Backpacking trails in Banff National Park

Region in Alberta, Canada

Banff National Park is the ultimate bucket-list backpacking destination, offering some of the finest multi-day treks in the Canadian Rockies. This spectacular national park is crammed with fantastic backcountry trails and well-equipped campgrounds that provide everything you need for a memorable mountain adventure. There’s no better place to get away from it all and out into the wild.

Banff National Park is a stunning natural wilderness in the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery in Canada. You’ll find classic Rocky Mountain landscapes, with soaring, snow-clad peaks, craggy ridges, expansive wildflower meadows and lush forest. Wherever you go, you can be sure of jaw-dropping views and wild nature.

Backpacking in Banff National Park is an excellent way to get up close to some of Canada’s magnificent wildlife. The park is home to grizzly bears, black bears, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and whistling marmots. Exploring these wilderness trails is an excellent way to get away from the daily grind and reconnect with nature. This is the perfect place to introduce younger kids to the joys of backpacking, or to take a trip with friends and loved ones. If you’re a first-timer, a backpacking trip will help you relax, unwind, and breathe fresh mountain air, and Banff National Park is the ideal place to start.

There’s never been a better time to start exploring this magnificent, wild country! To inspire your wanderlust, we’ve put together a list of the best backpacking trails in Banff National Park, with plenty of top tips on how to make your backpacking trip a success.

Types of Backpacking Trails In Banff National Park

There are so many types of backpacking trails in Banff National Park you’ll be spoiled for choice! If you’re a novice backpacker, you’ll find Banff is well equipped with moderate, well-marked trails and excellent campgrounds, so it’s a good opportunity to develop your backpacking skills. In addition, many of the trails listed here can be customized to make them slightly easier, so if you’re worried about your fitness or stamina, it’s usually possible to slow the pace and switch in an extra night of camping to make the trail less strenuous. On the other hand, Banff is a dream destination for adventurous hikers. You’ll find some demanding trails over spectacular, diverse terrain, and plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs and get out into the wild backcountry. This beautiful place has something for everyone!

Easy Backpacking Trails In Banff National Park

Lake Minnewanka Backpacking Trip: The Lake Minnewanka backpacking trail is a relatively easy route and a good option for novice hikers as it’s possible to customize the route according to your fitness. You’ll pass along the serene shores of Lake Minnewanka, navigate the Stewart Canyon, and head up to Aylmer Lookout, where you’ll enjoy some remarkable Rocky Mountain views. This is a classic trip and one of the best easy backpacking trails in Banff National Park.

Family Backpacking Trails In Banff National Park

Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail: Looking for an easy backpacking trail, suitable for the whole family? The trip out to Glacier Lake can be tackled early in the season and is a good option if you’re seeking family backpacking trails in Banff National Park. The trail is gently undulating, so it’s not too much of a challenge, but you’ll soon be plunged into some spectacular backcountry next to one of the largest lakes in Banff.

Challenging Backpacking Trails In Banff National Park

Devon Lakes Backpacking Trail: Looking for a challenging trek in the heart of the Banff wilderness? The trail to the remote Devon Lakes is one of the best challenging backpacking trails in Banff National Park, passing high above the tree line for some truly incredible views. The lakes themselves are stunning, and can be reached in a day hike from the Fish Lake Campground.

Best Backpacking Trails In Banff National Park

Sunshine to Assiniboine Backpacking Trail: The jaw-dropping route from Sunshine to Assiniboine Provincial Park is a bucket-list backpacking trip, and one that will provide plenty of thrills over the 3-5 days it takes to complete the trail. You’ll traverse Citadel Pass before dropping down to Assiniboine Provincial Park, which you can use as a base to explore some of the most exquisite scenery in Banff.

Baker Lake and the Skoki Region Backpacking Trail: The region around Lake Louise boasts a wide range of fantastic backpacking trails, and this route is no exception. You’ll hike to the lovely Baker Lake, which can be used as a base from which to explore the Skoki Lakes, Fossil Mountain or Merlin Lake. It’s also possible to extend the trip to include Skoki Lodge, a charming traditional wooden lodge in a spectacularly beautiful setting.

Gibbon, Whistling and Healy Pass Backpacking Trail: This incredible trek will take you through some classic Rocky Mountain scenery, and is one of the best backpacking trails in Banff National Park. The route passes through wildflower meadows, with views over imposing mountains, serene lakes and high glaciers. Take your time and enjoy the majestic landscapes unfolding before your eyes.

