Due to this trip being 8 days I’ve decided to do 2 separate posts. One for Banff and Yoho and then one for the Icefields Parkway and Jasper. We did 4 full days at Banff & Yoho. We visited in July 2017.
In my 2nd post, I will also include a day by day itinerary that may help you plan your own trip. I spent countless hours researching, planning and mapping out locations. Try downloading the app, Maps.me. We used it in Aruba and it was a lifesaver!
Tip – check both the online travel sites and the car rental agency’s site to compare prices. We drove from Calgary to Banff which takes approximately 1 hr.
It was late when we arrived so we went straight to our hotel, Irwin’s Mountain Inn. We only stayed here the one night as we move around often to be able to see and do as much as possible.
Sunday was our first full day in Banff. We woke up and headed to Melissa’s Missteak for breakfast. This place is so good! We ate here 2-3 times.
The first day in Banff we visited the following locations: Bow Falls (you can park and walk a path along the Bow River or you can park at the falls) & the Banff Gondola ($62 pp adult or $56 if booked in advance – $31 or $28 for children – check site for free rates for children).
Let me just say, this place was extremely crowded so I highly recommend you get here early and check the weather before you go. If it’s cloudy, you won’t see much. We didn’t buy our tickets in advance so we stood in a very long line.
They have food and drinks inside and at the top. The gondola ride takes 8 mins to the top and it can be a bit scary if you are afraid of heights. You also have a certain amount of time to spend at the top (1 1/2 -2 hrs if I can remember correctly).
If you want to leave before your designated time you have to go to customer service (at the top) and see if you can get your time changed. That’s what we ended up doing.
The views from the top are truly spectacular!
We also did the Tunnel Mountain drive. This is a about a 5 mi scenic drive and starts at the intersection of Banff Ave & Buffalo St. On this drive you will see, Surprise Corner (a view of the Banff Springs Hotel), Hoodoos (unique rock formations-we never found them), Bow River, Mt Rundle and the Bow Valley. You will end up back on Banff Ave.
We then drove the Lake Minnewanka Loop. This is a 15 mi scenic drive. It’s about 10 miles from Banff. Your first stop along the drive will be Cascade Ponds. There’s a short .3 mile trail that leads to Cascade Falls.
You will then see Johnson Lake , Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka and Upper and Lower Bankhead. There are scenic boat tours, kayaking and canoeing available on Lake Minnewanka. There is also a cafe here.
The loop ends back in Banff. I would allow approximately 2+ hrs for drive w/stops.
We then headed to Eddie Burger for a delicious burger and our first ever poutine fries. They were delicious!
After we ate, we headed to our next hotel, Castle Mountain Chalets. We stayed here 4 nights. The chalets were about 30 mins from Banff, 20 mins to Lake Louise, 4.5 mi to Johnston Canyon, 12.5 mi to Lake Moraine and about a mile from the Bow Valley Parkway.
We absolutely loved this place. It was so quiet! You have an amazing view of Castle Mountain. The property has a small general store that sells all kinds of snacks. They also offer bike rentals, maps, discount Lake Louise ski lift passes and Lake Louise Gondola discounts. They also sell gas.
The general store hours vary seasonally so check their website for store hours. The Bow River was a short walk from our cabin. There’s also a small parking lot at the bridge. We drove down a couple of nights to watch the sunset. We also saw a bear in this area. The closest restaurants are at Baker Creek and Johnston Canyon Resort.
The next day we headed to Sunshine Meadows. This place is known for their ski resort and their spectacular hiking trails. It was approx. 25 miles from our cabin. We arrived and it felt like a ghost town…hardly anyone was here! It was wonderful!
We purchased the gondola and chairlift tour. The cost was $42 pp. You ride the gondola for approx 25 mins and then get on the ski lift for about 10 mins. It was a little scary but the views were amazing! I HIGHLY recommend hiking here!
Picture taken from the standish viewing deck. You can see all 3 lakes from this viewpoint.
There are several trails here but we only hiked to Rock Isle Lake (seen in the pic above). It’s about a mile one way and considered to be a moderate hike. There are trail maps available when you buy your tickets.
We were here in July and the flowers were blooming all over!! Also, this is bear habitat so wear bells or make noise..becoming bear poop is not how you want your vacation to end! 😉
We ended up eating lunch at one of the cafes. Not many choices available…we ate a pre made sandwich and chips.
We then headed to the Bow Valley Parkway. This is a 32 mile scenic drive and our cabin was only a mile from this parkway. This drive offers one of the best wildlife opportunities in Banff …however, we never saw anything.
