Healy Pass Hiking Guide: Banff National Park
Healy Pass is one of the best larch hikes in Banff National Park and starts from Sunshine Village which is only a 20 minute drive from Banff Town. The trail takes you through the forest before you emerge into larch wonderland!
You then climb up a little higher and get to look back over the valley and out to the surrounding mountains and alpine lakes. The views are absolutely stunning from Healy Pass.
Healy Pass is 20.3km/ 12.61 miles return with an elevation gain of 816m / 2,677 ft but the views are totally worth the effort!
This guide will tell you everything you need to know to hike Healy Pass, including the pros and cons of hiking Healy Pass vs Larch Valley.
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📑 Hike Stats
Distance: 20.3km/ 12.61 miles
Time: 5-7 hours
Elevation: 868m / 2,847 ft
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash
Toilets: At the parking lot and halfway through the trail at the campground
📍 Where is the Healy Pass Hike
Healy Pass is located in Banff National Park in Alberta and starts from the Sunshine Village.
Click here to open the map in Google Maps!
How to get to the Trailhead
To get to the Healy Pass Trailhead, it is about a 20 minute drive from Banff. You will need to direct to the Sunshine Village or use the above map in Google Maps.
Once you have made it to Sunshine Village, you will need to walk around to the right of the building, and cross over a little bridge. Here you will find a sign pointing the way towards Healy Pass.
How to get to the Sunshine Village without a car
If you don’t have a car, don’t worry! There are loads of things that you can still do in Banff without a car and Healy Pass is one of them.
If you don’t have a car, you can catch the Sunshine Shuttle from Banff. You can find the shuttle schedule here.
📆 When is the Best Time to Hike to Healy Pass
The best time of the year to hike to Healy Pass is definitely during Fall when the larches are golden, however, during the Summer the meadows at Healy Pass are covered in wildflowers which are just as stunning and a great reason to do this hike in Summer.
This usually happens during the last week of September to the first week of October but can change from year to year depending on the weather patterns.
🎫National Parks Pass
To visit the Sunshine Village, you will need a Discovery Pass which is a national Parks Pass. You can purchase these online on the Parks Canada website or at any MEC Store or on entry to Banff National Park.
😍 What is a Larch Tree and Please Explain Larch Madness to Me
A Larch Tree is a tree that looks a lot like a pine tree and is part of the Pinaceae family. Larch Trees are green the entire year except for about 2 weeks during Fall when they turn a bright golden colour.
They are only golden for about 10 days out of the year, so everyone goes completely bonkers trying to time their Fall hiking trips with the time that the larches will be at their most golden. This is where the phrase “Larch Madness” comes from.
Before coming to Canada, we had never experienced Larch Madness and didn’t even know what a larch tree was, but now that we have experienced “Larch Madness,” we completely understand why people go crazy over them. They are truly beautiful to see when they are at their most golden.
🥾 How Hard is the Hike to Healy Pass?
Healy Pass is a very long hike but the elevation is very gradual and spread out over almost the entire hike so that you don’t feel it too much.
We found that because the hike was so flat, we ended up hiking a lot faster than we usually do which made us feel our muscles a lot more the next day.
Healy Pass is a full day of hiking so be prepared to have sore feet towards the end. Mine were in agony. 🙃
🐶 Can dogs do the trail to Healy Pass?
Dogs are allowed on leash on the trail to Healy Pass. We saw loads of cute dogs on this trail. As long as your dog has the stamina to walk long distances, this would be a great trail for dogs!
🕔 Healy Pass Hiking Time
If you plan on hiking to Healy Pass, you should leave an entire day open for hiking time. It is a long hike and when you reach the larches, you will find that you need extra time to enjoy the views and take photos.
On average, it takes people 5 – 7 hours to hike to Healy Pass and back to the parking lot.
We took 6 hours and 40 minutes but we stopped for ages to have lunch and take photos. If you follow us on Instagram, you will know that we love taking photos. We calculated our moving time on Alltrails to be 4.5 hours.
There are toilets at the trailhead where you will park your car. There is another toilet about halfway along the trail at around the 5.3km mark at a campsite. Remember to bring along your own toilet paper for this toilet.
🦁 Animals in the Healy Pass area and along the trail
There are loads of different animals that call Banff National Park home. Some of these include Marmots, Squirrels, Chipmunks, Black Bears, Grizzly Bears, Coyote, Deer, Elk and more.
Always remember to carry bear spray with you when hiking in Banff National Park.
🌲 Leave No Trace
Whenever you are enjoying the beautiful nature that Banff National Park has to offer, remember to leave no trace (LNT)! Respect the beautiful places that make our world beautiful and take out everything that you take in, take only photos and respect the wildlife and other people. You can read more on the 7 LNT principles here.
🥾 Healy Pass Hiking Trail Description
The Healy Pass Hike is 20.3km/ 12.61 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 868m / 2,847 ft and will take you anywhere from 5-7 hours.
