Favourite Day Hikes in British Columbia & Alberta

The higher you go the better the views
The higher you go the better the views

With the summer hiking season around the corner I thought I would share with you 10 of my favourite one day hikes in British Columbia and Alberta. I’ve obviously missed some great ones – but that’s okay – as I too want a reason to keep exploring.

For those of you who prefer longer outings you can check out my post – The Top 5 Backpacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies.

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My favourite day hikes in British Columbia – so far!

1. Coast Trail, East Sooke Regional Park

If you don’t have time to do the Juan de Fuca or West Coast Trail but you’re keen on coastal scenery, then the Coast Trail, only 45 minutes from Victoria is the trail for you. The hike along the Coast Trail in East Sooke Regional Park is a standout from start to finish.

It’s a model in contrasts: spectacular and rugged coastal scenery is broken by temperate rainforest filled with massive cedars and firs, some draped in moss.

Throw in pocket beaches, tide pools, views of the Olympic Mountains, windswept pines and red barked arbutus trees, as well as swaths of wildflowers in season and you’ll quickly understand the appeal of this hike.

It’s not an easy hike though. The 10 km (6 mi) takes a solid five hours. The trail moves back and forth between shaded valleys and narrow cliff-side paths. In wet weather, it would be slick.

Other than the flat walk in or out from the parking lot at the northern trailhead, the trail offers nothing but continuous ups and downs. Like many a coastal trail, its name belies the level of difficulty.

One of my favourite one day hikes in British Columbia - the East Sooke Trail
Beautiful but tough walking in the Coastal Trail

2. Black Tusk, Garibaldi Provincial Park – the longest of my favourite day hikes in British Columbia

The Black Tusk – an unmistakable landmark – sticks out from all the other mountain peaks in the area due to its unique appearance.

The black volcanic dome is visible from many vantage points along the Sea to Sky Highway; and if you ski at Whistler you can’t miss the in your face view from the top of the highest chair lift. It rises to a height of 2319 m but you don’t have to go to the top to feel like you’ve hiked it.

Although the initial six kilometers of the trail are an unimpressive, verging on tedious slog through the trees, it’s the hiking once you reach Taylor Meadows that makes this trail a stand-out. 

From the Taylor Creek Campground the trail steadily winds its way up through more meadows and over countless streams. In the summer the area is alive with wildflowers – and in autumn, ablaze with fall colours.  

Once through the last of the trees it takes roughly an hour to hike up the moderately steep black talus slopes to the shoulder at the base of the Black Tusk. This section is often snow covered until well into the summer.

Once you’ve gained the shoulder you must decide whether to call it a day or to continue to the top of the Black Tusk. The route up from here is well worn and obvious. It’s the final chute to the top that might turn your stomach especially as it’s a tad airy and the rock is crumbly and rotten.

There’s a gap you need to cross but once over you’re only metres away from the summit. Now take the time to absorb the views of Garibaldi Lake to the south, Helm Lake and Cinder Flats to the east and the Tantalus Range to the southwest.

One of my favourite one day hikes in British Columbia - the Black Tusk
The view of Garibaldi Lake as you climb the Black Tusk

3. Iceline Trail hike, Yoho National Park

Look for high impact scenery on the Iceline Trail within 60 minutes of starting this hike. Superb views, of not just Takakkaw Falls, but the mountains and glaciers of the Yoho Valley will take your breath away.

And if you’re willing to climb 690 m (2264 ft) to the high point on the trail – the amphitheater at the base of Emerald Glacier, then your reward is expansive vistas of three peaks – the Vice President, Whaleback and Isolated Peak.

There are many variations of this hike so all told the length of the trail can range from 12.8 km to 21.1 km (8 – 13 mi) with a maximum elevation gain of 690 m (2265 ft).

The trailhead is at the Takakkaw Falls parking lot in Yoho National Park. I can’t say enough good things about this hike. Try to do it on a clear day so you can enjoy the vistas.

One of my favourite one day hikes in British Columbia - the Iceline
Takkakaw Falls in context of the bigger landscape

4. Hiking the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, Yoho National Park

The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is one extraordinary hike that over delivers when it comes to mountain scenery. From the start to finish this hike will amaze and inspire you. The Lake O’Hara alpine circuit connects seven trails to create a loop.

You can hike it in any direction. And you can exit it at numerous locations should bad weather arrive. Being high on the mountain is no place to be caught in a storm. Don’t attempt it until the snow melts in mid-July either.

The hike is difficult because of some exposure. All told it’s between 9.8 and 12.4 km (6.1 – 7.7 mi) long with an elevation gain of approximately 495 m (1625 ft).

Views from Lake O'Hara to Lake Oesa
Views from Lake O’Hara to Lake Oesa – one of my favourite one day hikes in British Columbia

5. The Rainbow Range hike in BC – one of my all time favourite day hikes in British Columbia

South Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, a relatively unknown entity, offers isolated wilderness on a grand scale. It’s famous for Hunlen Falls, Canada’s third highest waterfall; the Turner Lake Chain favoured by canoeists, fabulous salmon fishing and the multi-coloured mountains that make up the Rainbow Range. Wildlife flourishes.

The area is home to one of the largest concentrations of black bears and grizzly bears in the world. Mountain goats, moose, deer, wolves, cougars and coyotes also call the area home.

The hike up on the Rainbow Range trail is world-class, but it’s not for everyone. Although the hike itself is only moderately difficult, this is true wilderness where you may not see another soul.

