The Best Multi-Day Hikes in Banff National Park
Banff was one of those random flights I booked on a whim, which turned out to be my favourite hiking trip to date (tied with Zion). On our 8-day trip we did two multi-day hikes, with stops at campgrounds with showers in between to freshen up. There are plenty of day hikes in Banff, but tourists aren't really our thing, so we opted for the backcountry hikes which limit the amount of people hiking to a handful of people each day. Some days we would only see two other people the entire day, which was awesome.
Below I've outlined my recommended itinerary, general need-to-knows, a breakdown of the two multi-day hikes we did (Skoki Loop and Egypt Lake), plus some info on front-country camping.
Spend your first night at Lake Louise campground (front-country camping) getting a feel for the area. The next day start the Skoki Loop (3 days, 2 nights). After the Skoki Loop, refresh at Johnston Canyon Campground for one night, heading into Banff town and treating yourself to a well earned dinner at The Bison. The next day start the Egypt Lake hike (3 days, 2 nights).
banff need to knows
Permits and Passes: You will need a National Park Pass to access the park, and a Backcountry Permit for any backcountry hikes you plan on doing. See Parks Canada for more details. Backcountry permits can be booked three months in advance, and should be booked ASAP as there are a limited amount available.
Banff (town): The main town in the national park. Stock up on food and supplies here. For camping essentials, pop into Monod Sports (129 Banff Ave), they have everything you'll need at reasonable prices. For a quick and delicious breakfast or lunch, go to JK Bakery Cafe (229 Bear St). If you're looking for something more lux, grab dinner at The Bison (211 Bear St).
Lake Louise (town): A small town in the northern area of the park with a lake by the same name. Absolute tourist fest, so you could skip this if you don't have time. If you want to see Lake Moraine (aka one of the most photographed spots in Banff), head there around 6pm after the crowds have left.
Bear spray: You should always carry bear spray on you when hiking in Banff, especially in certain northern parts of the park (ask the park ranger at the tourist information center for recent bear sightings). It's cheapest to buy bear spray in Canada (also I'm pretty sure it's illegal to carry on a plane, even if in checked baggage); you can get it at Monod Sports.
Insect repellent: Can't stress this enough. Banff has the worst mosquitoes I have ever experienced; you're literally inhaling them when you breathe. I use Sawyer's Picaridin repellents, which work a charm, smells tolerable, and does not contain deet. I would also suggest getting this very trendy head net.
Warm clothing: We went in July (summer) and the temperature dropped below freezing, and we had multiple bouts of snow and hail. Make sure you're well equipped with warm, waterproof clothing.
overnight hike: skoki loop
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Difficulty: The trail is very well marked, but the terrain can be quite physically challenging, so make sure you're in good shape before you do this hike.
What to expect: The Skoki loops is one of the most gorgeous hikes I have even done, and it was the highlight of my Banff trip. The start of the hike is a brutal, relatively boring hike up a gravel road. But once you're off the road, it's views for days. You'll encounter the bluest lakes that look radioactive, a mix of heavily forested alpine terrain as well as desolate rocky plains (it felt a bit like we were on the moon), and nature in the form of grizzly bears and other smaller critters.
Where to camp: There are a few campsites available around the loop, all of which need to be booked in advance (details here on the Parks Canada website). We stayed at SK11 (Baker Lake) on the first night and SK18 (Merlin Meadows) on the second, and this was the perfect combo.
Route and side hikes: Start the trail at the Fish Creek trail head. On the first day, we hiked directly to our Baker Lake campsite and had a close encounter with a grizzly. The next day the hike to Merlin Meadows campsite isn't that long, so we also did a day hike to Lake Merlin. On the third day, we took an amazing route that isn't marked on the map -- you NEED to do this hike. To figure out the route, pop into Skoki Lodge and ask how to hike back via Myosotis Lake, Zigadenus Lake, and Deception Pass.
Tip: bring cash on this hike! There is a lovely tea time at Skoki Lodge every afternoon with cheese, cake, and hot tea and coffee.
overnight hike: egypt lake
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Difficulty: Easy-to-navigate trail, but make sure you're physically fit and know how to read a topographic map.
What to expect: Rolling green meadows full of wildflowers (in July) and vistas over lakes and the entire national park.
Where to camp: Pitch a tent at Egypt Lake (E13) for two nights and use it as a base for day hikes. Similar to the Skoki Loop, campsites need to be booked in advance (details here on the Parks Canada website).
Route and side hikes: Drive up Sunshine Road to Sunshine Village; the trail head starts at the back of the parking lot. The first hour or so is forested uphill ascent, then it opens up to a meadows of wildflowers and vistas over the entire national park. You then descend into Egypt Lake campground, you base for two nights. Spend a day hiking up Whistling Valley, stopping at the many lakes along the way.
Lake Louise Campground: Perfect place to camp the night before starting the Skoki Loop. Hot showers and firewood included!
Johnston Canyon Campground: Stayed here for one night after we completed the Skoki Loop, and before we started the Egypt Lake hike. Perfect location between the two hikes; hot showers; firewood; fairly close to Banff town.
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Post updated on August 1, 2018.