When I first visited the province of Alberta, I knew right then that it won’t be the last. So when an opportunity came, Ivan and I immediately booked our flights to the Canadian Rockies last summer.
Since it was Ivan’s first time, I had to include quite a few famous destinations that I already visited before; but also I made sure that we would also see the ones I haven’t been to. So read on to find out everything you need to know and have the best time in Banff!
When to go
It is very important to consider when to visit Alberta. I visited in late September in 2017 and we experienced the weirdest weather — like from sunny, to rainy, to snowy in a matter of an hour. Last year, we visited in July, and since it was summer, it was also the most popular time to visit Alberta; so, expect crowds and high prices. It didn’t snow this time around but it was raining almost every day our entire trip.
Where to stay
There are a lot of accommodation options you could stay in Banff. For us, we stayed in a hotel in the quaint town of Canmore, just less than 30 minutes away from Banff. We stayed in an inn called The Drake Inn with beautiful mountain views on our first day. They have a restaurant on-site and as guests, we received a discount. On our last day, we stayed in the Windtower Hotel and Suites, also in Canmore. It has an outdoor spa that you could enjoy after a long day of outdoor activities. They also have complimentary breakfast in which we really liked.
We splurged a bit when we decided to stay in Deer Lodge, a Canadian Rocky Mountain Resort, located just a few steps from Lake Louise. It was the best decision ever! Since I didn’t really like my experience of taking the bus from the overflow parking lot to get to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise two years ago, I decided that it would be best to stay for a night to a nearby hotel close to both famous lakes. It was pricey but so worth it!
Renting a car is your best bet! We flew into the Calgary International Airport and picked up our car from the airport. There are public buses in Banff, but having the liberty of driving your own car would allow you to see much more!
DAY 1 – Arrive in Calgary, visit MEC, check in at the hotel in Canmore, Canmore views, Grassi Lakes, Banff Downtown
We arrived in Calgary in the morning and after picking up our rental car at the airport, we went straight to downtown Calgary to buy some snacks and goodies at the MEC store (note: you have to be a member to purchase in MEC). And then we were off to Banff National Park! We first checked in at our hotel in Canmore and had a quick lunch at the hotel’s restaurant. We didn’t want to waste so much time and so we decided to hike our first trail, the famous Canmore swing that is non-existent now as of writing. I was quite disappointed not to see the swing but we were welcomed by the beautiful mountain views of Canmore.
We then headed straight to Grassi Lakes, a famous lake named after Lawrence Grassi, an Italian who moved to Canada and worked as a miner of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Grassi Lakes is a heavily trafficked loop trail located in Canmore.
It was an easy 4.3-km hike with a 233 m of elevation gain. We did hike in the afternoon and it wasn’t packed at all. It is a well-maintained trail and once you’ve reached the trailhead, you could choose between two routes – an easy one by the road or a difficult one by the woods. This trail has spectacular views of mountains, falls and the lake itself.
After our mini-hike, we drove to the town of Banff to just roam around and do a little shopping. The province of Alberta has the lowest tax at 5% so we made the most out of it. We headed back to our hotel after our dinner in Ramen Arashi to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.
DAY 2 – Drive to Icefields Parkway, Peyto Lake, Emerald Lake, Wapta Falls
Our second day was probably the busiest day of our trip. We had an early checkout and drove straight to Icefields Parkway. The weather wasn’t cooperating and the forecast was rain but we were still hopeful and pushed our plans.
We headed first to Peyto Lake, another famous lake in the Canadian Rockies. For this visit, I decided to bypass the crowded lookout and hike a little bit to the Bow Summit instead.
Note: Parks Canada will begin its renovation for both the roads and trails leading to Peyto Lake and Bow Summit. Please refer to the Parks Canada website before your visit.
We did a little side trip to British Columbia to visit my favourite glacier-fed lake which was Emerald Lake located at Yoho National Park in British Columbia. It is only a 20-minute drive west from Lake Louise and is a must-visit if you’re visiting for the first time! There is an option to hike around the lake but we decided not to do it this time due to the rainfall. Instead, we opted to have some coffee and soup at the Cilantro Cafe.
