14th June Through 18th June 2019.
A detour trip made before the final destination to Vancouver in British Columbia, CA (for a conference) to Banff national park in Alberta, CA was absolutely breathtaking and refreshing. Hopefully you will appreciate how much of it can be covered in 4 days if you plan it well. Nonetheless, the pictures are absolutely worth the browse.
When to Visit: Banff national park, Canada’s oldest national park is located in the province of Alberta in western Canada, spanning the Canadian Rockies. The best time to visit this gorgeous park is the summer months of June through August unless you want the winter experience for skiing and skateboarding in which case December through March is best. We visited during mid June when the days were sunny and pleasant with high in the late 60s to early 70s and lows in the late 40s. Although, keep in mind that it can rain unpredictably in the month of June. One major advantage of visiting this park in the summer is that the sun does not set until 930-10pm! Most attractions, restaurants and entertainment are open until late and therefore gives you ample of time to do and see at this breathtaking destination.
Commute: The easiest way to get to the park is to fly to Calgary, Alberta and rent a car from the airport. Driving distance from the airport to the park is about 2 hours and is nice, pleasant drive. We drove on a Friday afternoon without much traffic, enjoying the vast Canadian green fields, Pasteur and the approaching mountains. Renting a car is also very convenient to travel within the park. Car rentals are a bit expensive in Canada than in the US and most rental companies will make you buy their own collision insurance, however, if you are in a group, it should be still be economical and way more convenient than public transport. Public Transport include scheduled bus services , long haul bus services as well as the rocky mountaineer rail .
Within the park, the town of Banff has a hybrid bus that can take you around town and the Bow Valley. Bike rentals are also very popular in and around the town of Banff and the rest of the park. The town of Banff also offers a hop-on hop-off bus to get to a number of popular attractions within the park. Alternatively, taxis are available 24 hours from the town as well. Some hotels may even offer complimentary shuttles to take you to your desired place in the park.
Lodging: I have to admit our lodging experience at the park wasn’t very impressive. Reason for this was for a popular destination such as the Banff, you really need to plan way ahead of time and book your hotels at least 6 months or more in advance to be able to get good deals on good hotels. We booked our hotels about 3 months prior to our trip and the only hotels that fit our budget (which was still ~ 200 USD/night) were the ones described below. Because of our itinerary, we changed hotels 3 times in 4 days.
First two nights: Bumpers Inn, in Banff, CA.
Third night: Maligne Lodge, in Jasper, CA within Jasper National Park.
Fourth Night: Bow View Lodge, in Banff, CA.
All three hotels provided basic amenities with mediocre quality (about 3 stars each). One thing I would truly recommend keeping in mind while booking your hotels is to check whether or not the rooms provide air-conditioning. Because of the weather a lot of hotels don’t include AC in the rooms and let me tell you that the weather isn’t cold enough to be able to sleep comfortably without AC, even though fans are provided.
Pros: Free parking. Wifi worked well. Room was spacious.
Cons: Location could have been better. About 20 min walk to the heart of the town. No AC in the rooms. Only a small rotating table fan is provided. Iron in the room need to be requested. Rooms are alright if you don’t intend to spend too much time in it. My least favorite hotel of the three we stayed at.
Pros: Location was good. Walkable to the town of Jasper. Free parking. Wifi worked well.
Cons: Mediocre rooms, although overall better than Bumpers Inn. No AC in the room. Iron in the room need to be requested. Room was a little cramped even without much luggage.
Pros: Location is great. Right within the heart of the town of Banff. Wifi worked well. Free Parking. Rooms were the best of the three hotels. AC in the rooms.
Cons: Iron Not provided in the room. Room quality and ameneities were very basic.
Bow Falls : Bow falls is situated on Bow river, very close to the town of Banff. Because of its proximity to the town, it’s a nice little refreshing site to visit when you have limited time in the day (For example, the first day when you arrive to town by late afternoon or evening). By car, it takes about 15 mins to get to the falls. Alternatively, you can even walk it on the trail that starts from the south end of the Banff Avenue. The falls are short and wide, yet powerful leading to the Bow and Spray River. Visiting the falls early morning or in the evening will allow you to enjoy the falls and scenery with serenity and tranquility. There is trail on the side of the walk that you can walk/hike as well as picnic areas for a couple of hours of fun family/group time.
Stroll around Banff town: It’s the resort town within the national park built through the Bow valley, surrounded by nothing but magnificent mountains, hot springs and calm and bustling waters. The town is full of life even at 10pm in the night waiting to be explored by foot in its entirety. You will find everything here from popular restaurants, shopping, concerts, nightlife and other entertainment to outdoor activities for hiking, biking, skiing and scrambling.
Cascade Ponds/Minnewanka Lake/Johnson Lake: This is a must-see attraction at the park. It’s only a 30 min drive from Banff town, but most definitely 30 min of scenic bliss! Roam transit also offers a bus route that will take you to all the stops you want to make. I personally loved to drive myself. There are a plethora of things to do at these spots and therefore can be planned for a full day, half a day or just for a few hours. As you approach the scenic drive, your first stop will be at the Cascade Ponds. This is a picturesque little place for some peaceful and relaxing hangout for group picnicking or just strolling beneath the snow-capped mountains and around the clear mirroring ponds, lake and distant waterfalls.
