7 Best Hikes in Banff National Park & Free Camping

Banff National Park is a hiker’s paradise! The hardest part of this blog was choosing our top 7 hikes in Banff… Some of the most beautiful lakes on earth call Banff home, and to be honest that just scratches the surface of this park.

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are so incredible that we could write a whole website on just those. You will sit in awe at the color of those lakes and the surrounding mountains and valleys. They are STUPID pretty.

On top of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, there are a number of other wonderful sites to see in Banff. What is the biggest benefit about the other destinations? They will be about one-tenth as crowded! As with every popular park, the crowds will fade away once you get on a hiking trail.

Throughout our description of our 7 favorite hikes in Banff National Park, we are going to get a TON of unique experiences. We will do Lake Louise and Moraine Lake of course. We will also hike a mountain pass, discover 2 back-country mountain tea houses, explore sites around Banff Town, and more!

In this blog we will tell you our 7 favorite hikes, but that isn’t all… Note even close. We will give you a daily itinerary to do all 7 of these hikes in 4 days (if you wish to, you can spread them out more of course). On top of that, we have free camping recommendations AND we tell you all the gear you’ll need for your Canadian Rockies adventure!

Now, are you ready to get started? ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE!?!? Let’s get to it.

#7 Best Hike in Banff – Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka comes in at Number 7 on our countdown of the best hikes in Banff National Park. Lake Minnewanka is located right near the town of Banff, which is a bit of driving distance from the rest of our adventures.

However, that does NOT mean you should miss it. It just means you have to make it part of your plan! We recommend doing the Lake Minnewanka hike on a day that you wish to explore Banff Town, which is a cute town full of touristy shops and cafes. Maybe explore the lake in the morning and the town in the evening, or vice versa!

There are a few AWESOME things about Lake Minnewanka. First, the trail is easy. High reward for low effort, the best kind of trails. However, if you want to make it hard, you can! The trail goes as far and as high as you want, and there are fantastic views the entire way.

Second, there are a lot of opportunities for fun you can do that doesn’t even involve hiking. Rent a canoe or boat, do a cruise on the lake, have fun on a fishing trip, or even go horseback riding!



 

Photography Equipment

 

We absolutely LOVE photography, and sharing pictures! These are the cameras we use on all of our adventures. The drone and GoPro help us get cool new perspectives (underwater, in the air, wide angle) and the Rebel we use on a day-to-day basis for most of our shots!

 

Full disclosure these are affiliate links. If you click them and buy the products we get a little bit of money, which helps us keep providing content to you for free!

Click to See our Travel Gear Recommendations

 



 

Third, this is a GREAT place to hang out and relax and recharge. Because of that, we recommend making Lake Minnewanka a day after one of the longer, more strenuous hikes we have planned. You can soak up the sites and sun at one of the best lakes in Canada and plan the rest of your incredible adventure!

Hike Details

Lake Minnewanka Google Maps Link

  • Distance: As long as you want around the lake!
  • Elevation Gain: None
  • Trailhead: Lake Minnewanka

#6 Best Hike in Banff – Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass

Coming in at #6 on our countdown of best hikes in Banff National Park is Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass. One reason this hike is wonderful is because of where it starts: Moraine Lake. We will talk a LOT more about Moraine Lake later on, but just know that you get a treat at the start AND finish of this hike, which is a great finishing touch for the day.

In fact, the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass hike is the only hike we will be doing that starts at Moraine Lake (outside of the Rockpile Trail, if you call that a hike…). The Larch Valley trail starts with a pretty steep ascent, but then levels out after the initial struggle.

The middle of the trail opens up to the Valley of Ten Peaks, a beautiful piece of land that has a backdrop of ten jagged-sawtooth mountains. The peaks are all similar heights and make for a wonderful scene with the green valley before them and the big skies beyond.

After hiking through the valley you will come to Minnestimma Lake, a PERFECT stop for a picnic. The lake is crystal clear, and if you stand at the right angle it reflects the mountains in such a way that you will NOT want to leave. Take a break here, as the next part of the hike is the final push!

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Lake Minnestimma Will Knock You Off Your Feet!

The final section of this hike is up Sentinel Pass, a mountain pass that offers a 360 degree panorama of the surrounding area. The view from atop the pass is breathtaking, another place for a quick break and a few photos!

