As Canada’s most popular national park, Banff is a year-round tourist destination that appeals to pretty much everyone. For runners, it’s gained international prominence for its vast trail system, located within driving distance from the towns of Banff, Canmore and Calgary. Because of this, the region is a mountain-lined paradise for runners of all abilities.
The Cory and Edith Pass Trail Loop is the often-overlooked gem in the area, located just five minutes from Banff ’s town centre. There are definitely longer, more epic trails in the park, but this loop delivers the most in terms of getting the most bang for your buck. The 12.5k loop boasts nearly 1,100m elevation gain and delivers heart pounding climbs, stunning alpine views, gnarly single-track and flat-out downhill running on some very buff terrain. You most likely won’t be the only one on this trail, as it does get a good amount of hiker traffic, but it’s great seeing other people out enjoying nature.
To reach the trail, travel west from Banff and take the highway 1A exit. Make your first right turn onto a narrow paved road and follow this 1.5k lane to the parking lot. The trailhead is obvious and marked by the standard Banff Park signage – a brown sign with yellow lettering. From here, the trail gradually climbs until it reaches a fork. This is where the Cory Pass trail turns left and begins its steep climb for the next five kilometres. To go straight at this fork would take you up Cory Pass in reverse via Edith Pass first, which is entirely doable but not recommended.
The trail climbs steeply in a series of well-worn switchbacks, first through a grass-covered slope, but eventually entering a dense forest. Use trekking poles on this route to help with the climbs on the first half, as it will be a power hike for all but the strongest mountain runners.
The forest and steep slope angle eventually give way to some flatter sections dominated by exposed rock, that require some light scrambling. Trees soon open up to a steep-sided scree field, and the trail knifes through the rubble as it hugs the valley wall, climbing gradually all the way to the pass. The pass sits at the base of a cathedral-like spire of massive limestone, and provides fantastic views of the Bow Valley to the west, and Mount Norquay to the east. Take a moment to ponder life, take some deep breaths, snap a photo or 10, have a gel, and then get ready to fly, as the trail drops away on the east side of the ridge.
The first several hundred metres are a series of tight, narrow switchbacks with loose footing – so unless you are a mountain goat or have poles – take it easy. This gives way to an incredibly scenic and fun downhill, descending in series of smooth, flowing steps, as it rises and falls along the valley wall. This is definitely a highlight of the run. The trails wraps around a peak, where you will negotiate a short section of boulders before turning back uphill for about 100m, re-entering the forest. The forest section begins as a damp, rooted, and technical traverse, but transitions into a wonderfully wooded downhill that crosses avalanche scars, opening to views of 40 Mile Creek and Mount Norquay as you descend into the valley. A few kilometres later, you close the loop, passing the turn to Cory Pass, and can cool-down over the next few hundred metres on your way back to your vehicle, and hopefully a cool beverage. This loop can be hammered out in less than two hours by the supremely fit, but plan on 2:30 to four hours. The best time to run this trail is from late June to early October, when it is typically snowfree. Finally, make sure you have your bear spray with you before you begin this loop – it’s still wild country out there.
– Simon Donato