Congratulations! You have decided to venture out on your first backpacking trip. When you are deciding on where to go, there are lots of great trails to choose from. Alberta is known for some of the best scenery in all of Canada and is home to thousands of hiking trails. I compiled a list of what I consider to be the best hiking trails in Alberta to begin backpacking on.
I have tried to mostly include trails that are outside of Banff and Jasper. I did this because I prefer trails that are a little less crowded than what you will find in the national parks. I also think Alberta has more to offer than just Banff and Jasper.
What to Look for in Your First Trail?
The type of trail you choose will depend on your goals. Are you looking to get away from civilization? Do you want to be gone for a couple weeks? Will you need certain facilities available at your campsites?
When departing on my first backpacking trip, I didn’t know what to expect. My goal was to not only challenge myself, but to kind of ease my way into the world of backpacking. Since I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t want to do anything that might have been too extreme. In the future this would allow me to know what to expect, and I could better prepare myself for the next adventure.
My goal was to gain some experience backpacking, without having to worry too much about getting lost, or what would happen if I couldn’t make it to the end of the trail. When I selected these trails, I was taking these goals into consideration.
Tell me what some of your goals are in the comments.
Some of the best hiking trails in Alberta are also great trails for your first backpacking trip.
Here are some of the Best Hiking Trails in Alberta!
Jasper National Park
Recommended time: 2-4 days
Description: This is one of the most popular trail in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Much of this hike is above the tree line. Hikers will be subjected to some best views the Rockies have to offer.
Why it is good for beginners: The trails short distance, and many campgrounds means that any new hiker can adjust their itinerary based on their level of fitness and time they have to complete the trail. There are several campgrounds along the trail with basic facilities such as a bear pole and outhouses.
It is a popular trail which means it can get overcrowded, but there is the additional comfort of knowing that there are other hikers not too far away from you.
Read more about the trail here.
Waterton National Park
Recommended time: 2-3 days
Description: This trail is popular during autumn, as the Tamarack tree displays vibrant colours.
Waterton National Park is a smaller park, but it does have a lot of trails you can hike. Take a look at the map, and if you would like, create a custom trail for you to take. There is no reason to just walk along the Tamarack Trail. You can combine the Snowshoe and Goat Lake trail to create a longer hike if desired.
Why this trail is good for beginners: What I like about this trail is that there are so many options. You have several campsites to choose from. Once you are out there you can choose to camp in one area and do a bunch of day hikes. Or you can complete it as an overnight hike. Since this is a national park, the camp facilities come with food storage areas, and outhouses so there are fewer things to worry about.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Distance: 30 km return
Recommended time: 2-3 days
Description: Looking for a hike in the mountains but want to avoid the more popular national parks? Then head down to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Located south of Banff along highway 40, this park boasts some best scenery outside of Banff and Jasper.
Along this trail you will come across serene lakes,
Turbine Canyon is a back country campground along the Maude-Lawson trail. This is a challenging hike with a lot of elevation gain. You can also break up this hike by camping at Forks campground.
Why this trail is good for beginners: This trail will offer some stunning scenery without the crowds found in the national parks. The distance is ideal for someone starting out backpacking. There is also a campground halfway if you wish to break the hike up into a shorter day.
Elk Island National Park
Distance: 6 km to campsite. From there you have the option for several multi day hikes.
Description: This is a hike in hike out kind of trail. The Oyster Lake back country campsites are located about 6km from the trail head. From there you can set up camp and will have access to the Shirley Lake trail (12.5 km), Tawayik Lake trail (16.5 km).
Of course since this is a loop trail, you can walk the trail backwards (either Shirley lake, or Tawayik lake trail) if you would like to challenge yourself. It will also give you a better idea of what a more serious hike would be like.
This hike will take you through forest and wetland areas. There are plenty of chances to spot wildlife. Elk Island is one of the few places left where you can see bison in the wild.
Why this trail is good for beginners: This trail is good for your first backpacking trip for several reasons. It is easy to access the campsite. The trail is easy to hike with practically 0 elevation gain. The campsite has picnic tables and a fire pit, so you do not have to worry about bringing chairs. And having a fire is always a bonus when camping.
Trans Canada Trail
Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Distance: 32 km.
Recommended time: 2-5 days.
Description: Not all the hiking trails have to be in the Rocky Mountains. Cypress Hills is located in the south eastern corner of Alberta and actually extends into Saskatchewan. This trail in considered part of the Trans-Canada network of trail, but it is not connected to the main system of trails yet.
Why this trail is good for beginners: This trail is part of a well maintained system of trails in Cypress Hill Provincial park, and there a several campsites to choose from with established facilities.
These are just some options available out there. When deciding on your first backpacking trail, you should be looking for something that is only a couple days in length. Try and walk a shorter distance than you think you can walk. Hiking with a full pack is a lot different than walking a day hike. Remember, your first hike is all about getting some experience and finding your limits. From this point you will have a baseline to help you choose your next adventure.
Be sure to read my post on how to plan a hiking trip.
What do you look for in a beginner backpacking trail?
Do you have any other suggestions that should be on the Best Hiking Trails in Alberta list?