Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paperpariah/

By Matt Mosteller

This is trail-time well spent. Some of these hikes will be on your classic Rocky Mountain bucket list. Others are the hidden gems. All of them need to be on your “most spectacular, do now, no excuse, what-are-you-waiting-for” list.

Insta-moments abound alongside crystal-clear lakes, rushing waterfalls, one-of-kind ridgewalks and limitless amounts of what the Canadian Rockies are known for: awe-inspiring mountain views.

Here are 25 amazing hikes in the southern Canadian Rockies—from Waterton Lakes National Park to Banff National Park.

1. Crypt Lake


A photo posted by Madeleine (@mleinet) on

Waterton Lakes National Park, AB

A show stopper. Nature entertains you every step of the way. The only hike on this list that starts with a boat-ride to the trailhead! Begin the upward 8.7 km trek through a forested drainage, opening up with punch-bowl style waterfalls, peak views and a cool (but a bit scary) tunnel you have to crawl through on your way to a rock-walled lake.

2. Wall Lake


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Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, BC (access from Waterton Lakes National Park, AB)

Located in Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, this is a relatively easy 5.2 km hike that is perfect for families and first-timers; your reward is a beautiful lake with giant Akamina Ridge providing the backdrop.

3. Mountain Lakes Trail (a.k.a Heiko’s Trail)


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Fernie, BC

This is a long day-hike—21 km one way—that ends with a cold beer at the Fernie Alpine Resort lodge. This epic—one of my favourites—is full of surprises at every switchback. Expect hidden rock trolls, waterfalls, limestone caves and high alpine meadows.

4. Polar Peak


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Fernie, BC

Ride the chairlift at Fernie Alpine Resort to access a spectacular ridgewalk that starts from Lost Boys Pass and follows the spine of Lizard Range, with views a-plenty in all directions. End with short climb from the saddle to Polar Peak before descending to the unload station for the White Pass chairlift, and return to the top of the Timber Chairlift for your ride down. In total it's only about five kilometres, but give yourself three to eight hours to enjoy the eye candy.

5. Elk Lakes


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Elk Lakes Provincial Park, BC

This is a little-visited spot that is big on views, alpine rambling and cool mountain lakes. Once you clear the dust from the long forestry road access, you’re a short jaunt from Elk Lake, but head higher for pure wilderness at its best—exploring Upper Elk Lake, waterfalls and glacier basins.

6. Tanglefoot Lake


A photo posted by Isabel (@isaherm) on

Near Cranbrook, BC

A local secret! A perfect place to see the brilliant orange of larch trees in late summer; take the plunge into a crystal clear lake and chill out. Access is via Mause Creek Road, off Highway 95 north of Cranbrook.

7. Lakit Lookout


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Near Cranbrook, BC

Get high: this is a long road and a short hike to a cool spot where you will want to linger longer. The trail follows the side of alpine basin to a shoulder that takes you to the summit ridge, with commanding views of the Kootenay Valley below and the Purcell Mountain Range in the distance. Sunset spot on steroids!

8. Fish Lake


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Top of the World Provincial Park, BC

A family friendly destination to a high alpine lake. Jagged peaks hug Fish Lake; the reward after a relatively easy 6.7-km forested walk. Peaks high above will entertain as you enjoy a perfect spot for a lakeside picnic. 

9. Queen Mary Lake

 Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, BC

This epic includes a very rough trail—including missing bridges—and a lake that will wow you. A long hike leads you to place where you will stand in awe of mountains with royal names like Mount Prince Edward, Mount Prince Albert and more. This little-visited region should be on your hiking bucket list. 

Heli-Access, lodge-based day hiking is featured in hikes 10 to 13. One of the best ways to explore the Canadian Rockies is to stay at Assiniboine Lodge or Talus Lodge.

10. Elizabeth Lake

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC (Assiniboine Lodge)

Start with one of the most beautiful mountains in the world smack dab in your face—Mount Assiniboine—which looms larger than life here. Every hike in this park is magical. This is the perfect sampler of alpine scenery, lakes and mountain views with little elevation gain.

