Turquoise Lakes and Snowcapped peaks
Trip Cost ($ – $$$): $$
Time to Hit the Highlights: 4 Days
Must See: Icefields Parkway, Emerald Lake, Canoeing, Camping
Time of the Year to Visit: Spring, Summer, Fall (we visited in August)
Audience: Everyone (short trails, some drivable highlights)
- Banff is known for its incredible beauty due to its numerous blue glacial lakes and incredible mountain peaks. This park is a beautiful place to take in the amazing Canadian Rockies. But what many people don’t realize that Banff is just one of Canada’s hundreds of National Parks, and that Banff is connected to 3 other National Parks that showcase Canada’s wilderness.
- When planning a trip to Banff, you’re not just going to this one National Park, but rather Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay. While you may not venture into all 4, it’s important to consider what they all have to offer when looking for activities (and avoiding crowds!).
- Once you’re there it is always a great idea to stop in to the Visitor Center for maps, weather and trail updates and suggestions from Rangers! They can also help you with last minute campsites (but it’s always smart to book way in advance) and tips on potential openings for first come campsites.
- For more information about Banff National Park and nearby parks check out its website: http://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff
- There are many options for getting to Banff National Park
- Flying – The closest airport will be in Calgary, Alberta (YYC), but if you’re interested in more of a drive you can fly into Vancouver (BC), Spokane (WA), Seattle (WA) or Kalispell (MT).
- Road trip – There are many road trip options including adding Seattle and/or Vancouver. The drive from Seattle to Vancouver is about 3 hours and 9 hours from Vancouver to Banff. Alternatively, you can fly into Spokane or Kalispell and head straight to Banff, or stop off for additional adventures in Glacier National Park.
- Car Required; to ensure you can get around the park you’ll need a car as a lot of highlights are spread out.
- Banff & Yoho – You can’t get much closer to the action than staying in the National Parks. There are a variety of choices throughout Banff and Yoho National Parks, including downtown Banff, hotels close to Lake Louise, Lake Moraine and Emerald Lake, as well as lodges along Icefields Parkway and at Johnston Canyon.
- Canmore & Kananaskis – 45 minutes and 1 hour drive southeast of Banff National Park are a variety of luxury lodges and hotels tucked into the wilderness, including the Kananaskis Delta Hotel.
- Calgary – 1.5 hours east from the National Parks you’ll find the fun town of Calgary. Here you can find hotels and house rentals at a variety of prices and sizes, as long as you’re willing to make the longer drive. What is nice about Calgary is that it is a larger town where you can walk to restaurants and bars.
- Golden – Just under 2 hours west from the National Parks is Golden in British Columbia. This is a smaller town, but still an option for lodges and hotels if other places are booked.
There are a variety of front-country, back-country, and RV campsites throughout all the National Parks in the area.
- Reserved Campsites – Reservations can be made 2 months in advance of your arrival and will cost you anywhere from $11-$40 per night per campsite. Campsites book up very quickly so it is best to be on top of your travel dates. Reservations for Banff’s 14 campsites can be made online or by calling 1-877-RESERVE (737-3782).
- Recommended: Lake Louise Tent, Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon
- Backcountry Campsites – For the serious backpackers there are several backcountry campsites throughout Banff, Yoho and Kootenay. These sites don’t fill up as quickly, but they will require a backcountry permit that costs ~$12 USD per person. For questions about backcountry camping it can be best to simply talk to the experts in the National Parks.
- Banff Visitor Center: 403-762-1556
- Yoho Visitor Center: 250-343-6783
- Kootenay Visitor Center: 250-347-9505
- First Come Campsites – If you didn’t make reservations and are willing to gamble on a campsite, then first come may be right for you. There are a variety of first come campsites, but they fill up quickly. Check in at a ranger station for suggestions, as well as as updates on what currently has available space. Make sure you’re ready to go on the hunt as the first come campsites fill up by early to mid-afternoon.
- Recommended: Castle Mountain, Waterfowl Lakes, Takakkaw Falls (Yoho NP)
- Equipped Campsites – Maybe you don’t own camping gear or simply aren’t able to bring it all with you. No worries. The Canadian National Park Service has you covered. Equipped campsites provide everything from tents to sleeping bags to cooking supplies to help you enjoy camping in the Canadian Rockies.
- Recommended: Two-Jack Main Equipped
- RV – There are a handful of campsites with a range of RV hookup services, but space is limited, so it’s best to book in advance.
- Recommended: Lake Louise Trailer, Tunnel Mountain Trailer
- Icefields Parkway is a beautiful stretch of road that connects Banff National Park to Jasper National Park. Along the way you’ll see beautiful peaks that hold the ever important, yet shrinking glaciers of the Canadian Rockies. These glaciers provide the ice cold turquoise lakes along the parkway.
- Not only is this a beautiful drive, but a great opportunity to hop in and out of the car to for small hikes to breathtaking lakes, including the Glacier Skywalk, Waterfowl Lakes, Peyto Lake and Bow Lake.
