Guide to the Cascade Mountain Hike

The iconic Cascade Mountain overlooking the town of Banff is the most famous subject of many Banff photographs. So, after my photo from Banff Avenue, I hiked the trail to the summit of Cascade Mountain for pictures from above! I was not disappointed! What a beautiful mountain! Read on for the complete trail description of the Cascade Mountain Hike.

Cascade Mountain seen from Banff Avenue

About the Cascade Mountain Hike

  • distance: 20 kilometres
  • elevation gain: 1675 meters
  • altitude: 2998 meters
  • approximate time: 9 hours

The hike to Cascade Mountain’s summit is challenging. It is a full-day hike and you should plan for 8-10 hours of hiking including rests and time spent at the summit. Therefore, essential hiking gear is crucial to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.

You will need high-energy snacks to keep your energy up throughout the day. Here are some of my snack ideas for the trail.

Save it for later

Hiker standing on the summit of Cascade Mountain
Randonnée au sommet du mont Cascade

Trail Access

You will find the trailhead behind the Norquay ski resort. Drive up to the Norquay Lodge and Ski Resort parking lot on Norquay Scenic Dr. You will find the trailhead behind the lodge. Walk passed the lodge and the ski lifts, the trailhead in the forest after the third chair lift towards 40 Mile Creek.

The Approach

The approach trail leads to the Cascade Amphitheater, where the climb begins. You walk in a forest along 40 Mile Creek for the first couple of kilometres. You must head on Lake Elk Trail when you come to the first intersection. The trail then crosses the creek on a wooden bridge and continues to climb gently.

A kilometre and a half after the bridge, you will come to a second intersection; keep right to stay on the Cascade Amphitheater Trail. You will walk through several switchbacks for a steady steep climb.

Amphitheater on the approach to the summit trail for Cascade Mountain

After over 6 kilometres, the strewn trees give way to a meadow and the famous Cascade Amphitheater. The view is breathtaking, and the impressive immensity will move any hiker. Finally, you might encounter a mountain marmot and hear its shrill whistle. She will inform her siblings of your arrival in their territory. The mountain’s rock face amplifies the marmot’s cry, creating an echo.

The Scramble

The turn-off for the summit of Cascade Mountain will be on the right. Look for a narrow footpath through the trees. The elevation gain will be much steeper from here on out. The scrambling begins at the first peak and continues for a few more kilometres. Hikers will hike by the first summit, the false summit, and finally, reach the true summit of Cascade Mountain.

Once up and out of the treeline, the trail follows the ridge towards the first peak. You will see different worn paths on the ground and look for markers along the route.

View from the trail, hiking on Cascade Mountain
View from the trail, hiking on Cascade Mountain

Once past this first summit, it is crucial to head to the right to avoid the false summit. The trail is visible in the scree due to the many hikers who use it every day every year. Like a mountain goat, you walk along the cliff around the false summit with the valley and Banff visible below. 

View of false and true summits of Cascade Moutain
View of false and true summits
Walking on the edge of the cliff with town of Banff below
Walking on the edge of the cliff
hikers scrambling towards the summit of Cascade Moutain
looking back at the false summit

Then, the route climbs among talus above the clouds. Many hikers of this famous mountain line up to get to the top. Some choose a rock for a short break and a snack. The climb is slow, but you will gain altitude step by step.

The Summit

The magnificent scene rewards the hike up to Cascade Mountain’s summit. Lake Minnewanka below, surrounded by mountains, reveals a splendid landscape. Rundle stands tall across the town of Banff below. The sea of mountains is infinite. It is a magical sight. 

View of Mount Rundle and Banff from the summit of Cascade Mountain
View of Lake Minnewanka from the summit of Cascade Mountain

After several moments of admiring the surroundings, you will need to get back on the trail to hike down this incredible mountain. The return is by the same route. Follow the same path you climbed; even if tempted to find a shortcut, there are none. Hikers that stray from the original trail will often need a helicopter rescue, don’t be one of them!

I make my way to the foot of the mountain with a feeling of accomplishment marking the end of this great adventure, with my pictures from above to compare with the one from below on Banff Avenue.

-Adventuresome Jo

Final thoughts on the Cascade Mountain Hike

For a more detailed account of the trail to the summit of Cascade Mountain, Banff National Park has put together the Cascade Mountain Scrambler’s Guide to help hikers safely reach the summit of this fantastic mountain. You can ask for a printed version of this guide at the Visitor Centre in Banff and bring it on your hike. Refer to it often throughout the trek.

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