Canada conquered our hearts, minds and souls right away, in fact, she did not even have to try hard. We are admittedly drawn to places where nature has the upper hand and where wilderness is gratifyingly unmatched to anything we have witnessed before.
Seeing the Canadian Rockies rise out of Earth was experiencing nature on an entirely different level. We were utterly astounded by the unique beauty, sheer scale of infinite rock formations, seductive pine tree forests and eye-catching lakes glistering under spills of sunlight.
As we made our way through Canada, travelling on a tour bus along TransCanada Highway from Calgary to Vancouver, the landscape of infinite patterns and textures stretched towards the distant horizon. For a moment I let my eyes rest on tree trunks and their branches before sweeping grounds for wildlife. While our fellow travellers were eager to spot a bear, I was looking forward to an encounter with porcupines and beavers.
I had heard so much about Banff and Banff National Park and had looked at the pictures in travel magazines and on Instagram, lusting over impeccably pristine hinterlands. Two places that captivated my heart was Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, both grippingly attractive thanks to their unique layout and emerald coloured water.
How much time you need to spend in Banff National Park?
How long you should spend in Banff will depend on your budget and travel plans. And just like with any other place – the longer, the better is what makes sense. A long weekend is just enough time to go for a full days hike, learn about Banff’s history and enjoy an unforgettable dinner.
A full week in Banff is even better because this means that you’ll be able to see and do so much more; a day trip to Lake Louise, horseback riding, go on a cruise on Lake Minnewanka and more.
Our time in Banff was limited, and with so much to see and do and with only a day and a half to spend at the park, we had to plan everything thoroughly. On top of that, we stayed in Canmore, just outside Banff, and had to find an efficient way to travel back and forth.
Why you should visit Banff
First of all, Banff is an excellent place for outdoor enthusiasts, first-time visitors, photography lovers, adventurous and solo travellers, families, foodies and active travellers.
Second-it’s a place for grippingly beautiful scenery with Mount Rundle, Vermillion Lakes Viewpoint, Cascade Mountain and Bow Falls View Point right on your doorstep.
Banff is located at an elevation of 1,400m, making it the highest town in Canada and summertime is the most popular time to visit with the roads to places like Moraine Lake re-opening in early May.
Banff National Park that surrounds the beautiful town, located in Alberta province is the oldest, most visited and most beautiful national park in Canada. Established in 1885 it is located just east of Calgary.
Highlights of visiting Banff
The best thing we loved about Banff was the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in as many ways as possible. Depending on the season there are endless biking, hiking, horseback riding, skiing and snowboarding activities.
- Poutine & mountain cuisine & off-slope festivities aplenty
- Winter wonderland activities like & beautiful Marble and Johnston Canyons
- It’s a wonderland of trails & wildlife such as elk, moose, and bears
- Most beautiful lakes in the world & endless forests, glaciers, meadows and rivers
#1. Visit the beautiful Banff town
While waiting for our couch to come, we managed to wander into Cows ice-cream shop on Banff Avenue. Instead of usual chocolate chips, it contains chunks of fudge. There is something for every visitor when it comes to sweets.
The Banff Sweet Shoppe, Welches, Beaver Trust to name the few places selling everything from endless fudge choices, chocolate truffles, bubble gum cigars, maple candies and our favourite fresh on-a-stick apples dipped in hot caramel/chocolate and after rolled in nuts!
While we observed the First Nation tribe, dressed in traditional costumes, dance away in Banff Town, I suddenly remembered my youth years. Back then I spent much time reading Thomas Mayne Reid books and the only thing I wanted to do when I grew up was to join the First Nation tribe and live off the land someplace remote( preferably in my own Tippy).
We had this ritual at school, where we would write down on a piece of paper our biggest wish and bury it underground. Mine was to visit the first nation reservoir. We did not attend one while in Canada but much to my delight, our tour guide shared the same passion and had amazing stories to tell about first nation tribes.
