4 Shoulder Season Hikes in Banff

by - Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Banff is a favorite year-round hiking destination of ours due to its scenery and location. While most people put their hiking boots away at the end of summer, we love hiking in the spring and fall when there are less people on the trails. In fall, you get the added bonus of no bugs!


1. Johnston Canyon is a gorgeous walk along Johnston Creek that leads to two waterfall viewing decks (Upper and Lower Falls). With catwalks and opportunities to see more falls along the way, this hike is one of the best short hikes you will ever do! There is minimal elevation gain to Lower Falls (or Downer Falls as Little POG calls it), so even toddlers can complete the hike. For a longer walk, and higher falls, continue on to Upper Falls. For more info, please see this post.
  • Distance: 1.1 km to Lower Falls, 2.7 km to Upper Falls.
  • Elevation gain: Fairly flat to Lower Falls, about 130 m gain to Upper Falls.
  • Washrooms? Flush toilets and outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? No. Baby carrier recommended as the catwalks are quite narrow.
Johnston Canyon, Banff
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
2. The trail around Johnson Lake follows the shoreline fairly closely, so for much of the way, you get great views of Cascade and Rundle mountains. On the south side of the lake, look for the old hermit cabin. It's a short detour off the main trail. In summer, come back for a swim or paddle. In winter, you can snowshoe around or on the lake (check ice thickness before venturing on the ice!). 
  • Distance: 2.8 km loop.
  • Elevation gain: n/a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes, but some sections are rooty, so a baby carrier may be preferred.
  • For more details on the hermit cabin built in 1910, see this post by The Proper Function.
  • For ice safety tips, please see this post: Pond and Lake Ice Safety.
Johnson Lake, Banff
Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

3. Tunnel Mountain is a surprisingly pretty hike you can do from town! Seek out the red chairs and geocaches on your way to the top of this outlier! To cut off some distance, park at Tunnel Mountain Drive and St Julien Way. A complete trip report is here
  • Distance: 3.4 km round trip.
  • Elevation gain: 300 m
  • Washrooms? No, nearest washrooms are at the Banff Centre.
  • Stroller friendly? No.
Tunnel Mountain, Banff
Tunnel Mountain, Banff National Park
4. If you do Fenland Trail, you must make the short detour to Vermilion Lakes Drive. This perfect pairing will take you through old growth forest alongside a creek (Echo Creek) bustling with beavers. Interpretive signs tell you more about the area. Step out of the trees onto Vermilion Lakes Drive for postcard worthy views of Mount Rundle (I recommend continuing until you reach the dock). Not bad for a 2.6 kilometre walk!
  • Distance: 2.6 km (includes 2.1 km Fenland loop and walk to the dock)
  • Elevation gain: n.a
  • Washrooms? Yes, outhouses at trailhead.
  • Stroller friendly? Yes.
Mount Rundle, Banff
Mount Rundle, Banff National Park (from Vermilion Lakes Drive)

What You Need

Pack ice cleats/microspikes as the trails can be slippery and icy in shoulder season. For children, many people have had success with size XS Yaktrax Pro. A hiking hack I learned of from a member of the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup is to zip tie ice cleats so they don't fall off! Genius!

Other recommended items include cocoa, snacks, and warm woolies. For a complete hiking pack list, please see this post.

It's also a good idea to check the trail report as well as avalanche and weather conditions before heading out. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and avalanches occur any time of year, anywhere there is accumulated snow.

Where to Eat

Head to Cows for ice cream or the candy store for a "good job treat".

For lunch or dinner, Cascade Mall has several family-friendly dining options. We really like Rocky Mountain Flatbread kiosk (take away only) and Old Spaghetti Factory.

Chaya (next door to McDonald's) has tasty Japanese rice bowls.

The Bison and Maple Leaf Grille serve Canadian fare (bison, venison, fine local cheese).

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