There are several stops along this drive as well as hiking trails. However, there was only a few places worth stoping in my opinion and my favorite was the beautiful Johnston Canyon.
There are 3 hikes at this location…. The upper and lower falls and the ink pots. This place has bathrooms as well as food. If you are pressed for time, I would pick this one stop over the others.
Unfortunately, we only did the lower falls because it started raining and it was SO crowded on the trail that you could barely move! Get here early if you can.
We only did 4 stops on this drive. One of the other stops we did was Morant’s Curve
There were no signs for this stop. It has panoramic views of the river, rail line and the Canadian Alps. A lot of people will stop here in hopes to capture a train on the tracks. Below are some shots I took at this location.
Another stop was at Hillsdale Meadows: A short hike to an open meadow. There were 2 red chairs sitting against the aspen trees that made for a pretty shot.
The other stop we did was Backswamp. This place is a marshy wetland where the Bow River once flowed. You can sometimes spot big horn sheep here as well as Ospreys and Blue Heron.
After we finished this drive, we headed back into Banff to find something to eat. The food is expensive and the service was sub par at most of the restaurants we went to. After eating, we walked/drove around Banff. Don’t miss taking your picture at the Banff sign.
We then did the Vermillion Lake Drive which is not far from the Banff sign. It’s a really peaceful place and we loved it here. It’s only a 2.5 mi drive and there is a walking trail you can do at the very end.
This is also a good place to spot wildlife. We saw a black bear. It’s also a great place to watch a sunset or have a picnic. The views of Mt Rundle are awesome! Don’t miss this short but scenic drive!
We then headed to one of the must do places….Lake Louise !! This place is not to be missed! The lake usually thaws sometime in June..we were there in July. You can hike along the shoreline or hike up to the famous Lake Agnes Tea House. We did this hike on a different day and I’ll write about it later in this post.
The best tip that I can give you is to get here either very early (6-8 am) or much later in the evening (7-8 pm) to avoid the crowds. They do have an overflow parking lot where you park and are shuttled by bus to the lake. We parked at the lake both times we went.
We purchased our lunch at the 24 hr deli inside the hotel and it was very good. There is also a gondola ride you can do for around $30 pp. It’s a 14 min one way ride.
The next day we decided to spend at the beautiful And not to be missed, Lake Moraine! This lake is even more spectacular than Lake Louise! Again, get here early or late evening to avoid the crowds. There isn’t an overflow parking lot for this lake unlike Lake Louise and parking can fill up quickly! I wouldn’t get here later than 8-8:30 am.
Update: There is now a shuttle for Lake Moraine that leaves from the Lake Louise overflow parking lot & the Banff train station.
You can rent canoes here and the cost is around $100 an hr (not per person) unless you stay at the Moraine Lake Lodge, then it’s free. There are plenty of things to do here to keep you busy for several hours.
There are several hiking trails as well as horseback riding. Be mindful, if you are planning a visit here, the lake does not begin to thaw until June and you can’t access the lake during the months of Nov – April due to high avalanche risk. Also, during the times of high grizzly bear activity, there are many hiking trail restrictions.
We only did a small portion of the shoreline hike and the Rockpile hike. The views were stunning!! Don’t miss the “20 dollar” view as it’s called from atop of the Rockpile. They call it this because it’s actually on the back of their older 20 dollar bills. It’s a very short hike and so worth it!
The Rockpile Trail (above)
That “20 Dollar” View!! I personally think it’s a million dollar view!
The color of the water changes depending on where you are viewing it from!
After Lake Moraine, we headed back to Lake Louise. We actually visited both lakes twice. We visited in the evening and during the day and let me just say, during the day it’s a mad house! Since Lake Louise has overflow parking, you may want to go to Lake Moraine first.
After reading about the hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House during my trip planning, I really wanted to add this hike to our list. It’s a 4 mi roundtrip hike. I thought I was in half way decent shape until I took on this hike! It was brutal…to me anyways.
I mean, there was an 80 yr old man that passed me but whatever! It was uphill and I could hardly breathe due to the elevation gain! Be prepared and take plenty of water and snacks.
There is food at the tea house so maybe that will motivate you enough to keep going! They also serve more than a 100 different types of loose leaf teas! Sadly, it was so busy when we arrived, we decided to pass on eating lunch here… I did hear the food was really good.
On this hike you will see some spectacular views and even though, at times, I felt I needed to be airlifted out of there, in the end, I was SO happy that I endured the pain and blisters for the views I saw! Make sure you have very comfortable shoes for this hike!
