It isn’t a secret that I absolutely adore the mountains and Banff National Park in particular. We are incredibly lucky to live so close to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world here in Alberta. Given that the mountains are such a short drive away from us, my boyfriend and I tend to make the effort to hit up Banff at least once a summer, if not more.
This past weekend was one of those weekends. While the weather left much to be desired (I can already feel the cold setting in, ick), we had an absolute blast and managed to hit up some of our favourite spots as well as check out some areas that I hadn’t ever been to. On our drive home, through the Icefields Parkway of course, my boyfriend and I had already started talking about our next trip to the mountains. I can’t wait! 🙂
Banff is, without a doubt, a tourist town. The clubbing is awesome (or so I’ve been told), the food and drink is phenomenal, and the shopping is pretty awesome, especially for the outdoorsy type. While it may be fun to hang out and explore the town site for a few days, I will forever recommend getting away from the hustle and bustle of town and get out into the mountains and get some exploring in. The amount of day hikes in and around the town is insane, and definitely worth checking out if you have the time and the energy to hit the trails. On the other hand, should the idea of hiking through bear country alarm you, there are plenty of incredible spots to hit up in and around Banff that are beautiful as well as more tourist friendly. These are my top picks that stick to the beaten bath.
Lake Louise is undeniably beautiful. I mean, look at that photo! It’s even more beautiful in person, and I’m not even kidding. With that in mind, Lake Louise is almost always swarming with tourists. If you want to hit up Lake Louise, I would definitely recommend either going early in the morning (I’m talking like pre 8:00 a.m. early) or later in the evening (post supper time). You’ll be able to miss the bulk of the madness and get some quality time with the lake. You can rent a canoe here which I definitely recommend doing. It’s quite fun and a different way to experience the lake. There is also a short hike, Plain of Six Glaciers, which takes you around the lake. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can follow this trail past the lake up to the tea house and beyond that up to Abbot Pass.
Johnston Canyon is another fairly busy tourist spot in Banff, but is well worth it. The canyon itself is absolutely beautiful. When you get to Johnston Canyon, you will be presented with 3 options: hike up to the Lower Johnston Falls through the canyon (see photo above – gorgeous!), hike beyond the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls, or hike past the Upper Falls to the Inkpots. The trail to the Lower Falls is quite busy, but past that the crowds begin to thin out quite a bit. Very few people opt to hike out to the Inkpots as it is a bit of a hike up there. Regardless of the crowds, Johnston Canyon is definitely worth a stop.
Peyto Lake is one of the more lesser known stops in the Park, but is definitely worth the trip. This lake is GORGEOUS! I mean, look at that blue!! Ohmygosh. This weekend was my first time at Peyto Lake and I am quite happy we made the stop. You will be required to hike up a bit of a steep trail to the viewing point, but it is well worth it. As is anything in the mountains in the summer, we did find it a bit busier in the later half of the morning. If you want to take in this lake without the masses, I would again recommend trying to come earlier in the morning or later in the evening.
If you are ever in the awful position of having to prioritize the sights when in the mountains, please do yourself a favour and put Moraine Lake at the top of that list. Yes, do this one before you do Lake Louise. Trust me. Moraine Lake is absolutely beautiful. Moraine Lake is not too far from Lake Louise. In fact, you will see the turn off for it just before the turn off for Lake Louise. The one problem with Moraine Lake is that it is really close to Lake Louise so can be unbearably busy at peak times, to the point where you will not be able to find parking. Hit it up in the morning, like we did, and you will be surprised by how quiet and serene it is. For the ambitious traveler, there is a hike starting at Moraine Lake to Consolation Lakes, which are supposed to be absolutely gorgeous and well worth the effort!
Tips for Hiking in Banff!
If the need should strike you to explore beyond the paved paths provided, be sure to adequately prepare yourself by doing some of the following:
- Double check the trail conditions before setting out. You can find them online here or here as well as posted at the trail head.
- Pack for weather of all shapes and sizes. It isn’t completely unreasonable for it to start snowing in the middle of summer in the mountains, so make sure you bring a sweater or jacket.
- Wear proper hiking shoes. Sure you can try and get away with wearing sandals, but it won’t be pleasant.
- Abide by any and all posted warnings and guidelines. They are there for a reason.
- Carry bear spray and hike in groups (when required).
- Bring a first aid kit, food and water.
- Leave no trace. Anything that comes in with you, comes out back out, including trash.