The Cascade Amphitheatre hike is not the prettiest hike you’ll do in Banff National Park. Nor is it the most interesting one, but it does provide a workout and I did enjoy seeing another side of Cascade Mountain – the big in your face mountain you can’t miss when you’re in Banff. I did the hike solo with my dog in the third week of July, and I was shocked at both how busy it was and how bad the bugs were. You are going to want to keep moving.
The hike starts at the Mt. Norquay parking lot. You might see hikers heading out for the Stoney Squaw hike from the parking lot, but to get started you will need to head to the main ski area, as though it was winter. They don’t let you park very close in the summer, so count on at least a half a kilometre of walking just to get to the lodge and the formal start of the Cascade Amphitheatre hike.
Note: If you’re looking for a hike that delivers great scenery close to Banff, I would suggest the following alternatives: Bourgeau Lake – Harvey Pass trail, the Aylmer Lookout hike, Healy Pass (amazing for wildflowers as you’ll see on the Egypt Lake backpacking trip) or Citadel Pass via Sunshine Meadows instead.
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Cascade Amphitheatre Hike details
Total distance return: 15.4 km return
Total elevation gain: 640 m or 2100 feet
Trailhead: Mt. Norquay parking lot (the lower one)
Time needed: Approximately 4 – 6 hours return
Dogs: Allowed on leash
After parking at the lower Mount Norquay parking lot, start walking towards the Mt. Norquay Lodge at the base of the ski slopes. Continue north past the Cascade and Spirit chairlifts. You can pop into the woods on a trail by the Spirit chairlift that will deposit you beside the Mystic chairlift – or just keep walking the road to the Mystic chair.
Once you reach the Mystic chair, walk around to reach the hut shown in the photo below. From there at the 2.7 km point, you’ll take a trail down to the right where you’ll spy Banff National Park signage. There is another trail that heads left towards Mystic Lake.
Continue gradually descending 130 metres (427 feet) on the wide trail to reach a bridge over Forty Mile Creek. On this section of trail, I saw at least four mounds of bear scat so even though it was old, I was on high alert. On the other side of Forty Mile Creek, I saw no bear scat whatsoever.
My dog was very happy to see the water at Forty Mile Creek at the start of the ascent, but especially at the end of what was a hot, humid hike. I was too and couldn’t wait to stick my feet in the cooling waters and rub by itchy mosquito bites. I’ll never forget the bug spray again.
From Forty Mile Creek start climbing at a moderate rate. You’ll reach a signed junction at about 4.1 km. Go right to continue on the Cascade Amphitheatre hike. The trail on the left heads for Elk Lake, about 10 km distant.
Switchback, steeply at times through uninspiring forest. I counted around 12 switchbacks but some of the switchbacks were long! At 7 km reach the entrance to the Cascade Amphitheatre. The trail levels out here but continues for about another kilometre. Continue as long as you please, perhaps looking for a suitable lunch spot with the right rocks to lean on and enjoy the view.
Retrace your steps to return to your vehicle. You have no officially completed the Cascade Amphitheatre hike – and deserve a cold drink.
Location map of the Cascade Amphitheatre hike
Where to stay
The trailhead to is close to Banff and Castle Junction isn’t far either. If you don’t want to camp, there are lots of hotel options.
The closest hotel is Juniper Hotel & Bistro, just off the Mt. Norquay Road. You’ll find good food here and a fire pit with a scenic backdrop.
In Castle Junction check out Castle Mountain Chalets or Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows. There is also Castle Mountain Hostel.
Along the Bow Valley Parkway, Baker Creek Mountain Resort is a great choice.
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