If you visit Banff you cannot escape Cascade Mountain. The Banff townsite was built so that the main Banff Avenue would line up with this stunning mountain. After 2 years of living in Banff with Cascade looming over us we decided it was high time we climbed it.
If you’re travelling by car when you first enter Banff National Park you must buy a Parks Canada pass. This allows you to drive around freely and ensure that money goes towards preserving this stunning area. If you have your own car then getting to the starting point of Norquay Ski Base area is easy. Here you can park up for free (the resort is quiet in the summer) and prepare for your hike.
If you don’t have a car then the easiest way is to either get the free Norquay shuttle bus from town or pay for a taxi if the times don’t line up for you. If you are getting the shuttle bus be sure to get the first bus of the day which gets you to Norquay at 8:20am. We actually set off at 7:30 as we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time.
The route itself is clearly signposted. From the Mount Norquay car park follow the main path to the north passing the 3 chair lifts on your left. On the right hand side you will see a marked trail head guiding you to Cascade Amphitheater. To my surprise you actually DESCEND for around 30mins (towards the end I realised this was going to be painful as the last bit of the return journey) until you come to a bridge which is where the real climb starts. Continue on this trail to the Elk Lake junction and turn right towards the Amphitheater .
This is where the switchbacks begin and the trail gets a little rough. You walk for around 3km through the forest regretting this silly idea until you arrive at the Cascade Amphitheater. We stopped here to have second breakfast and to get ready for the main slog of the scramble. Looking up from here the peak didn’t look that far!
Following the ridge line with our eyes we saw the false summit and knew from reading we had to avoid climbing to this one.
Coming out of the amphitheater was a little confusing as there are a lot of trails pealing off to the right, but they all lead to the same point. Climbing the trails you will find yourself on the ridge line. The trail is easy to follow and the numerous Inukshuks lining the way will give you a good idication of where you are heading. When you get to the alpine you will see the trail head to the right into the rubble (read: boulder field).
There are a lot of cairns here and it is easy to follow these up and over to the right. Do not go straight up as this will take you to the false summit. The idea is to wrap around and go under the false summit. After the boulder field comes the scree field. This is an interesting climb up and rather comedic. The views were amazing but as always the summer in Alberta often contains forest fires so the camera picks up a bit of a hazy view.
Returning down you follow the same ledges and ensure you go the same route back down under the false summit. You can bypass the amphitheater which we did but the trail was a little steep. We stopped again at the bridge, had another snack and plowed back up that first wonderful descent, ugh, to the car park.
* Take a rain jacket
* Take bear spray
* Suncream and insect repellant!
Timing & Distance
Someone told us 7 hours. Most 9. A few, 11. In the end it did take us 11 hours. We hiked with 2 other couples (although 1 peeled off at the start only to be slowed down by a swollen knee joint). We could have made it quicker if we were a little fitter or took shorter breaks but we knew we were ok for light (we returned just at sunset). The whole journey is 12.3miles ~ 19km.
We went mid September just before the first snowfall. We had a lot of friends hike it in July and August without issue but the year we went the snow was still sat on the ridges.
What to pack
Check the weather forecast! Pack for rain if it says sun and pack suncream if it says overcast. Make sure you take enough food for the day or at least a couple of compact high energy bars. We both had a 2.5ltr water bladder and 1 additional 1ltr bottle each. All of this was empty after a hot day. I hiked the whole think in knee length shorts and a tank top but had a long sleeve merino top, a tshirt and a rain jacket in my bag just in case. Taking a camera and phone (loaded with emergency numbers) should be a standard. I also packed a mini first aid kit, cause, ya’know. Lastly, BEAR SPRAY and a knife. There might be bears. There might be mountain lions. Those chipmunks might get angry!