Hiking Banff National Park – Bow Falls to Hoodoos Trail

Our Family Day long weekend included an inside/outside day in Banff: a morning looking at photographs while wandering the galleries at Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies followed by an afternoon making photographs while exploring a new-to-us trail just outside of the Banff townsite.


We accessed the easy Bow Falls to Hoodoos trail from Surprise Corner, a tiny parking lot just off Buffalo Street where it morphs into Tunnel Mountain Drive. Most of the handful of parking spots were taken up by construction vehicles and supplies, all for the rebuild of the Surprise Corner viewing platform that provides a great view of the Banff Springs Hotel. Since the platform was closed, we walked about a fifty meters along the shoulder of Buffalo Street to take in the popular sight.

Banff Springs Hotel

After backtracking to the parking lot, we took the short run of stairs down to the trail. Thanks to non-existent signage and multiple hard-packed trails in the snow, we had a couple of false starts before finally setting off towards the hoodoos.

The trail lost a bit of elevation before flattening out. It’s a good thing we fasted Kahtoola MICROspikes to our hiking boots before setting off. TRACTION aids were essential, even after the trail leveled off and started meandering through a spruce forest with pretty much no undergrowth.


We kept thinking we’d soon come to Bow Falls. We were wrong. Bow Falls are pretty much right below the Banff Springs Hotel and we completely missed them due to traffic noise! That’s okay – the Bow Falls earthcache will be waiting for us next time we visit Banff.

About 10 minutes from the parking lot, the trail begins to parallel a side channel of the Bow River. It was covered in thick ice that had caved in thanks to a drop in the water level after freeze up.

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There was open water in the main channel of the Bow River but still plenty of thick ice along the bank. Even so, we stayed close to the trail while composing a few photographs of the river with the Fairholme Range in the distance.


Ice on the Bow River near Banff

That was it for being up close to the Bow River. After a short, steep section the route angled towards Tunnel Mountain Drive but it wasn’t until we reached the parking lot just across from the Tunnel Mountain Campground that we left the forest and had to walk right beside the road.

The red chairs off the back of the parking lot across from the campground were occupied when we walked past the first time, so we continued on towards the Hoodoos.


We did not walk the entire Hoodoos Trail since by then it was fairly late in the afternoon. Once we reached the second viewing platform and took a few photographs, we started back. We had a gravity assist pretty  much all the way back, stopping briefly at the red chairs to take in the view and snap a couple of quick photos for #sharethechair.

We had the whole route pretty much to ourselves in both directions. We did see one fellow with a mountain bike; some sections of the Bow Falls to Hoodoos Trail are shared use so stay alert if you take this route. It’s pretty unlikely you’ll have to yield to mountain bikes in the winter which goes at least part way to make up for the fact that the Bow River is not likely to be very turquoise at this time of year.


Total distance = 10.2 km
Total elevation gain = 200 meters (60 net)
Total hiking time = 3 hours (including 30 minutes for photography)

If you’re not partial to out-and-backs, consider taking Roam Transit for most of one direction. Route 2 stops at Tunnel Mountain Campground so options would be 1) park in town, walk generally uphill and then catch the bus back to town; or 2) avoid downtown parking hassles by parking at the Hoodoo trail head parking lot, walk generally uphill to town (from the Secret Corner parking lot, walk about 400 meters along Buffalo Street and then drop down to the Bow River Trail to town) and then catch the bus most of the way back to where you parked.

3 thoughts on “Hiking Banff National Park – Bow Falls to Hoodoos Trail

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