Okay, the “three best easy hikes in Banff National Park,” is a very emotionally charged sentence. I swear I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t help me out, but with search engines and SEO being what they are, clickbait is the way the world goes round. Perhaps this article could be titled “My Three Favorite Hikes In Banff National Park.” Or maybe, “The Three Hikes That I Really Liked Last Time I Was In Banff National Park.” Or even, “The Three Hikes of The Many Hundreds In Banff National Park That I, In Particular, Really Enjoyed and That You, Too, Might Also Enjoy Should You Find Yourself In Banff.” That last one feels a bit wordy, though.
In any case, I love Banff and the Canadian Rockies. I haven’t been able to visit it as much as I’d like, but every time I go it is a whole new experience. I grew up under the shadow of the Rocky Mountains in Utah, and when I go to Banff I get a glimpse of what it is like for other people to visit Utah for the first time. Seeing enormous hunks of beautiful rock and granite never gets old, no matter where you are. So if you are visiting Banff and looking for some fun, beautiful, and simple hikes, here are the three (I think) best easy hikes in Banff National Park.
Moraine Lake Shoreline/Rockpile – The Best Easy Hike
Our first hike isn’t so much a hike as it is a nature walk with elevation changes. But even without the dangerous cliffs you wish you could go brag to your friends back home about, this lake is popular for a reason. Quite literally the most popular lake in Canada, and a good argument could be made for it to hold the title of the most popular lake in the World. The first thing you notice about Moraine Lake is not its water (we’ll get there). Instead, as you pull into the parking lot, the mountains that frame the lake are the first thing that will catch your eye. Tall, jagged, and intimidating, they are gorgeous.
But as you approach the lake and the mass of cars and trees move behind you, Moraine Lake’s real claim to stardom immediately shows. You’ve all seen the photos, so I won’t pretend I’m spoiling anything. The lake is Gatorade-blue. And not that dark blue flavor, either – the bright, teal, cyan, it-definitely-has-food-coloring-in-it blue.
People don’t believe me when I show them the photos. The truth is, I’ve actually turned the blueness of the water down in my photos because it didn’t even look real to me – and I took the picture! It really does look like that, I promise. This hike takes you first (or last) up on what they call The Rockpile, a big mound of dirt that gives you that classic view of Moraine Lake. As you can see in the photo above, sometimes the trees can get in the way of a perfectly clear view. Not generally a problem – I love trees. However, the next part of the hike takes you down to the shoreline and along the west edge of the lake. It’s an easy, paved nature walk alongside the weirdest water you’ve ever seen.
One thing to note about this hike: it’s busy. The last time I was in Banff I was able to drive right into the parking lot. We got there at 5:30am and the parking lot was already basically full. During the peak season (and maybe all the time now?), the parking lot is closed and you need to take a bus up to the lake. Whatever you have to do – it’s worth seeing the majesty of this lake and the mountains in the background at least once. Don’t miss out!
Johnston Canyon – A Capsule of Banff National Park
This next hike takes you up Johnston Canyon. When I came to Banff for the first time, I had never heard of this hike. After spending the morning at Lake Minnewanka, we were looking for a close and relatively easy hike to practice photography. Boy, did we find it.
Johnston Canyon instantly became one of my favorite places to visit in Banff, and all it took was a few hours on its trail. This beautiful hike is a capsule of Banff National Park in general. The beautiful rock formations, deep green alpine trees, and signature teal-blue water. Set back in a canyon, the sounds of the busy park fade away and all you can hear are the sounds of running water, animal calls, and insect chirps. It’s a beautiful oasis inside a busy tourist destination. Whether you head to the upper or lower falls, the trail is paved the entire way, making this a simple hike perfect for the whole family.
There isn’t much more to say about this fantastic place, except that it has a 10/10 recommendation from me. The multiple waterfalls, beautiful trail, lovely scenery… it’s just great. Definitely go if you’re in Banff!
Hector Lake – The Best Easy(ish) Hike In Banff National Park
For this last hike, I’m stretching the definition of “easy” just a bit. If you know me personally, you know I can’t talk about Banff without talking about Hector Lake. In my mind, they’re one in the same. My absolute favorite hike in Banff is Hector Lake. But there are some caveats.
First, it is a hike. Unlike the last two which were more nature walks on a paved path, this is an unpaved and somewhat difficult-to-follow trail. Over tree roots, through mud, and crossing a river (more on that in a bit), this is definitely a hike. If you aren’t confident in rugged hiking like this, I’d recommend the Hector Lake lookout along the Parkway. It’s far away, but you can get a taste of how amazing this lake is. In any case, I just want to make sure you’re prepared for how different this is from the first two. Don’t feel bad if you can’t make it, there are plenty of other places to go and see in Alberta.
If you read through all that above and say, “I’m ready!” Prepare yourself for adventure. You’ll literally be walking over tree roots, wading through deep mud, and finally, fording a river. If you’re in Banff in the Spring or early Summer, this hike may not be possible. If the water is high do not attempt this hike. I don’t want to get an angry email from someone’s loved one who got swept away by my recommendation. You have to cross a river which is dangerous by definition. If you aren’t sure if it’s passable, head to the ranger station by Lake Louise and they’ll be able to tell you. Unfortunately, I’ve never attempted the hike in Spring, only in late Summer, so I can’t give you better information than that.
But with all those caveats, if you’re still good to go, you’re in for a treat. The water is just as blue as Lake Louise. The hike up to the lake takes you through incredible forests and gorgeous meadows. It is literally like walking through a fairy tale. Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the physical world (and easier to get to than New Zealand). And once you arrive at the lake – the picture does not do it justice. Those mountains behind the lake are enormous. Just behind them is the Columbia Ice Field – the continental divide, where rivers diverge to eventually end in either the Pacific or the Atlantic.
It feels like untouched wilderness, even though it may not be. It is rugged and powerful. Hector Lake is quite literally my favorite hike in Banff National Park, and you absolutely can’t miss this one while you’re there.
Banff National Park is one of the most incredible places on this Earth, and I encourage anyone thinking about going to go. You will not regret it. If you need even more proof besides the images in this article, check out this secret link to the pictures I took the first time I was in Banff and Jasper.
Thanks for reading.