Located in the South East of Canada, the Alberta province is a bucket-list destination for avid hikers from around the globe. It’s jam-packed full of spectacular scenery, ranging from vast turquoise lakes, to snow-capped forests, to meadows full of wildflowers… and even non-hikers will have heard of the famous Rocky Mountains.
Alberta is overflowing with National Parks such as Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, and Elk Island (just to name a few), and you’ll find magical trails weaving throughout them all. On top of that, many of its parks, including the Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park are so special that they’ve been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites… it really is no wonder it’s such a popular destination among outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.
Alberta really does offer unparalleled variety in terms of your hiking backdrop and, with so many hikes to choose from, you’ll definitely be able to find one that suits your ability perfectly. To help you make the most of your time there, we’ve put together this list of the best hikes in Alberta Canada – happy hiking!
Although hiking in Alberta Canada is undeniably magical, things can turn a little sour if you don’t plan ahead. In the summer months, the days can get hot and sweaty, so make sure you pack your sunglasses, sunscreen, and plenty of water. In the winter months, some of the routes can become quite perilous, and you’ll need to make sure you have enough layers to keep you warm and any equipment you’ll need to scale those more challenging climbs. At the turn of the season, you’ll need your hot and cold weather gear, as things can be unpredictable.
As well as the weather, you need to be wary of the wildlife you might encounter – you’ll need to stock up some bear spray and be confident using it (for more tips on bear precautions, see here). Overall, though, if you pick a route in advance and do your research, hiking around Alberta is going to be one unforgettable experience.
To prove that Alberta isn’t only a destination for mammoth hikers, we’re going to start off with a nice casual walk that takes you up to the Johnston Canyon.
Located in the Banff National Park, the hike is often referred to as simply the ‘Johnston Canyon’… but this is a little misleading as there are actually two routes that take you either to the lower or upper falls. A return hike to the lower falls is 2.4 km in distance, while it’s 5 km to the upper – either way, it’s an easygoing trail to follow and one of the most stunning trails in Banff.
You’ll wind your way up walkways, staircases, and bridges (and there’s seven a tunnel at the Lower Falls) that take you up close and personal to the limestone cliffs and flowing waters. If you have the energy, we recommend extending your trip slightly to include the nearby Ink Pots – this will make it a 5.7 km hike each way.
Whichever route you opt for, you’ll be setting off from just behind the designated car park. From here, head along the trail through an uphill patch of enchanting forest then follow the path down towards the Lower Falls. Here, you’ll find a bridge that offers excellent views of the falls, and there’s even a tunnel carved into the rock that again gives you a good look at the wonder of the falls. If you’ve had enough at this point, you can return from here feeling satisfied with a short but sweet trip.
Alternatively, you can return to the main trail and begin the ascent to the Upper Falls along the numerous paths and bridges you’ll encounter – and don’t worry, there are tonnes of great spots to pause and soak up the scenery (and not mention, catch your breath if you need to). Once you reach the mighty Upper Falls, you again have the option to head back down the trail or continue to the Ink Pots – which we definitely recommend if you’re feeling up to. The route will lead you up at first, again through more forest, then you’ll head downwards slightly to the pots themselves.
Although the name may seem odd at first, upon sighting the Ink Pots, all will become apparent – these mineral springs are a captivating emerald color with smatterings of navy blue working their way through. The pools make for a totally unique setting and are a great place to set up camp and chomp down a much-deserved picnic lunch. After that, head back the way you came for an easy journey back to your starting point.
Although this is a fairly easy, well-trodden hike (you’ll definitely encounter other hikers along the way), be wary of the slippery stones at the top – many people opt to leave the paths and clamber around to gain better views, but this can be extremely treacherous. It’s generally recommended to carry out this hike during the summer months but, if you do go in winter (when you can witness the might falls freezing over), make sure you take your ice grips and other winter hiking gear.
Another excellent, yet slightly more challenging, day hike in Banff National Park is the Plain of Six Glaciers. Not only will this hike, as the name suggests, take you past some spectacular glaciers, but you’ll also get the chance to stroll along some lovely shoreline too. What’s more, at the hike’s finale, you’ll get the chance to reward your endeavors with a hot cup of tea at the Plain Of Six Glaciers Tea House, which tends to be far less busy than the one at Lake Agnes.