You will come across a lot of runners hiking to Healy Pass so make sure you are listening out for them coming up on your left as you hike. We were surprised by how many people were running this trail but I can imagine it would be a great hike for running, due to the well maintained trail and the flatness of the trail.
The Beginning of the Trail and Entering the Forest
The trail starts from behind the Sunshine Village building where you will find a bridge with a signpost for the trailhead.
Cross over the bridge and walk up the wide trail until you come to a narrower trail that goes off to the right with another sign post marking the Healy Pass trail along with a few others. Take this trail and continue on.
Hiking to the Larches
The majority of the trail takes you through the forest where you will hike up and down a little. Nothing too crazy though. You will cross a couple of bridges on your way.
About 5.3km in, you will pass a campground. This is where the only bathroom is located on the trail. To find the bathroom, you will need to hike off the trail to your left into the campground.
Eventually, you will start seeing some flashes of yellow (if you are hiking in the Fall) and suddenly you will come to an opening with loads and loads of larches! We noticed that a lot of people had stopped here to have lunch and take photos which is what we decided to do too.
The Climb up to Healy Pass
Once you have entered Larch Heaven, the elevation gets a little steeper as you will be hiking up to a viewpoint where you can look back down over the valley. We almost didn’t go any further at this point because it had started to rain but I’m so glad that we did!
There are pretty views the rest of the way up to the Pass. The trail takes you to the top of Healy Pass where you get 360 degree views of the insane mountains, the larches and lakes.
If you look over the other side (away from the direction that you hiked in from), you will be able to see 2 lakes. The lower lake is Egypt Lake which is a popular backpacking trip and one that is on our list!
❓ Is Healy Pass or Larch Valley better?
The answer to this is totally subjective but I can give you my opinion, the reason behind it and then the pros and cons for each for you to make your own decision.
Both trails are really well maintained and either would be a great choice, however my personal favourite is Larch Valley because of I just loved the mountains surrounding the trail and the reflections of the larches in the lake that you could walk down to.
It probably also helped that we had better weather while hiking Larch Valley as opposed to pouring rain on Healy Pass.
Both trails become extremely busy in larch season so if you are looking for a quiet trail, you should either plan to start super early in the morning or find another trail.
Healy Pass vs Larch Valley Pros and Cons
|Healy Pass Hike||Larch Valley Hike|
|– Longer Hike (20.3km)||– Shorter Hike (11.1km)|
|– You can walk faster due to the elevation being so flat||– You can do 2 hikes in 1 (Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass)|
|– The majority of the hike is through the forest which can be a little boring||– Involves never-ending switchbacks|
|– More time hiking surrounded by gorgeous views|
🛌 Places to Stay Nearby that are so worth it!
Banff is an amazing place to stay for a few days because there is SO much to see and do. I have listed a couple of my all time favourite hotels in Banff.
Alternatively, I can recommend a couple of places in Canmore which is Banff’s neighbouring town and a little more affordable but just as lovely.
Moose Hotel and Suites – Banff
The Moose Hotel and Suites are awesome! They have super comfortable beds, an amazing rooftop hot tub area and swimming pool and THE BEST Italian Restaurant. Even if you don’t stay here, you can still eat at the restaurant. It is called Pacini Italian Restaurant and is located next to the lobby of the hotel.
HI Banff Alpine Centre – Hostel – Banff
We always love HI Hotels and the HI Banff Alpine Centre was just as awesome! It is located up near the Tunnel Mountain trailhead. They have a bar area, kitchen so that you can cook all of your own meals and plenty of parking. They also have an onsite restaurant.
Basecamp Resorts – Canmore
We have stayed at Basecamp Resorts in Canmore a couple of times now. Basecamp is great if you want somewhere with a kitchen because you get a full apartment when you stay there. They also have a lovely rooftop hot tub with views of the mountains. TIP: Sunset are great from the hot tub. 😉
Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre – Canmore
The Coast Canmore Hotel has really spacious rooms and is very clean. We have stayed there once and will definitely be back! It also has a swimming pool, fitness centre and restaurant.
🥾 Hiking Boots or Trail Runners for Healy Pass?
You could definitely do this trail in trail runners, however, the trail does get pretty muddy after it has rained.
I wore my Oboz boots and was glad of them when it started raining and the trail become super muddy on the way back.
🎒 Our Packing Essentials for Hiking Healy Pass
These are all of the things we brought with us when we hiked Healy Pass in the Fall.
What’s in our backpack
For a full list of everything we take with us on our day hikes, check our Day Hiking Gear Guide!
Camera Gear we brought with us to Healy Pass
For a full list of all of the camera gear we use, check out our Camera Gear Guide.
If you are spending time in Banff National Park for Fall, you might also enjoy these guides:
- Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass: Best Fall Hike in Banff
- Best Fall Hikes in and Around Banff
- Floe Lake Hiking and Backpacking Guide
- 7 Amazing Lake Louise Tours
- Beautiful Lakes to Paddle Board in Canmore and Banff
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