Canadian Rockies: Banff, Bow Falls & the Hoodoos


Banff National Park: Bow Falls to Hoodoos

Date Hiked: August 10, 2009
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer
Check Trail Conditions: Banff National Park (403) 522-3833
  • Distance: 3.1 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 345 feet
  • Route Type: Out-and-Back
  • Trail Type: Dirt and pavement
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Jeff and I spent the second day of our honeymoon (August 10, 2009) in the immediate Banff National Park section of the Bow Valley to get acclimated to the area and do a bit more inquiring before finalizing the rest of our hiking and activities agenda for the week.


The line to enter Banff National Park.

As we approached the park entrance, we came to a dead stop on the highway as lines of cars waited to pay their park entrance daily fees at the gates.  It appeared that every tourist in the area chose that same day and time we did to visit (weather reports projected cloudy and sporadic rain the rest of the week).

We did the math ($20/day for a day pass x 6 more days vs. $136 for an annual pass), assessed the traffic (annual passholders don’t have to wait, they fly through their own lane), and decided to purchase a 1-year National Parks Pass.  Ironically, we never saw lines of cars again… oh well.


Beautiful downtown Banff.


Downtown Banff, looking at Mount Rundle.

The first stop on our list of places to see that day was the actual town of Banff (permanent population 7,437).  From my childhood visit there, I remembered how quaint and pretty the town is, but I’d forgotten how horribly touristy and crowded it is (way too many people walking around in Crocs).  We found the folks at the Friends of Banff visitor centre to be exceptionally friendly and a big help with providing detailed trails info.  After a couple hours of getting jostled around the sidewalks in a herd of Croc-wearing-tourists, we left town for our first hike.


Bow Falls at the base of the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel.

Jeff had selected our very first Canadian Rockies hike while still at home, an easy 3.1 mile trek from Bow Falls (at the base of the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel) to the way-over-hyped Hoodoos (eroded rock formations).  He wanted a hike that started close to the town of Banff, that was scenic, and that also provided a nice introduction for us to hiking in the Canadian Rockies altitude.  He succeeded.


Jeff alongside the eerily blue-green waters of the glacial fed Bow River.

After a few minutes taking in Bow Falls at the foot of the beautiful Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Jeff and I walked about 5 minutes to our Bow Falls to Hoodoos trailhead.  A bit frustrated at the crowds we’d encountered thus far, we were highly relieved to discover Jeff’s selected hike instantly transported us out of the Croc-wearing tourist traps to a more serene, sparsely populated woodsy trail alongside the beautiful Bow River.  We ran into only a handful of other hikers along the way and practically had the serene glacial fed river all to ourselves.


Beautiful glacial-capped rugged mountains surround our valley.

After huffing and puffing a bit adjusting to our first higher altitude hike, Jeff and I found ourselves wondering why we were hearing traffic as made our way closer to the end of the trail. Our questions were soon answered as our trail ventured out of the quiet forest to parallel a tourist-traveled highway, and then, much to our dismay, dumped us into a super crowded parking lot (with an RV campground right across the highway!). We immediately realized that our chosen hike merely provided a serene pristine alternative to the crowded tourist-trap route to the Hoodoos.


We were more impressed by the beautiful river than the Hoodoos (bottom left).

Unfortunately, the Hoodoos themselves provided our only real disappointment the entire honeymoon. Having read so much hype about the majesty and awe of the Hoodoos, we expected much more than just eroded rock formations. We took a few pictures, then immediately bolted back to our forest trail to escape the hordes of tourists for our return hike back to Bow Falls and our car.


Leave a Comment, Question, or Suggestions!