Best Canadian Rockies Hikes

Everyone here at Gem Trek loves hiking, so we asked around the office, then checked in with Canadian Rockies Trail Guide authors Brian Patton and Bart Robinson to have them trim down our list, and came up with the following list of Canadian Rockies day hiking trails that garnered the most praise from knowledgeable locals.

Bald Hills

Gem Trek Map: Jasper & Maligne Lake
Trail distance: 5.2 km (3.2 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 480 m (1,575 m)
Trailhead: Maligne Lake

This moderate half-day hike on an old fire road leads to fields carpeted with wildflowers in mid- to late July. From the old fire lookout you enjoy stunning, 360-degree views of turquoise Maligne Lake and the peaks ringing it, as well as the Queen Elizabeth and Maligne Ranges to the north. You may even catch a glimpse of the small caribou herd that summers in these hills.

Sulphur Skyline

Gem Trek Map: Jasper & Maligne Lake
Trail distance: 4.8 km (3 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 700 m (2,295 ft)
Trailhead: Miette Hot Springs.

This moderately-strenuous hike leads to a windswept ridgetop with unobstructed views of a veritable sea of peaks including Utopia Mountain, with the Fiddle River snaking through the valley below. On the way up, you have an excellent chance of coming nose-to-nose with deer and bighorn sheep. And at the end of the hike, you can soak your muscles in the Miette Hot Springs, hottest natural springs in the Canadian Rockies.

Cavell Meadows

Gem Trek Map: Jasper & Maligne Lake
Trail distance: 4 km (2.5 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 370 m (1,215 ft)
Trailhead: Mt. Edith Cavell.

This half-day hike leads past boulders where marmots frolic to glorious sub-alpine meadows ablaze with wildflowers in late July and early August. From the summit you get close-up views of Angel Glacier and Mt. Edith Cavell and, if you’re lucky, you might catch sight of an avalanche of snow and ice thundering down the side of the mountain. This is a late-season hike, as snow patches generally linger on the trail into July. On the way down, be sure to take in the short Path of the Glacier Trail which takes you through a barren, recently-glaciated landscape.

Wilcox Pass

Gem Trek Map: Columbia Icefield
Trail distance: 4 km (2.5 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 330 m (1,082 ft)
Trailhead: Wilcox Campground, 2 km (1.2 mi) southeast of the Columbia Icefield Centre

A short, well-graded 30-minute ascent from Wilcox Campground will take you to high-alpine country featuring fabulous views of Snow Dome, Mt. Athabasca and the Athabasca Glacier. Continue beyond the first viewpoint, up through meadows and you may spot bighorn sheep, white-tailed ptarmigan, and golden eagles. A short side trail from the pass leads to a stunning overlook with sweeping views of the Athabasca Glacier far below.

Helen Lake

Helen LakeGem Trek Map: Bow Lake & Saskatchewan Crossing
Trail distance: 6 km (3.7 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 550 m (1,805 ft)
Trailhead: Opposite the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint 35 km (22 mi) north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway

On this moderately strenuous but extremely popular hike, you enjoy wonderful elevated views of Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake only 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the trailhead. Soon after, the trail begins to meander through alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers, where marmots whistle and play peek-a-boo in the boulders. From tiny Helen Lake, energetic souls can take the almost-vertical one-kilometre (0.6-mi) trail that zigzags up to a ridge looking out to Katherine Lake and distant Dolomite Pass.

Iceline Trail

Gem Trek Map: Lake Louise & Yoho
Trail distance: 13.8 km (8.5 mi) roundtrip returning via Celeste Lake
Elevation gain: 695 m (2,280 ft)

Trailhead: Whiskey Jack Hostel in Yoho Valley.

This trail is one of the most popular trails in Yoho National Park because of its dramatic scenery. It’s the highest trail in Yoho Valley and also features a close-up look at a barren landscape that was covered by glaciers only 150 years ago. The rough, rocky trail leads up and down moraine rubble with spectacular views of Emerald and Daly glaciers. The trail is best done in fair weather, but be prepared for snow patches any month of the year.

