From wildflower meadows to spectacular views Alberta has some of the best treks in the country
Whether you’re a novice or seasoned professional, Alberta offers some of the most scenic and diverse hiking opportunities in the country. In a single day you can hike through a wildflower meadow, meander alongside a rushing river or climb a mountain.
Tunnel Mountain, located in the heart of the Town of Banff, is an easy introduction to hiking in the Rockies. It is perhaps one of Banff’s more well-known hikes due to its accessibility to the townsite and its well-maintained trail. Climbing to a height of 300 metres (948 feet), the 2.4-kilometre trail offers breath-taking panoramic views of Banff and the surrounding Bow and Spray river valleys.
From a distance, the mountain — one of the smallest summits in the Banff townsite — resembles a sleeping buffalo, which is fitting considering that was name given to the mountain by local First Nations.
While hikers might search for the mountain’s current namesake, they won’t find it. In 1882, a team of surveyors suggested a tunnel should be blasted through the mountain as they felt the most direct route for the Canadian Pacific Railway would be straight through rather than around. But CPR general manager William Van Horne, anxious to get the railway completed, refused the idea of a “damned tunnel” and the railroad was diverted to its current route. Despite the diversion the name stayed.
The trailhead for the hike is situated just off St. Julien Road near The Banff Centre (ed. now Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity). Alternately another access point is located at Tunnel Mountain Drive north of The Banff Centre. Rated a moderate hike, the trail switches back and forth along the mountainside to make the climb more gradual, although there are a few steeper sections. The trail can be icy in early spring and in late fall and winter.
The top of the trail opens up to a panoramic view of Mount Rundle and the Banff townsite in addition to the Banff Springs Hotel. From the top a five- to 10-minute hike along a trail heading east leads to an open grassy meadow. The round-trip takes approximately two to three hours.
For those who want to explore further or are ready for more of a challenge the following list includes some of the top hikes in the Rockies:
Grassi Lakes Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park
Distance: 3.5km/1.5 hours return
Difficulty: Intermediate/difficult (two routes)
Features: Take one of two interpretive trails down to the Grassi Lakes area surrounded by cliffs often used by climbers. Trails up to the climbing cliffs also lead to pictographs. Hikers can use one trail going up and the other on their return to make this a loop.
Grotto Creek Canyon Trail Bow Valley Provincial Park
Distance: 4.2kms/2 hours return
Features: The trail eventually winds through a narrow canyon featuring a waterfall and vertical rock walls.
For more information on hiking in provincial parks:
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
Distance: 13 km/half to full-day return
Features: Located on the edge of the continental divide, the Sunshine Meadows are surrounded by some of the Rockies’ highest peaks and as a result feature some of the most stunning settings in the area. The trail starts from Sunshine Village, which you can reach either by gondola or by shuttle bus in the summer. Guided hikes are available.
Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail
Distance: 7 km/approx. 3 hours return from Lake Louise
Features: A popular trail starting half a kilometre from the Chateau Lake Louise. Hike uphill along a well-groomed trail through a forested area to a quaint cabin by the lake for tea and a slice of pie. From the teahouse you may choose to hike to other destinations such as the Big Beehive (for views of Lake Louise and the Bow Valley) or Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.
Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass
Distance: 12 km/4-5 hours return
Features: A great fall hike made popular for its yellow larches in autumn. Hike up to a meadow that allows lovely views of surrounding peaks in the Valley of the 10 Peaks.
For more information on hiking within Banff National Park:
JASPER NATIONAL PARK
Distance: 4.2kms/2 hours round trip
Features: A self-guided interpretive trail leads you through a limestone canyon that in some parts is only two metres across and 50 metres deep. Discover rare black swifts (a type of bird that nests at waterfalls) raven’s nests waterfalls fossils and underground streams.
Distance: 2.4kms/1 hour return to the first viewpoint; 8kms/3 hours to the second viewpoint
Features: Named for Rockies climber Walter Wilcox, this trail was historically used by First Nations families to bypass a canyon on the Sunwapta River north of the Athabasca Glacier. Trail starts steeply but flattens out gradually to an open meadow where you may spot bighorn rams.
Distance: 5.4kms/3 hours return
Features: Climb a ridge along a well-defined trail with switchbacks up 275 metres and then down for a great view of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Catch glimpses of mountain goats and enjoy fields of alpine blue forget-me-nots and pink moss campion between mid-July and mid-August.
For more information on hiking in Jasper National Park: