Lake Minnewanka is a very popular day use area in Banff National Park. There are many reasons to visit Lake Minnewanka including spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery, picnics, the Minnewanka Lake cruise, and boat & kayak rentals. But one of our favorite reasons to visit Lake Minnewanka is the highly scenic, easy Stewart Canyon hike.
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Stewart Canyon Hike Highlights
The walk to the Stewart Canyon trailhead is an enjoyable stroll along the shores of Lake Minnewanka. The first kilometre or so is along a paved trail through the day use area. This is the busiest part of Lake Minnewanka where all the tourist facilities are found.
It doesn’t take long to leave the crowds behind and start hiking through the forest. Once you hit the actual Lake Minnewanka hiking trail, the scenery is especially nice with the lake and distant mountain views on your right and a lush, mossy forest on your left.
The still waters of Lake Minnewanka eventually transition to the rapidly flowing waters of the Cascade River. Before long, you’ll be standing on a wooden bridge which spans the Stewart Canyon. Take the time to enjoy the views of Stewart Canyon in both directions from the bridge as they are both spectacular.
200m past the bridge you’ll leave the Lake Minnewanka hike and transition to the Stewart Canyon hiking trail. From this point, the scenery is especially beautiful.
The Stewart Canyon hike runs through a lush forest while following the Cascade River. The trail is often high above the rushing river below, offering excellent elevated views of the canyon. The forest floor is covered with an emerald moss, dappled with wildflowers. In June, there are clusters of delicate purple calypso orchids sitting in the dappled sunlight.
Your hike into Stewart Canyon ends when you reach the confluence of another mountain stream flowing into the Cascade River. The riverbank has lots of fallen trees and large rocks to sit on, making it an ideal spot to stop and soak in the incredible Rocky Mountain scenery.
Stewart Canyon Hike Stats
Distance: The round-trip distance of the Stewart Canyon hiking trail is 7.6km.
Elevation Gain: The elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Stewart Canyon hike is 277m.
Difficulty: The first 1.7km stretch of the Stewart Canyon trail follows the Lake Minnewanka lakeshore. As with most lakeshore trails, this walking path is pretty flat, with the exception of one short, but somewhat steep hill.
As you leave the Lake Minnewanka hike and enter Stewart Canyon, the trail transitions to a gentle, steady incline. Over the next 2.1km you’ll only gain approximately 80m of total elevation. Most people in reasonable condition should be able to hike the Stewart Canyon Trail without issue.
We rate the Stewart Canyon hike as “easy”.
Duration: It should take a typical adult about 75-90 minutes to hike the full round-trip distance of the Lake Minnewanka Stewart Canyon hike.
We recently did this hike with our kids (aged 4 & 6), so we were a bit slower, completing the full distance in 3 hours.
Stewart Canyon Trail Location
How to Get from Banff to Stewart Canyon Trail: The Stewart Canyon trailhead is located in the Lake Minnewanka Loop area, approximately 15km NE of the Town of Banff. You have several options to get there:
- Drive: It’s a 19-minute drive from the Banff town centre. The Lake Minnewanka parking lot is huge, but this is one of the most popular places to visit in Banff, so it can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Arrive early and avoid peak hours if possible.
- Bus: The Roam Route #6 bus travels from the Banff townsite to the Lake Minnewanka parking lot. Learn more about the Roam bus in Getting Around Banff Without a Car.
- Cycling: The Lake Minnewanka Loop is a popular cycling route within Banff National Park. It’s an easy 3km ride along the Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail from the Banff townsite to the Cascade Ponds Connector, which is at the beginning of the Minnewanka Loop. From here it’s a 13km ride to the Lake Minnewanka parking lot. Cycling is a great option if you want to see more of Banff National Park while getting some bonus exercise.
To get to the Stewart Canyon Trailhead, you’ll need to begin along the Lake Minnewanka Hike.
Stewart Canyon Banff National Park Hiking Maps
Despite using Banff hiking trails all my life, I still have this horrible habit of taking wrong turns on hikes. Thankfully, I can now use hiking apps to ensure that I stay on the proper hiking trails. Although it’s relatively easy to find and stay on the Stewart Canyon hiking trail, it’s best to have a digital or paper map with you.
If you’d like a digital map of the hike along with the ability to track your stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.), I use and recommend the AllTrails hiking app. To find the Stewart Canyon map, simply search for “Stewart Canyon Trail”. You won’t get any cell service in the canyon, so be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
If paper maps are more your style, I highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. They are the gold standard for Banff hiking maps and we own the entire set. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which I love looking at for hiking inspiration. The Stewart Canyon trail map appears in the map entitled, “Banff & Mount Assiniboine”.
