Rockbound Lake Hike

Author: Dan Brewer

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Castle Mountain is one of my favourite mountains in Banff National Park. It’s just so stately and majestic, my eyes are drawn to it any time I’m near. The Rockbound Lake hike is an excellent Banff hiking trail which takes you to two alpine lakes on the far side of Castle Mountain. The Rockbound Lake trail is enjoyable all hiking season long, but comes alive in September when the larch trees turn golden.

An old Rockbound Lake trail sign is nailed to a tree in Banff National Park.

Rockbound Lake Hike – Quick Details

Trailhead: Rockbound Lake trailhead

Distance: 18 km out and back

Elevation: 934 m elevation gain

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Rockbound Lake Hike Highlights

The Rockbound Lake hiking trail begins in a lush evergreen forest, with a carpet of emerald green moss. The hiking trail is nice and wide, where two people can hike easily side-by-side, making it a good Banff hike with a group. The trail is well groomed as well, with hardly any rocks and roots to contend with.

Dan Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, begins his hike to Rockbound Lake.

After 400 m of hiking you’ll arrive at a trail junction. The trail for the short, but very enjoyable Silverton Falls hike goes to the right. If you have the time and energy after hiking to Rockbound Lake, we highly recommend adding on the short hike to Silverton Falls. For little extra effort, it’s a chance to see some of the nicest waterfalls in Banff.

a young girl sits on a rock admiring the Silverton Falls after a short family hike in Banff National Park.
Our daughter at Silverton Falls.

Beyond the Silverton Falls trail junction, the Rockbound Lake trail starts uphill. The hiking trail snakes up the side of Castle Mountain, such that the trail is always on a side slope. I like hiking in side slope as you get nice vistas on the downward side, yet up close views of the forest floor on the uphill side.

At the 1.3 km mark of the Rockbound Lake hike, there’s a break in the trees, affording an excellent view of Copper Mountain (2,795 m). In late September you can see a stand of golden larch trees near her tree line.

400 m later, the alpine zone of Castle Mountain (2,766 m) makes her first appearance through the trees ahead. As mentioned, Castle Mountain is one of my favourite mountains in Banff National Park, so it’s always a thrill to see her dramatic vertical cliffs up close. As we stopped to enjoy the view, I could hear a busy woodpecker in the trees not far away.

the dramatic vertical cliffs of Castle Mountain as seen from the Rockbound Lake hiking trail in Banff National Park.
Castle Mountain.

After 2.7 km of hiking to Rockbound Lake, the hiking trail turns sharply towards the east. Although the forest is thick and remains mostly the same throughout this first section of the Rockbound Lake hike, I find it fun to focus on the small treasures in the forest. There’s many beautiful flowers, mushrooms, lichen etc. growing in the forest to enjoy.

The dense forest starts to open up a little bit at the 4 km mark of the Rockbound Lake hike. A few grey jays fly back and forth in between some pine trees, which start to appear along the trail.

Shortly after, the Rockbound Lake trail gets quite close to the eastern edge of the towering cliffs of Castle Mountain. Although you can’t really see the mountain through the trees, you’ll know you are close by the presence of giant boulders in the forest floor, which have fallen off the mountain over the millennia.

Dan Brewer, of TravelBanffCanada.com, hikes past large boulders on his hike to Rockbound Lake.

5.1 km into the Rockbound lake hike, the trail turns sharply to the left and begins marching straight towards the two Banff lakes at our destination – Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake.

As we begin this final stretch towards Rockbound Lake, it’s fun to watch ecosystem change as we enter the giant mountain amphitheater. The plants on the forest floor are different, with more shrubs, grasses and spindly plants than before.

The Rockbound Lake hiking trail has lots of fall colors in September.

The incredible views really start around the 5.5 km mark of the Rockbound Lake hike, when we get our first amazing view of the interior cliffs of Castle Mountain. In fall, the shrubs along the trail here are beautifully coloured.

Bright red fire weed grows alongside the Rockbound Lake trail in September.

Helene Ridge makes her first appearance through the trees on the right at the 5.7 km mark. We’re now truly entering this majestic mountain amphitheater in Banff National Park.

