Bow River Falls – A Beautifully Easy Banff Hike
Banff National Park, Alberta
There is this preconception about the Canadian Rockies that there are no walks – only hikes. Now, I love to strap on the hiking boots and backpack and tackle some of North America’ most challenging hills but sometimes on those less energetic days, a smaller hike suits much better. This is where the Bow Falls hike steps in. Pop outside your hotel and you are already on your way. Despite its proximity to Banff town centre, you really do escape the crowds on this very easy ramble uphill.
The guide books will tell you to start your jaunt on Buffalo street. However, if you follow the Bow River it is hard to go wrong. Whether it is in summer with its turquoise shimmering water or winter when ice overtakes everything, the flat part of this walk is stunning. Honeymooning couples, local families and hung-over Banff Insiders alike take their time stopping to take pictures and skim stones across the surface. The flat part of the hike and the bit that tracks around the Bow River is about 1.2km or 0.7 miles for those of you stuck in the olden days.
Once you have left the river, you come across two sets of staircases which take you to the Surprise Corner lookout where you can look down with accomplishment on the Bow River Falls. It’s probably best not to expect Niagara here. Despite the name, it is far from a waterfall. It would be better described as rapids as the Bow’s waters cascade through the rocky bed. There are some great views of the striking Banff Springs hotel from this viewpoint and it is also a great opportunity to take a photo and lie to people about how you hiked one of the Canadian Rockies’ most difficult “mountains”.
There are two main options to choose from when you reach the pinnacle of the hike. You can go on to the Hoodoos which will take you another hour and a half or so or you can take the easy way out and walk the little bit further up to the Banff centre. If like me, the idea of warm coffee appeals more to you than sliding down into the depths of the Rockies then the Banff Centre will be heaven. It is a very warm, relaxing place where you can look down into the pool area and casually watch people relaxing in the Jacuzzi as you sip from your warm mug above. Better again, bring your swim gear and enjoy a dip after your torturous explorer like journey! For great sights of Banff that are fully undeserved, there is no better option than the Bow River Falls hike.