All in all, at 3.4 miles each way, this hike is relatively short considering all of the incredible sites along the way. Moraine Lake kicks off the trail, followed by a forest trek. From there, you’ll see the Valley of Ten Peaks and an alpine meadow. And to finish it off, a mountain pass looking down on everything you just conquered. Wow what a hike!

Hike Details

Sentinel Pass Google Maps Link

  • Distance: 11 km (6.8 mi)
  • Elevation Gain: 800 m (2620 ft)
  • Trailhead: Moraine Lake

#5 Best Hike in Banff – Peyto Lake Panorama Overlook

Peyto Lake is best saved for last chronologically, but in no way does that mean it isn’t awesome. Why is it last? Because Peyto Lake will be the furthest North that we go in Banff! And if you are making your way to the Columbian Ice Fields and Jasper after Banff, then Peyto Lake is RIGHT along the way.



 

Hiking Gear

 

Hiking is our number 1 favorite activity. You get outside, get exercise, see amazing things, and don’t spend a lot of money. It is literally the perfect activity! You do need to have the right gear to go though. Here is all the best gear we use for our hikes.

Click to See More Gear Recommendations

 



 

The Peyto Lake hike is extremely short, just under a mile each way. But don’t let that fool you, the reward at the end is still incredible! The blue of Peyto Lake is very similar to the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake blues. These lakes leave you in awe with their color alone, not to mention the gorgeous mountain backdrop and huge Canadian skies.

Once you reach the panorama overlook, if you are itching for an even BETTER view of Peyto Lake then listen up. There is a trail through the forest that brings you to a rock field that you can explore and get an even cooler perspective of the lake.

We recommend taking this trail, as there are basically 0 tourists and you’ll be able to get into your element by getting out into the elements. You can soak in the beauty of Peyto Lake without the constant barrage of tourists and selfies (which we admit, we are sometimes those tourists…). However, sometimes it feels good to escape! This is a great place to do it.

Hike Details

Peyto Lake Google Maps Link

  • Distance: 2.7 km (1.7 mi)
  • Elevation Gain: 115 m (380 ft)
  • Trailhead: Peyto Lake

#4 Best Hike in Banff – Sulphur Mountain

Sulphur Mountain is similar to Lake Minnewanka in 1 way: it is close to Banff Town. However, in most other ways that matter, it is the exact opposite. Which is great! We are getting a great variety of hikes and seeing this part of the world from different perspectives, literally!

Let’s get one thing straight: the hike up Sulphur Mountain is not easy. It is a grind! In some ways, it is similar to the Grouse Grind in Vancouver, but a bit longer and less steep.

However, it is SO worth the trip to the top. On top of Sulphur Mountain you will have an experience unlike any you’ll have anywhere else in the park! Why? A few different reasons!

First off, there is a boardwalk that takes you ALL AROUND the top of the mountain. The boardwalk gives you the opportunity to get to places you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to get to. As a result, you’ll get awesome perspectives of the surrounding mountains and valleys!

Secondly, there is a full-fledged visitor center at the top! In this visitor center there is a gift shop, restaurant, restrooms, and bar that often has live music playing! While we were there, a woman was playing some local music, so we sat down and listened for a half hour.

Also, there was a free video about Banff and the surrounding area that we found to be entertaining AND educational! We spent some time exploring everything we could in the Visitor Center before continuing to explore!



 

Camping Gear

 

Who doesn’t love camping?? Getting out into the great outdoors, enjoying Mother Nature’s beauty, it is the best! We love waking up with a cup of coffee after camping by the lake under the stars. Here is all the camping gear we use and love!

Click to See More Recommendations

 



 

Hot Tip: Do the hike up and take the free Gondola back! Most days the Gondola ride down Sulphur Mountain is free after a certain time of day. When we were there it was 7 PM. Check at the local Visitor Center for details on the Gondola while you’re there!

Finally, the altitude of the mountain gives you the opportunity to look down on all of Banff Town and the surrounding landscape! And the sunset from atop the mountain is drop-dead gorgeous. Go for the view, stay for the sunset, and take the free Gondola ride back to your car.

Hike Details

Sulphur Mountain Google Maps Link

  • Distance: 5 km (3.2 mi)
  • Elevation Gain 740 m (2430 ft)
  • Trailhead: Sulphur Mountain Trailhead

#3 Best Hike in Banff – Lake Louise & Lake Agnes Tea House

Well, we made it. The TOP 3 hikes in Banff National Park! The top 3 hikes in one of the best National Parks in the World! And coming in at number 3 is Lake Louise and the Lake Agnes Tea House hike.