After our quick visit to Emerald Lake, we drove further west for a waterfall hike. Ivan loves waterfalls and including this on our itinerary was a must! Wapta Falls is a 4.7-km out and back trail located close to Golden, British Columbia, and is best used from June until September. There weren’t a lot of hikers when we did this hike in the afternoon. Again, due to the rain, the trail was muddy but it offers impressive waterfalls at the end of the trail! You could feel the mist of the falls once you get closer to it so make sure you go until the very end of the trail.
Note: The trailhead is closed during winter times.
DAY 3 – Moraine Lake, Lake Louise Plain of Six Glaciers
We started our day 3 very early. We woke up at around 5 am and we headed straight to Moraine Lake. It was a cold and rainy morning but we still got the best views of the lake from the Rockpile Trail viewpoint. There are tons of hikes around Moraine Lake depending on your hiking abilities. Unfortunately, due to the weather, we weren’t able to do any.
We drove back to our hotel and had brunch and then we packed our stuff and went straight to Lake Louise. We were so lucky that Deer Lodge allowed us to park our car at their parking lot even if we already checked out.
Take note: During the summer months, the parking lots for these lakes are usually full as early as seven in the morning. Hence, you need to take a bus located at least five kilometres away in order to get to these sites.
Plain of Six Glaciers
There are a few trails you could do from Lake Louise. In 2017, we did the Lake Agnes Teahouse, which was amazing. This time around I opted to hike the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, a 13.8-km out-and-back trail located at the back of the valley of Lake Louise. It is basically the glaciers you see from the lake! It is categorized as a moderate hike that has 587 m of elevation. It was challenging with a few switchbacks and was heavily trafficked too!
The best thing about this trail is that it has a teahouse similar to Lake Agnes. We stopped here for a few minutes before continuing to the end of the trail. Tip: bring cash with you if you want to stop by at the teahouse.
For a quick photography stop, we went to the viewpoint of the Castle Mountain located halfway between Lake Louise and Banff. Once you reach the bridge, there is a gate to your left and a river, open the gate and enjoy the views!
We headed back to Banff National Park to have dinner but before doing such, we went to Suprise Corner — it claims to have the best view of the famous Fairmont Banff Springs.
You could end your day 3 by soaking yourself to a hot spring in Banff or just like us, we opted to check in to a hotel with an outdoor hot tub in Canmore.
DAY 4 – Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Mt. Norquay, Drive to Calgary
Two Jake Lake
I haven’t visited any of these destinations on our fourth day and I’m happy that I did. Two Jack Lake is just 15 minutes drive from Banff. If you are camping, I guess this would be a nice spot. It also has picturesque views of the Rockies and a great one for picnics and swimming.
Just a few minutes from Two Jack Lake is this 21-km long glacial lake. This is a popular lake and parking could be difficult. We went here around noon and there were a lot of tourists already. If you don’t have time to go to Jasper National Park and do the Maligne Lake Cruise, you could take a boat cruise here and enjoy the panoramic views of the Rockies for an hour.
Mt. Norquay Chairlift
Mt. Norquay is one of the three big ski resorts in Banff National Park. In the summer time, you could enjoy a chairlift ride that would take you to the best views of Banff National Park and is reasonably cheaper than the famous Banff Gondola.
The chairlift itself will give you 7000 ft of elevation gain and is also home to Cliffhouse Bistro, a historic tea house turned modern bistro built in the 1950s and was once visited by Marilyn Monroe. I highly recommend checking the weather before coming here as it is only weather permitting. You could also spot some wildlife here so take extra precautions when you’re driving.
We drove back to Calgary to meet Ivan’s family and left the next morning. We really had the best time in Alberta! I really suggest purchasing the Parks Canada pass prior to your visit and always carry a bear spray.
Let me know in the comments which one of these destinations you’d love to visit the most!
Disclaimer: All opinions and views on this post are my own. Copyright all pictures by Kathleen of I Am Miss Adventures.