From endless mountain views to gorgeous glacier fed lakes, when it comes to quality alpine trails, the Canadian Rockies offers hikers a bounty of opportunity. However, the seemingly limitless choice can make selecting a hike a difficult endeavour. For the purpose of simplifying your search we have provided a summary of some of the best and most popular day hikes and backpacking trips. We have also included a thru hike for those looking for a longer, more gruelling challenge. So strap on your boots and get ready. Hiking season is about to begin and its time to explore all the Rockies have to offer in the Great White North.
Featured Photo: Larch Valley (photo by Andy Simonds)
Lake O’Hara Alpine Trail
Our first featured day hike is the scenic Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit located in Yoho National Park. This circuit is compromised of four alpine routes (Wiwaxy Gap, Huber Ledges, Yukness Ledges, and All Soul’s Prospect) totalling over 7 miles in distance. 7 miles may not sound like much but don’t let the distance fool you. There are some serious ascents and descents on trail making for a gruelling, slower pace. Expect to spend about 5 hours on trail.
It is also vital to have excellent navigational skills as you will be using cairns and painted yellow and blue symbols (marked on scree slopes or over boulder fields) to guide you. As such, this hike is recommended for experienced hikers.
Though difficult, there are numerous access points to the Lake O’Hara Circuit making it easier to avoid areas that may be deemed too hard to complete. Those who do complete this circuit will marvel at the expansive panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Larch Tree Valley
Do you enjoy watching the trees change color? Then the Larch Tree Valley hike is for you. This 8.6 km hike near Lake Louise in Banff National Park is a sight to behold in the fall, for it is during the fall that the famous larch trees turn a vibrant golden yellow. Though there are larch trees found throughout Banff National Park, this area and the Larch Tree Valley hike in particular is the most popular. The hike starts near Moraine Lake and traverses through alpine meadows with breathtaking views of the 10 peaks. However it is the extensive network of bright yellow larch trees that sets this hike apart. Expect to spend about 3.5 hours on trail in order to truly appreciate the surrounding beauty.
Plain of the Six Glaciers
The Plain of the Six Glaciers is another hike found near Lake Louise. Expect this hike to be of moderate difficulty with a one way distance of 5.3km (10.6km there and back).
You begin this hike along the shoreline of Lake Louise before ascending towards up close views of massive glaciers. Standing before these natural beauties can be awe inspiring but be sure to try and listen to the sounds of cracking ice as the glaciers shift and move.
There is also a 1.5km side trail to Abbot Pass Viewpoint where you can look down into crevasses of the lower Victoria Glacier and up to Abbot Hut which is one of the highest buildings in Canada.
Finally, be sure to stop at the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House (open seasonally) where you can revel in the views of the glaciers while having a warm beverage and snack.
This is the signature hike found within Yoho National Park.
Starting at the Takakkaw Falls parking lot, the Iceline trail via Little Yoho is a 20.8km hike that will take up to 8 hours to complete. You will initially encounter some steep switchbacks amongst the trees before ascending into the alpine region which is where this hike truly begins to shine. Hikers will be treated with waterfalls and panoramic alpine views with snow capped peaks and glaciers that are truly breathtaking
The Iceline Trail can be found amongst a network of day hiking trails with campsites interspersed which gives you the option of turning your dayhike into a multiday hike. There are even two campsites (Little Yoho and Laughing Falls backcountry campgrounds) found along the Iceline Trail if you want to extend your Iceline hike over a couple of days.
Smutwood Peak is another favorite amongst those who have logged plenty of miles through the Canadian Rockies. This hike gets its name from two nearby towering peaks; Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood. Both of these mountains are defined by a sharp fin like peak which are gorgeous when set against an endless ripples of mountains in the background.
The Smutwood Peak hike is 18km long. Expect to be on trail for 7-9 hours. The trail will start out relatively flat with very little elevation gain. Do not let this fool you though as there will be some difficult stretches as you climb first towards Smuts Pass and then as you make your final ascent ending with a rock scramble to your destination atop Smutwood Peak. The views are fantastic along the way over Smuts Pass but expect to see some pretty surreal vistas once you reach the peak.
In a similar vein to Smutwood Peak, expect to have outstanding views of the surrounding mountain ranges while hiking Indian Ridge in Jasper National Park. Like an infinity pool, the mountains here appear to go on forever as they dissipate into the horizon.
