A group of hikers stop and chat with the Canadian Rockies in the distance
There are so many incredible hiking trails dotted across the Rocky Mountains that the biggest challenge can be choosing which route you want to walk along. The Canadian Rockies are a walker’s paradise as not only can you enjoy out-of-this-world views and scenery, but you can see some amazing wildlife too.
It doesn’t matter if you are on one of our Canada fly drive holidays and are staying in the likes of Banff for a day or two or are staying in the Rockies for longer, there will be a hike that is perfect for your needs.
Our guide takes a look at some of the classic hikes that you can enjoy in the Canadian Rockies and shares some useful information about each hike.
Why hike in the Canadian Rockies?
Hiking in the Canadian Rockies is on the bucket list for many and there are so many reasons to hike in the area. Here are a few things you can look forward to on a walking holiday in the region.
From its rugged mountain peaks and green forests to its turquoise alpine lakes and meadows, the Canadian Rockies offers natural beauty that you’ll never forget. You’ll want to bring your camera along with you to capture some of the incredible sites that you will see.
The Canadian Rockies are home to a variety of animals and although some are very elusive, if you are hiking one of the many trails, you are likely to come across lots of wildlife. Black and grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, mountain goats, cougars and otters are just a few of the animals that you can come across in the Rockies.
There are lots of photogenic landmarks within the Canadian Rockies and these range from Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, which are among the most photographed spots in the whole of Canada, as well as the likes of Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park.
The best hikes in the Canadian Rockies
Whether you are looking for the best multi-day hikes in the Canadian Rockies or want to go on a shorter hike, there is a range of trails that can suit your needs. Read on for some of the best hikes you can enjoy.
•Lake Agnes Trail
•Banff’s Sawback Trail
•Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
•Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
•Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley
Lake Agnes Trail
Length: Around 4.5 miles (7.40km)
The Lake Agnes Trail is open year-round, and its beauty makes it a popular route for hikers as you will climb through a forest and can enjoy some spectacular views of Lake Agnes and Lake Louise. You can even extend the walk by climbing to the Big Beehive, a high ridge with great views of Lake Louise and the surrounding peaks.
Michelle, the writer behind The Wandering Queen, told us that the Lake Agnes Trail is her favourite hike in the Canadian Rockies:
“One of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies is Lake Agnes Tea House. It is a perfect trail with a stunningly beautiful bright green lake. The trail is moderate and located right next to Lake Louise, so you get to experience multiple lakes on the hike. When you get to Lake Agnes, a Tea House serves delicious sandwiches and warm tea. It can be cold in the Canadian Rockies, so even if you are not a tea lover, the tea warms your body up on cold chilly days. If you want to check out another tea house, hike on over to Six Glaciers Tea House. The trail is longer and harder to get to, but there are minimal crowds. When hiking in the Canadian Rockies for the first time, check with the ranger before heading out. There can be a lot of grizzly activity in the area you are hiking in, and it is best to be aware and hike with a group of people.”
Nichole, who has been on many hikes in the Canadian Rockies and runs a travel blog called Nichole the Nomad, has also hiked the Lake Agnes Trail and told us why she loves the trail:
“One of my favourite trails in the Canadian Rockies is the Lake Agnes Trail. This stunning trail starts at Lake Louise and travels through the mountains to a small tea house on Lake Agnes. The original tea house was built in 1901 as a refuge for hikers, and the new Lake Agnes Tea House you see today now sells tea, sandwiches, and desserts for hikers who visit. You can enjoy the delicious food and hot tea while taking in the breathtaking views of Mount Niblock and Mount Whyte. The entire trail offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains, so it’s hard not to love it!”
As this trail is close to Lake Louise, it can get busy with parking areas filling up fast. It is therefore worth getting to the trailhead early, especially if your aim is to hike to the top for a view of the sunrise as car parks can be full an hour before the sunrise.
Banff’s Sawback Trail
Length: 44 miles (70.8km)
One of the best multi-day hikes in the Canadian Rockies is the Sawback trail as this usually takes experienced wilderness hikers four or five days to complete the trail. The effort of completing this route will certainly be worth it as in the summer months you can see spectacular wildflowers in meadows and as the trail cuts through Banff National Park to Lake Louise, you’ll be able to enjoy some stunning mountain scenery.
There will be ample opportunity to see wildlife along this trek, but if you come across the wildlife, you should give them plenty of space and not get too close and scare them.
Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
Length: 6.8 miles (11.1km)
The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is a stunning trail in Yoho National Park, which is just northwest of Banff. The loop is quite tough as you climb around 2,900 feet, but the effort is rewarded as at the end of the hike, which can take around six hours, offers you some breath-taking views of the surrounding mountain peaks and alpine lakes.
Marta, the photographer and creator of the In A Faraway Land blog, told us a bit about her experience of hiking to Lake O’Hara: “Lake O’Hara is an elusive spot that every Canadian has heard of, but only a few lucky ones were able to see it.
“The trip to Lake O’Hara is the most sought-after backcountry outing in all of Western Canada. Why? You may ask. Personally, I think it’s a matter of easy accessibility.”
Although you can tackle the 22km round trip hike to the base of Lake O’Hara, you can take a shuttle bus that will drop you at the lake. If you decide to take the bus, it leaves from the Lake O’Hara car park, and you can leave any hire car or motorhome you are driving here all day. One thing you will need to research is booking a reservation for the bus because Lake O’Hara is such a popular attraction in the Canadian Rockies that seats get booked up fast.
Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
Length: 8.5 miles (around 14km)
One of the best day hikes in the Canadian Rockies is the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. You will start this stunning hike at the Fairmont Chateau in Lake Louise and will follow a pretty flat route for the first few miles of the trail.
You’ll then need to walk a long but steady incline until the top of the hike, which is an incline of around 2,000 feet. The incline is worth it as you will get a bird’s-eye view of the world-famous Lake Louise and can even stop at the Six Glaciers Tea House if you need a rest or just want to enjoy the spectacular views.
After that, you can continue on your journey as you follow the trail back down towards the Fairmont Chateau. On average the walk takes around four hours to complete, but if you stop at the tea house or for some food, then it could take a bit longer.
This route is one of the classic hikes in the Canadian Rockies as you get a great mix of stunning views and wildlife sightings, especially mountain goats.
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley
Length: 6.8 miles (around 11km)
The Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley hike is considered by many as one of the best hikes you can enjoy in the Canadian Rockies. It is located in Banff National Park, and you start the trail from Moraine Lake, which can get busy so it is advised you get there early so you can find a place to park your car or motorhome.
Matt, the travel blogger behind Wheatless Wanderlust, told us a bit about why it is one of his favourite hikes in the Canadian Rockies: “Our absolute favourite hike in the Canadian Rockies is the trek up to Sentinel Pass via the Larch Valley Trail because the panoramic views from the saddle over Larch Valley and the Valley of Ten Peaks are unbeatable.
“The hike leaves from Lake Moraine, which is spectacular in its own right and is well worth exploring before or after your hike and climbs through a dense forest before emerging into a vast valley, with mountains towering above you on all sides.
“From there, you pass a picture-perfect alpine tarn before embarking on a gruelling climb to a saddle with views of the Canadian Rockies in all directions.”
The route is quite exposed and is steep in some places, so if you are visiting in the summer you should aim to walk it before the hottest time of day, which is generally midday/early afternoon.
READ MORE: The ultimate guide for crossing the Rockies
Tips for hiking in the Canadian Rockies
The Canadian Rockies is spectacular, but there are a few things you should know before you head away on your trip to this part of Canada. To help ease you into hiking in the Canadian Rockies, we have put together a list of tips you should consider.
Study and stick to the route
There are so many different hiking trails in the Canadian Rockies, but you should study some of the routes that you would like to go on before your trip. Once you’ve decided on a route you should research the route and use apps such as AllTrails or purchase a guidebook so that you have a rough idea of the route that you can refer to on the day of the hike. This will help you avoid getting lost and will keep you on the right track.
The best way to not get lost in the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies is to stick to the main route. A lot of the popular trails are well marked enough to keep you on the right course.
Go walking early in the morning
The most popular walks in the Canadian Rockies can get busy, especially during the summer months. If you want to enjoy this stunning wilderness and want to avoid the crowds, then you should go walking early in the morning.
This is something that travel writer Nichole, from the blog Nichole the Nomad, told us she does: “The popular hikes in the Canadian Rockies see a lot of foot traffic, especially in the summer, so I highly recommend arriving at the trailheads early in the morning. Late morning and early afternoon are when most people begin their hikes and when the trails see the most people. Starting the hike in the morning also gives you plenty of time to spend the day hiking, so you don’t have to feel rushed to take in the beauty of the area. And make sure to bring your camera! Every trail has stunning views you will want to capture!”
Matt from the Wheatless Wanderlust blog agrees that getting up early and going on a hike is something you should aim to do. He said: “The first is that parking at trailheads can be a nightmare, especially at the most popular ones near Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. Plan on arriving early – 7am or earlier – otherwise, you will not get a spot in the lot and will have to add some distance to your hikes or hop on the shuttle.”
Check the weather
If there’s one thing you can be sure of when it comes to the weather in the Canadian Rockies, it is that you should be prepared for everything.
This is why you need to check the weather ahead of your hike. Naturally, the best days for hiking are when there is sunshine and if you wake up on the day you had planned to go hiking and it is raining heavily, then you should look to change your plans.
It is key that you pack the right clothes and equipment for your hike in the Rockies. This means that if you are hiking in the colder months of the year, you will need to be wearing plenty of layers and a warm coat, whilst in the summer you should look to bring breathable clothes as it can get hot.
A comfortable pair of hiking shoes are essential and a raincoat no matter what time of the year you go is also another must-pack item. Extra socks, hiking poles, gloves and a hat are all other items of clothing and bits of equipment that you should consider bringing with you.
Leave no trace
The Canadian Rockies is known for its natural beauty and something that we should all practice is to leave no trace. You should always leave the wild the same or better than you found it and should therefore pick up any rubbish you have and should not disturb the wildlife.
READ MORE: Exploring the Canadian Rockies by Motorhome
Visit the teahouses
The Canadian Rockies is famed for many things but something that not many people would know about is its iconic teahouses which can only be accessed by hikers.
Visiting one of the teahouses in the Rockies is something that Matt from the Wheatless Wanderlust blog highly recommends. He shares: “There are two backcountry teahouses on hiking trails near Lake Louise that are only accessible by hiking in. One is on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, and one is on Lake Agnes, a few miles above the Fairmont at Lake Louise. It’s a unique tea experience, and one of our favourite memories of the Canadian Rockies.”
These are just some of the best hikes you can enjoy in the Canadian Rockies and there are lots of other spectacular routes you can enjoy in this region. If you have been inspired to look at Canada holidays to the likes of the Canadian Rockies, our expert advisors can help you to plan the perfect trip. For more articles like this, check out the blog section of our website.