The Cascade Amphitheatre hike is not the prettiest hike you’ll do in Banff National Park. Nor is it the most interesting one, but it does provide a workout and I did enjoy seeing another side of Cascade Mountain – the big in your face mountain you can’t miss when you’re in Banff. I did the hike solo with my dog in the third week of July, and I was shocked at both how busy it was and how bad the bugs were. You are going to want to keep moving. Go later in August if you can, for a far more enjoyable experience.
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Cascade Amphitheatre Hike details
Total distance return: 15.4 km (9.6 miles) return
Total elevation gain: 640 m or 2,100 feet
Trailhead: Mt. Norquay parking lot (the lower one)
Time needed: Approximately 4 – 6 hours return
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Popularity: Surprisingly high.
Best time to hike: June until early October. It will be wet, muddy and possibly snowy early in the season. The fall would be a nice to hike as the bugs will be gone.
Map: Gem Trek Banff and Mt. Assiniboine
Don’t forget: Bear spray, bug spray (a real necessity), water purification droplets in case you run low on water, and the 10 hiking essentials
Camping: There is no backcountry camping on the trail.
Park at the entrance to the Mt. Norquay parking lot (the lower lot) near the start of the Stoney Lookout hike. Then walk roughly half a kilometre to get to the ski lodge and the formal start of the Cascade Amphitheatre hike.
Check the weather forecast before you start the Cascade Amphitheatre hike.
There are technical routes up Cascade Mountain but it is possible to hike up Cascade Mountain from the Cascade Amphitheatre hike. Banff National Park provides a scramblers guide.
If you’re looking for a hike that delivers great scenery close to Banff, I would suggest the following alternatives:
- Bourgeau Lake – Harvey Pass trail
- the Aylmer Lookout hike
- Healy Pass (amazing for wildflowers as you’ll see on the Egypt Lake backpacking trip)
- Citadel Pass via Sunshine Meadows instead.
Cascade Amphitheatre hike description
Park at the lower Mount Norquay parking lot. To start the Cascade Amphitheatre hike start walking towards the Mt. Norquay Lodge at the base of the ski slopes. Continue north past the Cascade and Spirit chairlifts. You can pop into the woods on a trail by the Spirit chairlift that will deposit you beside the Mystic chairlift – or just keep walking the road to the Mystic chair.
Once you reach the Mystic chair, walk around to reach the hut shown in the photo below. From there at the 2.7 km point, you’ll take a trail down to the right where you’ll spy Banff National Park signage. There is another trail that heads left towards Mystic Lake.
Continue gradually descending 130 m (427 feet) on the wide Cascade Amphitheatre trail to reach a bridge over Forty Mile Creek. On this section of trail, I saw at least four mounds of bear scat so even though it was old, I was on high alert. On the other side of Forty Mile Creek, I saw no bear scat whatsoever.
My dog was very happy to see the water at Forty Mile Creek at the start of the ascent, but especially at the end of what was a hot, humid hike. I was too and couldn’t wait to stick my feet in the cooling waters and rub by itchy mosquito bites. I’ll never forget the bug spray again.
From Forty Mile Creek start climbing at a moderate rate. You’ll reach a signed junction at about 4.1 km. Go right to continue on the Cascade Amphitheatre hike. The trail on the left heads for Elk Lake, about 10 km distant.
Switchback, steeply at times through uninspiring forest. I counted around 12 switchbacks but some of the switchbacks were long! At 7 km reach the entrance to the Cascade Amphitheatre. The Cascade Amphitheatre hike levels out here but you’ll still need to keep going for about another kilometre. Continue as long as you please, perhaps looking for a suitable lunch spot with the right rocks to lean on and enjoy the view.
Retrace your steps to return to your vehicle. You have no officially completed the Cascade Amphitheatre hike – and deserve a cold drink.
Location map of the hike
Where to stay near the trailhead
The Cascade Amphitheatre trailhead is close to Banff and Castle Junction isn’t far away either. If you don’t want to camp, there are lots of hotel options.
The closest hotel is Juniper Hotel & Bistro, just off the Mt. Norquay Road. You’ll find good food here and a fire pit with a scenic backdrop.
In Banff I’d recommend staying at the Moose Hotel, the Mount Royal Hotel or Buffalo Mountain Lodge.
In Castle Junction check out Castle Mountain Chalets or Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows. There is also Castle Mountain Hostel.
Along the Bow Valley Parkway, Baker Creek by Basecamp is a great choice.
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