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 the Calgary – Canmore corridor.
While I’ve done the Spray River trail many times – on fat bikes in winter, mountain bikes in summer, and on foot throughout the year, one of the most memorable hikes took place in December. We completed the Spray River Loop trail, and followed it up with a soak in nearby Banff Hot Springs and finished with a pub dinner at the Banff Springs Hotel. That’s a darned good day in my books.
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Spray River Loop summary
Distance: Approximately 12.0 km or 7.5 miles.
Elevation gain: 75 m or 250 feet.
Level of difficulty: Easy to moderate depending on age (harder for kids) and how often you hike.
Time needed: Allow 3.5 – 4 hours to do the full loop hike.
Permits: 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.
A great year-round trail that can be done as an out and back or as a loop.
Ideal for walking, snowshoeing, fat biking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing if the snow is good.
Look for elk and other wildlife along the trail.
Spray River Loop trailhead location
The trailhead and the parking lot for the Spray River hike 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 on the right 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. Be sure your parks pass is visible in the car, so you don’t get a ticket.
You can also take Roam transit and get dropped off at the Banff Springs Hotel. From there it’s a short walk to the Spray River loop trailhead.
You won’t always find cell service along this trail though route finding is easy and usually you meet other people along it.
Except for the dead of winter, I would recommend carrying accessible bear spray. I keep mine in a bear spray holster, so I don’t accidentally set it off.
Spray River loop description
In early December when we did the Spray River loop hike one year, 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 fat bikes.
The Spray River 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 trailyou 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 Spray 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.
Location map of the Spray River Loop hike
Where to stay in Banff
The following are places I can recommend. My favourite hotel on the “strip” in downtown Banff is the Moose Hotel.