11. Wonder Pass

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC (Assiniboine Lodge)

Today’s journey is to a place that will make your mind wander and wonder. A perfect place to sit, high in an alpine pass—and easily accessed from Assiniboine Lodge—enjoy a view of colourful larch trees in late-summer, emerald lakes and powerful peaks.

12. Whiteman Mountain


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Talus Lodge, BC

Feel like you’re touching the sky! Venture out from the perfect mountain digs, Talus Lodge, heading towards the Continental Divide. Enjoy a mix of alpine meadows filled with tarns, waterfalls, hanging baskets and ledges of green, with an incredible backdrop of ragged mountaintops.

13. Summits & Stromatolites


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Talus Lodge, BC

Strike out, heading up a scree slope above the lodge, pinned between two beautiful lake basins, to explore peaks and fossils. Be amazed as you walk across beds of billion-year-old history and view the majestic Royal Group of Mountains from the higher ridgelines. 

14. Iceline Trail


Yoho National Park, BC

A classic Rocky Mountain trail. Expect out-of-this-world views of high peaks, waterfalls and alpine meadows. Pure bliss—expect a bit of crowd as it showcases nature's magic. 

15. Lake O’Hara Shoreline Trail


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Yoho National Park, BC

An impressive Canadian Rockies vista that you will not be able to get enough of! A big, colourful lake surrounded by saw-blade peaks; a combination that can easily make you trip as it steals your view with every step.

16. Opabin Plateau Circuit


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Yoho National Park, BC

A 360-degree extravaganza abounds here. A hanging valley beckons you to explore, as does the myriad of lakes and flower-filled meadows. Every place here is picnic-perfect.

17. Larch Valley & Minnestimma Lakes


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Banff National Park, AB

Don’t expect to be alone on the trail here, but do expect incredible views of the Ten Peaks. This is one of the best trails in Banff National Park to view the golden glory of larch trees in late summer or early fall.

18. Plain of Six Glaciers


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Banff National Park, AB

Beyond the shores of Lake Louise, a bounty of peaks awaits. This is a family-friendly journey that delivers glaciers, snow-capped peaks and flowery meadows. Read more about Plain of Glaciers here. 

19. Borgeau Lake


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Banff National Park, AB

This hike begins close to Banff and climbs steadily through forest, breaking out into a rock-walled basin that frames a perfect lake. Jump in for a swim!

20. Sunshine Meadows


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Banff National Park, AB

A classic, indeed. Experience the alpine without the climb. Bus-access delivers you to an alpine table and flower-filled meadows; high peaks abound for your exploration.

21. Johnston Canyon


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Banff National Park, AB

Explore a canyon with hundreds of your soon-to-be closest friends. This popular hike delivers waterfalls, canyon walls, river runs and serene pools.

22. Upper Kananaskis Lake


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Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, AB (Canmore)

A giant lake in an alpine setting is the draw. Choose a section to explore on this loop or do it all in a day. From big waterfalls, to jagged ridges and more—the views will amaze on this ever-changing shoreline trail.

23. Chester Lake


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Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, AB (Canmore)

A family-friendly trail to an emerald-green beauty surrounded by rocky peaks. Rewarding not only for a mountain swim on a hot day, but for enjoying the glorious wildflower-filled alpine meadow that surrounds the lake. Read more about Chester Lake Trail here. 

24. Elbow Lake

Kananaskis Provincial Park AB (Canmore/Highwood Pass area)

This is the shortest hike on the list. A family favourite that delivers the right ingredients for a first-timer's Canadian Rockies hiking experience: a beautiful mountain lake and big mountain scenery.

25. Ptarmigan Cirque


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Kananaskis Provincial Park AB (Canmore/Highwood Pass area)

Get into the high-country quick—from sub-alpine forest to a real alpine basin in two kilometres. Expect in-your-face peaks and good potential to see mountain goats.


When You Go

All hikes have easy drive-to (or air) access. For the helicopter access mountain lodges—hikes 10 to 13—easy access is from the Alpine Helicopters base in Canmore, Alberta.

Canadian Rockies International Airport, in Cranbrook, BC, provides quick access to hiking around Fernie and Kimberley, BC, or use the Calgary International Airport—all hikes are within four hours of Calgary.


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