This incredible hike through Edith and Cory Passes is the most varied hike close to Banff. This circuit takes in a number of different micro ecosystems – from a steep and dry ridge, to an arid pass, back through a lush forest. Be aware of some modest scrambling sections (both up and down) on the approach to Cory Pass.
From Banff, head west on the Trans-Canada Highway towards Lake Louise and take the Bow Valley Parkway (#1A) exit. After 400m you will see a turnoff for Fireside. Take this, and follow the road to the Fireside parking lot.
Total Gain: 1,075m
|Type of Hike||Circuit|
|When to Do||June through October|
Start in the Fireside parking lot and walk over the bridge heading east, passing a wonderful picnic area with a stone fireplace. Enter the forest on a well-trodden path, eventually reaching a fork in the route after just over 1km. Here there is a sign directing you left towards Cory Pass or right towards Edith Pass.
Take the fork going uphill to the left towards Cory Pass. This route is steeper, and is better tackled on the ascent rather than beating your toes and hurting your knees on a steep descent. Climb steadily upwards for 1.5km, quickly gaining 450m of elevation. You’ll soon reach a flatter section, and then continue on the ascent. Here, there are incredible views out from the ridge top, and from certain points you will be able to see the route contouring Mount Edith towards Cory Pass.
Shortly after, you’ll come to a rocky ascent that will require the use of your hands (and maybe your bum) to slide down another rocky bit. Look out for signs directing the route here, as going off route could be fatal.
As you cut under Mount Edith, the path continues across a steep slope that is regularly impacted by rock fall and rain, so be careful here. Look up to wonderful views of Mount Cory. Here you may see some mountain climbers or scramblers attempting different routes on the rocks above.
Coming to Cory Pass (5.9km, 2,350m), you will see a totally different landscape, known as Gargoyle Valley. If you choose to stop here, make sure it is safe from rock fall. The next 2km are the highlight of the hike, as you get incredible views of the mountains flanking Gargoyle Valley, including Mount Cory, Mount Fifi, Mount Louis and Mount Edith.
You begin your descent from Cory Pass with some fun scree. Make sure to look where your feet are going, not just look up. Next, head to your right and continue to contour Mount Edith, eventually coming out into a forest with numerous avalanche paths. Attempt to follow the cairns as you descend the scree. Note that there are numerous braids to the trail and you may end up below where the trail re-enters the forest, which is marked by a prominent brown sign on the edge of the forest. You may have to climb back up to the trail if you get carried away descending on scree.
The path through the forest has ups and downs, and is noticeably moister than the preceding part of the hike. Keep your eyes open for remarkable mushrooms, but please don’t pick. Eventually the trail will become a wide and gentle path covered with pine needles. Cruise back towards the parking lot, enjoying the variety of microenvironments you have been fortunate to see on your hike.
- Go clockwise to reduce the strain on your legs coming down.
- Leave a cooler in the car and enjoy a wonderful BBQ and picnic with a beautiful stone fireplace at the picnic area near the parking lot. This is one of the best picnic areas in the park.
- If you are early or late in the day, continue driving on the 1A north towards Castle Mountain Junction. Drive slowly and keep your eyes open, as there is an abundance of wildlife. Bears feeding at the side of the road are not uncommon. DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR CAR for any animals, as all can be dangerous depending on the season.