Planning Tips for the 2017 Hiking Season

Popular hiking trails in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks are expected to be busier than ever in 2017, thanks to free entry in celebration of Canada’s 150th.

Sunshine-Meadows-Larch

Even so, we’re planning to be and about in the Canadian Rocky Mountains this summer. Here’s a list of things we’re keeping in mind when selecting hiking trails and planning our day trips:

  • Take advantage of long daylight hours by starting early (or late). This means arriving at trailhead parking no later than 8 o’clock. If it’s a shorter hike, consider a late afternoon start. In either case, bring extra layers to stay warm and flashlights or headlamps to light the way as needed.
  • Hike the most popular trails on weekdays (including Johnston Canyon, the Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers tea houses, Peyto Lake lookout and the viewpoints and Lake Louise and Moraine Lakes).
  • Choose less popular trails on weekends and holidays. Remember that the Victoria Day, Canada Day, Heritage Day and Labour Day long weekends will be extra busy.
  • Go long. A lot of visitors to Banff (which saw 3.8 million visitors in 2016) stick to shorter trails. Generally speaking,  the longer the hike, the fewer the people.
  • Banff NP will be busiest, so try Yoho NP, Kootenay NP, some of the trails in and around Canmore, or Kananaskis Country.
  • Take advantage of the shoulder months (late May, June and late September, October) but remember than June is the wettest month in this part of the world.
  • Try a Park’s Canada guided hike – you’re part of a group, but you learn a lot! This is also a great option for less experienced/less well-equipped hikers.
  • Consider using shuttle buses and/or regional transportation (including bus service between Calgary and Banff). Parks Canada already runs a free public shuttle from the Lake Louise overflow parking lot to Lake Louise from Victoria Day weekend through early September, adds shuttle service to Moraine Lake for larch season, and has announced plans to run a shuttle service between Banff and Lake Louise this summer.  Roam Transit serves Canmore and Banff and is adding seasonal service to Lake Minnewanka for 2017. Weekend and holiday bus service between Calgary and Banff will start in mid-June and run through Labour Day weekend. Ride and relax!
  • Go with the right mindset. We’re all in this together, so if everyone stays calm, leaves no trace, and is respectful, we’ll all have a much better Canada 150 experience!

Some of Our Favourite Hikes

Keeping all of that in mind, here are some of the trails we’re planning to hike again in 2017:

Banff National Park

Helen Lake features awesome for wildflowers in July, Dolomite Peak, views of Crowfoot glacier and the beautiful Helen Lake; strong hikers can continue to Cirque Peak or at least up the saddle and along the ridge overlooking the lake.

Helen-Lake

Sunshine Meadows is widely considered Canada’s #1 day hike, especially during wild flower season in July and larch season in September. Taking a shuttle bus or gondola means you start hiking in the alpine and hiking options range from an hour to a full day.

Sunshine-Meadows

Paradise Valley / Giant Steps is a long day hike that we’ve done only once. The range of scenery, beautiful wild flowers and impressive Giant Steps waterfall have this hike at the top of our list for 2017. Be sure to check trail restrictions, as Parks Canada often requires a minimum group size of 4 hikers on this trail.

Looking down the valley from the Giant Steps

Yoho National Park

Although Lake O’Hara tops our list of favourite hikes in Yoho, we were not successful in booking seats on the shuttle bus for any day in the 2017 season.

We last hiked the Iceline Trail in 2014, and were blown away by how close we got to some glaciers and the mass of the glaciers on the peaks across the valley. This is also a good trail for getting a sense of the size of Takakkaw Falls and observing the way glaciers have shaped the landscape of the Canadian Rockies.

Iceline-Trail

Kootenay National Park

We haven’t done much hiking in Kootenay National Park (yet). So far, our favourite trail is the one up to Stanley Glacier, which can also be done as a Park’s Canada guided hike. Waterfalls, the potential for finding fossils (which must be left where found) and the chance to observe natural re-growth after a forest fire are some of the highlights of this trail.

Stanley-Glacier-Hike

Bow Valley Around Canmore

Our top recommendations for hikes in the Bow Valley near Canmore include Wind Ridge, Heart Mountain and Yamnuska (which we’ve not hiked since 2007). Each of these hikes has a rock step, small crux or ledge that make the routes a little bit more challenging than some might be comfortable with. Depending on your route, Yamnuska may also involve a significant stretch of steep scree – which is awesome if you love scree jumping but not so awesome if you’re don’t.

