The Canadian Rockies are a hiker’s paradise. Whether you like alpine lakes, mountain tops, canyons with waterfalls, or glaciers, we’ve got you covered.
This post features the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies located in Kananaskis Country, Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, and Kootenay National Park. You can find hikes here from easy to difficult, varying lengths and times no matter your fitness level.
I’ve been hiking in the Canadian Rockies for a decade, so it’s a challenging task to narrow it down with hundreds of trails. I’m featuring my favourite six hikes to get you started.
Get ready to be mesmerized by the landscape and colours of the Canadian Rockies!
Best hikes in the Canadian Rockies
1. Galatea Lakes
Galatea Lakes in Kananaskis Country is just an hour from Calgary, the closest big city. It’s the perfect hike on a hot summer day as you mostly hike sheltered in the forest and visit three stunning lakes.
The trail starts flat, crossing a few wooden bridges where you can cool off in the Galatea Creek. After an easy 6.2 km, you reach Lilian Lake, a quiet emerald lake with a backcountry campground.
Only 1.5km (0.9 mile) of uphill with one steep rocky section, and you reach Lower Galatea Lake. Most hikers enjoy the view, have a snack and return, but I highly recommend hiking a bit further. Hike around the lake and across the small hill, about 1.5 km (0.9 mile) more, and you arrive at Upper Galatea Lake, another stunning lake which you will probably have all to yourself. Swimming in the alpine lakes in the Rockies is always very refreshing, and I highly recommend it.
Overall it’s an 18 km (11 mile) roundtrip hike with moderate difficulty. If you’d like an easier lake hike that is family-friendly, Grassi Lakes near Canmore is amazing, featuring two emerald lakes, and it’s only 4 km (2.5 mile) roundtrip.
2. Sulphur Mountain
Sulphur Mountain is a classic hike in Banff National Park. If you ever saw any pictures of Banff, chances are you saw Sulphur Mountain. It’s mostly popular due to Gondola leading to the top, but you can also take the more adventurous route and hike up.
The trailhead is located at the Upper Hot Springs. Through a series of switchbacks with continual incline and an occasional view of Rundle Mountain, you reach the top of Sulphur Mountain in about two hours. The 5.5 km long trail ends at the upper gondola terminal at 2,300 meters.
You can visit a café, restaurant, gift shop, or an interpretative display inside the terminal. There’s an observation deck providing a breathtaking panoramic view of the peaks around the town of Banff and Bow Valley. If you’d like to go a bit further, you can take the 1 km long boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak, an old weather station.
The great thing about Sulphur Mountain is that you can hike up the mountain year-round; wear microspikes in winter due to possible icy conditions. But the trail is usually in good condition and well-trodden; it’s a favourite among locals looking for a day hike near Calgary.
READ MORE: Local tips on what to do in Banff
TOUR IDEA: Sulphur Mountain Highline trek
A guided hike along a little known trail offering a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding mountains.
3. Johnston Canyon
A great family-friendly hike in Banff National Park is Johnston Canyon. It features several cascading waterfalls while walking through a deep canyon.
The trailhead is located along the Bow Valley Parkway, a great road for wildlife watching.
Johnston Canyon is an extremely popular hike, so aim to arrive in the morning, so you end up waiting in line to see the waterfalls. A short paved 1.2 km (0.7 mile) path leads to Lower Falls, following the Johnston Creek with small cascading waterfalls. Once you arrive at Lower Falls, take the path through a rock tunnel to see the falls up close.
Then, continue 1.5 km (0.9 mile) on the slightly uphill dirt trail to Upper Falls. You can see the giant falls from two viewpoints: from the catwalk on the bottom or viewpoint from the top.
Only a few people continue beyond the falls. 3.3 km (2 miles) further up, the trail leads to a big meadow with five bubbling and colourful mineral pools called Ink Pots surrounded by mountain peaks. The Johnston Canyon hike to Ink Pots and back is 12 km (7.5 miles) roundtrip and very much worth it.
