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Our 10 favourite day hikes in the Canadian Rockies

Renowned for its breathtaking scenery including stunning glaciers, vibrant lakes, alpine meadows, craggy peaks and dense forest, it’s easy to see why hiking in the Canadian Rockies is a bucket-list item for most hikers. Beginning in Northern British Columbia and spanning down through to the United States between the BC and Alberta border, there are hundreds of unique hiking experiences for you to explore in the backcountry. With so many to choose from, we’ve narrowed down a list of our top 10 day hikes to help you decide.

Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail

Distance: 2.8km
Hiking Time: 1 hour
Elevation Gain: minor

Lake O’Hara is a collection of exquisite lakes and hanging valleys in Yoho National Park, B.C. The area is all connected via an extremely well-maintained trail network that allows hikers to explore miles of unfathomable beauty. One of our favourites is the Shoreline Trail, which is great for beginners as there is very little elevation gain, and should only take about an hour. This beautiful route offers stunning views on a loop around the lake. It starts at the O’Hara Warden Cabin, continuing East over a bridge crossing for Cataract Brook and then along the north shore of the lake. Hikers walk along a steep hillside and across several gullies above the lake. At the Eastern end of the lake, there is a junction for the Lake Oesa trail (a great addition should you have the time in your day), just passing below a huge outcropping of pink quartzite and the Seven Veils Falls. If this hike is on the schedule, keep in mind that the only way into Lake O’Hara is either by riding the shuttle buses run by Parks Canada, or by hiking the 11km road.  

The Iceline Trail

Distance: 20.8km
Hiking Time: 8 hour
Elevation Gain: 710m

The Iceline Trail is a signature trail in Yoho National Park, and can be done as a multi-day hike, or a jam-packed day hike for those with a little less time on their hand. The hike begins at the parking lot for the impressive Takakkaw Falls, and then takes the Yoho Valley Trail along the shore of the Yoho River. Once leaving the shoreline, the trail begins to head upwards along the Yoho Lake Trail towards the junction of the Iceline Trail. As the dense forest begins to open up, there are spectacular views of nearby glaciers and the expansive Yoho Valley. When beginning the descent from the Iceline Summit, enjoy the views heading towards Little Yoho Valley. Once back in the trees and heading down towards the Little Yoho River, the trail passes the Laughing Falls, just before returning back to the parking lot. 

   

Floe Lake trail

Floe Lake

Distance: 21 km
Hiking Time: 7 hour
Elevation Gain: 715m

The Floe Lake trailhead is right off the highway in the Kootenay National Park, and is one of the highlights on the Rockwall Trail. The hike starts relatively flat, crossing two bridges before beginning to switchback it’s way up through a burnt forest with stunning views. Wildflowers and berries alike just abound on this trail, which makes it beautiful to walk through, but be cautious of bears who are also interested in the berries. The trail flattens out for a while before the final ascent to the Flow Lake basin. This climb is definitely tough, but totally worth it. At the end of the climb, the trail reaches the Floe Lake Campground, which can be traversed down to Floe Lake. Take some time to enjoy lunch and the turquoise colours of the lake, even brave a swim! Once finished exploring the lake area, head back to the trailhead.

The Plain of the Six Glaciers at Lake Louise

Distance: 13.8km
Hiking Time: 4 hour
Elevation Gain: 420m

The Plain of Six Glaciers is a must-do hike in Banff National Park, taking you past the iconic Lake Louise and to a Swiss-built Teahouse. The trail starts at the Lake Louise parking lot, where you venture down to the lake and continue onto the Lakeshore Trail. This part of the trail will be particularly crowded, as hundreds of people flock to Lake Louise daily. Once hikers continue on though, the crowd will disperse and there will be more of a feeling of being alone in the wilderness. Take a moment to look up at the cliffs at the end of the lake, this is a popular spot for climbers. On the trail, enjoy spectacular views of Mt Lefroy and Mt Victoria, and, although not surprising given the name of the hike, six stunning glaciers! At the 5.5km mark, you’ll find the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. They serve tea, coffee, scones, soup and sandwiches, but feel free to bring a packed lunch and sit outdoors to enjoy. Hikers have the option to continue on another 1.6 km to the Abbot Pass Viewpoint and look down into the crevasses on the Lower Victoria Glacier and look onto Abbot Hut — one of the highest buildings in Canada — before turning back to return along the same trail. 

                                               

Stunning view from tea house overlooking Lake Louise

Tent Ridge

Distance: 10km 
Hiking Time: 5hrs
Elevation Gain: 750m 

Tent Ridge Horseshoe is a heavily trafficked loop trail located in Kananaskis Country near Canmore, Alberta. The trailhead starts in a parking lot just past the Mount Engadine Lodge turnoff. Hike for approximately three kilometres below the tree line before the trail opens up to a short but technical scramble. If not comfortable with scree, this might not be the best hike. There is a weather station at the first peak, with spectacular views and a great place to stop for lunch. The trail then continues down some more scree, and up again to the summit of Tent Ridge. Once again, the views are breathtaking looking out towards the Assiniboine region. As the trail continues on to the third peak be sure to look around and enjoy the magic. The 360-degree views are the reason this hike is so popular, and it does not disappoint.  

