Don’t write off the autumn hiking season when the larch needles fall or the first snow dusts the high country of Banff National Park. October and November have always been a favourite time to exploit the last best days of the year. The only caveat: trails must be snow and ice-free. Otherwise we’re into winter travel.
Make sure you adjust for the change of season. It’s often chilly at this time of year, even on sunny days, so pack appropriate clothing (a down sweater, toque, gloves). And be prepared for frozen ground that is less forgiving than soft trail. Always check the current trail report for an update on conditions: Banff National Park Trail Report
Of course, you can always hike valley-bottom trails well into the autumn, but here are a few of our favourites in Banff’s Bow Valley that take you to higher elevations.
Castle Lookout Hiking Trail. It makes sense that one of the earliest dry hikes in the spring should be one of the last dry trips in the fall. Great views of the Bow Valley from this 2010m vantage point.
Cory Pass Hiking Trail. Hard to believe that one of the highest passes near Banff is a good autumn hike, but we’ve hiked totally dry trail to the 2350m summit as late as November 20. But be aware that this very steep trail is even harder on knees and ankles when its frozen solid.
C-Level Cirque Hiking Trail. Another dependable late spring hike that stays snowfree into the autumn. But while the trail is usually dry to the C-Level mine viewpoint, you might encounter a dusting of snow on the final approach into the cirque.
Lake Louise hiking trails—Lake Agnes and the Beehives, Plain of the Six Glaciers, Saddleback. These are all trails we’ve frequently hiked in October. Even after they receive their first dusting of snow, they often dry out to provide pleasant, uncrowded hiking. And while golden alpine larch needles have faded, they still provide high-country colour into mid-October.
All these hiking trails are described in detail in the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.
Photo © Brian Patton