Lake O’Hara

Gem Trek Map: Lake O’Hara

Lake O’Hara is one of the finest hiking destinations in all of the Canadian Rockies. Access is by shuttle bus along a road closed to the public. Getting a seat on the bus is notoriously difficult and requires advance planning. For details, check this page: Although many visitors are day hikers, for the full effect, plan on camping, or staying in a hut or Lake O’Hara Lodge.

A beautiful trail encircles Lake O’Hara, but this path is just the jumping-off point for the true beauty of the region, including Lake Oesa, Opabin Plateau, Lake McArthur, and the classic Alpine Circuit, for fit and experienced hikers only.

Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouses

Gem Trek Map: Best of Lake Louise or Lake Louise & Yoho
Trail distance: 13-km (8-mi) loop
Elevation gain: 700 metres (2,300 ft)
Trailhead: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

This classic Canadian Rockies hike takes in two rustic mountain teahouses where you can munch on hearty sandwiches and home-baked banana bread while enjoying a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate. Memorable views along the way include Mirror Lake, the forested Bow Valley, the glaciated peaks of the Continental Divide, and distant views down to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Leave early to miss the crowds.

Larch Valley

Larch ValleyGem Trek Map: Lake Louise & Yoho
Trail distance: 2.4 km (1.5 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 370 m (1,210 ft).
Trailhead: Moraine Lake

For outstanding scenery, there is no better day hike in the Canadian Rockies, especially in September when the larch trees turn gold. After a moderate climb you arrive in an open valley with views to the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Continue upwards, passing through subalpine forest and alongside a tumbling creek to reach the end of the valley where two small lakes provide reflection shots back to the Ten Peaks.

Sunshine Meadows

Sunshine MeadowsGem Trek Map: Banff & Mt. Assiniboine

More than 300 species of plants bloom in these meadows, ensuring you’ll enjoy a dazzling display of wildflowers along this trail. The best time to go is usually late July through mid-August, although peak flower season varies depending on the year. You’ll get awe-inspiring views, too, of distant peaks, including the distinctive pyramid of Mt. Assiniboine, plus a fabulous overlook to the Monarch Ramparts.

Sunshine Meadows is laced with hiking trails. The main trailhead is in the village, from where hikers head out to Rock Isle Lake Viewpoint (1.8 km/1.2 miles one way), Grizzly Larix Lakes Loop (6.6 km/4.1 mi return), and Citadel Pass (9.3 km/5.8 miles one way).

Although it is possible to reach Sunshine Meadows on foot, the vast majority of visitors take the gondola or shuttle bus from the base station at the end of Sunshine Village Road 18 kilometres (11 miles) northwest of Banff. The gondola operates July and August Friday to Monday 8 am to 6pm. On days the gondola doesn’t run (Tuesday to Thursday), a shuttle bus takes visitors to Sunshine Village along a road closed to public access. The bus also runs daily in September. For information on transportation to the meadows and details of Sunshine Mountain Lodge, visit:

Stanley Glacier

Gem Trek Maps: Kootenay National Park or Banff & Mt. Assiniboine
Trail distance: 4.2 km (2.6 mi) one way
Elevation gain: 350 m (1,150 ft)
Trailhead: Highway 93 South, 12 km west of Castle Mountain Junction

This trail takes you through a fascinating area that was razed by fire in 2003 and is now a regenerating forest. Below the charred trees a profusion of wildflowers bloom throughout July. The trail peters out at a viewpoint of distant Stanley Glacier where you can listen to the boom of avalanches and the shrill cry of marmots and pikas who make their home in boulders in the meadow.

Rawson Lake

Rawson LakeGem Trek Map: Kananaskis Lakes
Trail distance: 3.5 km (2.2 miles)
Elevation gain: 300 metres (980 ft)
Trailhead: Upper Kananaskis Lake

Kananaskis Country is a popular hiking destination, especially for Calgarians looking for a less-busy experience than nearby Banff National Park. The region has, literally, hundreds of trails, many with no signage. Our two Kananaskis maps highlight many of these trails, but for a scenic destination that is relatively easy to reach, Rawson Lake is one of our favourite Kananaskis trails.

Starting from a large parking lot at the south end of Upper Kananaskis Lake, the trail follows the lakeshore to a small waterfall. From here, the trail heads uphill through subalpine forest before emerging at Rawson Lake, which is backed by a magnificent wall of limestone that has been dated at 350 million years old.