Leading up to this trip came a lot of preparation. We made the trek from Minneapolis, MN all the way to Banff in a suburban with 4 of us. Our first ever hike was 3 weeks prior and knew Banff would be more of a challenge. Luckily, our travel partners have visited Banff for the last 18 years. This made our first visit to the park very special.
Our guides knew the ins and outs, the hidden trails, and a strategi plan for our 9-day trip.
Our itinerary was perfect. For inexperienced hikers, we were challenged, yet, capable. Lots of early morning sunrise missions sunset photoshoots, and hikes in between, we maximized every waking moment.
Disclaimer: You can spend 2 months in Banff and Yoho National Park and not see everything, but we made a run for its money!
DAY 1: ABBOT PASS HUT
We started our trip with a bit of a spontaneous decision. Some may have heard of Abbot Pass Hut, a hut in between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy standing on the continental divide. The hut fits about 24 people and requires a hike up from Lake Oesa. Below is the route to get to Abbot Pass
- Bus into Lake O’Hara
- Wiwaxy Gap
- Huber Ledges
- Lake Oesa
- Abbot Hut Pass
There are requirements for this hike, the first one being, getting a spot on the bus. If you don’t get a spot on the bus you will have to hike in 8 miles to just get to the trailhead. They only allow 40 people into this park per day by bus, so consider booking early.
The second requirement is booking your spot at the hut. Between the four of us, we paid $40 each.
The hike to Oesa is incredible, climbing ledges and incredible views along the way. Our journey did not stop there. We started the ascent from the lake, scrambling to the top of Abbot Pass. From the Abbot Pass trailhead to the hut, it took us close to 4 hours to peak, with a few minor stops along the way, one being a hailstorm.
After reading numerous blogs, we quickly found out that everyone’s difficulty scale is different when it comes to rating trails. I am a beginner hiker, but an ex-college athlete that likes to think is in shape. I am by no means, saying those who aren’t cant do this, but I would do more asking around before considering.
This hike requires helmets and I would recommend poles. Rentals for helmets can be found at any sporting good store in the park. (Wilson: Lake Louise Village)
*If you are a beginner hiker, or do not want to get dirty, I would not recommend Abbot Pass Nonetheless, this experience blew me away. Without a doubt, the best part about our trip, but it is not for everyone.
Side note: when you return from the hike, grab carrot cake from the cafe.
DAY 2: DEVILS THUMB
To get here, you must hike to Lake Agnes Tea House. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone! The trail is very popular, the tea house on Lake Ages is beautiful and offers some spectacular views. From there, there are multiple trailheads you can take, one being Big BeeHive to Devils Thumb. We managed to peak this and was one of our tougher trails looking back, but worth every penny.
DAY 3: OFF DAY
After logging several KM we decided to take a day for rest. There is so much beauty to take when you slow things down. Driving around the park, having a picnic in Lake Louise Village, or looking for bears from the car. Although this is what we ended up doing, we started our day by doing a fairly easy walk to Consolation Lakes. The trailhead starts at Moraine Lake and the terrain is easy. Wide path and not a lot of inclines. One of the easier trails we hit. The end is filled with angled rocks you have to walk over to get to the start of the lake, nothing too dangerous but WEAR your hiking shoes. To be honest, never take those things off!
DAY 4: JOHNSTON CANYON
Such a tricky spot, but worth every wrong turn and second guess. This trail is worn, wide, guard rails along the river consisting of Cliffside and running into the occasional waterfall. I would recommend coming here at sunset while the crowds are gone and the light is low!
THE HIDDEN SPOT
You are going to go a lot further than you think on this trail before arriving. Right before you get to the higher falls you will come to a turn in the trail. From the top, you can look down and see an island rock formation in the middle of the river (photo here) off a small waterfall on the left. There is a goat path off the main trail that will lead you down to the canon! Tucked underneath is a cove to hang out and have the view of the rock formation in the picture! One of the most beautiful spots we found on our hikes! A hidden gem that YOU MUST STOP AT!