You can order one off Amazon before your trip, or you can pick one up in Banff as they are widely available.
Hiking Stewart Canyon with Kids
Taking a day-trip to Lake Minnewanka is one of the popular things to do in Banff National Park with kids. In addition to hiking, there are many fun kid-friendly activities at Lake Minnewanka, such as the Lake Minnewanka Cruise, boat rentals or simply a fun family picnic.
The Stewart Canyon hike is lots of fun for kids. The first leg along the shores of Lake Minnewanka offers kids lots of opportunities to get near the water to throw or skip rocks into the water.
Just before the transition to the Stewart Canyon trail, there’s a fun little bridge which crosses the Cascade River. Adults will appreciate the beautiful canyon scenery, but kids will simply love the opportunity to cross such a cool bridge.
The Stewart Canyon trail itself is through a lush, deep forest which runs parallel to the Stewart Canyon. Kids love the opportunity to hike through a true forest, as there are new discoveries and adventures around every corner. To keep this trail beautiful for everyone, please make sure they don’t pick flowers, walk off the trail, etc.
One of the things which makes the Stewart Canyon hike so beautiful is the elevated views of the Cascade River down below in the canyon. There’s plenty of room to safely walk on the trail without issue, but be aware there are no safety rails to protect against falling into the canyon.
The Stewart Canyon hike is pretty easy, so most kids who get a normal amount of activity should be able to hike the full length. The first time we let our kids hike to the top themselves, they were 4 & 6 and they made it without any issue.
Note, there are several toilets in the Lake Minnewanka day use area, but once you start the hike there are no toilets anywhere along this trail. This is a popular trail with very few places to duck behind a tree, so make sure everyone goes before they start the hike.
If you are considering hiking Stewart Canyon with a baby, we do not recommend a stroller. The Lake Minnewanka Lakeshore Trail is paved & stroller-friendly for the first 1km, but then transitions to a dirt trail with larger rocks and tree roots protruding. A baby carrier is a much better option for hiking with a baby.
We have some great resources for hiking with kids on our Family Can Travel site. Check out our best tips for hiking with kids, the best hiking gear for kids and the 9 Best Hiking Songs for Your Family.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The Lake Minnewanka day use area has tons of picnic tables, but due to the popularity of the area, they fill up quickly.
Instead of using the Lake Minnewanka picnic tables, we recommend having a picnic at the end of the trail. The Stewart Canyon trail ends at the confluence of a mountain stream flowing into the Cascade River. There are lots of fallen trees and big rocks in this area which are perfect to sit and enjoy a well-deserved break.
The Lake Minnewanka day use area is close enough to the Banff Townsite that you could easily hike Stewart Creek in the morning and then go back into town for a well-deserved lunch.
Stewart Canyon Trail Safety
Lake Minnewanka is next door to one of the prime grizzly bear habitats in Banff National Park. As a result, Parks Canada imposes Lake Minnewanka seasonal trail restrictions from July 10-September 15 every year. These include:
- Hikers must travel in groups of 4 or more and must carry bear spray
- Dogs are not permitted beyond the Stewart Canyon bridge
- No cycling permitted
We love bears and would hate for any harm to come to them or you, so please take the time to read Safe Travel in Bear Country. Don’t be fooled that this hike is too busy to see any bears; bears can be anywhere at any time.
This is one of the rare hikes in the area where you will see dogs on leash, likely as it’s so popular that people feel social pressure to comply with the law.
We recommend checking the Banff National Park Trail Conditions report before you head out.
Stewart Canyon Summit Trail Logistics
- There are several washrooms in the Lake Minnewanka day use area. There’s a large building in the parking lot and another facility near the picnic areas along the Lake Minnewanka hiking trail. There are no toilets on the trail, so make sure everyone goes before they begin.
- The Black Anchor snack shop is found along the lakefront trail. It’s a nice place to grab a hot dog or snack before or after your hike.
- You’ll find lots of picnic tables and benches along the Lake Minnewanka Trail next to the lakeshore. If the tables are all taken, you can put down a picnic blanket in the large open meadow in the picnic area.
- There are no drinking water facilities, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.
- Dogs are allowed on-leash (with seasonal restrictions, per above)
- Lake Minnewanka is a very popular Banff attraction. To avoid the crowds, try to visit early in the day on a weekday if possible.
What to Bring While Hiking Stewart Creek Trail
You don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Banff. Our list of hiking essentials contains the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
The Stewart Canyon trail surface starts out paved, but soon transitions to a traditional dirt mountain hiking trail with protruding rocks and tree roots. It’s possible to do this hike in normal shoes, but you’ll be better off in a proper pair of hiking shoes.