Banff National Park has become a very popular place to travel and that means the top hikes in Banff are busy to say the least. Banff day hikes are the most popular because they are the most accessible. Many of my favorite hikes are popular for a reason: they lead to some AWESOME scenery. We should all be able to experience these amazing hikes near Banff, but it is challenging when sharing them with a gazillion people. While I was there I learned some tricks for sharing the trails and when it is best to explore them.
Top 5 Easy Hikes in Banff
1-Peyto Lake Overlook
This is so short it classifies more as a walk, especially because it is paved all the way. However, it does have a couple surprisingly steep sections, and when I hiked it in early June there was still ice on a lot of the trail. The overlook was completely swarmed with people midafternoon, but just to the right of the overlook there is a trail through the trees to the area below, which offers a great picture opportunity and a better view. This hike would be gorgeous to see around 9 AM when the morning sun is peaking over the mountains.
Distance: 1.7 mi/2.7 km round trip
Elevation gain: 377 ft./115 m.
There are several hikes from the Moraine Lake area. You can easily hike up to the top of the Rockpile close to the parking lot at Moraine Lake for the ultimate and popular instagram shot of Moraine Lake, or hike around the north edge of Moraine Lake. I preferred the latter because there were a lot of tourists on the beehive, but barely anyone walking around the edge of this stunning lake.
Distance for Rockpile and lake loop: ~.5 mi./.8 km
Consolation Lake is an easy hike from Moraine Lake, but we only made it half way down this trail. My mom and I had this trail to ourselves, but the sun was getting low in the sky and the idea of running into a grizzly had us a little spooked. Larch Valley is another popular hike from Moraine Lake.
3-Lake Angus Teahouse Hike
Lake Angus hike goes to a teahouse set on a gorgeous lake in a hanging valley. Sounds like a hiker's fairytale, right? Not when there are a million people on the trail and the teahouse is so jammed you can't get in. I would leave at 7:30 AM latest to do this hike. I started at 8:30 and it was way too late. You could also do this in the afternoon (the tea house usually closes around 4 PM). Also, if you are undertaking this hike be warned it is steep the whole way because of the elevation gain, which means bring proper hiking gear. I was astonished to see people in flip flops without jackets or water, because in the mountains the weather changes more than Donald Trump tweets. It snowed twice on me as I hiked and there were patches of ice on the trail.
If you want to do a less crowded hike to another teahouse, I'd go for the Plain of Six Glaciers. It is a little harder and longer, but definitely on my hiking bucket list. If you are feeling inspired you can create a loop out of both Lake Agnus and the Plain of Six Glaciers.
Distance: 4.7 mi/7.5 km roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,420 ft!!!/ 432.8 m.
From Lake Agnus it is a short hike up to Little Beehive on a well-marked trail to an incredible view of the Fairmont Chateau, Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, Lake Agnus, the glaciers of Lake Louise, and sweeping views of Bow valley. This was my favorite part of the Lake Agnus hike and to be honest it made the crowds to Lake Agnus worth it. The view literally took my breath away, so much so I had to remind myself to breath (although that could have been the elevation too).
Distance: 5.6 mi roundtrip, only .5 mi. from Lake Angus
Elevation Gain: 1,755 ft/535 m; 335ft/102 m above Lake Louise
Johnston Canyon is probably the most popular day hike in Banff. Do this hike early in the morning (ie. 7 AM) or in the evening because it is very busy midday. The waterfalls are gorgeous, but apparently in July- September you have to wait in line for up to 30 minutes to see them. It was not that bad in early June, but it was a very crowded hike. It felt a little like walking through Disneyland instead of a national park. If you want to walk slowly, walk to the right side of the trail so that people can pass you on the left, similar to driving. I am a firm believer that hikes should be at your own pace so that you can enjoy them, and it is hard if someone is on your heels or you are stuck behind someone walking at a much different pace than you.
The waterfalls are gorgeous and you get to feel a lovely spray off them. In fact, the spray makes it challenging to photograph them from below them so I suggest going to the higher view points.
Distance: 3.1 miles/4.9 km roundtrip to upper falls (a lot of tourists stop at the lower falls)
Elevation: 774 ft./235 m.
Day Hikes Near Banff
Wapta Falls hike is on the western edge of Yoho National Park, only about 45 minutes from Lake Louise. This hike is an easy and most glorious in evening because you can catch the sun shining on the waterfall, creating a rainbow. Many of the people on quick tours of Banff don't make it over to Yoho National Park, so this hike is much less busy than the hikes in Banff.
Distance: 2.9 mi/4.6 km round trip
Elevation gain: 413 ft/126 m
*This hike is at a lower elevation and therefore is open in late May, early in the tourist season.
Emerald Lake Loop
I thought hiking around this lake would be easy, like walking around Lake Louise. It was much longer (3-4 miles/~5.6 km) than I expected, and the south side of the lake was hard because it was almost marshy. The views on the north side of the lake are gorgeous and not many people go beyond the picnic area at the beginning of the loop, so there is relatively light traffic. When I do it again, I will walk just the north side and avoid the south side.
Located on the Bighorn River close to Lake Abraham. This waterfall is close to Lake Abraham and a good stop on the way back out to Edmonton or Calgary. These waterfalls are an undiscovered gem compared to all the hikes in Banff. From the parking area there is a 50 ft/17 m walk to an overlook, but I highly suggest hiking the steep scramble down to the bottom of the first falls. It is very short, but steep enough that you need good hiking shoes or you will slide down on your bottom (like I did).
I highly recommend all these top hikes in Banff if it is your first time hiking in the Canadian Rockies. However, if I'm totally honest I would not do Johnston Canyon again because of the crowds, and I would definitely try to hike to Lake Agnus much earlier in the morning to be able to enjoy tea and look out over the beautiful lake. All the other Banff hikes I mentioned I would do again in a heartbeat, and I would love to go back a little later in the season, even though that means more tourists, because more trails are open, like Lake O'Hara, Takkakaw Falls/Twin Falls, and Chephren Lake.