With the leaves turning, temperatures cooling and the crowds dispersing, Fall is arguably the best time of year to hit the hiking trails before the deep freeze of a full on Canadian winter arrives. There is no more spectacular place to appreciate “WonderFall” hiking than in Banff National Park. Here are my 5 best day hikes and top tips to help you make the most of the last few weeks of the hiking season before the snow settles!
To read more, please check out https://blog.liveoutthere.com/out-there/top-5-fall-hikes-banff-national-park/
The May long weekend getaway is a Canadian Institution, when holiday deprived Canucks load up their vehicles with as much stuff as possible and hit the road.
However, anyone who has lived in the Lower Mainland on Canada’s West Coast for at least one summer knows that the key to an enjoyable extended weekend break is long term planning! If you to wait to the week before, the campsites are full, the ferry reservation spots are gone and the hotel front desk can only provide a sympathetic ear rather than a room. Don’t be caught with your proverbial pants down – click here to find out my favourite 5 long weekend getaways to help you plan ahead!
Old Man Winter has a bad rep for delivering endless months of bitter cold, icy roads and countless hours of back breaking snow shoveling. However hidden behind these sinister acts, the old man is an artistic genius who has the power to create wintry magic and wonder with just the merest hint of an arctic outflow.
Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is a fantastic example of winter’s creativity at work. Situated just a 40 minute drive along the scenic Highway 1A from Banff the canyon makes for a relatively easy winter half day hike.
The Hike (5.2 km return, 135m elevation gain)
Starting from the car park you head over the small Johnston Creek bridge past the Johnston Canyon Resort and into the forest. With glimpses of the surrounding snow-clad peaks the trail follows the canyon below to the Lower Falls 1 km away.
The best view of the Lower Falls can be seen by ducking your head and taking a quick trip through the natural cave to a cosy viewing platform!
The trail then involves a few switchbacks before you reach a breathtaking raised iron catwalk set deep in the canyon. Mind your head on the overhanging rocks!
With snaps safely secured head towards Johnston Canyon’s Mona Lisa – the Upper Falls. While views are great from the platform, you can demonstrate your climbing skills and head down onto the snow to get a closer look at the mini icebergs in the plunge pool. You may be competing for space though with ice climbers as this is a popular climbing spot!
- Bring ice cleats as the hike can be very icy! Our Yaktraxs worked well, while snowshoes are another option.
- Wrap up warm -the canyon is cold as it gets very little direct sunlight and remember cold airs sinks!
- Arrive early to get a parking spot as the hike can get pretty busy. If you don’t have your own vehicle Discover Banff Tours offers an “Icewalk” package with Banff hotel pick up and drop off.
Hopefully you will leave Johnston Canyon knowing that despite his dark acts Old Man Winter knows how to create a gallery for all to enjoy.
1.Lake Agnes Teahouse (10km return, 700m elevation gain)
Lake Louise has a deserved reputation for having the best hiking in the Canadian Rockies. This is due not only to the stunning alpine scenery but also because you can have a fresh cup of tea and a homemade slice of cake in the Lake Agnes Teahouse at the top of your trek! Just remember to bring cash to avoid disappointment. The hike offers fantastic add ons, our favourite being the Little Beehive for iconic Rockies views.
2.Bow Glacier Falls (9km, 155m)
This is an ROI hike –it offers great returns for relatively little effort! Starting from the turquoise waters of Bow Lake on the picturesque Icefields Parkway the hike makes its way through sub-alpine forest, alongside canyons and past glaciers before arriving at the dramatic Bow Glacier Falls, the source of the Bow River which flows all the way to Hudson Bay some 2,500 kms away!
3. Plain of Six Glaciers (14km, 645m)
This hike is perfect for those who want to get close to more glaciers than you can count on one hand. The hike starts by following the Lake Louise shoreline before climbing towards the famous Victoria Glacier. Acoustics are provided by the sound of sun-triggered avalanches, views of which can be safely enjoyed with a refreshment in hand courtesy of the local Teahouse. You can also bring your dog (must be kept on a lead though).
4.Sunshine Meadows (various trails, 150m)
If you want to hike among lush wildflowers and alpine lakes with minimal effort, then a shuttle ride up to Sunshine Meadows situated at 7,300 feet is perfect for you. Finish the day off at Trappers bar which serves hot food and importantly cool refreshments on the sun-baked patio with 360 degree mountain views.
5.The Larch Valley (12km, 725m)
Block off the last 2 weeks of September to enjoy one of the Canadian Rockies’ most treasured hikes – the Larch Valley. Starting at Moraine Lake and climbing through the sub-alpine forest, you will be rewarded with seeing the famous yellow larches against the snow-capped Ten Peaks.
The best places are always the ones that only the locals know about. Those secret spots that allow you to connect with a location at your own pace without a crowded tour bus in sight!
Johnson Lake is one of those local’s spots that is just a 15 minute drive from Downtown Banff. Tucked away down a 3km paved access road, Johnson Lake is often overlooked by its more accessible neighbours – Two Jacks Lake and Lake Minnewanka.
Beyond its 360 degree mountain vistas, Johnson Lake is popular amongst the locals for the diversity of outdoor activities it supports in all seasons!
Winter Snowshoeing & Skating
When the snow settles, the 2.5km circular walk around the lake makes for some ideal snowshoeing.
With a relatively gentle gradient and minimal elevation gain the terrain is family friendly, while the views of Mt Cascade and Mt Rundle are spectacular!
If skating is more your thing, the frozen lake offers some excellent free ice skating! Just check out how thick the ice is first though!
When the snow melts the circular trial makes for an excellent and easy short hike. You can even bring your dog (must be kept on a lead). Note mountain biking is prohibited.
You can show your true local’s knowledge by hunting for the Hermit of Inglismaldieè’s Lodge. Billy Carver built the cabin in 1910, living as a recluse for 27 years! There are no signs so it is a true treasure hunt! Hint: it’s on the south side of the lake!
Of all the lakes in Banff National Park, Johnson is the warmest for swimming, and our favourite “sport” of floating. However, be warned that even the locals turn up in their hundreds on a warm summer’s day so best to arrive early or ride your bike!
The summer also makes for some epic sunsets!
The changing colors of the trees make Johnson Lake an idyllic time to visit with your kayak, canoe or paddleboard in Fall!
Whatever the season, join the locals and plan a trip to Johnson Lake to capture a taste of Banff National Park!
If you are needing to get away from it all and escape the endless stream of emails, texts, status updates, tweets and WhatsApp messages then Emerald Lake is the perfect place!
Just a 20 minute drive off Highway 1 close to Field on the BC /Alberta border, Emerald Lake is hidden from the outside world by a cauldron of huge peaks.
Summer Day Visit
Emerald Lake is a great spot to visit for the day. You can hire a canoe or head off on one of many signed hiking trails. The most popular is a 5.5km circular hike around the lake which has less than 100m elevation gain.
Winter Lodge Stay
For those wanting to extend their time at this beautiful location you can always book a night or two at the Emerald Lake Lodge.
The rooms are super cosy and come with your own balcony and real fireplace! The good news is that the wood is delivered to your door so all you have to do is put down your glass of red and throw another log on the fire to keep it going! #ToughLife
The food served at the lodge is sensational with game meats being a particular strength. Also the buffet breakfast is something that should not be missed!
The Lake freezes in winter which makes for some fun cross country skiing, while the summer hiking trails become excellent snowshoe tracks.
With all that activity the Lodge offers an outdoor hot tub and fire pit to aid your recovery!
Emerald Lake is a magical destination any time of year – just make sure you remember your camera as you never know who you might meet!
Hi, my name is Molly the Dog and I am a guest blogger on West Coast Discovered. I was inspired by the twitter work of the Banff Squirrel to tell you about one of my favorite hikes in Banff, the Sundance Canyon trail.
As I don’t live in Banff, I am usually reliant on my human family to drive me to the Cave and Basin car park. I don’t mind riding in the trunk as I get more room that way to stretch out. I have heard it’s a good idea due to some complaining at the front of the car to get there reasonably early on a weekend as parking can be a bit harder to find!
- Half-day trip, allow 4 hours (the humans slow me down)
- Distance: 4.2 km one way to the start of the Canyon and then whatever you want to walk in the Sundance Canyon
- Moderate elevation gain: 145 m with a maximum elevation of 1545 m
This is one of my favorite hikes as it has lots of different highlights – many Rocky mountains, lakes, the Bow River, waterfalls and of course the Sundance Canyon!
- 0 km: You have two choices at the start of the hike, follow the pavement from the Cave on Basin centre, or take the more rustic trail from the base of the car park. I prefer the dirt path as it is better shaded and you are more likely to meet some horses from the Warner Stables – I love to track them! There is also a boardwalk for fishing and bird watching, where I have to be very quiet or I get told off! You might also get to meet some local residents, although I found the squirrels to be quite protective of their trees!
- After a 1km or so you end back on the pavement and follow the Bow River. This is my favorite part of the walk, not only for the stunning Rocky mountain scenery but because I can go for a quick dip in the glacially fed water to cool down while the humans take photos of the sharp peak of Mount Edith. Stand back when I get out though, I do like to dry off by soaking everyone within 6 feet of me! #MollyWaterBomb
- After 2.5km you head away from the river and start a gentle climb up to the Sundance Canyon about 1.8kms away. I spend most of this part of the route enjoying the smell of the wildflowers which line the banks! There are also some fancy pit washrooms and a picnic area for the humans.
- After 4.3km you will reach the start of the Sundance Canyon. There is an interesting sign that tells you about how it was formed. There is also a bike rack for those who don’t like putting their feet on the ground. After this the fun starts! You get to clamber up rock steps and explore the waterfalls of the canyon as well as cross a few wooden bridges.
- Sundance Canyon Trail Loop: After you have explored the canyon you can spin 180 degrees and head back the way you came or choose to carry on and complete a more challenging loop (makes the hike 12km all in) which leads to a ridge and then a walk back through the forest to join the main trail 3.3km out from the car park.
- Marsh Trail: To keep things interesting, I like to take this 1.6 km trail on the way back as it runs along the banks of the Bow River to the marsh and then turns right at a junction and crosses a dyke to return to the Cave and Basin parking lot. There is a small beach which is great place to take another dip and bark at passing canoes!
You also get 360 degree views of the Bow Valley from here too!
- Watch out for horse riders – they have their own separate trail but I don’t think they are as well trained as me! Never seen a horse do a high five or a spin for a biscuit!
- As a dog I have to be kept on a lead which is not great but I guess it stops me chasing squirrels or getting myself into trouble with a Grizzly bear!
- The Bow River is pretty cold – I reckon only dogs can handle it!
- There are a few bugs around given the proximity to the wetlands – bring spray but keep it away from me!
- The Cave and Basin had a good café selling ice cream #hint
Happy exploring my canine and non canine friends!
Molly the Dog