The Spray River loop trail is ideal for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and cycling, depending on the conditions and the season. With a trailhead within a few hundred feet of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, it’s a super accessible trail for visitors to the area or for day-trippers from Calgary.
We fell into the day-trippers category. Six of us headed up to Banff for some exercise on the Spray River loop – followed by a soak in the nearby Banff Hot Springs and a pub dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel. In three hours plus a little time for lunch at the far end of the trail, we hiked about 12 kilometres but only climbed about 75 metres.
Spray River Loop summary
- You will need a national park pass to do the Spray River Loop in Banff National Park. If you didn’t buy one on the way into the park, you can buy one in downtown Banff or online.
- Check the Banff National Park trail report before heading out.
- The multi-use Spray River loop is open year-round for a variety of activities.
- For an easy winter outing that’s perfect for people of all ages, the Spray River loop hike, snowshoe or fat bike experience is ideal. When snow conditions are right, it would be a fun cross-country ski to do as well. One certainly doesn’t have to do the whole loop either – just go as far as you like and then retrace your steps.
- The Spray River circuit is approximately 12.0 km in total with an minimal elevation gain of 75 metres or 250 feet.
- I’d rate this as an easy to moderate hike depending on age (harder for kids) and how often you hike.
- Allow 3.5 – 4 hours to do the full loop hike.
- The trail parallels the Spray River and offers some lovely views in places.
- You won’t always find cell service along the trail though route finding is easy.
- Always go prepared with the hiking essentials.
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Spray River Loop hike description
In early December when we did it there wasn’t a lot of snow pack (as is often the case) so though skiable, conditions were not ideal. It could easily be snowshoed and as you’ll see in the photos, some people cycled it on bikes with super fat tires.
The loop doesn’t offer drop-dead mountain views but it’s very pleasant hiking. From the trailhead you follow the Spray River 5.7 km down to the bridge and an intersection with the Goat Creek junction. If you were to bike (or cross-country ski) the Goat Creek trail you would pass this junction on the way to Banff. Along this section you encounter beautiful views of Mount Rundle. The river is constantly in view, with its crystal-clear turquoise coloured waters.
An out and back or a loop hike?
Once you reach the bridge over the Spray River, you could retrace your steps but better yet cross the bridge and follow the river back to a junction about a kilometre from the trailhead. There are fewer views on this side of the river but if you pay attention, you might get lucky and see ice climbers on a frozen waterfall.
At the first intersection you reach on the return hike, about 4.7 km from the bridge, you have the choice of continuing towards the Banff Springs Golf Course or descending to the river and crossing a bridge that offers a view of the Banff Springs Hotel.
That’s what we elected to do – and it ended up being the prettiest part of the hike. Look for picnic tables scattered around in the woods on the far side of the bridge. In summer, this area would make a very pleasant destination for a family picnic.
Spray River Loop trailhead location
The trailhead and the parking lot are easy to find. Drive PAST the Banff Springs Hotel and continue straight past the parkade for about 100 metres.
You’ll see a giant parking area that states that parking is for users of the Spray River trails only. There were all of about six cars one day we did it, even though the parking around the Banff Springs Hotel was crazy busy.
Where to stay in Banff
The following are places I can recommend. My favourite on the “strip” is the Moose Hotel.
On Banff Avenue, the Mount Royal Hotel, the Fox Hotel & Suites, the Moose Hotel & Suites and the Canalta Lodge are all good choices. For a hotel with a great dining room, choose the Rimrock Resort Hotel. And for a splurge, try the obviously, super-convenient Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
Further reading on hikes in Banff National Park
- The Aylmer Lookout Hike in Banff National Park
- Banff Hikes: Castle Mountain Lookout
- The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon
- 10 Breathtaking Lake Louise Hikes, Banff National Park
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