Banff National Park. Lake Morraine

10 Of Our Favorite Family-Friendly Trails in Banff National Park

From the moment we first set eyes on the mountain peaks, lakes, rivers, glaciers in Banff National Park, it became one of our favorite places, with some of our favorite hiking trails. Since then, we’ve been returning every few years, adding more sites to our itinerary.

Established in 1885 as a National Park, Banff is Canada’s first of its kind. By turning the area into a protected park, Canada has done wonders for protecting wildlife and the wilderness. They have very strict limits on development; they have built overpasses for wildlife to use on the Trans-Canada Highway that runs through the park.

The essence of the park is the preservation and enjoyment of wilderness and wildlife. Home to some of the most spectacular scenery in North America, the park is a World Heritage Site since 1985.

One of the most enjoyable and easiest activities in the park is hiking. Some of our favorite spots are sites on the Bow River Parkway, but with over 600 miles of trails, the park offers hiking opportunities for anyone, form beginners or families with young children, to seasoned hikers.

After the first time we explored Banff National Park when our children were still very young, I compiled a list of the easiest, most family-friendly trails in the park we kept going back to. The list is just a sample, but it’s a good start for families with young children, and visitors who can’t hike long strenuous trails.

1. The Fenland Loop Trail

The Fenland Loop Trail is just a walk in a beautiful white spruce forest at the entrance to the town of Banff. This mile-long pleasant trail loops around the forest, on the banks of the Forty Mile Creek, and it is a great spot for whitetail deer sighting. We have seen a heard or two of them every time we stopped at this trail over the years.

A great place to take the kids on an easy hiking trail in Banff NP is the Fenland Trail
On the Fenland Trail

One of the easiest hiking trails in the park, it has no elevation gain, as it takes you through beautiful vegetation and great views of the river. Even toddlers can handle this trail, though you might need to stop with them to examine every tree, flowers, leaf or bug they see. The first time we walked this trail, my youngest child was no older than three. Without too many stops the whole walk takes about 35-45 minutes. In our experience, in the beginning of summer, it is most likely to encounter a herd of whitetail deer.

2. Banff Riverwalk

Another easy walking walking trail, Banff Riverwalk follows the river from the center of Banff town to Bow Falls and the Fairmont Banff Historic Hotel, a national historic site.

The wide trail follows the river and it is a very easy stroll through pine trees. Even though you are in town, most of the time it feels like you are not. Watch the squirrels running up and down the tree trunks, and lots of different birds flying about or sitting on branches.

Smell the pine, and listen to the rushing river.

As you get close to the falls, the river gets louder. You need to climb a few stairs, but nothing even a very young child can’t handle.

3. Lake Minnewanka and the Stewart Canyon Trail

Lake Minnewanka is the largest man-made lake in Banff National Park. Its name means “Lake of the Water Spirits” and it is a very popular site for family picnics, boat rides, fishing, On the Lake Minnewanka Loop, it is very easy to access from the Trans Canada Highway. Once there, you have the choice to have a picnic by the lake, take a boat ride, go fishing, or take a walk.

Banff NP. Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka

A short walk takes you to the Stewart Canyon Trail, which starts at the Lake Minnewanka day-use area, goes through a few rocky beaches with pebbles and lots of driftwood, wooded areas and eventually reaches a bridge at Steward Canyon, where the Cascade River flows.

This is another easy trail, great for families with children of all ages.

4. Johnson Lake

While on the Lake Minnewanka Road, Lake Johnson is a great stop, with a trail around the lake. Starting at the day-use area by the lake, the mile-and-half loop winds through a lush forest to the far end of the lake. Here, the view of the Cascade Mountains across the lake is spectacular.

Continuing the loop, the trail goes through open slopes, passes through some of the county’s oldest Douglas fir trees, and goes through a shallow bay, where children love to stop and play (at least mine did). There is a great chance of spotting water fowl in this area.

The trail is very easy, and pleasant, with no elevation gain. After returning from the walk, this spot would be a great opportunity for a picnic.

5. Johnston Canyon Falls

This is probably the most popular hike on the Bow River Parkway. Every time we stopped there, it was crowded. Two parking lots access this hike, but most of the time they are both full, and people are stopped on the side of the road.

There is a reason for the popularity of this trail; it really is spectacular, and it is a must-experience for everyone. Johnston Canyon is one of the most spectacular feature of Banff National Park. It is also easy to get to.

Banff NP. Johnston Canyon. View from the hiking trail to the Falls.
Johnston Canyon. View from the trail to the Falls

The trail is fun in addition to being gorgeous. A catwalk, made of wooden planks, leads above the canyon, then you pass through a low tunnel to the impressive Lower Falls, where you’ll probably get wet from the mist of the water. You might need to wait to get through the tunnel since only a few people can go through at any given time, but don’t pass it up, you definitely need to experience it.

The trail also goes higher up to the Upper Falls, a hike of another half mile.

6. Silverton Falls

The trail to Silverton Falls is also off the Bow River Parkway. The trailhead stop is for the Rockbound Lake Trail. The walk up to Silverton Falls is short, and for the most part on flat terrain.

The trail goes through a forest, then follows the river for a while. The end of the trail is a bit steep, but nothing a child older than six can’t handle. The steeper part of the trail is easy to miss. If you are still following the river, but the trail seems to have ended and you are walking through rough terrain, it is time to stop. When you look back, you can see the wider trail leading up, at a very sharp angle. It winds a bit by the forest, in an open area, and it is a bit steep, but this relatively hard part is very short.

Banff NP. Silverton Falls
Silverton Falls

In the end you are rewarded by the view of a narrow but very high waterfall cascading through a few ledges surrounded by the forest, into the river below.

7. Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain is one of the more spectacular mountains in Banff National Park. Both roads, the Trans-Canada Highway and the Bow River Parkway, go by it for miles. On the Bow River Parkway, there are a few stops to admire these mountains. The lookout is really just a stop, but definitely worth it for a perfect photo opportunity.

Castle Mountain.
Castle Mountain – View from the Bow Valley Parkway

The stop for the trail head is a bit farther. Once there, you can follow a short trail from the parking lot back towards the road, across a small creek, then a very short walk through a forest. This is a choice if you have very young children with you.

However, there is a more spectacular trail that goes uphill to a lookout on Castle Mountain.

Though very steep, and constantly climbing, it is not extremely difficult, if you take it slow.

I can’t tell you that a nine year old can make it, because we only went up maybe one third of the way. It was still a pleasant walk, even if steep, in the middle of a beautiful forest.

My husband and son went all the way, and I’ve seen children as young as ten to hike it, so it really depends on your and their level. The only difficulty of this trail is the fact that it is climbing the whole time, which might be tiring. However, it is not extremely steep, and quite manageable, at least for a while. Even if you don’t go to the end of the trail, it is a pleasant hike in the forest.

8. Lake Louise Shore Walk

Lake Louise is the most famous lake in Banff National Park, and it deserves to be: it is one of the most beautiful lakes in the Canadian Rockies. It was named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Queen Victoria’s daughter.

The famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is one of the most spectacular hotels, sitting across from the Mt. Victoria and Victoria Glacier, with the view of the lake, mountains, and glacier. Two other mountains add to the spectacular view, Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Fairview.

The lake has the most striking turquoise color, which is due to the melting glacier silt. It also helps keep the lake extremely cold year-round; when we visited in early June the lake was still filled with ice.

Banff NP. Lake Louise in early June
Lake Louise in early June

By the end of July, when we were there at a different year, it was all melted, but the water was still extremely cold. It means no swimming there (which probably is a good thing, keeping it pristine clean), but you can rent a canoe if you want to be on the lake.

The easiest activity is by far a walk around the lake. The trail is paved and it is a pleasant and easy walk for families and kids of all ages. The view is fantastic, no matter which angle you look from. After walking a bit, you can look back to enjoy the view of the Fairmont Chateau by the lake.

Look for wildlife while walking. Even though it is a very popular trail, with lots of visitors at all times, this is where we saw a porcupine, among lots of ground squirrels, birds, and other creatures.

Porcupine on the shore of Lake Louise
Porcupine on the shore of Lake Louise

9. Rockpile at Moraine Lake

This is the shortest and easiest trail at Lake Morraine, and at the end of it you are rewarded with one of the most beautiful, as well as the most famous views in the Rockies. It is famous because the image of the ten peaks surrounding the lake has been on the old version of the $20 Canadian bill.

The trail goes up on a few stairs through a rocky terrain, hence the name Rockpile. On the way don’t forget to look for pikas, tiny mammals living in the area. There are quite many of them, you can spot one or two any time you go.

Banff NP. End of the Rockpile Trail. Lake Moraine
View from the top of the Rockpile

The view from the top of the Rockpile encompasses all ten peaks: Fay, Little Bowlen, Perren, Septa, Allen, Tuzo, Deltaform, Neptuak and Wnkchemna (I copied the names from the sign by the lake, I could not memorize all of them). They are all spectacular, and together, surrounding the lake it really makes an unforgettable view. Definitely worth the short walk, even when it is freezing cold. The temperatures at this lake are always colder than at other surrounding places, including Lake Louise, so dress accordingly.

10. Bow Summit and Peyto Lake

This trail head is right off the highway, north of Lake Louise. The hike is relatively short, but steep, so just take it slow, no rush. The trail is paved, and it has interpretive stops along the way as it goes through a beautiful pine forest. Wild flowers abound in the area, and there are pikas, and squirrels around.

Banff NP. Peyto Lake. View from the end of Bow Summit Trail
View of Peyto Lake

At the end of the trail you have another fantastic view. Peyto Lake is way below, and around it you can see Bow Summit. Another must-experience hike with the family.

Things to Know

How to stay comfortable on the trail

Even on short and easy trails, dress in layers, bring a jacket, since weather can be unpredictable; one minute it may be hot, the next you are freezing on the same trail. Pack a snack and water. And wear comfortable hiking shoes.

Bear safety

Though rangers keep track of the bears in the park, they still warn about encounters. Carry bear spray, or better yet, a very loud whistle. We never ran into a bear on a trail, though we’ve seen a young grizzly by the road on the Bow River Parkway.

How to prevent damage to wildlife around you

Stay on trails, it not only kept you safe but prevents damage to nature and wildlife. And always take your garbage out. Leave everything undisturbed for others to enjoy. This includes rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, etc.

Can I approach or feed wildlife?

Never approach and definitely never feed wildlife not only in the park but nowhere in the wild, if you should be lucky enough to encounter any. Do not let your children do it, either. Explain to them that they are not helping wild animals by feeding them. Animals used to being fed have trouble learning to find food for themselves, and they may become pests for other visitors. This is a hard lesson for some kids, but please make sure they understand.

Any questions? Ask a ranger

Before heading out to any trail, stop at a visitor center, pick up a brochure, or better yet, talk to a ranger. They are always happy to answer any questions.

More Trails to Explore

The trails listed here are just a very small part of what’s available in Banff National Park. If you like hiking, you’ll have plenty of opportunities, a lot more than I have listed. I tried to highlight some of our favorite spots. Feel free to add to the list through your comments.

Banff National Park
Banff National Park
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