The Canadian Rockies stretch between BC and Alberta, and they’re one of the most picturesque landscapes in Canada. There’s so much to see and do between Banff and Golden, and here are our suggestions for the must see sights, hikes and natural attractions.
If you’re basing yourself from Golden or Banff, you can take day trips to any of these destinations. There’s enough to do to allot many days to this area, so plan to spend as much time as you can.
Regardless of how much time you have, here are the best things to see and do between Banff, Alberta and Golden, BC.
Our suggestions flow from east to west. If you're based in Banff, the first suggestion is your closest attraction. If you're travelling from Golden, you'll want to consider them in reverse.
11 BEST things to see and do between banff and golden
1. Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is beautiful, but as with any cool spot it can also get super busy. Tour buses like to stop at Johnston Canyon so that’ll give you a sense of the crowds you may face.
While it’s worth a visit, if you’re travelling in the summer try to get there first thing in the morning, or wait and go in the evening. If you’re visiting in the spring or fall it won’t be as busy.
The canyon carves way back into the rocks. You’ll be walking through the forest and along the side of the canyon to the first and second falls. To get to the first falls is an easy flat walk, taking roughly 30 minutes to cover the 1.2 km. You’ll climb a little bit as you continue onto the second falls, which will take another 30 minutes or so.
As you climb you’ll be looking down on Johnston Creek below.
If you happen to find yourself there in the summer when the water levels are right, you may see some of our raft guides kayaking down the canyon.
2. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
It goes without saying, but if you're travelling between Banff and Golden, you’re likely going to find yourself at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. These two spots have exploded in popularity in the last few years, so while they’re too iconic to miss, you’re going to want to plan ahead. Make sure you book the shuttle bus that gets you to the lakes, as there is no vehicle access during peak season. It's just too busy.
You must book the shuttle in advance, as no walk up seating is available day of. Don't leave this until the last minute - get on it as soon as you select your dates.
Lake Louise and Moraine Lake don’t need much explanation. Two of the most famous lakes in the Canadian Rockies, we know you’ve seen them on book covers and postcards.
Both are beautiful, but we prefer Moraine Lake for the scenery. It’s smaller than Lake Louise but the surrounding landscapes pack a very big punch.
Both lakes offer canoe rentals on site if you’re up for a paddle. You also have the option to rent an inflatable kayak in Golden. You'll get it for a lot longer at a fraction of the price, and can explore to your hearts content.
3. Sherbrook Lake
Another lake worth mentioning, the Sherbrook Lake hike is roughly 6 km. Found in Yoho National Park, you’ll be walking through pretty forest until you pop out at the glacial lake.
If you’re looking for a more mellow option, this hike is one of the easiest in the Park. There's very little elevation gain and the trail is well worn in.
If you’re feeling up for it, we recommend hiking past the lake. There are boardwalks over a marshy area, and then you’ll climb up past the waterfalls that feed the lake. It’s very pretty and adds some extra beauty to the experience.
If you keep going you can get all the way up to Mount Niles. It looks over at the Daly Glacier and down towards Takakkaw Falls. This longer hike is still doable in a day, so pack some extra snacks and layers in case your legs want to keep going.
4. Takakkaw Falls
The 2nd highest waterfall in Canada, Takakkaw Falls, is stunning. Found in Yoho National Park, it cascades 343 m down into the Yoho River below. The Daly Glacier feeds Takakkaw Falls. Because it's glacial fed, the volume is greatest in spring and early summer when the meltwater is at its highest.
Takakkaw Falls is very easy to get to. You can drive right to it, and then take a short walk to the base of the falls if you wish. There are many hikes that start at Takakkaw Falls, so if you want to put some miles on your hiking boots, this is a good place to spend a day (or two). See suggestion # 5 below for one of our favourite hikes that starts right by Takakkaw Falls.
From Takakkaw Falls, the Yoho River is one of the tributaries of the Kicking Horse River. The Kicking Horse winds its way into Golden, and is one of the most popular whitewater rafting rivers in BC.
5. Iceline Trail
You’ve likely heard of the Iceline Trail, even if you’ve never hiked it. It’s one of the most popular trails in Yoho National Park and the Canadian Rockies. It takes you 15 km through the alpine, past glaciers, over streams and through beautiful lush forest.
The Iceline Trail takes on average 5 hours to complete, so you’ll likely want to allot a full day to this journey.
This trail has you walking right past Takakkaw Falls (our recommendation #4). It’s worth allowing time to do the short walk to the base of the falls when you finish the hike. One because it's pretty, and two because the mist will feel so good!
There are also lots of picnic tables and private sitting areas by the river. They're great spots to refuel and give the legs a little stretch.
