Is there really such thing as a bad view or a lousy hike in the Canadian Rockies? Hardly. But certain trails are absolute must-dos. Everyone has their own favourites for different reasons: their exclusivity, their popularity, preference for mountain or meadow landscape, wildlife, length and level of difficulty. The list goes on.
The six hikes below each have their own appeal, but they all showcase the unique beauty of our remarkable Canadian Rockies. (And many of them are popular for a reason.)
1. The Dramatic: Bow Glacier Falls
Getting our list of six off to an easy and promising start, the Bow Glacier Falls hike makes the cut partly because it’s the birthplace of the Bow River. Hikers can observe the making of this vital Alberta watershed from the base of the Wapta Icefield. This spectacular hike is one of those relaxed treks that starts with a slow trot along a shoreline trail. It then ascends to some tremendous views and closes with serious drama.
This nine-kilometre trail fits nicely into a morning or afternoon and offers breathtaking views of the Bow River, Bow Glacier, Wapta Icefield and the extraordinary Bow Falls.
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 4.6 km (2.9 mi) one-way
Elevation: 155 meters (509 ft)
Access: Trail starts behind Num-ti-Jah Lodge, 36 km (22 miles) north of Lake Louise on Highway 93.
Tip: Get to the trailhead from the Num-ti-jah Lodge access road, on Highway 93 North.
2. The Classic: Plain of Six Glaciers
There’s no way around the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. I like it, my hiking friends like it and my guiding friends approve of it. While it’s not especially unique—and it’s definitely not off the beaten track—it holds popular appeal for a reason.
The trail starts along the Lake Louise shoreline, and gets more challenging as it elevates in the second half of the route above the treeline. Relax and refuel at the rustic teahouse, then hike only 1.5 kilometres or so for the stunning glacier views.
An avid hiker friend says: “Most people do Lake Agnes but they should do Six Glaciers! Amazing views. Secluded, more rustic spot.”
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 5.3 km (3.3 mi) one-way
Elevation: 365 meters (1,197 ft)
Access: Upper Lake Louise parking lot, 4 km (2.5 miles) from the village of Lake Louise. Follow the Lakeshore Trail to the back of the lake.
Tip: Extend the trial via the Lake Agnes-Highline Connector, and escape the crowds.
3. The Grind: Cory Pass Circuit/Loop
Though it’s a popular hike, according to a Canmore hiking guide, Cory Pass makes the grade because it’s a decent grind. This is a selection for more serious hikers.
It should take about two hours to reach the pass, uphill, heart pumping. The route will put you under some cool peaks like Mount Edith, and reward you with an unobstructed view of the towering Mount Louis.
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 13 km (8.1 mi) loop
Elevation: 915 meters (3,002 ft)
Access: Park at Fireside day-use area, 400 m (1,312 feet) from the south end of the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A).
Tip: Rather than returning to the trailhead from the pass, at the Fireside day-use area of the Bow Valley Parkway descend into the Gargoyle Valley.
4. The Sweetener: Sunshine Meadows
This beautiful trail out of Sunshine Village crests the Continental Divide and offers fabulous views of some of the Rockies’ highest peaks. The Rock Isle Lake viewpoint is an iconic Canadian Rockies vista. The dreamy meadows are picture-perfect as well. Explore deeper into the meadows via the Grizzly-Larix Lakes Loop.
According to Parks Canada, the loop “follows the shoreline of two lakes, crosses an open forest of alpine larch, and passes a viewpoint where the panorama extends across the mountainous wilderness of Kootenay National Park.”
Time: 1 hour
Distance: 1.8 km (1.1 mi) loop
Elevation: 105 meters (344 ft)
Access: Trail starts from Sunshine Village ski area. A fee-based shuttle service takes you from the Sunshine Village parking lot.
Tip: Hitch a ride on the Standish Chairlift to see spectacular views—the most outstanding at the top.
5. The Gold: Larch Valley
A busy but well worth it sort of trail. Go for the golden larch trees in fall, the fabulous meadow at the top of the pass, the view of the Valley of Ten Peaks and to gaze in awe over Moraine Lake. Plenty of long switchbacks will challenge you and a pretty quick ascent will keep you engaged.
A full day hike with the reward of lush meadows and views from Sentinel Pass of Larch and Paradise Valleys. A final hustle to the summit of Mount Temple is the icing on the cake.
Time: 4 hours
Distance: 4.3 km (2.7 mi) one-way
Elevation: 535 meters (1,755 ft)
Access: Drive 14 km (8.5 miles) from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. Trail begins just beyond Moraine Lake Lodge.
Tip: Recommended in the fall, when the larches are gold and brilliant
6. The Stunner: Helen Lake
Wade through two kilometres of spectacular meadows, and enjoy the awesome view of Helen Lake tucked into the main ranges of the Canadian Rockies.
Pass Helen Lake and continue along the headwall for breathtaking views of the Bow Valley, Wapta Icefields, Mount Hector, Dolomite Peak and Cirque Peak. This valley is teeming with alpine wildlife and spectacular vistas.
Time: 4-5 hours
Distance: 6 km (3.7 mi) one-way
Elevation: 455 meters (1,493 ft)
Access: Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway, 33 km (20.5 mi) north of Lake Louise.
Tip: Take the hike right to the top of Cirque Peak and bask in the 3,000-metre elevation.