It’s 16 kilometres round trip to get to the point where the trail starts to die out. But stay longer if you can. This part of the world deserves all the time you can give it.

Favourite one day hikes in British Columbia - the Rainbow Range
The stunning beauty of the Rainbow Range

My favourite one day hikes in Alberta

6. Sentinel Pass, Banff National Park

The hike to Sentinel Pass is sublime. It’s truly one of the most impressive day hikes in all of Banff National Park. The only downside to the hike is that it’s very popular.

It’s also required, by law that you hike as a tight group of four between July 12th and October 8th as the trail traverses prime grizzly bear habitat. The hike begins just past Moraine Lake Lodge. Except for the steep section in the trees, be prepared to be wowed every foot of the way.

As you approach the pass, Mt. Temple is on your right, and Pinnacle Mountain is on your left. Paradise Valley unfolds on the other side of the pass while the Valley of the Ten Peaks fills your line of vision if you look back from where you’ve come.

And all around the pass are pinnacles of rock, some like the Grand Sentinel a favourite of rock climbers. All told you’ll hike 11.6 km (7.2 mi) with an elevation gain of 726 m (2382 ft).

The Sentinel Pass hike - a great stop driving Vancouver to Calgary
The Sentinel Pass hike

7. Helen Lake and Cirque Peak, Banff National Park

If you’re looking for spectacular views of Bow Lake and the Bow Lake Glacier within minutes of starting out on a hike – along with loads of wildflowers, then don’t miss the hike to Helen Lake. You only need a half day if you go only as far as Helen Lake, but it’s worth at least hiking up the ridge for even better views.

And for those of you who don’t mind a little scrambling then continue for another half hour to reach the small summit of Cirque Peak. Its 14 km round trip to reach the ridge above Helen Lake along with 550 m of elevation gain.

Views of Crowfoot Mountain & Glacier - 45 minutes into the hike
Views of Crowfoot Mountain & Glacier – 45 minutes into the hike

8. Guinn Mountain Pass, Kananaskis Country

A hike to Guinn Pass in Kananaskis Country offers steep sections of hiking that will get your thighs burning. Fortunately there’s a reward as well – and that’s the 360 degree views once you reach the pass.

There are several options from the pass as well. Hike up the shoulder of Mount Kidd (do it!) or if you’re into backpacking you could hike down to the beautiful Ribbon Lakes for the night. Guinn Pass is a hard hike and a long one but it’s never very busy since most hikers head for Lillian and Galatea Lakes instead.

All told it’s 17 km return to Guinn Pass but add another 1.5 km if you decide to hike to the summit of the shoulder of Mount Kidd.

The total elevation gain is a hefty 3000 feet to the pass, and 3500 feet to the summit of Mount Kidd’s shoulder.

Looking to Guinn Pass
Looking down on Guinn Pass from the shoulder of Mount Kidd

9. Carthew-Alderson Trail, Waterton Lakes National Park – one of my favourite day hikes in Alberta

Note: The road to the Cameron Lake trailhead will probably reopen in 2021. For now you can do and out and back hike starting from Cameron Falls at the Waterton townsite. Or ride a bike to the trailhead on the closed road. Neither are great options but at least they are possible.

The marvelous and varied Carthew-Alderson trail is a one way hike – providing you take the shuttle. The trail takes you 20.1 km past mountain lakes and glaciers, over desolate high mountain passes and along slopes that are redder than anything you’ve probably hiked on before.

In season, the wildflowers are outstanding and wildlife is common, especially mountain goats and marmots. There’s always the possibility of seeing a bear too.

In total the hike gains 651 m and loses 1016 m so you’ll definitely feel like you got a workout. You end up walking right back to the Waterton townsite. Allow six to seven hours to do the hike.

The fabulous Carthew Lakes
The fabulous Carthew Lakes in Waterton Lakes National Park

10. Nigel Pass, Banff National Park

It’s an easy hike to Nigel Pass – relatively speaking of course, because it’s only 14.4 km round trip and the elevation gain is a paltry 365 m – which isn’t a lot in the mountains, especially when the reward is high. Nigel Pass itself is ordinary but the area around the pass and the hike up to it is fantastic.

Expansive views of Parker Ridge and Mt. Saskatchewan unfold the further you hike. Wildflowers dazzle in the height of the summer. And the area around Nigel Pass is very beautiful, in a desolate kind of way.

Wildly folded mountains and the milky blue Brazeau River serve as the backdrop. Nigel Pass serves as the gateway to a longer backpacking trip called the Brazeau Loop. The other option is to explore the otherworldly area that makes up upper Brazeau Canyon and Cataract Pass.

The barrens of Nigel Pass
The barrens of Nigel Pass
You must cross the Brazeau River
The Brazeau River at Nigel Pass

Location map of my favourite day hikes in British Columbia and Alberta



5 things that come with me on almost every hike

I love my almost weightless inflatable seat cushion. It makes lunch time stops at any time of the year far more comfortable.

I am now a fan of hiking poles, especially when a stream crossing is involved. Invest in a good pair that are collapsible.

No matter how the day starts I always carry rain gear. I find a brim hat with a chin strap invaluable in the rain or on a hot, in your face sunny day.

I always pack a buff as it’s got so many uses yet it takes up almost no room.

In summer half gaiters are ideal for keeping pebbles and sand out of your shoes.

Another nice addition for those of you who love wildflowers is the compact Central Rockies Wildflowers Guide.

More reading on great hikes in British Columbia and Alberta

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10 favourite one day hikes in British Columbia & Alberta


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