is to educate the public about the successful reintroduction of Westslope Cutthroat Trout to Hidden Lake. Our guide was a wealth of useful information about the Westslope Cutthroat Trout conservation program. I’m grateful that our family got to learn about the steps Parks Canada are taking to help protect our species at risk.

Parks Canada changes the locations of their guided conservation hikes from year-to-year, but due to the Westslope Cutthroat Trout conservation program, we suspect the guided hike to Hidden Lake will be offered for a few more years at least.

a Banff National Park guide gives an educational talk on the Hidden Lake guided hike

Reservations for Parks Canada guided conservation hikes are mandatory. You can reserve your spot using the Parks Canada Reservation Service around mid-April each year. Alternatively, you can also call 1-877-RESERVE to reserve your guided conservation hikes.

Hidden Lake Larch Trees

With just the right altitude and environment, the Lake Louise area is the perfect habitat for larch trees to grow. There are many extremely popular Lake Louise larch tree hikes, such as the Larch Valley hike, but due to a small parking lot, it is often hard to figure out how to get to Moraine Lake for the hike.

a cluster of larch trees on the hidden lake trail in various stages of turning golden

Located near the Lake Louise Ski Resort, on the opposite side of the Bow Valley, the Hidden Lake trail is a great opportunity to enjoy golden larch trees in fall without the crowds found around Moraine Lake and Lake Louise.

a young hiker walks towards a stand of golden larch trees near Hidden Lake, Banff

The larch trees begin to appear around 3 km before Hidden Lake. They are thin at first, but soon you start seeing them everywhere, from around the hiking trail, to up on the slopes of the surrounding mountains. The hike culminates with many beautiful golden larch trees, hugging the shores of Hidden Lake. With the already stunning backdrop for Hidden Lake, the larches make it that much better.

a large forest of yellow lach trees near the Lake Louise Ski Resort

For additional fall hiking ideas around Banff, check out our list of great larch tree hikes in Alberta.

Hidden Lake Trailhead

The Hidden Lake trailhead is at the end of the Skoki Lodge access road. The hiking trail begins at the far end of the large parking lot, heading in a northeasterly direction.

It’s a short 40 minute drive from the Town of Banff to the Skoki Lodge access road, and 2 hours from downtown Calgary. If you’d like to make your scenic drive to Lake Louise a little more interesting and educational, we recommend you pick up the GPS activated Banff audio guide by Gypsy Tours.

Corral Creek flows below two mountain peaks in Banff

Note, that Google Maps does not recognize the Skoki Lodge access road. To get there, turn off the TransCanada Highway onto Whitehorn Drive towards the Lake Louise Ski Resort. It’s 1.7 km from the beginning of Whitehorn Drive to the turnoff for the Skoki Lodge access road. The access road is approximately halfway between the Bow Valley Parkway turnoff and the parking lot for the Lake Louise Ski Resort.

Get Directions to the Skoki Lodge access road turnoff.

Hidden Lake Trail Stats

How Long is the Hidden Lake Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Hidden Lake trail is 16.6 km (one-way distance of 8.3 km) from the Skoki Lodge parking lot all the way to Hidden Lake. If you are on one of the Parks Canada guided hikes, the round-trip distance drops to 10.6 km.

the Hidden Lake hiking trail leads hikers into a mixed evergreen forest

How Hard is the Hike to Hidden Lake?

Due to the length and elevation gain, we rate the Hidden Lake trail as a “moderate hike” in Banff National Park.

The hike to Hidden Lake is too long to be called an easy Banff hike, but we feel it’s on the easy end of the moderate hikes. Over the one-way distance of 8.3 km, you’ll gain approximately 600 m in altitude, for an average slope 7.5% (meaning you only gain 75 m of elevation for every 1 km hiked). Anything less than a 10% slope is quite manageable for regular hikers in the Canadian Rockies, as long as you can handle the round-trip distance.

the hidden lake hiking trail passes golden larches on the way to the lakeshore

Note: Parks Canada rates the Hidden Lake hike as difficult.

How Long Does the Hidden Lake Hike Take?