Johnston Canyon

Distance: Lower Falls 1km, Upper Falls 2.7km (One Way)
Hiking Time: Lower Falls 30mins, Upper Falls 1hr (One way)
Elevation Gain: Lower Falls 30m, Upper Falls 120m

The trailhead for Johnston Canyon is along the Bow Valley Parkway, immediately behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge in Banff National Park. This is one of the busiest hikes in the Canadian Rockies, but definitely rewarding and worth it if you can handle the crowds. You’ll follow the pathway up a slight incline through the forest and then back down again along Johnston Creek all the way to the falls. Some of the trail is on narrow but sturdy catwalks which are attached to the canyon walls above the rushing waters below. There are two viewpoints at the lower falls — one is on the bridge that crosses the thundering canyon and leads to a short tunnel through the bedrock which has to a small opening directly in front of a powering waterfall. Making your way back to the main trail there is an option to continue along the canyon onwards and upwards to the Upper Falls, which provide a unique perspective looking over the gorge and the falls.

Pocaterra Ridge trail

Pocaterra Ridge

Distance: 12km
Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
Elevation Gain: 985m

Pocaterra Ridge Hike is one of the finest trails in the Kananaskis area. It’s best done as a one-way hike, starting at Highwood Pass and finishing at Little Highwood Pass. Visitors will need to shuttle vehicles in order to do this, so be sure to add some extra time into your plan for this. It can also be done as an out and back if feeling energetic. It’s also a popular hike to do during larch season, as the colours of the Larch Trees are absolutely spectacular just before the needles begin to fall off the trees. The trailhead begins at the north end of the Highwood Pass parking lot. When hikers come to the fork in the trail take a left turn and continue on through a dense forest. This area is well known for bears, so be prepared for a possible encounter here. Continue along the trail and across a creek, before heading up to the first of four summits along this trail. Once at the first summit, hikers will easily be able to see the trail to the remaining summits. As the descent begins through the trees, watch for the flagging tape to help guide the way. Cross the Pocaterra Creek along the valley floor, and then it’s smooth sailing back. 

Parker Ridge

Distance: 12km
Hiking Time: 5-7 hours
Elevation Gain: 985m

The Parker Ridge trail begins just south of the Athabasca Glacier Visitors Center along the Icefields Parkway, near Jasper, AB. It comprises of a number of swift switchbacks that will guide you up through the trees and open up to a spectacular view. Wildflowers grow uncontrollably throughout the meadows and looking across to the opposite ridge you will see multiple waterfalls. Hikers will be able to see Mt Athabasca and Hilda Peak towering ahead to the North. Further along the trail, you will find the viewpoints for the Saskatchewan Glacier. Hikers can follow the ridge trail here for as long as the trail permits, with the best view about 500m along. When you’re ready to call it a day, turn around and hike back out the same way. 

Parker Ridge

Larch Valley Hiking Trail

Distance: 8.6km
Hiking Time: 3.5-4 hours
Elevation Gain: 535m

For those larch lovers, the Larch Valley hiking trail is a serious MUST-DO! The trailhead is at the eastern side of Moraine Lake and begins on an uphill slope on the right side of the fork. The trail itself is uphill all the way without ever feeling steep. The trek heads through a dense forest offering occasional opportunities to look back and see of the turquoise colours of Moraine Lake in the distance until it disappears of out of sight. Reaching the next fork in the trail, hikers head right and prepare to watch as the greens of the forest slowly change into the larch trees. Soon, hikers will be surrounded by them, which is what makes this hike so spectacular during the fall. The trail opens up to a clearing with breathtaking views of the Ten Peaks with the yellow larch trees in the foreground. Continue along the path to fully take in this sight. There is an option to extend the hike by continuing onto the Sentinel Pass hike which begins at the end of the Larch Valley trail. 

Wilcox Pass

Distance: 8km
Hiking Time: 2.5hrs
Elevation Gain: 340m

The Wilcox Pass trail is a heavily trafficked out and back trail located along the Icefields Parkway, with panoramic views of the valley, Mount Athabasca and the Athabasca Glacier. There’s an information kiosk at the trailhead, and the trail itself is in excellent condition. The beginning of the trail through an old-growth forest is extremely rootbound, so be cautious. The trail also gains a fair bit of elevation straight away. Less than a kilometre along the trail there are Parks Canada red chairs – these are placed in remarkable locations throughout national parks in Canada, so feel free to chill out and enjoy the view. Lots of people tend to turn around at this point, which is good news as the crowds will begin to disperse. After taking a breather, continue onwards on a short, steep incline before hitting the alpine meadows will several creeks running. Keep watch for bighorn sheep as they can often be found very close to the trails. The trail is flat and easy for the next kilometre until the summit of the Wilcox Pass, at which point most will turn around and head back. The more ambitious hikers could opt for the trails to Wilcox Peak and Nigel Peak, which begin in this flat meadow area. 

Hiking in the Canadian Rockies is a truly rewarding experience, however, being informed and prepared is important for anyone considering heading into the backcountry. Parks Canada does an amazing job of maintaining the trails for everyone to enjoy, and provide information on trail routes and any pertinent updates, so their website is a great resource to assist in your trip planning before heading out! And like the old saying goes: take only photographs, leave only footprints, and most importantly, have an exceptional experience!

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