This hike starts at, you guessed it, Lake Louise. And what is one thing you may have heard of about Lake Louise? It’s beautiful. Yes of course. What is one other thing? It is busy. HOLY CRAP it gets busy! Busy enough that you won’t be able to find parking normally.

Parking at Lake Louise

If you can’t find parking, you have to park at the Lake Louise Overflow Lot and shuttle in. And you have to PAY for the shuttle. You pay for the chance to wait in a long line and take a bus in to the same place you could have gotten if you found a parking spot. What does that tell you? You should GET A PARKING SPOT!

Easy to say, tough to do. To get a Lake Louise parking spot, you will have to get up before the buttcrack of dawn. We woke up at 4:30 AM to drive in and get to a parking spot around 5:00 AM, and we got one. The lot filled up around 5:45-6:00, but we did NOT want to cut it close.

There is one HUGE added benefit to getting to Lake Louise early, ON TOP OF the parking situation: you are there for sunrise. Sunrise at Lake Louise (and Moraine Lake) is to DIE for!

The sky during a Lake Louise sunrise is all shades of pink and purple. These shades make their way onto the surrounding mountains, and reflect of the stillness of the lake in the morning. Add in the light blue shade of Lake Louise and you have a pretty dang awesome view, one that you won’t be able to get anywhere else.

Hiking Lake Agnes Tea House

After sunrise, you can do one of two things: hike the Lake Agnes Tea House trail or collapse from tiredness and take a nap. We chose number 2, and took a quick cat-nap in our van until about 10:00 AM and did the hike then!

However, if you want to power through and do the hike right away (and take a nap later) then more power to you! The hike to Lake Agnes Tea House is just under 2.5 miles each way, and has a few incredible overlooks of Lake Louise along the way.



 

Book Recommendations

 

We love to read, especially on a trip! We get our books on a Kindle so we can bring multiple books anywhere. Reading is a great way to relax and unwind while also getting caught up in a great story. We love everything from novels to self-help, business books to memoirs. Here are our favorites!

Click to See All Our Book Recommendations

 



 

Once you reach the top, just as the name suggest, there is a tea house! The Lake Agnes Tea House is a PERFECT stop for you along the hike, and is such a unique experience. I mean how many places is there a legitimate tea house ON A HIKE?! The answer is: not many.

One really cool aspect of the Lake Agnes Tea House is that it is full self-sustaining. There isn’t electricity or indoor plumbing, they rely on people hiking up with baking and tea-making ingredients. There is something special about enjoying a hot biscuit in this back-country structure.

Another awesome aspect is the lake! Lake Agnes is a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by the Canadian Rockies on 3 sides, and the valley to Lake Louise on the other. In fact, you can see the Little & Big Beehives (more on those in a bit) from Lake Agnes!

All in all, the Lake Agnes Tea House trail is a wonderful and unique experience that everyone should have during their time in Banff National Park. You may have to wake up early to experience it, but it will be MORE than worth it!

Hike Details

Lake Agnes Tea House Google Maps Link

  • Distance: 7.6 km (4.7 mi)
  • Elevation Gain: 430 m (1410 ft)
  • Trailhead: Lake Louise

#2 Best Hike in Banff – Rockpile Trail at Moraine Lake

Folks, we found it. The hike with the lowest effort and highest reward. In the whole world. Okay, we haven’t hiked every hike in the world, however we are pretty confident that none of them have the combination of effort & reward that the Rockpile Trail has.

To be perfectly honest, we didn’t know whether to call the Rockpile Trail a hike, It is a quarter mile each way (yeah, a half mile TOTAL) and is extremely easy. And the reward at the end? Almost beyond belief.

Moraine Lake is without a doubt one of the most stunning bodies of water on earth. It 100% legitimately looks fake. Here’s a list of what Moraine Lake looks like:

  • Moraine Lake looks like if you melted all the blue raspberry gelato on earth and pumped it into a Canadian basin
  • Moraine Lake looks like love feels
  • Moraine Lake looks like a huge pool of cotton candy
  • Moraine Lake looks like when you are able to match every sock in a load of laundry without any solo stragglers
  • Moraine Lake looks like if a kindergartner colored a lake with a tropical-colored crayon because they couldn’t find the color they usually use for lakes
  • Moraine Lake looks like heaven

In reality, there aren’t enough words in the English language to convey how incredible this lake is. You will have to see it to believe it. Typically, we edit our pictures to bring out colors, we didn’t have to with these. The #nofilter movement was born here, and if it wasn’t, it should have been.