Indian Ridge is a fairly challenging 8km return hike that begins at the top of the Jasper Skytram. Expect the trek to take 4-6 hours. All in all it is like a shorter but more challenging version of Smutwood Peak complete with a difficult rock scramble at the peak.
This is the pre-eminent hike if you are looking for a multi-day backpacking trip with endless views of the mountains and valleys of the Canadian Rockies. The Skyline Trail is a 27.7 mile/44.5 km trek that mainly navigates well above the tree line. The magnificent views don’t come without a price though. Expect to encounter some serious elevation gain with the section known as the Notch being the most difficult to get through.
This area of the Canadian Rockies is well known for its beauty as Amethyst Lake and the surrounding Ramparts mountain range are truly stunning. Tonquin Valley is a 27 mile/43 km hike of moderate difficulty. To make the most of this hike you will want to spend at least 1 night at Amethyst Campgrounds. This will afford you the picturesque views of Amethyst Lake and the Ramparts while enjoying a relaxing meal during a sunset in the evening and the sunrise in the morning. Be wary though, as camping spots are limited and need to be pre-booked. Thus you will want to book a spot early to ensure a spot at this marvelous camping spot.
Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine
Mount Assiniboine, also known as the “Matterhorn of the Rockies,” is the star of this hike. It will likely take a couple of days to hike to Lake Magog which sits below Mount Assiniboine. However, once at Lake Magog you will want to set up shop for a day or two. There are some excellent day hikes that let you truly experience the area around Mount Assiniboine. The most popular of these day hikes is the trek up to Nub Peak which gives you excellent views of Lake Magog and Mount Assiniboine.
The Rockwall is a single towering cliff that stands almost 3000 feet above the trail. It is a sight to behold and one of the main reasons that make this hike unique. This hike is 34 miles/55 kms long and is difficult though well maintained. Along with the Rockwall, Helmet Falls and Floe Lake stand out as strikingly beautiful sights along the trail. In fact, simply hiking to Floe Lake is considered to be a fantastic day hike, making it a great alternative to the longer Rockwall backpacking trip.
Berg Lake Trail
The final backpacking trip being featured is the Berg Lake Trail. This is a 29 mile/46 km out and back hike that features Berg Lake and the spectacular Mount Robson. The Berg Lake Trail is a relatively easy trail with the most difficult stretch coming at an area called the Valley of a Thousand Falls which culminates with Emperor Falls, a must see on this trip.
If you have the time you will want to spend a day or two at Berg Lake Campgrounds as there are day hikes that give views of Mount Robson from various angles as well as a short hike to Toboggan Falls and Hargreaves Lake and Glacier.
The Great Divide Trail
The Great Divide Trail is an epic 698 mile/1,123 km hike that closely follows the continental divide between British Columbia and Alberta. It starts at Waterton Lakes National Park at the Canada/US border (where it connects with the Continental Divide Trail in the United States) and heads north where it ends in Kakwa National Park. This trail is highlighted by panoramic mountainous vistas and gorgeous glacial waters though its not without its difficulties. Expect plenty of bush-whacking, the potential for an encounter with a grizzly bear, mosquitos and some difficult navigation where there are sections of unmarked trail.
There are some unbelievable sections along this hike with unbridled landscapes. With numerous entry and exit points along the trail those wishing for a shorter trip can easily pick sections of the trail to explore. One popular section of the Great Divide Trail actually runs through part of the Skyline Trail and the Brazeau Loop. In between the Skyline Trail and the Brazeau Loop is a Great Divide alternate route known as the six passes where as the name implies you go over six passes. This section of the Great Divide Trail can make for a memorable backpacking trip. However if you are looking for a thru hike in Canada you will be hard pressed to find one better than the Great Divide Trail.
So there you have it, some of the best hikes available in the Canadian Rockies. For those unacquainted with hikes in the Rockies this serves as a good starting point. There are however, plenty more fantastic trails to explore beyond this list. The only thing left to do is to get out there to see it for yourself.
Be sure to check out the following Hike of the Week articles for more a more in-depth review of the backpacking trips mentioned above:
Hike of the Week: Skyline Trail
Hike of the Week: Tonquin Valley
Hike of the Week: Sunshine Valley to Mount Assiniboine
Hike of the Week: The Rockwall
Hike of the Week: Berg Lake Trail
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.
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