What a delight the Pigeon Mountain hike near Canmore turned out to be. Once you…
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 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 trail – 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 12 km but only climbed about 65 m.
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In early December when we did it there wasn’t a lot of snow pack (as is often the case) so though skiable, conditions are 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. Along this section you encounter beautiful views of Mount Rundle. The river is constantly in view, with its crystal-clear turquoise coloured waters.
Once you reach the bridge 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.
For an easy winter outing that’s perfect for people of all ages, the loop is ideal. When snow conditions are right, it would be a fun 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 trailhead and the parking lot are easy to find. Drive PAST the Banff Springs Hotel and continue straight past the parkade for about 100 m.
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 yesterday, even though the parking around the Banff Springs Hotel was crazy busy.
Where to stay in Banff
The following are places I’ve stayed at that I can recommend.
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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