Next stop on the drive will be the Lake Minnewanka. This is a huge lake and therefore you will find multiple stops on the way where you can park and wander around the shoreline with incredible scenery all around you. The lake is ideal for swimming, fishing, canoeing, hiking, taking a scenic cruise or simple sitting by the shore with your reading book. You will even pass through two Jacks lake at some point along the way which is also a great spot for picnics.
One of the popular hikes beginning from the parking area of the lake is the Stewart Canyon Trail.The trail runs along the lake with some wildlife viewing and the bridge over the canyon is about 1.5km or less from the parking area and reveals spectacular views of the lake and the Stewart canyon. The trail continues to a more rugged hike that can be ended at 6.5km round trip or all the way to the Alymer pass that’s about 23.6km round trip for what I have heard will reward you with stunning panoramic views of the ‘Lake of the Spirits’.
The final stop on this route is the Johnson lake. The surroundings of this Lake is rejuvenating and relaxing. Hangout on the shore of the lake to picnic, take pictures or simply take -in some fresh air and enjoy this nature’s beauty for few hours. Hiking lovers can hike the 1.9 loop trail around the lake with multiple overlooks and landscapes.
Johnson Canyon: I highly recommend visiting this canyon which happens to be one of the very popular hikes of the park. The hike is an easy 2 to 2.5 hours round trip on the catwalks through the revitalizing limestone cliffs and soothing pools leading to the lower and the upper falls. The lower falls can be witnessed more closely if you go through the tunnel at the end of the bridge. From the upper falls, you can continue to the Ink pots for some solitude viewing of greenish colored mineral springs. The climb is a moderate hike and adds another couple hours to your trip.
Lake Louise : This is by far one of the most famous attractions of the Banff National park and rightly so. The stunning blue waters underneath the mountainous glacier with alpine greenery is breathtaking. Summer activities here can range from hiking, paddling, canoeing, sleigh-riding to just chill on the lake. Canoe rentals are available from the boathouse for 125 CAD for one hour. The lake also features a grand lodge if you wish to spend a weekend getaway. Hikes include touring the lake shoreline to the Victoria Glacier or the famous lake Agnes tea house trail (7 km or4.3miles round trip) or the easy consolation trail for around 5.2 km (4 miles) round trip. The lake Louise Gondola is another fun family activity giving a astounding birds-eye view of this iconic lake and the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Winter activities include snowshoeing, skiing and ice-skating.
Columbia Icefields parkway scenic drive: The 3 hour drive between lake Louise and Jasper is considered one of the top scenic drives of the world and it really doesn’t disappoint. Although the nonstop drive time is 3 hours, you will most definitely take much longer than that depending on the stops you make. The parkway is sure to give you a lasting experience with a combination of glaciers, waterfalls, thick pine forests, rock spires, emerald lakes, spectacular hikes and wildlife viewing. Several stops on the way will completely make your time worthwhile.
- Bow lake and Crowfoot Glacier: This is a lookout just after bow lake.
- Peyto Lake: This lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Do not miss it. A Small hike from the parking lot will take you to the lookout which is mesmerizing. The vivid blue water will leave you speechless. Just before reaching the lookout, there is a makeshift trail on the right through the trees that will lead you to another viewpoint and a flat area to sit completely solitude from the crowd.
- Saskatchewan River Crossing
- Weeping Wall
- Big Hill and Big Bend
- Parker Ridge
- Columbia Icefield and Athabasca Glacier: If time permits, the explorer tour is quite popular.
- Glacier Skywalk
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Falls
Maligne Canyon : Maligne canyon is part of Jasper national park. The Maligne river originating from Maligne lake leads into the maligne Canyon. Hiking the canyon offers some dramatic views of the waters flowing about 50m deep, gushing waterfalls, limestone cliffs as well as rainforest vegetation such as mosses and lichens. There are a total of 6 bridges and the canyon can be entered either through the first, fifth or the sixth bridge. For best views, it is recommended that you hike from 6th through the 1st bridge, however if you don’t want to climb, you can go from 1st through the 6th bridge. Near the second bridge, taking the 7H hiking route will uncover the great Maligne Canyon view.
Morraine Lake: This lake is another one of the most famous places to see in the park. The lake is made of the glacier run-offs with the brilliant turquoise blue color coming from the rock floors. The ‘Twenty Dollar View’ as it appears on the back of the twenty-dollar Canadian bill, is simply mesmerizing from the top of the short Rockpile Trail. Other great hikes in this area are the lakeshore trail, Eiffel lake, Wenkchemma Pass, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. Plan your visit to this lake carefully as the crowd gets pretty thick during the summer months and if unlucky, depending on weather conditions, the road to the lake can be closed. It is best to visit the lake early morning or in the evening when the sun rays are not too strong, yet enough to gently reflect onto the blue-green waters and take bright, clear pcitures.
Day 1: Bow falls and Strolling Banff Town
Day 2: Lake Minnewanka scenic drive and Hike in the morning. Johnson Canyon hike in the evening.
Day 3: Lake Louise in the morning. Drive to Jasper via Columbia icefields parkway in the evening.
Day 4: Maligne Canyon hike, drive back to Banff in the morning. Morraine Lake in the evening.
Food: There is no shortage of vegetarian friendly places in the park, especially in the town of Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise. Plethora of restaurants give you an option of picking all kinds of cuisines: from breakfast/brunch specialties to bakeries to Indian, Italian, Mexican and American. Most popular restaurants do get crowded very quickly and you will almost always encounter a wait time during the peak seasons.