Bow Falls Hiking Trails, a Complete Guide

Bow Falls are a well-known waterfall and hiking trail in Banff National Park, Alberta. The falls are popular for both their beauty and easy access.   Conveniently located just a few minutes walk from downtown Banff, you won’t need to go far to visit the falls.  Perhaps when compared to some more distant attractions in Banff, Bow falls are humble.  After all, Bow Falls are only a little over nine meters. In fact, they dwarf in comparison to the 381 meters Takakkaw Falls nearby. However, Bow Falls peaceful beauty and the family-friendly hiking trails means the attraction is a tourist favorite.   Today let’s take a look at Bow Falls hiking trails, Bow Falls biking trails, and more.

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Bow Falls surrounded by cliffs and a moody sky.
Bow Falls falls may not be tall – but they are beautiful.

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How do you get to Bow Falls?

Banff National Park is huge, and you can spend hours driving in Banff without reaching the end.  After you enter the park, you’ll find Banff Town, the “urban jungle” portion of the park.   And here, just a few minutes by foot from the charming downtown center, you’ll find Bow Falls.

Also See: Banff National Park Guide and Map.

You have two options to get to the falls. The first is to walk from downtown via the Bow Falls Trail. The second is to park in the lot next to the falls. The lot does get busy. If you don’t see spots, you drive just a little further for more spots. Alternatively, keep driving towards the Banff Springs Golf Course, and its big parking lot.

Bow river, the source of Bow Falls.

What are the origins of Bow Falls?

The waterfall is part of Bow River, in Alberta, Canada. The Bow River is roughly 364 miles (587 kilometers) and stretches from the Rocky Mountains and all the way into Hudson Bay. The bay is not directly connected with the famous Hudson River in New York City. As I mentioned before, the waterfall is only 9 meters tall ( approximately 30 feet).

Even in the summer, the river is a freezing 50 F. In the winter, it freezes and stays frozen for six months. You can wade into the crystal clear river in the summer – but you probably won’t get far.

The cold river plays host to a variety of wildlife. Harlequin Ducks are common here. So are Barrow’s Goldeneye and Common Merganser, all varieties of duck. Several different species of trout thrive in this water. And the mosquitoes are the size of small birds.

Bow Falls with mountains in the background.

Bow Falls Hiking and Biking Trails

The falls sit atop a peaceful bay, and this bay is a great place to take a swim. The mountain views offer great photography opportunities. But the most popular attraction here the multiple hiking trails. Some are easy and family-friendly, others perfect for bikers and yet others are challenging. You can access all of the following hiking and biking trails from Bow Falls.

Bow Falls Trail

This trail first climbs the cliffs above the waterfall and then meanders along the river toward Banff Town. There are two trails on this portion – one for pedestrians and one for bicyclists. The cliff section which has several staircases is closed to bicyclists and in the winter.

Links to: Cave and Basin Trail on one end, and Upper Hot Springs Trail and Spray River Loop on the other.

Distance: 1.2 km one way

Upper Hot Springs Trail

This forested trail winds up to Upper Hot Springs Pool, Rimrock Hotel and The Banff Gondola. A mature coniferous forest greets you along the way. Some of the trees here have been thinned to help protect the area from forest fires.

Links to: Sulfur Mountain Summit Trail

Distance: 1.8 km one way

Spray River Loop

This old fire road trail is popular with hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. On this trail, you’ll follow the Spray River for 6 kilometers. After you reach a footbridge, continue in a loop to the other side of the Spray Valley.

Links to: Upper Hotsprings Trail, Mt. Rundle Trail

Distance: 12 km roundtrip

Mount Rundle Summit Trail

Easily the most popular scramble in the Rockies, Mount Rundle Summit Trail is both challenging and fun. If you are going to do the 1577 meter elevation ensure you are prepared with proper hiking equipment and consult a park ranger for the latest conditions.

Distance: 5.5 km, mostly up, one way

Golf Course Drive

This popular bike trail past the Banff Springs Hotel loops around the golf course. Here you’ll come across brilliant views of the Banff River, local peaks and hoodoos. Hoodoos are naturally eroded rock and clay towers. Parts of this trail are accessible by car.

Links to: East Side of the Spray River Loop and the Rundle Riverside Trail

Distance: 15 km loop road, ideal for biking, round trip.

Rundle Riverside Trail

This moderate biking trail joins Banff and nearby Canmore via an 8 km rough root riding path. Next, the trail turns mostly gravel for another 6 km to the Canmore Nordic Center.

Links to: Golf Course Drive

Distance: 14 km, one way.

Other Things To Do in Bow Falls

In addition to hiking and biking, you can explore the falls river by canoe. You can even take a raft trip from Banff to Canmore by water.

The waterfall and rocks in the foreground.

Banff Packing List

The river, mountains and trees in Banff National Park.

Conclusion

Although Bow Falls is a small waterfall, it is a must-visit if you are staying in Banff. Many important hiking and biking trails originate here – from the simple to the very advanced. This easy to access waterfall is a great place to spend a few hours, whether it’s for a casual walk or an intense bike ride.

Bow Falls in Banff National Park, a Pinterest friendly graphic.

 

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