To begin, from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel follow the shoreline of the lake to the end of the lake, where you’ll spot an accumulation of silt, and keep your eyes open for the first trail marker. You can amble along without expending too much energy for the first half of the hike, but there’s a fairly steep climb prior to reaching the valley that will take you to Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria.
Once you leave the forest behind you, you’ll have spectacular views of the lake you passed earlier in the day, and you might even make some mammalian friends along the way (marmots, chipmunks, goats, and even bears are sighted in this area).
The slow ascent is fairly laid-back until its final stretch, but by this point, you can almost smell the hot cup of tea with your name on it. Sat in a meadow and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, this is one lunchtime spot you won’t forget in a hurry.
We’ve given this hike a moderate rating as it’s generally quite manageable but there are a few steep points. The avalanche zones are clearly marked, but we only recommend using this trail in the summer months unless you really know your stuff (seasonal closure information can be found here).
Introducing the first difficult hike to make it on to your list of the best hikes in Alberta, the Vimy Peak hike. This route can be found in the Waterton Lakes National Park, and as you enter the park and the peak first comes into sight you’ll be stricken with how dramatically it erupts from the surrounding calm, flat, and tranquil lakeside landscape.
It’s a full day’s hike and you’ll get mountains, lakes, meadows, and wildlife en route. Plus, one of the best things about this hike is how quiet it is compared to other routes that are more firmly placed on the tourist map.
The first 6.5 km of this route are actually shared with the Wishbone Trailhead. Although this part of the hike is calm and non-strenuous, if you’d rather save your strength for the day to come, you can organize boat shuttles directly to the starting point (the Vimy Ridge/Peak junction). From here onwards, the going gets tough – in roughly 5 km you’ll ascend almost three and a half thousand feet, passing an iconic rock formation known as ‘Lion’s Head’.
Then, as you meander higher still (although at a more manageable incline), you’ll be flanked by grassy meadows sprinkled with wildflowers. For those of you that like to travel light, you’ll be pleased to know you can easily top up your water from the babbling brooks running adjacent to the path. The final stretch of the trail to the peak is steep again, but you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views – mountains and lakes as far as the eyes can see on all sides, pretty amazing hey?
This route is best followed from April to May and, although the path itself is dog-friendly (providing they have the stamina) they must be kept on a leash at all times to avoid any run-ins with bears – and make sure you know the relevant precautions too. The steep inclines combined with the distance means that this hike is only suitable for those with a good deal of fitness.
The Cavell Meadows hike is perfect for those of you that are up for a challenge when it comes to physical activity but don’t necessarily want to spend from dusk till dawn on the trail – after all, all holidays should factor in some downtime. We definitely recommend timing this hike with the blooming of the wildflowers (mid-July to August) to appreciate it in its full glory.
From the parking lot, there’s a gentle climb that takes you through a forest packed with furry little friends (marmots, squirrels, and more) until you reach a gorgeous mountain meadow. You’ll pass some awesome viewpoints and, in the right season, witness some of the most scenic wildflower-covered meadows you’ve ever witnessed in your life. From here, things get trickier as you reach the boulder field, from here, scramble as far up as your legs can handle to admire the incredible towering mountains surrounding you.
As usual, only attempt this hike during the summer months unless you really know your stuff (the road closes at the end of summer due to snowfall anyway). The scramble to the top is steep and there are loose stones, so this hike definitely isn’t for the fainthearted.
And finally, in case one day’s hiking just isn’t enough for you, the Skyline Trail hike will keep you busy for 2-4 days. It passes three notorious peaks, making it the tallest trail in Jasper National Park. This height provides unprecedented views of the park and, unsurprisingly, it’s one of Alberta’s most popular routes.
Although it can be walked in either direction, it’s recommended to begin the hike at Maligne Lake and head north. It would take us forever to map out the route in detail, so make sure you’ve studied it beforehand and decided how you want to break up your journey (it’s possible to complete the hike in anything from 2 to 4 days).
One thing we can tell you, though, is that you’ll pass streams, cross bridges, skirt glaciers, climb mountains, and enjoy lakesides over the course of your journey – if you want one hike to sum up Alberta, then this is it!
Planning is everything with this hike – don’t overestimate how far you can hike in a day. Also, we definitely recommend checking in with the camps in advance to make sure they can accommodate you. Make sure you take lots of layers with you, as the tall heights mean you can encounter snow on this trail even in the peak of summer.