banffnationalpark

Top 10 most incredible hikes in the Canadian Rockies by Laura Szanto

A hiker enjoys grandeur views of the Columbian Icefields and glaciers surrounding Mt Athabasca.

A hiker enjoys grandeur views of the Columbian Icefields and glaciers surrounding Mt Athabasca.

Alberta and British Columbia boast some the worlds most spectacular and rewarding hiking trails. After spending six years living in Jasper and Banff, I had hiked over 50 peaks and decided it was time to write the ultimate hiking guide list. The hikes on my top ten list below ranges across the Canadian Rockies, including Yoho National Park, Banff National Park, Columbian Icefields, Jasper National Park, Spray Lakes/Kananaskis area, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park.  

Below are symbols that define the difficulty, distance and popularity of each hiking trail that will be listed below. 

A hiker enjoys views of Lake Opabin in Yoho National Park.

A hiker enjoys views of Lake Opabin in Yoho National Park.

Difficulty:
★ Easy
★★ Moderate
★★★ Challenging

Distance:
★ Short (Under 10km round trip)
★★ Medium (10-15km round trip)
★★★ Long (Over 15km round trip)

Popularity
★ Not popular
★★ Somewhat popular
★★★ Very popular

1) Skyline Trail

A hiker along the ridge of Skyline Trail.

A hiker along the ridge of Skyline Trail.

Description: Located in Jasper National Park, this trail is known to be one of the premier backpacking trails in Canada. With over 25km above the treeline, one is rewarded with expansive views of famous mountains and stunning glacier lakes in the region.

Location: There are two ways to start the trail. The easier and more popular direction begins south to north from Maligne Lake to Signal Mountain. 

Difficulty:
No technical climbing necessary, but the distance can be enduring for some.  

Distance: ★★★
44km - about 2 to 3 days hike. There are three campgrounds along the way - Evelyn Creek, Curator and Tekarra campgrounds. 

Popularity: ★★★
Popular in the summer months of June, July and August. Book campsites ahead of time. 

2) Tent ridge

A hiker enjoys impressive views of Spray Lakes.

A hiker enjoys impressive views of Spray Lakes.

Description: An incredible ridge hike with breathtaking views of spray lakes and surrounding peaks. 

Location: Spray Lakes, Kananaskis. Can be hiked east to west or vice versa.   

Difficulty: ★ 
No required technical climbing. 

Distance: ★★
11km - about 3 to 5 hours.

Popularity:
Unpopular. One will likely only come across a handful of hikers. 

3) Mount Assiniboine

A morning reflection of Mt. Assiniboine. 

A morning reflection of Mt. Assiniboine. 

Spectacular views from Nub peak at Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Spectacular views from Nub peak at Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Description: A paradise for any backpacker chasing stunning glaciers, vast alpine meadows and towering peaks. Mount Assiniboine highlights our famous Canadian Matterhorn, standing tall at 3618m.

Location: British Columbia. Can be hiked from either Mount Shark trailhead or from Sunshine Ski village.    

Difficulty:
No required technical climbing, but the distance can be demanding.  

Distance: ★★★
30km - about 3 to 7 days. There are huts available along the way - Naset Hut, Hind Hut and Assiniboine Lodge, as well as campgrounds -Magog & Og campsites.

Popularity: ★★★
Popular in the summer months of June, July and August. Book campsites and huts in advance. 

4) Mount Indefatigable 

Sensational views at the beginning of the circuit of Mt Indefatigable.

Sensational views at the beginning of the circuit of Mt Indefatigable.

Technical and steep scrambling on the ridge of Mt Indefatigable.

Technical and steep scrambling on the ridge of Mt Indefatigable.

Description: If the name is any indication of its difficulty, then it's pretty accurate. This is a challenging and very exposed technical scramble. It is not for the faint hearted and not recommended to those who don't have any hiking experience. That being said, it is still my favourite hikes in the Kananaskis region. It is an exciting ridge walk with unforgettable views of the interlakes and surrounding mountain valleys.

Location: Kananaskis, begins at interlakes parking lot area. 

Difficulty: ★★★
Exposure, hands on technical scrambling, rock is unstable and loose. 

Distance:
5km - about 3-5 hours.

Popularity:
Not popular because of its exposure and technical scrambling.

5) Wilcox Peak

Description: In just fifteen minutes into this hike, you will be rewarded with grand views of the Columbia Icefields. As you gain altitude, you are immersed in expansive meadow views and herds of curious mountain goats. The most thrilling part of the trail winds up a ridge with heart stopping views over cliff bands. 

