Hiking Through Banff
By Josh Gonzalez
Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada comprises hundreds of miles of world class hiking trails. From forested loops following the glacial streams to high mountain ridges, Banff has everything you can enjoy in the hiking sphere. I am going to spotlight a few of the many trails that made my experience more than memorable.
Mount Edith to Cory’s Pass
Edith Col was our first stop entering the park. Situated not far from downtown Banff it is very accessible from the Trans-Canada Highway running from Banff to Jasper. Edith Col to Cory’s Pass is a long uphill climb that offers amazing views of the Banff Glacial valley. The mountains that surround Banff form in wave-like patterns with every pass opening to an undisturbed valley.
We were greeted at the trailhead with the perfect temperature and weather. Banff summers, being as north as it is, are very temperate during the daytime, perfect for hiking. We arrived around 1:30 pm, later than we expected but for the strong climber, plenty of time to complete the 8-mile loop before sunset.
You begin the trail crossing a timber bridge into a lush pine forest and swiftly move your way forward until reaching the fork in the trail beginning the loop. If you choose to go up to the left, you will begin a very steep climb up to Cory’s Pass. We unknowingly chose this route and were very much regretting it half way up. The other, more mild option, is to continue the trail at the fork to the right. This leads you up a far more gradual route leading to the opposite side of Cory’s Pass leaving you then to face the steep descent.
Beware of the lack of signage for certain sections of the trail. There are multiple points where there are many intersecting and bisecting trails but they all lead to the right path. Another word of caution, as with most of the trails through Banff, is to bring along forms of Bear protection (Bear Bells, Spray, and always hike in groups). If you are just beginning your stay in Banff, this trail will definitely warm you up for any other serious hikes you choose to do.
Cascade Amphitheatre (Cascade Mountain)
Cascade Mountain stands tall over downtown Banff and calls all those who visit to witness the views from her summit. We woke up very early from our overlanding site and began our drive to the trailhead of the mountain around 7 am. For all big trails like this one, I suggest the earliest start you can. This provides you with ample time in case anything was to happen on the trail or it takes you longer than expected to finish. Being caught with low supplies at sunset is not a pleasant experience, especially in the mountains.
The Amphitheatre is filled with beautiful meadows overflowing with alpine flowers and bordered by dense pine forest. From here you can spot the summit and begin to see the true immensity of the ridge traverse ahead. They are: the first peak, the hidden notch, and the main summit. From this point on, if you haven’t already been using them, I would suggest trekking poles to increase your stability over the loose rocks and scree.
The obstacles are not technical in nature so no further gear is needed, just sure footing and endurance up the path. Switchbacks unfortunately disappear as well from this point so be ready for a full uphill battle. Upon reaching the summit, you are rewarded with a full 360-degree view of the Canadian Rockies surrounding Banff. Spend your time wisely up here though, as the weather can change very quickly and there’s still a long descent back into the treeline.
Lake Agnes Tea-House (Lake Louise)
If by this point in your stay at Banff you are looking for a very easy-going trail and good way to spend a day, Lake Louise is your spot. Lake Louise is the beginning hub of many trailheads leading up into the mountains. Depending on the time of day you arrive, you will either be able to park right at Lake Louise or take the shuttle from one of the overflow parking lots. The beginning of the trail up to the tea house leads along the beautiful shores of the lake. A quick quarter mile down you eventually hit a fork in the trail and begin your hike up to the Tea House. After a forested 3.5 km hike, with an elevation gain of 400 m or 1,300 ft, the valley opens to reveal spectacular Lake Agnes.
Moraine Lake is one of the most iconic locations within the Park and also arguably the most pictured in Banff. The icy turquoise glacial waters reflect the jagged snowcapped Canadian Rockies creating a picturesque frame. The biggest hurdles to visiting this scenic spot will be the time of year you choose to visit, the weather and the corresponding number of tourists.
From Lake Louise Village, drive uphill on Lake Louise Drive until you see the access road for Moraine Lake on your left. Follow the winding road for 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) to the parking area. The road to Moraine Lake and the parking lot were very busy for us even though the sun was quickly setting and gray clouds filling the sky. So, on a good day, prepare for a lot of traffic, especially in the summer.
Venturing further down the trails offers solitude from the crowds and a different perspective of the lake and its craggy surrounds. Other trails to explore include Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail, Eiffel Lake, Wenkchemna Pass, Larch Valley, and Sentinel Pass.
Photos courtesy of Josh Gonzales