You will not only see Lake Agnes and the tea house you will also see Mirror Lake & Beehive. The hike continues past the first tea house. If you continue, you will come to a 2nd tea house which was built in 1924.
The first one was built in 1901 but was replaced in the early 80’s. However, there were some tables, chairs and windows from the original tea house used in the building of the newer tea house in order to preserve the authenticity and rustic charm. This trail also leads to the Plain of Six Glaciers and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.
We turned around after arriving to the first tea house.
Views of Lake Louise from the trail…if you look closely, you can see canoes!
Mirror Lake and Beehive
Small waterfall on the trail
Beautiful Lake Agnes!
The very crowded tea house
We hiked a short distance around Lake Agnes…
The flowers were in full bloom!!
We then headed back down…much better! This is actually the day we canoed Lake Louise and had lunch at the 24 hr deli inside the Fairmont hotel.
There are several things to see/do at this park. Your first stop will be the Spiral Tunnels. The Spiral tunnels are railways that have been carved through mountains. If you time it right you will get to see a train coming through the tunnel.
There is a second spot where you can view the Upper Spiral Tunnels in Cathedral Mountain. Its a pull off located 2.3 kms along the Yoho Valley Rd.
The tunnels are now so obscured by trees you can barely see it. I had to zoom all the way out with my camera to find it.
The next stop will be Takakkaw Falls. It’s one of the highest waterfalls in Canada.
You will then come to the Natural Bridge. The bridge is a limestone rock formation that has formed over the Kicking Horse River.
Next will be the breathtaking Emerald Lake! You can hike and canoe here. There is also food available as well as the beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge. We hiked a short distance around the shoreline trail.
After leaving the lake, we headed to the very small town of Field. It was really cool and I highly recommend you make a stop here. There are a few restaurants in Field and we ended up eating at Siding Cafe. We all ordered the chicken “burger”. It was truly one of the best I’ve ever had…my daughter and hubby agreed!
After spending some time here walking around and admiring this quaint little town and all of the beautiful flowers that were blooming, we headed to the next stop which was Wapta Falls.
The falls are accessed by driving a 1.25 mile gravel road off the Trans-Canada Hwy. The trail is approx 3 miles roundtrip and is a fairly easy trail. I would allow approx 1.5-2 hrs for this stop.
I would recommend you wear bug spray as the trail is in a very forested area. I would also make noise in case of bears. The trail leads to the largest waterfall on Kicking River. It drops 30 meters and is 150 meters wide.
There’s a view looking at the river and the top of the falls however, if you go a bit further down (which is a bit harrowing), you can get to the viewpoints at the lower part of the falls for a different view.
These were the only stops we did in the park. There is also Lake O’Hara. However, access during the summer months are limited in order to protect the delicate environment. It can only be accessed by foot along a 7 mi gravel road or by reserving a seat on the Parks Canada bus.
These tickets start selling online April 20, 2018 at 8 am and are $14.70 r/t for adults and $7.30 for youth 6-16 yrs of age. Children 5 and under are free. Please keep in mind, these tickets book up for the entire season almost instantly! You can call Parks Canada at 1-877-RESERVE and make reservations over the phone as well.
There is also the Burgess Shale tour. This is the site of fossilized remains of over a hundred different marine animal species. This can only be accessed by a guided tour. You need to make advanced reservations as they limit the groups to 12-15 people.
We then headed back to Banff. We spotted an old bridge on the way back so we made a quick stop to check it out and take some pics.
We spent the rest of our time in Banff walking around town shopping, eating and of course, taking lots of pictures! 😉
My hubby had read about these desserts called beaver tails so we just had to try them out! They were messy but so delicious!
Here are a few shots of Banff. We loved it here!
Me standing in front of the Bow River. You can canoe here as well.
Other activities in Banff include: Cave & Basin National Historic site, Banff Hot Springs, tour the historic Banff Springs Hotel that opened in 1888, do a boat tour on the Bow River, hike the Hoodoos Trail, do a hop on/off bus tour, visit the Cascade Gardens or canoe the Bow River for $40 for an hr.
There is also another national park only 30 mins from Banff or 10 mins from our cabin. It’s called Kootenay. I wished we had had time to visit…from what I read, there seems to be a lot to do and see there.
Well, I hope you found this post to be helpful and informative and something you can refer to when planning your own trip to Banff or Yoho. I’ll be working on my next post for the Icefield’s Parkway and Jasper and get that posted as soon as I can.
UPDATE: Read my Icefield’s Pkwy & Jasper blog here
Thanks for reading!! 🙂