One of Banff’s quietest trails, the Healy Pass hike takes you to a remote pass with stunning mountain views, alpine meadows and far away from the maddening crowds.
Throw in a lake midway up a mountain and some great wildlife watching opportunities and you get a hike that is well worth putting on your must-do list. If you have time, you can also add on Simpson’s Pass for more scenery on the way back.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Healy Pass hike.
The Healy Pass hike
The trail stats
Time Taken: 4 hours
Start point: Sunshine Village
Whilst the stats looked pretty gruelling, the Healy Pass hike is actually on the easier side when compared to other trails in the Rockies. Whilst it is 700 metres in elevation, it is evenly spread across 9km, making it far more gradual than most.
We were able to go at a fairly good pace throughout most of the walk, meaning it didn’t need to be an early start (we set off at 2pm!).
The distance is what makes it a long hike and you definitely feel that in your legs the next day, but overall we were surprised at how easy it was.
Finding the start
For a relatively straightforward trail, the beginning of the Healy Pass hike was pretty confusing to find! We knew we had to get to Sunshine Meadows car park, by the gondola, but after that we weren’t sure.
The staff on site didn’t seem to know and we were first pointed in the wrong direction!
The Healy Pass hike actually starts behind the guest services/gondola building. There’s a wooden Parks Canada sign before a gravel path which is the start of the trail (even though the map points to the other side of the parking lot)!
Once on the trail it is straightforward to follow. The track starts immediately uphill on what is probably the steepest section until there’s a right turn off from the gravel path into the forest. Take the turning on the right and you’ll head downhill briefly before going gently uphill again.
The sub-alpine forest is beautiful and we took the opportunity to really look around and appreciate it because the path was great and not too steep, so we didn’t have to watch our feet. For us this made it the most enjoyable stretch of forest walk we’d done in all of Canada. It was quiet, peaceful and totally gorgeous.
After a while the path crosses a wild river (which was high due to the recent rains) before reaching a campsite. We saw quite a few grouse around here, listen out for their distinct call.
After the campsite the trail gets a bit steeper for a while before flattening out again. Then you reach the meadow.
The Alpine Meadow
You’re not far from the pass once you reach the meadow and it starts to become very scenic. The meadows are full of wildflowers in the summer, but unfortunately some snow a few days earlier had killed a lot of them on our visit.
We still saw quite a few and they were beautiful but ordinarily you would get some of the most amazing displays in all the Rockies.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife here as you can see quite a lot. We saw Golden Eagles, an owl and some ground squirrels, but could probably have seen more if we’d tried harder.
Be cautious though as this is a favourite habitat for grizzly bears. It’s nice and open though, so you should have plenty of space to spot one and manoeuvre accordingly if you do.
The Healy Pass
The trail heads uphill again and past a small lake (which we initially took for Egypt Lake but that is a few kilometres further on) before reaching a crest. It isn’t labelled, but this is the Healy Pass!
From here you can see a different mountain range and even glimpses of Egypt Lake - a beautiful lake midway up a mountain.
It’s a great place for a break or a bit of lunch. Just keep an eye on the signs as there are large parts which are off limits and need to be protected for regeneration.
For better views of Egypt Lake carry on along the path a little, you can actually get to the lake itself in just under three kilometres.
It starts by going downhill before heading uphill again and, as we had started late, we just didn’t have time. If you have all day and don’t mind adding on around 6km it looks like a worth while detour.
A better option is to go via Simpson’s Pass for a change of scenery or you can head to Sunshine Meadows and take the gondola back. For a one way ticket the gondola costs $30.
If we did this hike again we would have started earlier and gone back via Simpsons Pass, we almost took this option but didn’t want to risk being caught in grizzly country in the dark!
Hiking back along the Healy Pass Track was easy and we covered the ground pretty quickly. Even when it started raining heavily, we were able to make it back in less than two hours.
Getting to the Healy Pass Hike
The Healy Pass hike is really close to the centre of Banff and only takes 20 minutes to drive to. The trail starts at the Sunshine Village gondola, just go round the main building towards the river and look for the Parks Canada board for the start of the trail.
There is a lot of parking here, so you don’t need to worry about the time you arrive.
Bear Safety on the Healy Pass Hike
The Healy Pass hike goes through both black and grizzly bear territory. We‘ve been told grizzlies particularly like the meadows area. You should exercise caution and ideally carry bear spray. If you don’t have any you can rent some at the shop by the gondola ticket office.
This is particularly important on the Healy Pass hike because no one monitors bear activity like they do at many of the trails around Banff. When we were told this it did make us a bit nervous but in the end we didn’t spot any bears. Make noise at any blind corners and ideally throughout the hike.
Best time to do the Healy Pass hike
Mid July and August are a fantastic time to hike the Healy Pass for wildflowers and lack of snow and ice making the hike easy. We’ve heard it’s a great snow shoeing track in winter but this would be much more tiring!
Healy Pass Entrance Fee
The Healy Pass hike falls under Banff National Park and requires purchasing a permit before you visit. You can buy it on Highway 1, but the queues here can be awful.
You can buy it online by clicking here to go to the Banff & Lake Louise Tourism website. It costs $9.80 CAD per person per day ($7 USD).
If you plan on visiting multiple National Parks in Canada, you could look at the annual pass. It costs $136.40 CAD ($102 USD) for a whole car and will get you entry to 80 parks in Canada.
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