Banff National Park is based in the southern end of the Icefields Parkway and Canadian Rockies. This stunning national park is home to some of the most beautiful and famous lakes in the world, surrounded by dramatic mountains, glaciers, forests and diverse wildlife. In this article I’m going to show you my favourite experiences from this national park.
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The Lakes of Banff
Here is Lake Louise and yes it is beautiful. This is one of those sites you see all over social media and on everyone’s bucket list. It is close to Moraine Lake which is a little bit further down a turn off road from Lake Louise. When you arrive in the area you realise just how busy it can get. We were told to arrive early to avoid the crowds and allow for parking (which is limited).
So me being eager, got up at 5:00am and got ready. We headed straight to Lake Louise (as it would take about an hour) hoping to either have our pre packed lunch somewhere further round the lake or possibly treat ourselves to lunch on our return from the walk in the famous Fairmont Chateau with an aim to head to Moraine lake following this.
We set off very early but when we arrived close to the park, we immediately got stuck in a queue even though we arrived before 6:30am. After 45 minutes of waiting in a long line of cars that had no sign of moving, we decided to pull out of the line and turn around. As much as I wanted to see this lake, this was a holiday and I wanted to be outside and moving or at least relaxing in comfort with a book. Our second attempt was an evening after we did our Via Feratta climb at Mt Norquay; yet still no luck.
We finally managed to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake on our 3rd attempt. We decided to give in to the fact we would not be able to get there by car ourselves without a long wait sat in our rental car, even when setting off early. So we arrived at the car park well before 7am knowing the buses would be taking people at 8am and there would be a huge cue.
When you are driving towards the Trans-Canada Highway 1 near the lakes you will see signs for the lakes park and ride. There is a small cost but during the summer months they use a fleet of school buses to pick up visitors from the car park. It’s about 15 minutes away but minimises congestion.
We still had to wait in a bit of a queue on the bus, but my fella didn’t need to worry about concentrating on the road (as he was the driver for this trip). These buses run all day from 8am till 7:45pm (last journey back) so you can jump back on a return when you are ready or go to Moriane lake and pick up the return from there.
I loved Moraine Lake, the scenery was more dramatic than Lake Louise and the entrance was quieter. The walk round the lake was rally nice and peaceful with the shape of the lake lending itself to have little natural bays or areas jutting out to view and sit by the lake. The walk is gentle and flat and suitable for all abilities. I’d definitely want to head back here if its possible on my next trip. You can rent our canoes like Lake Louise. We decided just to do the walk as we had already done some canoeing on this trip in Yoho which was quite a lot cheaper (at Emerald Lake).
We stopped by Peyto Lake when driving down the Icefields Parkway from Jasper which was beautiful but we did not find good for anything other than a quick picture. You need to do a short walk from the car park and don’t be surprised if you are barged by other tourists when you eventually get close enough to take a picture. We passed lake Vermillion and briefly stopped at Lake Minnewanka but the weather was not on our side so we definitely plan to spend time there on our next visits. Johnson lake is also another we have been told to head to.
The Mountains of Banff
When we planned our trip to Banff we pre booked a via ferrata trip up Mount Norquay. We had a great time in Mount Norquay and will definitely repeat this experience. I have done a short write up about this here. You can also take the gondola and hike some of the trail.
Sunshine Meadows Hike
This didn’t go ahead. I am slightly gutted we didn’t do this but we were both a little exhausted from everything else and went to the hot springs instead. We hope to do this on another trip and some of the other trails, or at least go up on the gondola to the village as its apparently very calm and quiet here.
Sulphur mountain sits close to mount Noquay and is accessible by Banff gondola and has some amazing views over Banff and Tunnel Mountain. When you head up to the top towards Sanson’s peak which is also home to the cave and basin (a Canadian historic site).
Cascade mountain can be seen from both Mount Norquay and Suplhur mountain and sits dramatically at 2998m towering over the town of Banff. This is the famous picture you see in the backdrop of the towns high street pictures. You can hike up here but it is highly recommended you go with an experienced guide and wouldn’t be suitable for beginners.
Other Things to Do
Banff Hot Springs
A short distance from the gondolas, visitors to Banff will find the Upper Hot Springs. Visitors have been enjoying this for over 100 years and bath in the national spring waters which are between 37 – 40 degrees celsuis. It doesn’t cost to much and the views are amazing, it does get very busy.
I’ve mentioned this a couple of times, we did this as part of our journey and along the way there are plenty of spaces to stop along the way. I have covered a bit more of this in my Rocky Mountain Road Trip Article. Even on a rainy, cloudy day this drive does not disappoint – You will need a full day for this and an early start if you plan to head there and back.
Also don’t forget to download the gypsy app. I’ve sang it’s praises so much because it is really amazing. You essentially get a tour guide in your car explaining the history, wildlife and giving you tips of when to pull over. You can purchase individual places or get the rocky mountain package (this includes Banff, Yoho, jasper and the Icefields parkway).
The town is lovely, but was just so busy constantly when we were visiting. We decided to stay in Golden and avoid the crowds as much as possible. We’d recommend aiming to get there in the shoulder seasons where possible. To check out more options for day tours in the area Click Here. Check out our other articles from this trip here:
- A Rocky Mountain Road Trip
- Lake Kinney and Mount Robson National Park
- Maligne Lake and Sprit Island
- Mount Norquay Via Feratta