DAY 5: TOWER OF BABEL
Tower of Babel is bout 2.9KM according to outside sources. To see lake Moraine from above you will need to get through a scramble (essentially sliding rock). Some would say it is more of a scramble than a hike, but the reward at the top is worth it. I will not sit here and downplay the difficulty, it is a difficult hike, but very attainable. The way down is a breeze if you understand how to scramble and trust your feet. Start this hike early considering the crowds at Moraine. Bring a helmet and lunch for the top. After our descend from Tower of Babel we visited Emerald Lake – for a sunset cool down. I highly recommend renting a canoe on this lake. While the more popular lakes are Louise and Moraine, Emerald is a lot cheaper ($70) and in my opinion way more scenic! The last canoe has to be rented out by 5:45 PM and you have an hour until you have to return it! Cheapest rental and well worth the hour! It can fit up to three people. Bring your camera!
DAY 6: BANFF TOWN
Banff town is a ski village, with a long stretch of stores including all the hot retailers such as Patagonia, North Face, and Fjallraven. Although this isn’t a huge part of the outdoor experience, if you haven’t been, you must check it out.
Banff. If you are looking to pick up your souvenir or memorabilia there is a store on every block.
The town itself is beautiful, surrounded by the Rockies, some say it offers rejuvenation and adventure, while others may argue it is filled with tourists and long lines. I wouldn’t disagree with either. The workers seem to be travelers that come to hike, and work minimally. Outdoor lovers and adventure enthusiasts, the locals are warm and provide you with everything you need to know. Stopping here made us want to be in the mountains that much more, but definitely something to check out on an off day to soak in every aspect.
DAY 7: PEYTO LAKE
Depending on how tired you are, there are two ways to view Peyto lake.
There is a viewpoint in which can be driven to (picture below) and there is a trailhead to get to the viewpoint. At our trip was winding down and legs heavy, we drove. The lake is fed by Peyto Glacier and is considered one of the best views in the park, the wolf shape is recognizable to many. You can find the lake about 25 miles north of Lake Louise in the Icefields Parkway.
Access to the viewing area is immediately off the parkway. The walk from the parking area (Bow Summit) takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes. The path is paved and wide. I would tell everyone to go at sunset and pass some of the crowd! Prepare for a quick change in the weather as it can get very windy! Bring warm gear and closed-toe shoes. Blanket for dramatic effect!
DAY 8: SENTINEL PASS
Our earliest start to the day in Banff, with Temple, one of the largest peaks in the range, in our sights. The elephant in the room, car rather, was whether or not we would continue on in an attempt to summit this beast. While driving to Moraine Lake in the morning darkness, the number of cars driving the same direction was intimidating.
The community that swarms the park at this time is incredible. Hikers, climbers, and adventurers alike. As we mentioned before, this parking lot would be full and closed off no later than 6:30 am.
We brought our canister full of black coffee and sat in the car silently before out the last hike of the trip. We waited until I, Matt, and the two girls felt prepared to hit the trail and started with hesitant intentions of peaking Temple. Some were invested in the idea, others were not, so when the weather was not cooperating, we bailed with relief, for some! Nonetheless, this hike was something to write about.
The terrain was different, while most hikes differed from one another, this one consisted of thick woods, switchbacking above a lake, and being surrounded by The Valley of The Ten Peaks. The views were nonstop, but by no means is this EASY. I would say most can do this with the appropriate shoes. Switch backing was by far the toughest part, and this doesn’t start till starting once you get to the lake but once arriving at Sentinel Pass it truly offered some impeccable views! I would highly recommend this hike to everyone.
A fun yet slightly challenging hike that I think many can do. Pack a lunch, sit at the top and enjoy the view. Once you are done, you will decide to go down the way up, or if you are feeling adventurous take the route behind you, through Paradise Valley.
This trail back is difficult and will not lead you back to the parking lot, but that is what hitchhiking is for and anyone you see will be heading to the lot, considering there is only one destination.
Paradise Valley trail consists of scrambling at the start then a long trail through thick woods on the way back to the “Paradise Valley Parking Lot”. Upon arriving there we decided to hitchhike back without a problem. I would not recommend this hike to everyone! If you have more water, extra snacks, and 17 KM in the tank you will have no problem. Although this hike offers some great views of glaciers and Grand Sentinel you will need some energy to finish! All in all, Sentinel Pass is a hike I recommend to everyone! start this HIKE EARLY.
Start every hike as early as you can or later in the day! You do not want to miss these photo opportunities!