One of the finest hikes in the Banff National Park is Healy Pass. The hike starting point is a short drive from the town of Banff and climbs a gradual pass until unveiling a pristine alpine meadow.
The meadow is resplendent for hiking and famed for wildflowers in the summer and larch trees in the fall. There are quite a few storybook vistas in the park, but Healy Pass rivals the best of them.
Healy Pass Hike
- Length: 20.9 km
- Duration: 4 – 8 hours
- Elevation Gain: 890 meters
- Difficulty: Moderate/Hard
- Best Time To Go: July to September
- Parking: Sunshine Village Parking
This is a beautiful hike that is sure to be loved by all who set out on the journey — easily one of the best hikes in Banff. It peaks twice a year first in the early summer when the valley flooded with millions of wildflowers and again in fall when the larch trees turn gold. Once hikers reach the pass, they are afforded stunning views of the surrounding peaks and Egypt Lake.
Parks Canada maintains the trail, and it remains one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park. The trail begins at the Sunshine Village parking lot, and the trailhead is located behind the main building. It’s a quick 20-minute drive from the town of Banff and a tremendous option for a day hike for visitors looking to get out on the trail.
At its start, the trail does a gradual climb through a lush shaded forest. Due to the elevation grade, the elevation gain on this hike feels much more manageable for novice hikers. As hikers work their way through the woods, they cross a series of bridges, creeks, avalanche paths, and one infrequently used backcountry campsite. There have been some complaints about the monotony of a long approach through the trees, but we found it relaxing.
After 7.5 km, the forest gives way to a gorgeous alpine meadow and the vast expanse of wildflowers — it’s likely the best place to witness them in the park. Once you’re in the alpine meadow, the hike provides expansive views of lakes, fields of wildflowers, rolling hills, and towering peaks in the distance. There are two peak windows to enjoy the meadow, both of which mark the start and end of the hiking season.
Typically around the first week of July, the flowers reach their peak as millions of yellow glacier lilies dot the meadows. However, be warned the glacier lilies have a short window and typically disappear after two weeks. None the less, the rest of the summer months supply an incredible multitude of native flowers such as paintbrushes, white mountain avens, saxifrage, forget-me-nots, and anemones.
The next peak season comes around mid to late September when the larch trees in the meadow turn to a brilliant golden hue. The trail works it’s way amongst the trees until reaching the pass where you’re afforded a brilliant view of the meadow full of larch trees.
Past the meadow is the apex of the trail Healy Pass that provides fantastic views out to the surrounding peaks. In the distance, you can see one of the most picturesque mountains in Banff, Mount Assiniboine. The trail from here continues onto Egypt Lakes, which presents backcountry camping opportunities or an extended day hike for a keen hiker.
If you’re after a peak, continue to the North of the Pass up to Healy Pass Peak. The summit is a popular snowshoe objective and a great spot to enjoy lunch and the views around the surrounding region. It’s genuinely one of the most spectacular sections of Banff National Park. The last option to add on is to hike the Monarch Ramparts to the West of the meadow.
To return the most common route is to follow the same trail back out or a small detour can be made around the Simpson Pass Route that reconnects with the Healy Pass trail.
Advice on the Healy Pass Trail
Healy Pass Peak or the Monarch Ramparts are great additions that many forgo, but the view from both are superb. The views from both are surreal and will quite literally be one of the most spellbinding landscapes you’ll ever witness. We’ve explored plenty of the park and still consider Healy Pass one of the most spectacular areas in the park.
If there is one negative, it’s the long approach to this hike. As you walk through the forest for nearly 8km, it can feel a bit like a slog. In wet weather, the forest can also be very muddy, so be sure to wear high ankle boots. Try to time hike for early July or late September to catch the meadow in the most brilliant times of the year.
How Hard is Healy Pass Trail?
As capable hikers, we found Healy Pass to be very easy. However, there is some real distance here with over 20 km and a decent amount of elevation gain at 890 meters. That being said, it’s a gradual climb, so unlike many other high elevation gain hikes in the Canadian Rockies, this is manageable for most people at an average fitness level. Be prepared to be on your feet for at least 5 hours at a leisurely walking pace. We’d rate this as a moderate to hard hike that feels suitable for older adults, children, and dogs.
Healy Pass Hike Duration
The duration of the Healy Pass can vary greatly as there are so many options to extend the hike. If you stick to the classic Healy Pass trail I would plan for the hike to take between four to seven hours. Make sure to pack a lunch that’s great to enjoy in the meadow or from the top of Healy Pass. Of course, everyone hiking time varies, but an average pace falls in the middle of the suggested hike times.
When Can You Hike Healy Pass?
The best time to hike Healy Pass is the beginning of July for wildflowers or the end of September for Larch trees. The trail is best completed between the summer and fall from June – October. In the shoulder months of June and October, hikers should expect to find snow, ice, or mud on the trail, but not enough to make navigation of the trail too difficult.
Of course, the weather is seasonal, and every year the snowmelt date is different, and it’s possible to extend into July. The route crosses several avalanche paths so I would only recommend it to experienced snowshoes or skiers in the winter months.
How Popular is Healy Pass?
Healy Pass is one of the more popular hikes in Banff National Park, and it’s often frequented by tour groups as it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Banff. However, none of this should detract from the walk as the 10 km trail allows for plenty of breathing room for visitors. We completed the hike on a lovely weekend summer day and found ourselves on the path alone the vast majority of the hike.
Dogs & Kids on the Trail?
The trail is appropriate for most hikers who feel comfortable walking uphill. It is appropriate for anyone of moderate fitness. I’d say kids from ages seven years old and up. Strollers will not work on the trail, but if you have a baby carrier you should be fine hiking Healy Pass dependent on fitness.
Dogs should be able to handle the trail just fine. Just keep in mind the hike is around 20 km in length, so small dogs will struggle with the range while large dogs will handle the trail with ease. Please remember dogs must always be on a leash in the national park for the safety of fellow hikers, the dog, and wildlife.
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.
Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS. Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post! Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.