Egypt Lake Backpacking Trail: To get to Egypt Lake you’ll need to traverse the stunning Healy Pass, a hike that is sure to take your breath away. The scenery on this classic Banff backpacking trail just keeps getting better and better, with lush wildflower meadows, and lovely views at Egypt Lake. One you’ve arrived at the lake, it’s possible to take in some of the best hikes in Banff, including Whistling Pass, as a day hike from the campground.

When Is The Best Time To Go Backpacking In Banff National Park?

The backpacking season in Banff National Park is very short, and like other Rocky Mountain destinations, extends from July to mid-September. Many of the high elevation trails are covered in snow until early July, and by mid-September the temperatures are dropping, meaning you’ll be cold if you’re camping out in the backcountry. Otherwise, September is a lovely time to visit, when the larch forests are showing off their autumn colors, and the trails and campgrounds should be relatively quiet.

July and August are the most popular times to go backpacking in Banff National Park, and if you’re planning a trip in the peak of summer, you’ll need to book ahead to secure your place in the campgrounds and on the shuttle buses. It’s also important to check restrictions, as some trails may be closed in July to protect the grizzly bear population. If you’re camping in July you may also be plagued with mosquitos in some areas, so make sure to come prepared with plenty of repellent!

Other Outdoor Activities In Banff National Park

The Canadian Rockies are a paradise for adventure sports, and in addition to backpacking, you’ll find a plethora of other outdoor activities in Banff National Park. Hiking is the main draw here, with countless trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels, from family-friendly lakeside strolls to dramatic ridge walks. The craggy peaks of the Rockies are a good place to try your hand at a little scrambling, an exhilarating way to experience the mountains. In recent years, road biking has also become increasingly popular, and many people see this as one of the best ways to see as much as possible of Banff’s diverse scenery if you’re short on time. In winter, Banff National Park is transformed into one of the best winter sports regions in the Rockies, with opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, in addition to the standard skiing and snowboarding runs.

How To Plan A Trip To Banff National Park

Thinking of planning a trip to Banff? To make sure your trek goes without a hitch, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to backpacking in Banff National Park. We’ve listed the best backcountry campgrounds, made recommendations for all of our favorite backpacking trails, and put together all the important information you’ll need to know before you set out. We’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to – all you need to do is start dreaming of your next adventure!

Frequently-Asked-Questions About Backpacking in Banff National Park

Do you need a permit to hike in Banff?
You won’t need a permit to hike most trails in Banff National Park, but if you’re planning on spending the night in the backcountry, you’ll need to buy a permit in advance. Bookings can be made online on the Parks Canada website, and a backcountry camping permit costs $10.02 per person, per night. Groups are limited to 10 people, and you may only stay three consecutive nights in the same campground.

Can you camp anywhere in Banff National Park?
Banff National Park is a protected area, and as such, backcountry camping is only permitted with a permit, and in designated campgrounds. There are over 50 backcountry campgrounds in Banff National Park, and all the details can be found on the Parks Canada website.

Do you need bear spray in Banff?
Banff supports a healthy grizzly bear population, and although encounters with humans are rare, it’s important to take precautions when you’re camping in the backcountry. Campgrounds should offer secure storage to prevent bears from accessing food, often in the form of a bear cache or a bear pole. Make sure to seek advice from park rangers before you visit, and come prepared in case you do encounter wildlife.

Are campfires allowed in Banff National Park?
Some backcountry campgrounds do allow fires in designated fire pits. They must never be left unattended and kept reasonably small. However, some campgrounds do not allow fires, and you must never light fires outside of the designated areas, so come prepared with a camping stove, just in case.

If you don't want to plan your own trip, check out our other tours in Banff National Park or elsewhere in the Canadian Rockies. Explore the great selection of Banff National Park Hiking Tours to discover some of the best outdoor adventures Alberta has to offer!

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Best Backpacking trails in Banff National Park

Open details for Sunshine to Assiniboine

Sunshine to Assiniboine

Hard
54.0 km
1,555 m
3-5 days

Hiking from Sunshine Ski resort to Assiniboine Provincial Park is a bucket list trek. This backpack is incredible, and the scenery in Assiniboine is absolutely jaw-dropping. Hike from Sunshine Ski resort past wonderful Rock Isle Lake, over Citadel Pass and then down to Assiniboine Park. Once at Assiniboine make Lake Magog your base and explore this exquisite location. Hike out via Wonder Pass and Bryan Creek to the Mount Shark trailhead.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
10.0
Technical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Advanced (Diamond)
Suitable for advanced experience level looking for a solid adventure.
Open details for Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Moderate
24.6 km
700 m
2-3 days