#2. Go for the views of Banff Gondola
Many of you may know our love for the ocean, but we have a close second. Mountains never cease to amaze us and navigating through the Banff National Park on the first day we became so engrossed in the startling nature we forgot where we are.
To get the panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains, we visited one of the most sought out attractions nearby. Sightseeing Gondola, perched on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain is just 5 minutes from the town of Banff. Although there was free transport, we quickly made it on foot, on our way admiring local homes, built in a beautiful alpine style and decorated with natural elements.
Ride in a glass enveloped gondola takes 8 minutes and it brings you from the base station at 1,583m to the upper terminal at 2,281m. From the top gondola station, we followed the boardwalk all the way to the summit of Sanson Peak Meteorological Observatory and learned the story about the devoted Park meteorologist Norman Sanson who hiked up the mountain 1000 times to take readings at the observatory.
#3. Visit stunningly beautiful Moraine Lake
In The Valley of Ten Peaks sits the most beautiful lake we have ever seen! Moraine lake surprised us with the stark remoteness, and we just sat there for a good while gazing in wonder trying hard to embed in memories every spire and snow speckle of the surrounding mountains.
To this very day, Lake Moraine remains my most favourite place in the entire world, and I cannot wait to come back one day to feed my soul with its natural beauty.
Listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site, Moraine Lake is known as Jewel of the Rockies. This lake is situated less than a 10-minute drive away from the beautiful Lake Louise, and the very first person to lay eyes on this natural marvel was a Yale college student Walter Wilcox who was hired to help map the area around Lake Louise. Hiking through rain and snow, in search of a new route to Mount Temple, he stumbled upon Moraine Lake.
Originally Ten Peaks were named by Samuel Allen by using the numerals from one to ten in the Stoney First Nations language, but gradually all but three mountains were renamed.
#4. See the nearby Lake Louise
Standing on the shores of Lake Louise under the fast-moving dark clouds, we watched the light change regularly when suddenly the sky opened up, and it started raining. Rhythmic tapping made the boardwalk underneath our feet soaking wet in a matter of seconds, and despite everything, I was feeling thankful for being here.
In addition to beautiful nature, I have found a place that felt like home, a place I would come back to one day. Majestic Victoria glacier half swaddled in a veil of grey fog and softly muted aquamarine colour of the lake only added substantial weight to my instant happiness.
The Lake of the little fishes is nothing short of amazing, but so is the surrounding landscape. Make sure to leave the crowds behind and go for a short hike to admire snow kisses mountains from afar. One of the best hikes, just 3.5 km in length, is to the family-run Lake Agnes Teahouse, initially constructed in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, where you can sample more than 100 different varieties of tea.
As both of the lakes were not included in our bus tour itinerary, we arranged a little side trip with Discover Banff Tours to take us there. Our tour guide was a knowledgeable and amiable girl who had answers to all the Canada related questions we fired at her.
How to get to Banff National Park
The closest city to Banff is Calgary. Numerous North American and international airlines fly directly to Calgary International Airport (YYC). To get to Banff and Banff National Park from the Calgary airport, you can use a shuttle bus connection to Banff & Lake Louise or rent a car and drive for 90 minutes (140 km) along a very scenic road.
Alternatively, you can treat yourself and travel in style with The Rocky Mountaineer that departs in Vancouver stop at Banff.
Day trips to Banff from Calgary is another popular option with visitors, and you can choose from multi-day tours stopping at Icefields Parkways, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake.
Finding accommodation in Banff
If you are plotting a trip to Banff National Park, you may be debating whether to stay in Banff or Canmore. Before making up your mind and booking accommodation, look at your budget, length of stay and list of planned activities. Both places are perfect as a base for visiting the Park.
However, Banff is located within the national park, so is quite touristy and also very busy during the summer month with chain stores like McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks and Boston Pizza located there. If you are willing to overlook its commercialised side or aren’t bothered by it at all, then Banff is perfect!
