Banff is a mecca for mountain activities that can enrich the lives of young and not-so-young. Parents come from all over the globe to introduce their children to a lifelong love of the mountains.
Situated right in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is an ideal adventure base for you and your family. Suitable for kids from teens to toddlers, here are six hikes accessible right from the town of Banff by foot, bike ride, or short drive.
If you’re up for a bit of a bike ride, a seven-kilometre ride along the west side of the Lake Minnewanka loop will take you to the Lower Bankhead. This 1 kilometre loop is a great opportunity for the family to learn about local history, as you can explore the remains of a mining ghost town from the early 1900s. From the remaining rhubarb plants in former gardens, an old lamp house, and remains of former dwellings, there’s so much to discover about the town of Bankhead. From here, you can continue your bike ride to visit Lake Minnewanka and complete the 13.1 km (8.1 mi) loop. Keep your eyes peeled for the steps to an old church!
Time: Approximately 1 hour
Distance: 1.1 km / 1.8 mi
Elevation gain: N/A
Access: Trail starts from a small parking lot on the side of the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive 7.4 km (4.6 mi) north of the town of Banff.
Whether biking or on foot, this is a great go for low commitment and easy access with little ones. With zero elevation gain and wide, flat trails, it’s great for strollers too (weather permitting, recent rain or early season snowfall can make it a bit mucky). This loop has an additional trail dividing it down the middle to give kids a maze-like feel in exploring. Although just outside of town, it feels surprisingly distant and serene. Take time to listen to the birds and watch the crystal-clear water from the creek off Vermillion Lakes—you can see all the way to the bottom!
Time: 40 minutes
Distance: 2.1 km / 1.8 mi
Elevation gain: N/A
Access: Parking lot on Mt. Norquay Road, between the railway tracks and the Trans-Canada Highway (near the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre).
Just past the Cave and Basin National Historic site you’ll find the Sundance Canyon trail. The first section is paved all the way to the canyon itself, and is best explored by bike. Even strollers and bike trailers can make it here! From here, lock up your wheels on the bike rack provided, and head up to see more of the canyon on foot. Hike up to the top of the canyon enjoying great views of waterfalls. Turn back when the trail departs the river (it continues from there, but it mostly wooded and not as rewarding). You’ll be back at your bikes ready for the mostly downhill ride back to the car.
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 3.9 km / 2.4 mi paved path + 1.6 km / 1 mi loop (one way)
Elevation gain: 145 m / 475 ft
Access: On the south side of the Bow River Bridge, follow Cave Avenue 1.2 km (¾ mi) to the parking area for the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. A paved walkway leads to the Cave and Basin complex and continues 200 m (656 feet) beyond to the trailhead kiosk.
If you're camping in town on your visit to Banff, this is a great trail for the family to explore. Make your way to the hoodoos viewpoint just across from Tunnel Mountain campground, where you can see interesting rock formations and learn about their geography. From here, descend through the forest as the path takes you along the Bow River. To the right, the sheer cliffs of Tunnel Mountain tower above you, to the left, you'll see expansive views of Mt. Rundle’s north east face. Stop for a snack along one of the small pebble beaches to take it all in. The path will eventually climb back up to Surprise Corner where you can see classic views of Bow Falls below. Banff’s Roam bus service will have you back to your camp pad in no time!
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 4.8 km / 3 mi (one way)
Elevation gain: 90 m / 295 ft
Access: Parking lot at the Hoodoos Viewpoint, near the Tunnel Mountain Village Campground on Tunnel Mountain Rd. The trail ends at the Surprise Corner viewpoint, where a pleasant walk along the Bow River will bring you to downtown Banff. Roam Transit's Route 2 will return you to the Tunnel Mountain Village Campground.
This is usually the first summit under the belt of locals and visitors alike upon arriving in Banff. This hike can be easily done in a morning or part of the afternoon, with a round trip time of two hours or less. The cruise-y path and open views of the valley below for most of the trail up will keep kids entertained. At the top, take your pick of two viewpoints: the back of tunnel offers spectacular views of Mount Rundle, while the open expanse of rock on the front side of tunnel provides ample sitting room to see the town below. Try to see if they can find easy landmarks like the Banff Avenue or the Bow River.
Time: 2 hours
Distance: 2.4 km / 1.5 mi (one way)
Elevation gain: 260 m / 853 ft
Access: Lower trailhead on St. Julien Road, just below the Banff Centre. Upper trailhead on Tunnel Mountain Drive.
A more advanced hike for older kids needing to burn off some steam, Sulphur Mountain trail is mainly closed-in by trees on the way up, but the views, activities, and interest points at the top are the reward for all their work! They’ll love a visit to the Cosmic Ray Station on Sulphur’s summit, and you can point out a different perspective of Tunnel and Rundle peaks. Too much for your younger hikers? The Banff Gondola is free for kids before 10 AM. At the top, discover the amazing interpretive centre and mountaintop family adventure activities. It’s an easy hike down from there to soak in some fresh mountain air! Make it a one-way hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain, and ride the Banff Gondola down for $32 ($16 for children).
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 5.5 km / 3.4 mi (one way)
Elevation gain: 655 m / 2,148 ft
Access: Base of Banff Gondola, take the free shuttle from downtown Banff.