This trail is a loop and can be done in both directions. Both ways will have you doing a climb early on, but for whatever reason we prefer the clockwise direction. This has you starting at the hostel and finishing by the falls.
6. Natural Bridge
You’ll pass the Natural Bridge on your way up to Emerald Lake, so if you’re heading that way it’s worth a stop.
The Natural Bridge is an amazing rock formation that spans the Kicking Horse River. It’s one of our favourite places to stop every time we’re driving through Yoho National Park. Water eroded the rock beneath a hard band of limestone, causing the river to cascade down, underneath the ‘natural bridge’.
There are different lookouts so you can see the formation from many different angles. The interpretive signs are also very interesting and informative. They explain more about the processes that created this beautiful feature.
7. Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake offers the brilliant, bright blue waters you see on any postcard from this area. It’s a stunning spot and is deserving of a visit. If you’re into a quick stop you can snap some photos and grab a coffee or tea at the cute little lake side cafe.
If you have more time to enjoy here, you can rent a canoe and go for a paddle. You could also go for one of the hikes that are accessible from the Lake. There’s a walking trail around the lake, for a cruisy, flat walk, or you can venture up into the alpine behind the lake.
At the back of Emerald Lake is the trailhead to Yoho Lake. It’s a moderate hike that takes you up behind Emerald Lake, and we love it so much it's our next suggestion below.
8. Yoho Lake
Either we’ve lucked out, or this trail isn’t quite as busy, but we never tend to see many fellow hikers on this trail.
This hike takes you to the back of Emerald Lake, and then up into the saddle and onto Yoho Lake. It’s another beautiful alpine lake, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and shrubby alpine trees.
We love it here and it’s a spot you can relax and enjoy where you are. You can sprawl out and stretch, or enjoy some food on one of the picnic tables.
There are also a couple of the iconic, red Parks Canada chairs if you want to sit back in comfort and enjoy the view.
Being in the Park, it’s a well marked and well maintained trail, meaning you’ll have no trouble finding your way.
9. Mount Hunter
Mount Hunter is always one of the first hikes we can do in Yoho Park each spring so it holds a special place for us. It always makes us happy to get out in our hiking boots and hit the trails.
If you’re visiting this area early in the summer when many of the other alpine hikes are still snowy, this could be a good option.
Mount Hunter is a steepy. It’ll have you walking 3.4 km to the first lookout, and 6 km if you head up to the top.
The first lookout brings you to an old fire tower. This is a fine place to stop, but if you have the energy to keep going, we recommend heading on to the top.
The steepest pitch is at the end (or maybe it just seems that way as we get tired). The views of the Beaverfoot Valley and Kicking Horse River below are stunning, and they're one of the best things to see between Banff and Golden. It seems there’s always a nice breeze up there too, which is a welcome reward for the grunt to get there.
10. Wapta Falls
Another waterfall worth your attention is Wapta Falls. Also located in Yoho National Park, Wapta is the biggest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. You’ll take a pretty forest walk to get there, which is a bit over 2 km each way.
There are vantage points above the falls as you’re walking in, and you’ll see a path winding down to the base of the waterfall at the end of the path.
It’s worth going down if you’re feeling up to it. You’ll feel the glacial mist on your face and have beautiful views looking back up at the falls. Wapta Falls is 107 m wide and getting to the base takes roughly 35 - 45 minutes.
For roaring falls and the most water pouring over, head to Wapta in the spring. This is when the most meltwater is coming down from the glaciers and mountains. If you want to see it when it’s the beautiful, bright glacial blue, that happens later in the summer as river levels drop.
11. Kicking Horse River
As you make your way to Golden, a visit to the Kicking Horse River is a must. As you’re driving into (or out of) Golden you’ll see the Kicking Horse flowing through the canyon below. There are some good vantage points if you want to stop and take some photos, but getting in a boat and paddling downstream is the best way to take it all in.
You’ll be surrounded by mountains and forests as you float on the clean, glacial waters.
River rafting tours run daily on the Kicking Horse River from the start of June until mid September. With six trips to choose from, there are options ranging from a gentle, scenic float trip to a full day whitewater adventure.
You can check out all your options for a Kicking Horse River rafting tour. Experience isn't needed for any of the trips, as an experienced river guide will be leading each boat.
And there you go. If you're planning a trip through the Canadian Rockies, you'll be driving between Banff, Alberta and Golden, British Columbia. There are so many sights to see and attractions to enjoy and we hope these suggestions of the 11 best things to see between Banff and Golden are helpful to make the most of your visit.
If you have any questions we'll be happy to help. Leave us a note in the comments below, or send an email to email@example.com.
If you're looking for other hiking options, here are recommendations for 5 of the best hikes in Yoho National Park