The Rockpile Trail takes you, as the name suggest, up a small rockpile to an overlook of Moraine Lake. This trail, similar to Lake Louise, is best done bright and early in the morning, for 2 reasons.



 

What is Harvest Hosts?

 

Harvest Hosts is a network of free camping locations all over the USA! Wineries, breweries, farms, museums, and even golf courses. You can camp free at all of them! And even better, if you click this link you’ll get 15% off!



 

First off, sunrise. The sunrise at Moraine Lake paints the mountains pink, and contrasts beautifully with the blue of the lake. This setting is every photographer’s dream.

The second reason to start early? Parking.

Parking at Moraine Lake

The parking situation at Moraine Lake is extremely similar to the parking situation at Lake Louise. The only difference? The parking lot at Moraine Lake is even smaller than the parking lot at Lake Louise!

Thankfully, Moraine Lake is a tad less busy than Lake Louise. Therefore, you are going to have to wake up again wake up extremely early to get a parking spot. We recommend that you plan on getting to the lot around 5:00 AM.

If you aren’t able to get up this early, then you will likely be stuck going to the Lake Louise Overflow Lot and taking the shuttle in to Moraine Lake. Again, this is NOT recommended! You will have to wait in a LONG line and you have to PAY to use the shuttle. Avoid both and just wake up early!

Hike Details

Moraine Lake Google Maps Link

  • Distance: .8 km (.5 mi)
  • Elevation Gain: Barely anything
  • Trailhead: Moraine Lake

#1 Best Hike in Banff – Both Beehives and Plain of 6 Glaciers Loop

It has been quite the journey so far, but we made it! The number 1 hike in all of Banff National Park! And this one is a doozy my friends. Get ready for an absolute EXPERIENCE packed into 1 day of hiking. Are you up for it?

This hike starts at Lake Louise, and continues in a big loop stopping at a few different jaw-dropping points before bringing you back to Lake Louise. Similar to the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing Lake Louise twice on this hike, at the beginning and end, which is a HUGE benefit!

However, unlike the Lake Agnes Tea House hike, this one is going to give you the best possible views overlooking Lake Louise from above! We are talking bird’s eye view, people.

To start this hike, we will be taking the same trail as the Lake Agnes Tea House, however after a little time we will come to a fork in the trail. Here, follow signs for Little Beehive.

Little Beehive offers a cliffside trail that overlooks the lake and displays the unique light blue that makes Lake Louise so unique! Spend some time taking in this view, have a snack (maybe breakfast if you started right after sunrise…) and rest your legs.

More Hiking Tips from Explor8ion

Leaving Little Beehive we will head on the trail to Big Beehive, which offers an even BETTER view of Lake Louise! If that is even possible…

Big Beehive is not an easy trail, it will be a hike UP a large dome! It is BIG Beehive after all. However, the hike is worth it, as you will have an unbelievable view of Banff National Park spread before you at the top.

From the top of Big Beehive, you’ll have to retrace your steps a little bit to get back to the main trail. However, once you do get back to the trail, you will now follow signs on the main loop towards the Plain of Six Glaciers, our final stop on this hike!

Note: This hike also brings you to Lake Agnes and somewhat close to the Lake Agnes Tea House. If you have the time & energy, and the weather is good, you can combine these 2 hikes pretty easily!

The Plain of Six Glaciers is an awesome stop for a few reasons! First off, there is also a tea house along this trail! Though not as popular as the Lake Agnes Tea House, this tea house is just as quaint, and is even more deep in the back-country!

Secondly, you have the opportunity to see living glaciers in action! These active glaciers are still carving the Canadian Rockies year-by-year. The incredibly huge fields of ice and snow make for a unique site, one that you won’t get on any other hike we’ve done thus far!

Finally, a third reason that the Plain of Six Glaciers is a must-do is to say thank you! For what? Well, for creating Lake Louise! These are the glaciers that melted over time and CREATED Lake Louise!

On this hike, depending on the time of year, you’ll be able to see the snow melt flowing from the glaciers down the mountains. The water flows and picks up glacial sediment along the route, eventually flowing into the lake. That glacial sediment is what gives Lake Louise its unique color!

We absolutely loved being able to see the life-cycle of the glacier and lake, and this was the only hike where we could see that. On the return trip down the valley, you’ll follow the snow melt from start to finish.