Biggest prone of staying in Banff – all the major sites like tourist information bureau, shops and restaurants are within easy reach, and after a long day spent outdoors, you will be glad to get back to your hotel in no time. In Banff, there are loads of accommodation options with most of the hotels located just a few blocks away from the main shopping and dining area.
• Banff Aspen Lodge | If you like hot tubs, a sauna and a hearty breakfast, then Banff Aspen Lodge, located a 10-minute walk from Banff Park Museum is a great place to base yourself in Banff.
• Elk + Avenue Hotel | Guest rooms feature iPad docking stations and flat-screen Tv and Elk + Avenue Hotel also offers luggage storage, express check-in/check-out, free parking, ticket service and a tour desk. In house bistro, Ricky’s All Day Grill offers excellent lunch and dinner menus.
• Moose Hotel and Suites | With a spa centre, an on-site bar and breakfast available each morning, Moose Hotel and Suites make for a lovely base in Banff. An exercise room and an indoor pool are located on the 4th floor, and rooftop hot pools offer fantastic views over the surrounding mountains.
• Banff International Hostel | Situated in Banff centre, Banff International Hostel is a perfect place for a budget traveller. The hostel offers shared dormitory rooms, an on-site ATM/cash machine, luggage storage, ticket service, tour desk and free private parking.
In comparison, Canmore, once a coal-mining town, is situated on the eastern edge of the park, is a more residential and quite charming place with trendy boutique and gourmet food shops.
The Three Sisters mountain range, named Faith, Charity, and Hope, is the highest and one of a kind mountain in the area. There are more self-catering options and budget inns in Canmore as well a world-class golf club as well as a considerable network of hiking and biking trails.
• Lamphouse Hotel | Situated in Canmore town centre, Lamphouse Hotel offers clean and bright rooms with free Wi-Fi, a refrigerator and a 55-in flat screen in each of them. Express check-in/check-out and 24-hour front desk make a great addition to the services provided.
• Basecamp Lodge | With its charming wood-burning fireplace, sauna, ski storage and easy access to the highway, Basecamp Lodge is a great place to stay. Guests can also benefit from luggage storage facilities and express check-in/check-out.
Falcon Crest Lodge, guests can relax in rooms that come with a fireplace, kitchenette and a balcony or patio. In addition to excellent service and staff, you’ll find free board games and popcorn for kids, underground parking and a fitness centre.| At
• Ridgeview Loft | Situated 26 km from Banff, Ridgeview Loft features 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a comfy seating area, a kitchen with a dishwasher and a great view of the mountains.
Tips, hints, and things you need to know
- If you are arriving by with a car, you will need to buy a Parks Pass, costing CAD 9.80 per person per day, to enter Banff National Park. You can do it onsite or online. This pass is valid until 4 pm on the day after purchase and Annual Discovery Pass is valid for a full year.
- Parking in Banff and its surroundings is quite limited, and during the busy weekends they usually fill up quickly. Check out Banff Now for up to date road and parking conditions to help you plan your trip.
- If you want to save few loonies and toonies, dress appropriately and hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain for the fantastic 360 degrees views of the Bow Valley. While the Banff Gondola is a great way to see some seriously incredible scenery, an entrance fee is around 60 + Cad.
- Fuel is much cheaper outside of Banff, so fill up your car up in places like Canmore or even Calgary to stretch your budget further.
- Just like with all the other major tourist hot spots around the world it is advisable to arrive early to visit Lake Louise (as the beauty of the lake draws astronomical crowds) to make sure you get the parking place. Sure, there’s always an option to park at Fairmount hotel if you are willing to fork out 33 Canadian dollars otherwise parking is free if you can find it.
- Watch a sunset from a viewpoint above Moraine Lake. During the summertime, timing is everything as most of the tour buses stop at the lake during the day and usually for a fraction of the time. Use this to your advantage and come back when the big tourist herds are gone.
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Now, over to you.
Have you visited Banff? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Banff and have travel-related questions!