The Canadian Rockies are full of endless beauty. Pretty much every turn you make will lead you to a gorgeous sky blue lake, in front of some massively impressive mountain. When I went, I really wanted to soak up every moment of being there so my family stayed for 12 days, but you could definitely hit the major spots in 4 or 5 days if you stick to a strict itenerary. The biggest tip I can give you is to WAKE UP EARLY. I know it’s vacation, I know you always sleep till 9, I know that you hate mornings, I know all of the give-able excuses. However, if you are trying to reach the bucket list spots like Lake Louise or Moraine Lake a early wake up call is absolutely necessary.
An ache for distant places
Banff Sunshine Village
Banff is a small little mountain town that honestly was not created to be able to hold thousands and thousands of tourists, so it can get a bit hectic. For this reason, we chose to spend our days at the Sunshine Village right outside of Banff. The Sunshine Village is a famous ski resort that attracts people from all over the world every winter.
When summer rolls around this famed resort turns into a popular hiking spot in Banff. The absolute coolest part about staying here is that you *have* to take a gondola up to get to the resort. For those unfamiliar, a gondola is basically like a ski lift. Once at the top there are tons and tons of hiking trails as well as a chance to see wildlife. In our time there, there was a bear sighting pretty much every day. We also saw mountain goats, some moose, and plenty of birds. Although I can’t recommend this place enough, it does come with a pretty price tag and limited options for food since you are literally on top of a mountain. With that being said, I have two more recommendations to offer you a unique experience for your stay in Banff.
Camping at Two Jack
If you want to really immerse yourself in the place you are visiting, Banff has great camping options. When I went, I spent part of my time camping at Two Jack Lake. This campground offers two ways to camp, you can either bring your own supplies or you can use theirs. Since we were flying in, we didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of bringing all of our camping gear so we opt’d to use their gear. They provided us with a tent, thermarest (sleeping pad,) camping stove, bear-proof locker, and firewood. You have to bring your own cooking utensils, sleeping bags, and food. We picked up all of our utensils at Goodwill, and then donated them after using them. This campsite is perfectly situated by multiples lakes such as Two Jack Lake, Johnson Lake, and Lake Minnewanka which is a great way to cool off or have a mountainside picnic.
Last but not least, Canmore is an EXCELLENT place to stay if you are looking to stay in a hotel room. I could go on and on about why I love this little mountain town, but here’s a few key reasons. First, it is filled with thrift shops, delicious local restaurants + breweries, and coffee shops. It’s also about half the cost that it is to stay in Banff. Lastly, IT IS NOT 50 THOUSAND CROWDS OF TOURISTS. Banff gave me serious anxiety because there were tons of people everywhere. Canmore, however, feels more local and the crowds are minimal.
There is about 50 billion sites to see in the Banff area. It’s hard to narrow down my favorites because there were so many beautiful spots, so I’m going to name all the spots I got to visit.
Moraine Lake was a spot I had dreamed of going to for years. If you think it looks crazy in photos, wait until you see it in real life and your mind will be blown. A major tip to avoid tourists: get there early. Not like 8am early, like 5:30am early. I know this may seem ridiculous, but we showed up at 5:30am to a FULL parking lot and I talked to people at many other sites who said they had to wait hours to get to the lake because of traffic.
Getting there early is great because for one you get to enjoy the peacefulness of the place without a million children/tourist buses/selfie stick users/etc. clogging up the view. Everything is quiet and you have time to sit by the last and reflect before the day takes off and gets busy. When you get there you can either choose to take the trail that goes onto the rock pile, or you can walk along the shore like I did until you find the perfect sunrise spot.
Tip: Pack breakfast the night before, nothing in the area will open until 7 or 8am and if you’re planning on doing any of the more challenging hikes in the area it would be best to have some fuel.
Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is such a gem! Honestly one of the most underrated spots in the Canadian Rockies in my opinion. Yoho is about an hour away from the town of Banff, and is about 75% less crowded. Some of my favorite spots were: Natural Bridge (shown above,) Takakkaw Falls, and Emerald Lake.
To be honest with you guys I had never seen Bow Lake or really heard much about it other than that it was a really cool spot. We stopped here on our way home from Peyto Lake as a quick detour and ended up spending over an hour here. First of all, the lake is magical. It’s blue hues compliment the Canadian Rockies so perfectly. Plus, there is a small hotel/bnb that honestly looks straight out of a horror movie.
Although I’m biased since I only went there one time, I think going for blue hour (the hour after the sun sets) is prime time to soak up all the colors and also get some great shots. The sun takes forever to truly set in Canada so their blue hour always shows out.
This lake was such a fun spot to spend the day! I didn’t take any pictures honestly because I was really into the moment, but it’s really easy to find it with a quick google search. This lake is located right beside Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka. This place gets somewhat busy during the day, but nothing too wild and there’s plenty of room to spread out and find your own space. We packed a picnic lunch, and spent the afternoon here.
Another thing that’s really fun to do at this lake is find the rope swing. If you walk around the right side of the lake and follow the sounds of people laughing and splashing you should be able to find it relatively quickly.
Lake Louise and Beehive Hike
I know most everyone knows about Lake Louise if they are visiting Banff, but I wanted to include it so I could include my tips as well. Much like Moraine Lake, Lake Louise can get really packed. So again, I recommend getting there for sunrise. This will guarantee some peace and quiet while visiting and also guarantee you aren’t waiting behind 50 other people to get that picture you’ve been wanting.
Another thing I highly recommend is doing the Lake Agnes Tea House hike or the Beehive hike if you are feeling up to it. The tea house is so cool, and so adorable. Basically you hike up the mountain and on top is this gorgeous alpine lake and a little wooden house where they serve tons of kinds of teas and snacks. The tea house is cash only so bring some along! For the Beehive hike, come prepared and ready to work for the view. On this hike you will hike up to the tea house, but then continue on to a long uphill hike through switchbacks that will lead you high above Lake Louise. Words cannot express how cool and absolutely worth it this hike was.
The Icefields Parkway stretches from Banff to Jasper, providing unobstructed views of the Canadian Rockies for 230km. Expect to see plenty of wildlife on this drive, especially if it’s in the morning or around sunset. There’s also a magnitude of places to stop and enjoy such as Herbert Lake, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake (mentioned above), Sunwapta Falls, and Mistaya Canyon.
Thanks for reading! With love,