TOUR IDEA: Johnston Canyon Icewalk
Join a professional guide on a hike along the canyon’s steel walkways, to visit the beautiful lower and upper waterfalls, and learn how this majestic canyon was formed.
4. Wilcox Pass
Wilcox Pass Hike in Jasper National Park is one of the highlights when travelling on Icefields Parkway. Icefields Parkway connects Banff and Jasper National Parks, and it’s considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
Apart from many lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers, there are many hikes along the Icefields Parkway. My favourite one is Wilcox Pass due to its length and incredible views. While the entire hike is 8 km (5 miles) one-way going from A to B, you need to self-organize a shuttle to pick you up; you don’t have to do it all.
The beginning of the trail climbs through the trees, but once you clear the treeline, the views open up in every direction. You see the Icefields Parkway cutting through the Rockies with the giant Athabasca Glacier across the road. I only went about 4 km (2.5 miles) one-way and then returned the same way.
If that’s not enough, you can chill in the famous red chairs and watch bighorn sheep that like to frequent the area.
TOUR IDEA: Athabasca Glacier Half-Day Tour
A unique exploration of the Athabasca Glacier on this 4 hour hike across rock, snow and ice with an experienced guide. Click to learn more and book your spot.
5. Iceline Trail
Iceline Trail is my absolute favourite hike in the Rockies. While Yoho National Park is small, it has a lot of natural wonders, like the Takakkaw Falls, the 2nd highest waterfall in Canada.
Iceline Trail hike starts by the Whiskey Jack Hostel and climbs steeply through the trees until you reach the treeline. The hardest part is over, and from now on, you have the most beautiful views in every direction.
On your right is Takakkaw Falls, 254 meters (833 ft) high, and as a reward for hiking the steep trail, you get a unique view of the glacier feeding the falls. The slightly inclined trail continues to a small pristine lake surrounded by glaciers. Some hikers continue to Stanley Mitchell Hut overnight, but we continue towards Celeste Lake Trail instead.
You leave the rocky trail behind and enter a lush green forest with many mushrooms growing. With a view of Yoho Glacier in the distance, you hike downhill until you reach emerald lakes. The trail flattens, you pass the massive Laughing Falls, and then see the Takakkaw Falls again.
The whole Iceline Trail loop is 18.3 km (11.3 miles) long, and due to the distance, I would rate it difficult, but there are no dangerous parts on the trail.
6. Floe Lake
Kootenay National Park is the least visited in the Rockies because most of it is inaccessible. However, Floe Lake is a little-known hike with a well-trodden trail.
You probably find the least people here from all hikes in this post. The trailhead is along the Banff-Windermere Highway, and the parking lot is clearly signed.
The Floe Lake hike starts with crossing the turquoise Kootenay River. Due to the wildfires years ago, many trees burnt out, but the trail is slowly gaining some elevation on an easy dirt trail. Shortly before reaching the lake, the trail steepens significantly, and you know you’re nearing the end.
After 11 km (6.8 miles), you see the gorgeous Floe Lake with the giant wall in the background.
Tips for hiking in the Canadian Rockies
- For visiting national parks in Canada, you need to purchase a park pass, either daily or yearly. And for Kananaskis Country, where Galatea Lakes hike is located, you need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. Visiting Kananaskis Country is free if you visit on Wilderness Wednesdays, the first Wednesday of every month.
- Before heading out, make sure to check out trail conditions. Some trails might close due to avalanche danger or bear presence. For trails in national parks, see Parks Canada, and for Kananaskis Country, see Alberta Parks.
- When hiking in the Canadian Rockies, you’re in bear habitat. Parks Canada and Alberta Parks strongly recommend carrying a bear spray within arm’s reach, learn how to use it, and make noise while hiking, so you don’t surprise any bears.
What do you think about hiking in the Canadian Rockies? Which hike would you choose first? If you only have time for a few hikes, I recommend Galatea Lakes, Sulphur Mountain, and Iceline Trail, and you check all the boxes – alpine lakes, mountain top, glaciers, and waterfalls.
Have fun and happy hiking!