Ah Canada. Known internationally as one of the most diverse, accepting and polite nations on Earth. Not only do Canadians have lovely manners (they apologise for everything – it’s sweet), but my goodness do they have a backyard. Canadian landscapes are among some of the most stunningly breath taking in the world. Combine soaring snow-capped peaks, mirrored lakes, brilliantly turquoise water and an abundance of wildlife and you have Canada in a nutshell. This year, Canada celebrates 150 years, and as a part of these celebrations, all national parks have FREE entry in 2017. We can’t think of a better reason to go than that! Banff National Park is one small section of Canada that contains all of these attributes and more, and is the oldest national park in the country. Be prepared to have your mind blown, as we take you through how to get there, what to do, and how to make the most of your Canadian adventure. Enjoy our Banff National Park Guide.
What To See and Do
This national park is jam-packed full of activities and things to discover, in both Summer and Winter. While the Summer months have warm weather, they are packed with tourists. The Winter months blanket the mountains in beautiful snow, however this can become restrictive in terms of accessibility. Whenever you decide to visit, you’ll be blessed with amazing scenery and an abundance of wildlife. The main highway the runs straight through the middle of the national park will give you access to all of these highlights. The road itself is stunning, and driving along it could take days, if you have the time. There are a multitude of hikes to explore while in the national park, too many to list here. Ensure that you do your research and select one that suits your capabilities.
Lake Louise is one of the most visited natural landmarks in Canada. Combine bright turquoise water, snow-capped mountains, and stunning scenery and you get this amazing lake. Nestled between the Rocky Mountains, the lake itself is glacier fed, the Victoria Glacier, which gives the water that brilliant colour. The beauty of this place is dramatic. With a chateau as the backdrop, join the crowds and admire this unparalleled part of the world. The lake is 2.5kms wide and 90m deep, and contains many hikes that circle the lake and the surrounding landscape.
Tea House Trek
Just behind Lake Louise (pass the incredible chateau and keep walking up the right ha d side of the lake) you’ll find the Tea House Trek. A 7km round trip, the mostly uphill trek will take you up the mountain to a small tea house, in front of a stunning lake. This is not only beautiful; it also has amazing views of the Lake Louise. The tea house is rustic and small, with no electricity and no running water. They use pre and fresh lake water for the tea, and make as assortment of cakes and breads on the wood-fired stove. It’s truly worth the hike to sit in this teahouse and watch how they make it work. All rubbish is carried up and off the mountain, so customers are encouraged to take it with them. You can extend this hike by trekking an extra 2kms to the Beehive, where more breath taking views await you.
Peyto Lake is perhaps one of the most photographed and recognisable lakes in the world. The shape of the lake is a distinctive wolf head, and the colour of the water is just as brilliantly turquoise as Lake Louise. The entrance is just off the Parkway, and you can climb to the top lookout to view the lake. It really is breath takingly beautiful.
Morraine Lake is very close to Lake Louise, and just as beautiful. Many people choose to visit Lake Louise over Morraine Lake, but this is a mistake. Visit both and you’ll be glad you did. This lake is less touristy, meaning that you can spend more time taking photos and enjoying the surrounding landscape.
Consolation Lakes Hike
While you’re at Morraine Lake, check out the Consolation Lakes Hike. You’ll experience a short hike through the forest, before being spat out at these brilliant lakes. Glacier fed water means that it’s crystal clear and the mirrored reflection is flawless. It’s surrounded by high, rocky peaks, forests and even some snow – even in Summer! The total length of the hike is about 6kms, however it’s an easy hike and most of the path is well maintained. Simply walk to the left of Morraine Lake, and follow the signs to the hike.
Icefields Parkway Drive
The Icefield Parkway is the main highway straight through the middle of the national park. It is the link from the border of the Jasper National Park, all the way through the Banff National Park, connecting all the highlights along the way. There is so much to see along this 232km drive, including a plethora of lakes, forests, hikes to do, and wildlife. The drive is dotted with over 100 glaciers, all feeding into the various lakes in the area. If you get the chance, don’t miss the actual Colombia Icefields. In the Summer months, visitors can actually drive out onto the ice in ‘ice coaches’, and explore the giant glacier up close.
Glacier Sky Walk
This one is for our adventure and thrill seekers! The sky walk is a glass walk way that stretches out over the Sunwapta Valley. The walkway is 290m high, and not for the faint hearted. But if you want unrivalled views over the entire valley, this is a once in a lifetime experience. You’’ gaze across miles of forests, snow-capped mountains and view the Colombia Icefields in the distance.
In the Summer and Spring months, you must take bear spray with you on hikes around this area. Many bears are roaming around with their cubs, and can become dangerous when you cross their path. Ensure that you are hiking with at least three people. Official advice states that when you encounter a bear, the best thing to do is to get as ‘big’ as possible – use your jacket to appear larger. You can also shout and speak as loud as possible to scare off the bears. Another method is using a bear bell, a belt that wraps around your mid-section, that has tiny bells that ring constantly as you walk, so that the bears hear you coming and are scared off. Don’t be alarmed, just be prepared and cautious.
Banff National park is located an hour and a half west of Calgary, Alberta, on the west side of Canada. The park itself covers an area of over 6000 square kms, and attracts millions of visitors each year. You can fly from LA to Calgary for about $230USD, taking around 3 hours. You can also fly from New York to Calgary for $300USD, taking just over 5 hours.
The best access is by car, however there are shuttles buses that run from the town of Banff to the rest of the national park. If you do drive, plans ahead, especially in the Summer months. The parking lots get filled up very early – around 9am – so arrive earlier in the day to beat the crowds. Lake Louise and Morraine Lake are particularly busy, and offer overflow parking a few kilometres down the highway. They run free shuttle buses to the lake for visitors.
The visitor centres within Banff National Park are second to none, providing a multitude of information and engaging presentations about the park. There are two in the park, the general Banff Visitor Centre and the Lake Louise Visitor Centre. In celebration of Canada150, all national parks are free to enter this year. However, you still must grab a parks pass to display in your car. You only need one per family/group. You can order these online in advance, or receive one at the entrance gate to any national park.
Banff National Park is truly amazing, and proves that Canada offers some of the best scenery in the world. You’ll never get tired of the vistas in front of you, or the plethora of activities at your fingertips. Why not take advantage of the zero entry fees and start your Canadian adventure today! You won’t regret a moment of this diverse and fascinating country.