The final stretch of this loop is a walk along the entire length of Lake Louise. All in all, this hike has everything, and that is why it is our favorite hike in Banff National Park!

Hike Details

Lake Louise Google Maps Link

  • Distance: 18 km (11.2 mi)
  • Elevation Gain: 1000 m (3300 ft)
  • Trailhead: Lake Louise

Itinerary

Okay, we have 7 INCREDIBLE hikes to do in Banff National Parks. But what order should you do them in? Should you go from best-to-worst? Maybe worst-to-best is the way to go?

Here is our recommendation on the best order to do these hikes. You’ll be able to have all of the fun and adventure you can possible imagine during just 4 short days hiking in Banff National Park. And following this itinerary will minimize your daily travel as much as possible.

Of course, feel free to make this your own! If you want to add in a day of rest here or there, go right ahead! If you want to skip a few options, then you should skip them. This will be your adventure after all, make it yours!

Day 1

  • Sunrise at Lake Louise
  • Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse

Day 2

  • Sunrise at Moraine Lake
  • Hike Rockpile Trail
  • Hike Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass
  • Hike Sulphur Mountain for Sunset & Gondola Ride Down

Day 3

  • Explore Lake Minnewanka & Hike as Long as You Want
  • Explore Banff Town

Day 4

  • Sunrise at Lake Louise
  • Hike Little & Big Beehive, Plain of 6 Glaciers Loop
  • Drive up to Peyto Lake & Hike to Panorama

Camping

One thing we haven’t mentioned yet which made our experience in Banff National Park so awesome was that we did it on a BUDGET! We spent a grand total of $0 (ZERO DOLLARS) on lodging, and since we had a Canadian National Park pass from our time in Yoho National Park, we didn’t spend anything to get into the park to hike either!

SO how did we get free campsites every night we stayed here? We used iOverlander to find free campsites outside of Banff National Park! Camping outside of official campgrounds isn’t allowed inside the National Park, other than at the Lake Louise Overflow Lot, so we took advantage of that as well.

If free campsites aren’t your thing, there are also many options for hotels and lodging in Lake Louise or nearby Field. However, fair warning, you are going to be paying an arm and a leg for it. We HIGHLY recommend camping, as it is makes Banff National Park an even more unforgettable experience and it is much easier on your bank account!

Dogs in Banff National Park

We can’t write a blog about Canadian National Parks and not include our FAVORITE part about Canadian National Parks… They are dog friendly!! You will be able to bring your four-legged friend along for the adventure of their lifetimes!

Now, there are some limits to where your dog can go inside the park. Some trails are off-limits due to wildlife activity, and dogs aren’t allowed in every building. Just follow the signs in your area accordingly!

Video

For those of you who like watching adventure, we created a video with EVERYTHING you need to know to have the awesome adventure that Banff promises! All of the hikes and camping we did are included in the video!

Also, we would HUGELY appreciate if you subscribed to our YouTube channel!

Gear for Banff National Park

Here is some gear that we recommend if you plan on having the adventure of a lifetime in Banff National Park! Full disclosure, these are affiliate links, if you click them and purchase the item it helps us continue to provide free content and hiking recommendations!

We personally have used these items and have shopped around for the best. We are EXTREMELY conscious of price (we live on a monthly budget of $1,000 TOTAL…) and we believe these are the best products for the cheapest cost on the market.

Hiking Gear

Men’s Hiking Boots

Women’s Hiking Boots

Men’s Jacket

Women’s Jacket

Trekking Poles

Cooler Backpack

Bear Spray

Water Bladder

Photography Gear

GoPro Hero 7 Black

DJI Spark Drone

Canon Rebel Camera with Accessories

Aluminum Tripod

Flexible Tripod

GoPro Floating Handle

Camping Gear

Hammock

Camp Chair

Water Filter

Iodine Tablets

Camping Stove

Backpacking Stove

Beef Jerky

Hiking Bars

More Pics

Conclusion

Thank you SO much for reading our blog on the 7 Best Hikes in Banff National Park! If you loved this article, please us the below images to Pin It and save it for later! And if you have any questions about Banff National Park or any other place we’ve been, reach out to us in the Comments section and we will reply ASAP!

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12 thoughts on “7 Best Hikes in Banff National Park & Free Camping

  1. Banff is suuuper super high up on my travel bucket list!! Every photo I’ve ever seen is so gorgeous! <3 I can see how it'd be hard to pick only 7 favorite hikes! That's awesome that they have a free gondola back for the Sulphur Mountain hike!

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