This is a Banff backpacking classic, a perfect trip to head out Friday after work and come back Sunday. Enjoy the stunning views over Lake Minnewanka while you stroll along the shore. If you plan on a 3-day trip, then head up to Aylmer Pass or Aylmer Lookout on the 2nd day before coming back on the 3rd day.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.5
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Egypt Lake

Egypt Lake

Moderate
25.0 km
1,164 m
2-4 days

The backpacking trip to Egypt Lake takes you through the beautiful Healy pass and then down to some stunning scenery by Egypt Lake. In early summer this is a carpet of wildflowers that will amaze you. In autumn the larches turn golden and provide some of our favourite views in the Rockies.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
10.0
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Open details for Baker Lake and the Skoki Region

Baker Lake and the Skoki Region

Hard
33.1 km
1,450 m
3-4 days

Behind the Lake Louise ski hill is one of the best backpacking destinations in Banff National Park. Scenic Baker Lake sits at the heart of the world-famous Skoki region and makes for a wonderful backpacking trip. Alpine passes, lakes, and loads of scrambling opportunities make it a bucket list backcountry trekking destination.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.8
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Advanced (Diamond)
Suitable for advanced experience level looking for a solid adventure.
Open details for Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail

Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail

Easy
17.0 km
210 m
2 days

A backpacking trip to Glacier Lake is a great early-season objective as well as being popular with novice and intermediate backpackers. Visit one of Banff’s largest lakes on this pretty backpacking route, which can also be squeezed into a long day hike. Located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.3
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Open details for Sawback Backpacking Trail

Sawback Backpacking Trail

Very Hard
71.3 km
2,122 m
3-6 days

The Sawback Trail is a popular multi-day trip in Banff National Park. It has endless variations and itinerary options, which makes it excellent for those searching for a unique experience in the backcountry! This trail becomes fully booked every summer through the Parks Canada online booking system. Many sites are only equipped with five tent pads, which makes it difficult to get a spot. Luckily, there are many different options, and if you plan ahead, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime. Climb mountain passes, relax at alpine lakes, and travel through wildflower meadows and diverse forests on this bucket list trail.

User Ratings
No Reviews
Open details for Sunset Pass to Pinto Lake Backpacking Trail

Sunset Pass to Pinto Lake Backpacking Trail

Hard
29.5 km
1,659 m
2-3 days

The backpacking route over Sunset Pass to Pinto Lake is for the adventurous backpacker. If you are tired of overcrowded campsites and the headache of booking, this is a great next step. Backpackers in the White Goat Wilderness receive no amenities and are required to follow leave-no-trace policies on their own. This is a beautiful remote portion of Alberta’s backcountry.

User Ratings
No Reviews
Open details for Giant Steps and Paradise Valley Backpacking Trail

Giant Steps and Paradise Valley Backpacking Trail

Hard
20.6 km
753 m
2 days

This is an excellent trail for an overnight and can be modified to be made a bit more difficult. The Paradise Valley is a lesser-frequented area near Moraine Lake that offers stunning natural features such as Lake Annette and the Giant Steps. Bookings for this must be made by phone or at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.

User Ratings
No Reviews
Open details for Devon Lakes

Devon Lakes

Very Hard
61.0 km
2,032 m
4 days

The Devon Lakes backpack is a journey to two remote alpine lakes in the heart of Banff National Park. This backpack is beautifully isolated, being over 30.0 km from the nearest road and with 3 mountain passes in-between. This backpacking trip isn't only about the destination, however, as a full 22.0 km of the journey (over 40.0 km round trip!) is essentially above treeline with alpine meadows stretching as far as you can see.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
10.0
Technical Difficulty
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Advanced (Diamond)
Suitable for advanced experience level looking for a solid adventure.
Open details for Gibbon, Whistling, and Healy Pass

Gibbon, Whistling, and Healy Pass

Hard
40.7 km
2,015 m
4-5 days

A backpacking trip through Gibbon Pass, Whistling Pass, and Healy Pass traverses three flower-filled alpine passes, multiple lakes and tarns, an old growth larch forest, and takes you along a trail surrounded by glacier studded jagged peaks. This is a spectacular trip, showcasing all the magnificent beauty the Canadian Rockies have to offer.

User Ratings
Overall Rating
9.5
Technical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.
Physical Difficulty
Intermediate (Square)
Suitable for intermediates who are ready for a little bit more adventure.

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