As you hike towards Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake, take a moment to appreciate all the hard work by the Parks Canada trails crew. There are flagstones and little wooden bridges over creeks and muddy parts – a significant amount of work to make your hike to Rockbound Lake more pleasant.

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, walks over a nice bridge on the Rockbound Lake hike.

It was along this section of hiking trail that we got to witness a male Spruce Grouse perform a mating display for a seeming uninterested female nearby. It was like something out of a National Geographic documentary – amazing! We didn’t stay long as we didn’t want to kill the mood he was trying to create…

A male Spruce Grouse in Banff, Canada performs a mating display for a nearby female.

At 6.3 km of the Rockbound Lake hike, you’ll stand on a hill, where you can see 270° of mountains. You are almost surrounded by incredible Rocky Mountain scenery. All your hard work is starting to pay off. Castle Mountain really starts to become impressive along this stretch. Her black and copper coloured cliff walls shoot straight up in the air.

There’s a small spur trail at the 6.5 km mark where you can go see Silverton Creek, which is flowing way down in a valley below. It’s at this stage that the first larch tree appears next to the trail.

You’ll enter a large meadow at the 7 km mark of the Rockbound Lake trail. As you stand in the shadow of a massive cliff from Castle Mountain, you’ll notice that the number of larch trees is also starting to grow. (Larches aren’t just beautiful in fall – I really like their fluffy lime green needles in the summer too).

a larch tree with golden needles stands in front of Castle Mountain alongside the Rockbound Lake Trail.

The open meadow filled with larch trees continues for several hundred meters. At the 8 km mark of the Rockbound Lake hike, Tower Lake comes into view.

We hiked to Tower Lake on a dreary day in mid-September and it was still a stunning sight. Sitting at the base of a towering Castle Mountain cliff, rocks from alluvial fans flow into the lake, while golden larches sit along the lakeshore.

Tower Lake in fall - Banff National Park.

As you hike along the shores of Tower Lake towards Rockbound Lake, you’ll notice that Helena Ridge is suddenly a lot taller, rockier and dramatic too.

The trail between Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake can be very steep, but it’s quite short. There’s a short break in the trees, due to a rockslide, which opens up incredible views of Tower Lake, Castle Mountain and countless peaks of the Canadian Rockies down the Bow Valley towards the Town of Banff.

Tower Lake, as seen through the trees on the hike to  Rockbound Lake.

When the steep trail from Tower Lake ends, you’ll see multiple hiking trails in many directions. Note that most of them have a fallen tree over them, signifying that they are closed. Take the unblocked trail to the right to continue hiking on to Rockbound Lake.

It doesn’t take long to emerge from the large stand of larch trees. When you do, prepare to be floored by some incredible Banff National Park scenery. The beautiful Rockbound Lake sits at the bottom of a massive amphitheater, with towering mountains hugging her on all sides.

If you are lucky enough to hike to Rockbound Lake in larch season, the fall colors of the golden larch trees just makes Rockbound Lake that much more special.

The green waters of Rockbound Lake in Banff, Canada with Castle Mountain in the background.

There’s a big meadow around Rockbound Lake, affording hikers amazing views all around. If you keep walking away from Castle Mountain, the hiking trail will reappear. If you have the energy, you can follow this trail up to a Rockbound Lake Viewpoint. The Rockbound viewpoint trail isn’t very long (~ 300-400 m), but it’s very, very steep gaining 100 m of elevation.

Rockbound Lake and Castle Mountain as seen from the hiking trail viewpoint.
The Rockbound Lake viewpoint.

The views from the Rockbound Lake viewpoint are very impressive, but we don’t recommend you hike up to it unless you are a strong mountain hiker with experience hiking on loose scree.

Celine Brewer carefully descends the very steep Rockbound Lake viewpoint trail.

As you can imagine, the views from the Rockbound Lake viewpoint are incredible. You can see both Rockbound Lake and Tower Lake, along with an amazing vista of the full length of Castle Mountain – it was just as impressive as I’d hoped. The views of the Canadian Rockies don’t end at Castle Mountain – they continue down the Bow Valley for miles. Pilot Mountain (2,935 m) is especially impressive, with its pyramid peak next to castle mountain.