- Most of the lakes require short hikes, but note that Peyto Lake is a little longer and uphill hike than the other lakes. However there is no hiking required to see Bow Lake and the Glacier Skywalk as they are easily accessible to everyone.
- Whether it’s a cold day in the Rockies or you’re just looking to relax your muscles after a hike, the Hot Springs are the perfect for everyone.
- Some hotels in the Banff area have their own private hot springs for guests, but you can also access public hot springs at Banff Upper Hot Springs, Radium Hot Springs, or the Miette Hot Springs.
- Prices from adults range from $6-$8 USD and children $5-$7 USD.
- Be sure to check out the hot spring website or call ahead to ensure they are open during your visit and for latest pricing.
There are many amazing hikes throughout Banff and the nearby National Parks, and while some are more popular and crowded, there are many that don’t see as much traffic. Regardless of which trail you choose always bring Bear Spray. You can encounter one of many Black Bears and Grizzly Bears in the area at any time and in any place.
- Johnston Canyon Upper Falls and Ink Pots – (1.7 miles/3.6 miles one way) Johnston Canyon is a nicely marked trail that is very popular due to its easy climb. As long as you’re willing to walk amongst crowds, the hike to the Upper Falls can be done by anyone. Going beyond to the Ink Pots is slightly harder, but less crowded. To beat the crowds go early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
- Lake Louise to Lake Agnes Teahouse – (2.5 miles one way) Why not reward yourself for hiking with a cup of tea? This awesome hike starts at the famous Lake Louise and ends st the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This hike has beautiful views and a refreshments halfway through.
- Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake – (5.5 miles one way) This hike takes you to two different lakes. Right before you get to your final destination of Rockbound Lake, you are rewarded with Tower Lake, which is great motivation for you to keep moving to the end! This hike is difficult as there are many uphill climbs, but it leads to a beautiful plateau at the top and very rewarding rocky lake views.
- Laughing Falls and Twin Falls Trail – (5 miles/10 miles one way) Laughing Falls is on the way to Twin Falls and is a very easy trail with a lot of reward as it has many small waterfall viewpoints along the way. If you chose to continue on the Twin Falls the trail becomes moderate.
- Icefields Parkway – there are a series of very short hikes along Icefields Parkway to various lakes and viewpoints. You can simply just drive up the Parkway and pull over following signage to mini hikes with a great payoff.
- There are many rafting tours that will take you across different level rapids on either Kicking Horse River, Kananaskis River, or Bow River. The Bow River can be found near Golden, west of the National Parks and Kicking Horse and Kananaskis on the east end. Depending on where you’re staying and how far you’re willing to drive, you may want to take in to consideration which river you want to raft down due to proximity and tours available.
- You can choose trips with small level 1 or level 2 rapids or more challenging trips with level 3 or level 4.
- The tour company you choose will provide you with wetsuits and booties to help keep you warm in the cold, glacier water.
- Recommended: Discover Banff Tours
Canoeing and Kayaking Glacial Lakes
- For those looking to get out on the water by renting a canoe, rentals are available at Lake Louise, Lake Moraine and Emerald Lake (Yoho).
- You can also work with local tour companies to rent canoes or kayaks for the Bow River or partake in one of their water tours.
- If you have your own canoes or kayaks then you are very welcome to bring them to any lake and put in. Just make sure to not use any docks where they are renting canoes. You’ll have to find your own spot to put in. Also keep in mind that you may have to carry your boats a little ways from parking lots or drop them off before parking, especially places like Lake Louise where most people have to take a shuttle from a remote parking lot due to high people traffic.
- Downtown Banff – There are a variety of restaurants and markets throughout Banff. This is the largest town within the National Parks and a great option for eating out or picking up supplies. Keep in mind you may need reservations during busy months.
- Lake Louise – Due to the popularity of this area, there are a couple small restaurants and a market on your way to Lake Louise where you can stop for a bite or pick up supplies.
- Canmore – On the road to Calgary is the small town of Canmore where you can find a couple small places to eat.
- Calgary – This is the furthest option, but also the biggest. Calgary is full of restaurants and grocery stores. You’ll have no trouble finding all types of cuisines and places to eat.
If you’re camping then it is always best to pack in and out your own food, as well as use any lockers or bear cans that are provided. Campfires are allowed at most campsites so you can make your own meals, but beware of potential fire bans due to forest fires,
- Payment is required at the National Park Ranger Station that is located between Yoho and Banff National Park
- Temperatures can drop at night, so be sure to pack for cooler weather even in the summer.
- It is possible for there to still be snow on the ground in the Spring months, but that shouldn’t deter you from visiting.
- The Summer is a very popular time to visit the picturesque Canadian Rockies and there will be people everywhere. Be prepared to fight crowds at popular destinations, and as always consider seeing sights early in the morning or later in the afternoon when crowds die down.