Wind-Ridge

If you feel compelled to hike a trail that overlooks Canmore, we recommend Mount Lady MacDonald over Ha Ling.

Kananaskis

Comprised of ten provincial parks, an ecological reserve and a number of wild land and recreation areas, Kananaskis Country is HUGE! There are at least five “highways” that lead into Kananaskis Country; our use of these routes varies from a lot to not at all.

For a few years, we did a lot of day hiking in the area just west of Bragg Creek, accessed via Highway 66. With the national parks expected to be busier than ever this year, we’re planning return treks along Jumpingpound Ridge, up Prairie Mountain and along Powderface Ridge (which we haven’t hiked in more than 10 years). While none of them offer the thrill of bagging a big summit, they all offer pretty views of the Canadian Rockies and fairly extensive ridge walks.

The paved main highway 40 into Kananaskis is a beautiful driving route that leads to some of our all-time favourite K-country trails. Arethusa Cirque is a long-time family favourite. Grizzly Ridge is more challenging, but offers fantastic views into the next valley over. And Pocaterra Ridge is an all-time favourite ridge hike, but requires arranging a shuttle, leaving a bicycle to retrieve your vehicle or hitching back to where you parked (again, we haven’t done the full ridge walk in more than 10 years).

Two bighorn sheep on Grizzly Ridge

 

Planning and Preparation

Thorough planning and preparation are essential for any hiking trip. Basics include:

  • Always let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to arrive back.
  • Carry snacks with you, and plenty of water (at least one liter of water per half day).
  • Weather in the mountains can change rapidly, so bring plenty of layers and waterproof gear.
  • Bring a map. Check here for trail conditions and closures before heading out. Be sure that your hike is appropriate for your abilities and fitness levels.
  • If you’re interested, this is everything we pack for a day hike.
  • Be aware that you may encounter deer or elk, and it’s best to keep well clear of them. Black bears and grizzly bears are regularly seen in Banff – carry bear spray with you at all times, make noise as you walk, and alert Parks Canada staff to any sightings. The WildSmart website has a lots of great information about the wildlife you’re most likely to encounter in this part of the world.
  • Finally, remember to take only photographs, leave only footprints.

Grizzly along the Bow Valley Parkway

Have questions? Leave a comment and we’ll reply as soon as we’re back from our latest adventure!

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8 thoughts on “Planning Tips for the 2017 Hiking Season

  1. Wow –
    I’m deeply impressed and feel privileged having found your blog. Amazing trips … and photos!
    I’m a german mountain-lover (and addicted photographer as well 😉 planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies this summer –
    and I’m a little bit worried because of the free entrance 2017, there may be really many people…
    … so it may be difficult to find tranquility places and routes, and even just a place for camping.

    Do you think I should wait for 2018 – for better conditions??

    Like

    • If you prefer a quiet trails, we’d advise waiting until 2018. We just drove back to Calgary from Canmore this morning and have never seen so much traffic heading west to Banff for the day! It’s a national holiday today, and everyone seems to be taking advantage of the free national park entry. When we rode the Legacy Trail from Canmore to Cascade Ponds in Banff yesterday, nearly all the picnic tables there were full at 10 o’clock in the morning (we usually have the place pretty much to ourselves at that time of day). So while it’s appealing to enjoy free entry to the national parks this year, the cost of an annual park pass is something like $125 for a year and to us, well worth the cost for a more tranquil experience. The other issue campers will have this year is finding camping spots – pretty much all of the spots that can be reserved are full, so you’d be trying to beat everyone else trying to claim the first come, first served spots in the national parks or trying to nab a spot at a provincial campsite outside of Banff. Not sure about the situation for back country camping permits.

      Like

    • Added Canmore and Kananaskis hikes to our Planning Tips for the 2017 Hiking Season. Let us know if you have any questions and we hope you have a great time in the Canadian Rockies this summer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for sharing. I have read a few posts of yours sometime ago about Arethusa Cirque. It’s on our list of hikes to do this summer.

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  2. GREAT advice and trail suggestions! I will reference this in my YYCfit talk! Colin is switching to having Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays off for the summer. Perhaps consider a group hike of Paradise Valley. We haven’t done that one yet and it is on our list for 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Colin’s schedule change likely means a lot of early starts for you guys this summer! Let’s see if we can coordinate schedules re: Paradise Valley. And thanks for the mention at YYCfit!

      Like

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