Home Destinations The Best Short Spring & Fall Hikes in Banff

The Best Short Spring & Fall Hikes in Banff

by Karen Ung

The best short spring and fall hiking trails in Banff offer amazing views for minimal effort and are less than 5.5 kilometres round trip.

The best short fall and spring hikes in Banff from top left clockwise: Tunnel Mountain,
Johnston Canyon, Johnson Lake, Fenland Loop & Vermilion Lakes Drive

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:

1. Johnston Canyon

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). For more information on Johnston Canyon, please see our story: Awesome Ice Walks Near Calgary.

  • 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, or midweek to avoid the crowds.

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! Read out story: Exploring Johnson Lake for details.

  • Distance: 2.8 km loop.
  • Elevation gain: n/a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes, but some sections are rooty, so a baby carrier may be preferred.
  • For ice safety tips, please see this post: Pond and Lake Ice Safety.

3. Tunnel Mountain

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. For more information, please read: Tunnel Mountain | Hike to the top of a mountain from town!

  • Distance: 3.4 km round trip.
  • Elevation gain: 300 m
  • Washrooms? No, nearest washrooms are at the Banff Centre.
  • Stroller friendly? No.

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 (we recommend walking to the first dock).

  • Distance: 2.6 km (includes 2.1 km Fenland loop and walk to the dock)
  • Elevation gain: n/a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes.

What To Bring

Disclosure: This section includes affiliate links through which I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my coffee habit!

Good hiking boots and a windproof/waterproof shell are must-haves. Trekking poles are recommended for the descent, especially if you are carrying a heavy pack.

You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a headlampGPS/compass and map of the area, bug spray (this one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray.

In spring and fall, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Breathe Outdoors), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek) are recommended.  

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