8 of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies

written by Kate Gazzard July 12, 2022
Woman standing in front of mirrored surface of Lake O'Hara with snow-covered mountains in the background.

Lace up your boots, switch your phone to ‘do not disturb’ mode, and get ready for a hiking adventure set amongst the rich wilderness of the Canadian Rockies’ most unbe-leaf-able national parks.

It’s no secret that the Canadian Rockies are drowning in natural beauty but simply visiting the likes of Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, or Kootenay National Park, is not enough. In order to soak up as much natural goodness as these parks have to offer, you simply have to embark on a few hikes for views that’ll be proudly posted to your Instagram feed later.

From ‘this is easy, let’s do another’ to ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to catch my breath’ (easy to hard for those of you who need it spelt out), the Canadian Rockies offer both casual outdoor lovers and hardcore hikers the chance to disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with the peacefulness of Mother Nature.

So you can spend more time wandering the wilderness and less time trawling the internet, we’ve put together a list of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies for you. All you have to do is charge up your camera, choose where you want to go, and take your hiking adventure one step at a time.

1.      The Plain of the Six Glaciers, Banff National Park

The forested valley surrounded by glaciers and snow-covered mountains.

Difficulty: Easy-medium

Distance: 8.5 miles (13.5kms)

Duration: 2+ hours

The Plain of the Six Glaciers hiking trail in Banff National Park has a bit of everything from a bird’s eye view of Lake Louise to a teahouse where you can stop and enjoy a light refreshment before continuing on your journey.  

While it may be an 8.5 mile (13.5km) hike and have a total elevation of 2,000 feet, this trail is well worth the effort and exertion as it delivers you straight into a natural amphitheatre, offering magnificent views of massive glaciers resting on snow-covered slopes.

There’s even a chance you might spot mountain goats along the way and if that doesn’t get you excited, we honestly don’t know what will.


2.      Sawback Trail, Banff National Park

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 44 miles (70kms)

Duration: 4+ days

We can’t promise this challenging hike won’t give you a sore back (*inserts wink face emoji*) but the Sawback Trail is one of the best multi-day hiking trails in the Canadian Rockies for experienced hikers looking to take their wanderings to the next level.

Gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation over a 44 mile (70km) stretch, this trail will take you underneath craggy mountains, through flowering meadows, past the iconic Lake Louise, and straight into the heart of the Rockies while promising spectacular views you’ll never forget.

3.      Floe Lake, Kootenay National Park  

The blue/green Floe Lake sitting at the base of rocky mountains in the Canadian Rockies.

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 12 miles (19kms)

Duration: 6+ hours

Just because this hiking trail is located in the lesser-visited Kootenay National Park doesn’t mean it deserves less of your effort and appreciation. In fact, Floe Lake delivers big time when it comes to wildlife spotting and turquoise alpine lake views.

That’s not to say it isn’t extremely difficult, because it is. Boasting an elevation gain of up to 3,000 feet, the Floe Lake trail isn’t for the faint-hearted but if you can muster the energy and determination to tackle this hike head-on then you’ll be rewarded with, not only the satisfaction of completing a 12 mile trail (19km) but also picturesque scenes your camera will love just as much as you do.

4.      Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, Yoho National Park

An aerial view of Lake O'Hara from a rocky mountain trail with snow-covered mountains in the background.

Difficulty: Medium-hard

Distance: 6.5 miles (11kms)

Duration: 5+ hours

Treat your eyes to a sight so magical you’ll hardly be-leaf it as you hike the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit. You might think that if you’ve seen one majestic mountain peak range and beautifully coloured alpine lake then you’ve seen ‘em all but Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park is just as stunning as those found in Banff or Jasper National Parks (if not more).

With sparkling water you could easily get lost in and forested surroundings that’ll instantly bring you peace and tranquillity, the Lake O’Hara Circuit is not only extremely extraordinary but also exclusive. With the road to Lake O’Hara closed to all traffic (access to the hike is by reserved shuttle bus only), it’s easy to feel as though you have this hiking trail all to yourself.


5.      Mount Smutwood, near Kananaskis Improvement

Traveller standing on a rocky outcrop looking out at the mountain landscape of the Canadian Rockies.

Difficulty: Medium-hard

Distance: 11 miles (17kms)

Duration: 6+ hours

Scrambling up rocky mountains on an 11 mile (17km) hike may not automatically seem like an enjoyable way to spend a day in the Canadian Rockies but once you gain the 3,000 feet it takes to get to the top of Mount Smutwood, you’re going to be glad you didn’t spend it doing something else.  

Featuring a couple of pristine alpine lakes, forested woodlands full of foraging animals, and a captivating view of Mount Birdwood – a cathedral-like mountain that looks as if the gods themselves have shaped it – this hiking trail will have your stress levels going down and get your heart rate rising all the way up.

6.      Aylmer Pass, Banff National Park  

A beautiful turquoise lake at the base of several mountains along Aylmer Pass.

Difficulty: Medium – hard

Distance: 16 miles (25kms)

Duration: 1 day+

If you can handle a little quad-burning and heavy breathing, then treat yourself to the gorgeous mountain and lake vistas of Aylmer Pass in Banff National Park. Gaining a whopping 4,000 feet in elevation, this is one of the best hiking trails in the Canadian Rockies if you’re looking for memorable views that look as if they belong on a postcard.

 Whether you want to tackle the trail in a day or prefer to break it up with a camping session under the stars, Aylmer Pass with its coniferous trees and fascinating wildlife promises to deliver a hiking adventure others only ever dream about.


7.      Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park

Traveller taking video footage of the 10 peaks above an emerald green lake.

Difficulty: Easy – medium

Distance: 5 miles (8kms)

Duration: 2.5 hours

Sounding more like a mystical landscape straight out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy than a hiking trail in the Canadian Rockies, this sweeping stretch of wilderness won’t hesitate to take your breath away. Find yourself being lured in by the fragrant sappy Douglas Fir trees as they stand guard along the rocky path and listen to the sounds of birds flitting from branch to branch as you place one foot in front of the other.

But the quiet peacefulness that will undoubtedly accompany you isn’t the best part of this hike. Once you make it through the forested woodland and out into the open, you’ll find the commanding and impressive stature of the ten peaks – a collection of snow-covered mountain tops that seem to disappear into the clouds in winter and stand out against the brilliant blue sky in summer.

Acting as a witness to your 5 mile (8km) journey, these peaks make for the most epic of photo backgrounds and will completely steal your nature-loving heart.


8.      The Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

Traveller hiking across a rocky water path along the Iceline Trail.

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: 11 miles (18kms)

Duration: 6+ hours

Yoho National Park gets its name from the Cree word for ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’ which makes perfect sense once you embark on the Iceline Trail in the national park’s north. Featuring a spectacular sight of several glaciers, as well as one of Canada’s highest waterfalls, Takakkaw, this hiking trail promises a front-row seat to some of Mother Nature’s most outstanding work.

Living up to the park’s name, the Iceline Trail features various landscapes such as lush forests and shimmering emerald lakes that’ll have you totally and thoroughly transfixed all the way along the 11 mile (18km) stretch.

Whether you’re after a leisurely walk in the wilderness or prefer to tackle something a little more challenging, the Canadian Rockies has a hike for every fitness level. Now it’s up to you to get out there and explore it. 


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