Banff is the oldest National Park in Canada and receives four million visitors and hikers each year. Hiking here is one highlight of visiting Canada and will leave travelers with memories (and epic photos) to last a lifetime. Dense coniferous forests, towering mountains, and milky blue glacial lakes are what visitors can expect to see while making their way around the vast park.
Hiking in Banff is exciting and rewarding, but doing so safely requires adequate preparation. These 10 tips will help set hikers up for success, so they can maximize their time exploring Banff National Park.
11 Wear Appropriate Hiking Boots
10 To ensure comfort on the scenic hiking trails in Banff, hikers need to come prepared with appropriate footwear. Stylish winter boots or sneakers might not be safe to wear when attempting some trails in the park, especially those rated as moderate or hard.
Invest in a reliable hiking boot or shoe with treads that provide traction for going up steep inclines. The boot or shoe should offer support, be breathable, and be comfortable. For hikers visiting the park in the later fall or winter when there’s snow on the trails, consider bringing a pair of crampons that attach to the bottom of the hiking boot for extra grip in icy or slippery conditions.
9 Invest In Trekking Poles
The terrain in Banff is varied with some trails that are easy to navigate on flat, even ground, and others that require hikers to traverse steep, rocky pathways. Regardless of a traveler’s experience and fitness level, trekking poles will make their experience in Banff more comfortable. Trekking poles are used in tandem and provide additional stability, which is especially important when balancing on rocky terrain. They also reduce the impact on your knees by up to 20%.
Keep in mind that purchasing any type of hiking gear within the park boundaries (such as at shops in Lake Louise) means paying top dollar. To avoid overpaying for trekking poles, purchase them before arriving in Banff.
8 Stay On Trail
A rookie mistake that new hikers sometimes make is venturing off of the marked trails in the park. Whether it’s to take a closer look at wildlife, find a viewpoint, or shortcut across some switchbacks, this is not appropriate hiking etiquette. Straying from the trail can be dangerous, especially on a cliff edge or rocky ridge. However, it also endangers the ecosystem in the area. If every hiker sticks to the trail, the surrounding nature remains untouched and intact. But if each person who passes through takes a different detour, there is an excess of vegetation being downtrodden daily. Staying on the trail at all times is critical for hiker’s safety and being respectful of the wildlife.
7 Bring Bear Spray (and Know How To Use It)
Alberta, Canada, is home to plenty of wildlife, but one of the most notable predators in the region is the Grizzly Bear. Parks Canada estimates there are about 65 grizzlies within the 6641 square kilometer area that Banff National Park covers. 96% of the park is wilderness, so there’s plenty of space for the creatures to roam undetected by hikers. Although bear encounters are rare, they are possible while hiking in Banff, especially during the spring, summer, and fall seasons when bears aren’t in hibernation.
It’s important to make noise while on the trail to alert bears to your presence, so you don’t startle them. In case you come across one, carrying bear spray to deter the bear is a necessary safety measure. Ensure you have easy access to the spray (carry it on the exterior of your backpack) and know how to use it in case you encounter an emergency.
6 Research Your Route
Hikers should prepare for a hiking trip in Banff by researching route options and selecting trails that are suitable for their experience level. There are various grades of trails in Banff National Park with those rated as moderate to some that are considered hard. It’s important for hikers to choose trails that are realistic for their fitness level and consider the distance and elevation gain when deciding how much time is needed to complete the trail. It’s always a good idea to start hiking early in the day to avoid being caught in the forest after dark.
5 Hike With A Buddy
When hiking in grizzly bear territory, it’s best to avoid heading out on the trail solo. In fact, many of the trailheads in Banff National Park feature signs encouraging hikers not to proceed on the route unless they are hiking in a group of two or sometimes four people. This is because being in a group decreases the likelihood that a grizzly bear will attack.
For solo travelers, there are still options for enjoying Banff’s trails safely. Consider joining a guided hiking tour group or connecting with other solo backpackers at your lodge or hostel and making plans to hike together.
4 Wear Layers And Dress For The Season
The weather can change rapidly in the mountains, so it’s smart to be prepared for all types of conditions when heading out on the trail. Check the forecast for the day before departing and wear layers that are easy to remove or add, depending on if the temperature increases, decreases, or if there is unexpected precipitation.
Hikers should wear a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer. The base layer goes against the skin and should be a synthetic material, silk, wool, or bamboo fibers - ideally something that dries quickly. This is a moisture-wicking layer, so cotton is not a good option for the base layer. The mid-layer is an insulating layer, like a fleece jacket or puffer vest. Finally, hikers can also carry a light rain shell or windbreaker in their backpacks as a protective outer layer.
3 Pack Essentials
Even for hikers who are just doing a circuit that will take a couple of hours, hiking in Banff can be strenuous, and it’s important to carry some essentials in a backpack for the journey. A small day pack is a great choice for bringing a water bottle, some nutritious snacks, and a small first-aid kit. Ensure the pack fits properly to avoid rubbing or discomfort on the shoulders while hiking. While it’s important to pack the necessities for even a short hike, travelers should be wary of overpacking, which can weigh them down and make the trek more challenging than it needs to be.
2 Be Diligent About Sun Protection
Hiking through the mountains provides plenty of opportunities for sun exposure, especially at higher elevations. When exploring Banff National Park, it’s important to take precautions to protect the eyes and skin from UV rays. The CDC recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher for adequate protection from UV rays. Hikers should reapply as necessary throughout the journey, especially if they are sweating.
Even when hiking in the winter, sun exposure is a concern. While wearing long sleeves and pants protects the body from UV rays, it’s always a good idea to apply sunscreen to the face before getting outside. Sunglasses are a must-pack item for hiking in Banff in all seasons. They protect the eyes from UV rays and in the winter, make it easier to see when the sun is reflecting off the snow.
1 Leave No Trace
Most people are familiar with the adage, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” and this holds true for hiking in Banff National Park. To be a considerate guest in the park, hikers should take nothing from the trail such as sticks, rocks, or other foliage, as a souvenir. It’s also essential that hikers take any garbage they produce from their snacks with them to dispose of properly at garbage bins near the trailhead or parking lot. Visitors to Banff should leave the park in the same condition they found it, so everyone can enjoy this gem of Western Canada.