Extraordinary images of the world’s bluest lakes attracted our family to plan a holiday in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. We enjoy the outdoors and hiking, but also have two young kids, ages 4 and 7, so our mobility is restricted to their capabilities. It took a bit of research and some trial and error to determine the best, right hiking adventures for families with young kids. We were delighted to find that some of the most beautiful viewpoints of the landscape are very accessible to kids and families. Below is what we recommend as some top family-friendly hikes in Banff.
Bow Summit / Peyto Lake
Before we arrived in Banff, we saw dozens of images on Instagram taken from this viewpoint. None of them ever featured a child. Usually, they featured young, fit hikers, so we didn’t know how accessible this viewpoint, or others like it, would actually be for our family. We are pleased to share that this viewpoint is extremely accessible — even to a 4 year old.
As you’re driving the Icefield Parkway look for Bow Summit. Pull into the parking lot, a short walk from here is where you can take in this gorgeous view of Peyto Lake.
It is about a 10 minute walk to get to the viewing point. The incline is steep at times, but only for short stretches. Just when you think it might be too much, you’ve reached the top. This was completely doable for our kids, and its worth the stop to take this all in.
Don’t miss visiting Lake Moraine. This was the most stunningly beautiful lake we saw in Banff or Jasper National Parks. Located near the more popular and crowded Lake Louise (about 15 minutes drive or so), it is a strong competitor for most gorgeous with its extraordinary color.
What we loved most as a family with two young kids was the flat, easy, and beautiful hiking trail along the lakes edge. It is lush with fragrant pine trees, and offers stunning, continuous views of the lake’s extraordinary water with its changing color and intensity based upon sunlight conditions.
The colors change with sun versus cloud conditions as well as elevation of the viewpoint.
There are two trails here we strongly recommend:
Lakeside Trail: If you get to the far end of the lake keep an eye out for a fun, natural rope course… traverse the glaciers melting waters that fill this lake by crossing the logs. A helpful rope was installed when we were there. This offered a fun little adventure for our oldest child.
Rockpile Trail: Be sure to hike Rockpile trail for an extraordinary view of the lake from up high. This is a very easy walk for families and offers wonderful vantage points. The blues look very different when viewed from above. It’s a great place for a family photo!
We recommend arriving EARLY to Lake Moraine. The best experience hiking the trails and taking in the views are before 9 am. The parking lot can become completely filled by 8 or 8:30 am if not sooner and then shuttle buses start bringing people in. Early mornings offer more of a peaceful experience.
Lake Louise is Banff’s pride and joy, and the most popular attraction due to its extraordinary, otherworldly powder blue color. Several lakes in the Canadian Rockies have these extraordinary colors ranging from the color of a robin’s egg here at Lake Louise to emerald and bright, brilliant blues. The colors are created from the reflection of light on rock particles suspected in the glacier water.
You will want to arrive to Lake Louise EARLY. We recommend arriving by no later than 7:30 a.m. if not earlier, otherwise you’ll be fighting crowds and there will be no parking available, you’ll have to get a shuttle bus. Early mornings aren’t easy in our household, but we made it happen for our visit to Lake Louise (and Lake Moraine) as we hate crowds even more than we dislike early wake up calls.
When we visited in July, it was drizzling, dreary and cold, yet the area was still packed with tourists by 9 a.m. The hiking trails, thankfully, weren’t crowded thanks to the weather. We decided to make the hike up from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes tea house.
The Hike to Lake Agnes Teahouse
This is a moderate hike, with several portions of this trail having fairly steep inclines. The first quarter of the trail is well pathed heading up from Lake Louise. Eventually the trail will cross a horse path and then the real trail (non-paved) begins. Even so, it was easy to traverse.
This was, perhaps, our family’s most challenging hike in Banff — mostly because of the weather. Cold rain is hard for anyone. But we were only going to be here once, so might as well make the most of it!
The hike is through pine forests. We were surprised that there weren’t more viewing points of Lake Louise along the trail, but there was one (you can see in the image above). Along the way to the teahouse you’ll reach Mirror Lake, and that is a good signal that you are 10-15 minutes from the teahouse.
The teahouse was crowded as everyone on the trail was eager to get out of the rain and warmed up a bit. We enjoyed some hot tea, hot chocolate and snacks. Seating was challenging — the teahouse isn’t big. But it was a most welcome reprieve.
Be sure to see the waterfall right near the teahouse on the other end of the trail. It offered wonderful views, and its always nice to have a waterfall as a destination for a hike.
The entire hike takes about 1 – 1.5 hours each way. We’d recommend this hike for families with older kids who can hike by themselves. Our 7 year old managed this just fine, but it was a bit too challenging for our 4-year-old who needed to be carried at least a quarter of the way if not a bit more. If the weather was more inviting, I’m certain this would be a very enjoyable hike for all.
Johnson Canyon Trail
Johnson Canyon is a delightful hike that follows along a river and features several waterfalls. It’s about 1.5-2 miles, easy, and totally doable with kids.
Like other popular hikes and attractions in Banff, it’s best to plan your hike here either early morning or early evening — midday crowds can make this less than enjoyable.
There is a portion of the hike where you can go into a cave for an up close view of the waterfall, but prepare to wait in line for this experience.
We arrived late afternoon and it was pretty crowded. But by 7:30 pm the crowds had completely disappeared and our hike on the trails back out were wonderful, peaceful and blissfully crowd free. In summer it stays daylight until 10 pm, so planning an early evening hike in this popular spot seems to be the way to go.
Overall, our family found Banff National Park a very accessible place for family hiking and adventuring. Some of the most gorgeous viewpoints of the landscape can be accessed easily, and you’ll never tire of the incredible views of snowcapped mountains, blue lakes and forests. Safe wildlife viewing also abounds in the Canadian Rockies.