The Top 10 Tips for a Fun Backpacking Trip in Banff, Alberta

The Top 10 Tips for a Fun Backpacking Trip in Banff, Alberta
18 Nov 2019

Banff is beautiful – it’s a popular tourist destination in Canada, and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. We’re going to help you plan the perfect backpacking trip to Banff. A quick note before we begin: Banff, the town is a part of Banff, the National Park so the town isn’t really going to feature in our backpacking analysis:

Plot Your Route

Banff National Park is massive; there are over 1600 km worth of maintained trails and even more backcountry trails available. While backpacking, you can access any of these trails but it’s important to plot your routes carefully. Know where the designated campgrounds are located, where backcountry campsites are, and where random camping is allowed by consulting the Backcountry Trails in Banff National Park PDF located on this site. Use this information as well as your knowledge of your group’s physical capabilities to plan hiking, rest stops, and camping.

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Be Aware of Trail Conditions

Once your route is planned, you should check trail conditions regularly. The government maintains a log of trail conditions for the well-maintained day trails but for backcountry trails, there’s no such log so you’re going to have to use the condition of nearby trails, along with monitoring weather patterns to have an idea how good the condition of the trails will be.

Dress Appropriately

Easier said than done in the mountains! You can encounter – in a single day – rain, sleet, snow, and temperatures above 25 Celcius. That means you’ll want to be able to dress in layers – a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a raincoat/windbreaker, gloves, a toque, and shorts (or pants that can be zipped off into shorts). Those of you who have prescription glasses will want to get a pair of prescription sunglasses too – it’s essential that you’re able to see hazards, even when the sun is beating down on you. Of course, good hiking shoes are a must.

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Equip Yourself

You’ll want a whole lot of different sprays! Bug spray and bear spray are essential but don’t get them confused. You should keep bear spray on your person within reach, not in your backpack. You’ll want sunscreen, a flashlight, and a first aid kit – you can make one yourself or purchase one. You’ll, of course, need plenty of food and water, a sleeping bag, and a high-quality tent. You might also find a lot of use in a utility knife, a multi-tool, rope and a carabiner, a map or GPS device, a compass, an emergency kit, extra batteries, and a device for communicating in case of emergencies, like the SPOT. You might also consider hiking poles to take some of the stress off your legs.

Feed the Beast

In this case, the beast is you – please don’t feed wild animals on the trail. You’ll want to pack food that’s easily compacted, high in protein, high in caloric density, and lightweight. You also want to avoid foods that can go bad quickly, like fresh fruits (though these can be acceptable for the first day of the hike). Planning exactly what foods you’ll need for a long backpacking adventure is a complicated affair, though we can tell you that foods like nuts (and nut butters), chocolate, and dehydrated or freeze dried meals can be extraordinarily helpful. Check out Clever Hiker’s Guide to Backpacking Foods for more information.

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Leave No Trace

Banff National Park is pristine, and you and all the other hikers should want to keep it that way. You’ll need to pack any garbage you create in a bag and carry it with you until you find an appropriate disposal site. Pack appropriately, leaving plenty of room in your backpack for the garbage, and try to avoid packing items that will create garbage. You’ll need to learn how to properly manage your feces on a long hike; this usually involves digging a cathole with a garden trowel far away from water and trails that you could contaminate. You should also avoid taking things from the park home with you, as this can encourage the spread of invasive species.

Get Permission

There are a lot of permits you need to go backcountry camping in Banff. First, you’ll need a Park Pass; you might want to opt for a Discovery Pass if you’re going to be hiking for a week or longer. You’ll also need to obtain a Backcountry Camping Pass for the days you’ll be off the maintained trails, and you’ll need to register a campsite for the days you plan on using the more mainstream camping areas and trails.

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Take a Break

There are a couple of spots that you can use to restock when you’re hiking through Banff National Park. The first is, of course, the town of Banff – stopping for a hot meal, a hot shower, and resupply in the town can make for a well-deserved rest. Though there are less amenities, Lake Louise is another great spot for a resupply – there are also some very upper-crust restaurants and spots to stay if you’re feeling a bit spendy.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!

You should always go hiking with friends, especially on long backcountry hikes – there’s safety in numbers, and if one of you gets hurt, the others can help more easily. Having friends also makes it easier to distribute supplies throughout the backpacks. Hanging out with your friends is also a pretty fun time, so it’s basically always better to go with some pals.

Establish a Realistic Budget

Now that you’ve got a guide for planning this trip, it’s time to budget. You’ll want to calculate the costs of all the equipment as well as the travel costs there and back. What’s more, you’ll want to have some discretionary spending funds for the days you spend in the nearby towns, as well as to re-up on supplies when you run out. You’ll also need to cost out permits. Remember that it may be cheaper to get a group pass depending on the length of stay and/or size of your group. Coming up with a realistic budget is an important part of achieving your dream trip.

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Marianne Pierce

Marianne Pierce has always had wanderlust, and she now enjoys traveling to new and exotic locations whenever she has the opportunity. She has traveled across Canada and the United States, as well as a few far-flung locations across the globe. Nothing makes her happier than a packed suitcase and a plane ticket to a new destination.

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