Popular hiking trails in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks are expected to be busier than ever in 2017, thanks to free national parks entry in celebration of Canada's 150th. Thanks to careful planning and trail selection, we're aiming for maximum enjoyment while exploring the Canadian Rocky Mountains this summer. Read on to take advantage of our top strategies and to get the inside scoop on our favourite hiking trails.
An awesome wildflower season hike, the Helen Lake trail is also a good option for early fall. It offers great views of Crowfoot Glacier across the valley, has a relatively modest elevation gain of just under 600 meters from trailhead to lake shore, and includes a long stretch of trail with expansive views of Dolomite Peak and several unnamed ridges and peaks. Upon reaching the scenic highlight that is Helen Lake, there are a few options to extend the day, including hiking to the Cirque Peak or a nice ridge walk above the lake.
The Stanley Glacier hike in Kootenay National Park has a lot going for it: 1) less than two hours from Calgary (under an hour from Canmore) it's about the same travel time to/from as many of our favourite hikes deep in Kananaskis; 2) it's pretty easy; 3) fossils; 4) new and old growth forests; 5) Mount Stanley, Mount Storm and Mount Whymper; 6) waterfalls; 7) a hanging valley; and 8) Stanley Glacier! After our second trip up and down the trail, we added Stanley Glacier to our list of all-time favourites hikes.
While Sunshine is most well-known for skiing, the summer gondola and shuttle bus service make Sunshine Meadows one of the most accessible alpine hiking areas in the Canadian Rockies from late June through late September. For some, its a starting point for backpacking adventures to Mt. Assiniboine or the Egypt/Pharoah Lakes area. For dayhikers like us, prime times to visit Sunshine Meadows are during peak wildflower season (usually towards the end of July) and peak larch viewing season (usually towards the end of September). Our most recent larch season visit was timed just about perfectly and reaffirmed that it's well worth the effort to do at least one golden larch hike each fall.
This hike is a scenic powerhouse: four waterfalls, a turquoise mountain lake, a wildflower-filled amphitheatre and an amazing view of the Waputik Icefield (including Daly Glacier, source of Takakkaw Falls). It's ample payback for the challenging 1150 meter elevation gain and total distance of just over 22 km. Allocate a full day to this hike and be sure to pack your camera!