Location: Jasper, near the Columbian Icefields. The trailhead begins at Wilcox Creek parking lot.

Difficulty: ★★
Exposure and hands on scrambling required.

Distance: ★★
12 km - about 5 to 6 hours.

Popularity: ★★
Popular in the pass, unpopular at the peak.

A mountain goat rests in the meadows of Mount Wilcox.

A mountain goat rests in the meadows of Mount Wilcox.

6) Bow Peak

A hiker jumps on top of Bow Peak.

A hiker jumps on top of Bow Peak.

Description: The trail has stunning meadow views and breathtaking views of Bow Lake and Hector Lake.

Location: Banff National Park, near Bow lake. The beginning of the trailhead has a few markers but can be difficult to find. 

Difficulty: ★★
Some hands on scrambling is required near the peak. A river crossing is also necessary to continue the hike.

Distance: ★★
12km, about 6 hours.

Popularity:
You will likely not come across many hikers, if any at all. 

7) Little Hector Peak

A hiker is rewarded with magnificent views of surounding glaciers on Little Hector Peak.

A hiker is rewarded with magnificent views of surounding glaciers on Little Hector Peak.

Description: This trail winds through beautiful waterfalls and open meadows and becomes more technical scrambling near the top. The peak offers towering views of Hector Lake, Mount Andromache and the Wapta Icefield.     

A hiker poses in front of Hector Lake.

A hiker poses in front of Hector Lake.

Location: Trailhead begins at a small pullout 21km north of Lake Louise on the west side of the Icefields Parkway.

Difficulty: ★★
A bit of hands on scrambling required, but not too exposed at any point on the hike. 

Distance: ★★
12km or about 4-5 hours.

Popularity: ★
Unpopular, you may not likely see anyone on your trail. 

8) Iceline Trail

Description:  One of the most spectacular signature circuits in British Columbia. The exciting loop offers tantalizing views of Tekakaw Falls and endless close up views of glaciers and colorful lakes. Without abusing too many adjectives, this trek is an absolute must see for anyone who is even near the province.   

Location: The trailhead loops from Whiskey Jack to the Iceline traverse and then past Celeste Lake back to Yoho Valley trails. 

Difficulty: ★ 
Easy walking, no hands on scrambling.

Distance: ★★★
20km or 1-2 days. A popular option is to stay at the Stanley Mitchell Hut or Camp at the Little Yoho Campground.

Popularity: ★★★
Very popular in summer months of June, July, and August. 

9) Berg Lake Trail

Jaw dropping reflection of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - Mount Robson 3,954m. 

Jaw dropping reflection of the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies - Mount Robson 3,954m. 

Trekkers admire Hargreaves Glacier in Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Trekkers admire Hargreaves Glacier in Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Description: Mount Robson Provincial Park is a world renowned back country trail - and for good reason. The trail takes you through a journey of glacier fed lakes, waterfalls, bridges, glaciers and climactically to the highest mountain the Canadian Rockies - Mount Robson. In addition to the popular trail, there are incredible side trips that I would highly recommend (Hargreaves Glacier).      

Location: Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia.  

Difficulty: ★★
Requires long distances to be hiked with heavy back country gear.

Distance: ★★★
40km round trip - along the trail there are seven campgrounds to choose from. Unless, ofcourse, you are the hulk and decide this is a one day trip for you.

Popularity: ★★★
Very popular in summer months of June, July, and August. Be advised to book campsites in advance.  

10) Lake O'hara Alpine circuit 

A hiker poses in front of Lake O'hara.

A hiker poses in front of Lake O'hara.

Description: This circuit is a as visually stimulating as it gets. The loops climbs to high ledges and takes hikers on fantastic views of Lake Oesa, Lake O'hara, Opabin Lake and surrounding mountains. A truly mesmorizing and unforgettable experience (A side trip is highly recommended to Lake McArthur). 

Location: Yoho National Park

Difficulty:
The hiking itself is easy, there are some exposed ledges. 

Distance: ★★
16km or 5 to 6 hours.

Popularity: ★★★
Very popular in summer months of June, July, and August. Be advised that you have to reserve a seat on a bus (or if your lucky, snag a cancellation spot) that drives you 11km near Lake O'hara Lodge. Most people either camp, or stay at Lake O'hara Lodge or Elizabeth Parker Hut. It is possible, however to hike all the way into the park without a reservation.