The AllTrails app states that it takes the typical adult around 5.25 hours to complete the full Hidden Lake hike. Based on our typical hiking speed of 5 km/h, it would take us roughly 3.5 hours if we had done the hike independently.

Given we were on a Parks Canada guided conservation hike, our group stopped along the way to listen to our guide give a talk. Our 10.6 km guided hike took over 5 hours to complete.

a family enjoys the Hidden Lake trail in fall

Hidden Lake Trail Map

Although the hiking trail to Hidden Lake is well marked, there are quite a few trail junctions along the way. It never hurts to have the Hidden Lake trail map downloaded into your AllTrails app just in case you are uncertain of which direction to go.

To find the Hidden Lake trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Hidden Lake Trail“. Be sure to download the Banff National Park version as there are several other Hidden Lake hikes in AllTrails for various locations around the world. With unreliable cell service around the outskirts of the Lake Louise ski resort, be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.

a half-turned larch tree in Banff

A paper map isn’t required for this Banff hike, but if you are like us 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 Hidden Lake trail fits into the Lake Louise area.

The Hidden Lake trail maps are found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” Gem Trek map.

a forest in front of Pika Peak, Banff

Hiking the Hidden Lake Trail with Kids

If you are visiting Banff with kids, and are regular hikers, Hidden Lake is a good option for a long family hike. With the long, steady climb, this hike may be challenging for some kids, but it’s very rewarding to make it to the top.

two children ask their guide questions on the Hidden Lake guided hike

We took our kids (7 and 9 years old) on the Parks Canada guided conservation hike and they absolutely loved it. They had no issue with the distance or elevation gain, but perhaps that was because they were glued to our guide the entire time.

two kids on the guided hike to Hidden Lake talk to their interpretive guide

We haven’t (yet) hiked the non-guided hike to Hidden Lake, but our family recently hiked the Lake O’Brien trail, which is a longer and steeper hike.

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

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

You could stop and use the picnic table at the Hidden Lake backcountry campground for lunch, but if you can wait, the best place to stop for lunch is when you reach the shores of Hidden Lake. With three mountain peaks towering overhead, and golden larch trees in fall, the scenery around Hidden Lake is breathtaking.

Hidden Lake Hiking Safety

There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Hidden Lake hiking trail, but there are a few safety items to be aware of.

The Lake Louise area is prime grizzly bear habitat, which is one reason why the Lake Louise summer gondola is so popular. The Hidden Lake trail ventures into the heart of the grizzly bear habitat, and our guide said she sees them on a regular basis along this trail.

a grizzly bear in Banff National Park
(Picture not from Hidden Lake Trail)

It’s very important you educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park and make sure you are carrying bear spray (in a holster, not inside your bag), hiking in a group (if possible) 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 recommend you check the Parks Canada Hidden Lake trail report before leaving home or your Banff hotel. The Parks Canada trail reports identify trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

a hiking trail through an evergreen forest

Hidden Lake Trail Logistics

  • On-leash dogs are allowed on the Hidden Lake hike.
  • Mountain bikes are not allowed.
  • There are two outhouses along the trail to Hidden Lake.
  • 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 Lake Louise 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.
larch trees in a meadow along the Hidden Creek trail

What to Bring for Hiking the Hidden Lake 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 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 Hidden Lake trail 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.

  • Bring several layers of clothing with you. The Hidden Lake trail is in-and-out of the sun quite a bit and can be quite cool when walking near Corral Creek. In addition, you must always count on rapidly changing weather in the mountains.

    While 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. For fall hiking, a toque, mitts, and warmer jacket are never a bad idea.

  • We don’t often use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
a hiker wears warm clothing and a day bag on the hike to Hidden Lake in Banff

Hidden Lake Footwear Recommendation

The Healy Pass trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but there area few rocky sections and a few muddy sections. I wouldn’t recommend bringing your city shoes, but you can easily get by with a good pair of hiking shoes.

One of the best hikes in Lake Louise, the Hidden Lake hike is a rewarding hike to a beautiful Banff Lake, especially in fall with golden larch trees.

Planning Your Visit to Lake Louise