Read More

We like the Rockbound Lake Trail so much, we included it in our 7 Day Banff Itinerary for Hikers.

Rockbound Lake Trailhead

The Lake Louise parking lot is 25 minutes from Banff and 1 hour 45 minutes from downtown Calgary. Take the TransCanada Highway 1 west, then exit onto the Bow Valley Parkway just past the Town of Banff turnoff. You’ll pass the very popular Johnston Canyon hike along the way.

The small Rockbound Lake parking lot will fill up fast in the summer. If you are visiting Banff National Park in the summer, we recommend that you arrive before 9 am even on a weekday.

The Rockbound Lake trailhead sign shows a distance of 8.4 km from the parking lot to the lake.

Read More

The Bow Valley Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in Banff National Park. It’s also a vital wildlife corridor, so it is subject to many closures. Learn more in our post all about the Bow Valley Parkway.

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Rockbound Lake Hike Stats

How Long is the Rockbound Lake Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Rockbound Lake trail is 18 km (one-way distance of 9 km) from the parking lot just off the Bow Valley Parkway.

It’s about 0.5 km less if you skip the steep hike up to the Rockbound Lake viewpoint at the end of the hike.

Celine Brewer enjoys views of Castle Mountain and beyond while hiking to Rockbound Lake in Banff National Park.

How Hard is the Hike to Rockbound Lake?

Due to the length and elevation gain, we rate the Rockbound Lake hike as “challenging”.

With a round-trip distance of 18 km and 934 m of elevation gain, not every hiker will be able to manage the Rockbound Lake hike.

It is a pretty consistent 10% grade on the way up, but if you are experienced enough to handle a difficult Banff hike like this, you probably won’t mind the uphill.

Celine Brewer hikes a steep section of trail between Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake.
The section between Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake is quite steep.

How Long Does the Rockbound Lake Hike Take?

It should take a typical adult 5-7 hours to hike to Rockbound Lake. We did this hike without our kids and it took us just under 5 hours including time at Tower Lake, Rockbound Lake, the viewpoint and stopping for pictures along the way.

Celine Brewer, of Travel Banff Canada, admires a golden larch tree on the Rockbound Lake trail in Banff, Canada.

Rockbound Lake Trail Map

The Rockbound Lake hike is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use Rockbound Lake trail map on the Alltrails app, but the trail is well marked and popular enough that you’ll have plenty of people to follow.

Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

a Banff hiking sign in front of  golden larch trees.

A paper map isn’t required for this popular Banff hiking trail, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.

The Rockbound Lake trail map is found in the “Banff & Mount Assiniboine Map” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The best place to stop for lunch on this hike is along the shores of Rockbound Lake. There’s lot of flat rocks to sit on next to the lake where you can enjoy the amazing views you’ve earned.

The meadows next to Rockbound Lake make it a good spot to stop for lunch.
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Rockbound Lake Hiking Safety

There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Rockbound Lake hiking trail. The trail is reasonably well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the end.

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 while hiking in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.

We recommend you check the Parks Canada trail report for the current Rockbound Lake trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

an alpine creek runs through the Rockbound Lake Trail in Banff.

Rockbound Lake Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Rockbound Lake hiking trail, but mountain bikes are not. There are toilets in the Rockbound Lake parking lot, but none on the hiking trail.

You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.

What to Bring for Hiking to Rockbound Lake

This is a longer Banff hike so you should be prepared with layers and proper hiking gear. 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.

Dan Brewer carries a day bag full of hiking gear while hiking to Rockbound Lake.

The Rockbound Lake trail is a challenging hike and we especially recommend bringing these items:

Bear spray is a must. Canisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.

Water – the Rockbound Lake 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 hard 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 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, pack a down jacket or a warm soft shell jacket.

Dan Brewer, of TravelBanffCanada.com, is dressed for a hike on a cool fall day in Banff National Park.

We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.

Rockbound Lake Footwear Recommendation

The Rockbound Lake trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but given there are sections covered in roots we recommend hiking shoes or hiking boots.

Celine Brewer walks along the shores of Tower Lake in Banff National Park.

A wonderful hike up the lower slopes of Castle Mountain to a natural amphitheater with two alpine lakes.

Banff Attractions Near the Rockbound Lake Trail

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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.