The best short spring and fall hiking trails in Banff offer amazing views for minimal effort. Less than 6 kilometres round trip!
Banff is beautiful year-round, but the off-season is a special time to visit when there are fewer people on the trails and no bugs. I love how the snowcapped peaks look against blue skies too. Bring a down sweater, hot drink, headlamp, and traction devices so you can enjoy the trails safely. Here are our top picks for the best fall and spring hikes in Banff:
Johnston Canyon is a gorgeous trail along Johnston Creek with catwalks (raised walkways along the cliffs) and waterfalls. It’s easily one of the best short hikes in Banff, which is why it’s so busy! 10-metre high Lower Falls boasts two viewing platforms, one of which is at the end of a small tunnel. Upper Falls is about 30-metres tall and is popular with ice climbers. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some climbers in action! Please stay on the trail for your safety (the creek does not freeze solid and snow bridges can collapse at any time) – and to avoid a hefty fine (up to $25,000 fine for going offtrail from May 1 – November 15 as endangered black swifts nest in the canyon).
- Distance: 1.1 km to Lower Falls, 2.7 km to Upper Falls.
- Elevation gain: 50 metres elevation gain to Lower Falls, 130 m gain to Upper Falls.
- Washrooms? Flush toilets and outhouses at trailhead.
- Stroller friendly? No. Baby carrier recommended as the catwalks are quite narrow.
- Know before you go: On weekends and holidays, there is a LONG wait for the little viewing platform in the cave at Lower Falls. Go early or late in the day, or midweek to avoid the crowds.
For more information, see our story: Exploring Johnston Canyon.
2. Johnson Lake
Johnson Lake is a fun and scenic loop around the lake. Highlights include a swing, hermit cabin, hoodoos and mountain views, and rope swing!
- Distance: 2.8 km loop.
- Elevation gain: n/a
- Washrooms? Outhouses at trailhead.
- Stroller friendly? Yes, but some sections are rooty, so a baby carrier may be preferred.
Read our story: Exploring Johnson Lake for details.
DO NOT GO ON ICE WITHOUT CHECKING HOW THICK IT IS! For ice safety tips, please see our Pond and Lake Ice Safety Tips.
Tunnel Mountain is a short but rewarding hike near downtown Banff. Learn how this outlier of Sulphur Mountain got its name, look for geocaches, and get a selfie at the red chairs near the summit.
- Distance: 3.4 km round trip.
- Elevation gain: 300 m
- Washrooms? No, nearest washrooms are at the Banff Centre.
- Stroller friendly? No.
For more information, please read: Tunnel Mountain – Hike to the top of a mountain from town!
4. Fenland Trail & Vermilion Lakes Drive
Fenland Trail is a forested nature trail near Vermilion Lakes. Follow Echo Creek through old growth forest, watching for beavers, and read the interpretive signs to learn about the plants and animals that live there. Before completing the loop, take a short detour to Vermilion Lakes Drive for picture-perfect views of Mount Rundle.
- Distance: 2.6 km (includes 2.1 km Fenland loop and short detour to the first dock)
- Elevation gain: n/a
- Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
- Stroller friendly? Yes.
5. Stewart Canyon
Hike along the shore of Lake Minnewanka to Stewart Canyon. This short and easy trail features lake and mountain views, with the option to hike further (along the canyon). Look for ice bubbles in winter (ice should be at least 15 cm / 6″ thick – CHECK before you walk too far!).
- Distance: 1.5 km one way to bridge / 3 km to river’s edge
- Elevation gain: flat to bridge / 250 metres elevation gain to river’s edge
- Washrooms? 1) Lake Minnewanka Parking Lot and 2) Lake Minnewanka Picnic Area
- Stroller friendly? No.
See our story Hiking Stewart Canyon for more information.
Know Before You Go
- A Parks Canada Discovery Pass / daily admission fee is required to stop in Banff National Park.
- You are in bear, wolf, and cougar territory (Bears have been spotted in the town of Banff and on busy trails! Wolves are often seen on Tunnel Mountain too.). Review our Bear Safety Tips, keep your dog on a leash, and keep bear spray accessible. Bears are active until mid-November but often emerge from their dens when disturbed. Wolves and cougars do not hibernate.
What To Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.