Banff National Park in Alberta Canada is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is a place I had dreamed of visiting for a long time after seeing pictures of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It looked out of this world. And when I got there I was completely blown away. I feel pictures can’t even do justice to the amazing scenery: you have to see it to believe it! I was only there for 24 hours but managed to pack a lot into that time. Read on for my 24 hours in Banff National Park!
Situated in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the great thing about Banff National Park is that there is a season to suit everyone. Skiing and Northern Lights viewing is great in the winter, whereas the summer is perfect for hiking, biking, canoeing horse riding and of course, grizzly bear spotting!I was lucky to be there in the summer, but Banff is beautiful all year round. Banff is the perfect place for all the family, a romantic getaway, or a road trip with friends.
Banff is very easily accessible. The easiest way to get to Banff is to fly into Calgary Airport, 2 hours drive from Banff. In my experience, it was actually easier and cheaper to use public transport to get around than to rent a car. A return transfer from Calgary airport to your hotel in Banff will cost around $120CAD (£70). It may sound like a lot, but car hire is expensive here too anyway. You can find many bus transfer companies at the airport with similar prices. Just pick one that suits you time-wise so you aren’t waiting around too long. I used Brewster Banff Airport Express and it drops you to your hotel door. They depart almost every hour and were very reliable.
Hop on Banff bus
The Hop on Banff bus, which only started in June 2017, is a brilliant way to see the National Park. I cannot recommend this company enough. With stops at all the most popular destinations in Banff National Park: Banff town, Johnson Canyon, Banff gondola, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It goes on a continuous loop from 8am-5pm. You just get off where you want and are free to explore until you want to hop on the next bus. And it costs only $50CAD! (£30) for the whole day.
A local guide is on the bus and will answer any questions you have. It is really much better than bringing a car into the park, as often the car parks are so crowded or even closed that you can’t access them, but the bus is always allowed in. Go to Hoponbanff.com for details and book online as it can get sold out during the busy months!
July/August is the perfect time to visit Lake Louise (the ‘jewel of the park’) if you wish to see the incredible turquoise blue water. Lake Louise actually doesn’t usually completely thaw of ice until the first week of June as it is so high above sea level (around 10,000ft). Lake Louise is world famous for its turquoise water and breathtaking Rocky Mountains backdrop. It is THE most photographed lake in the world! It is so picturesque and the colour of the water is just insane!
This place gets super busy so get here early to avoid all the tourists. Alternatively wait til after 7pm when they have all disappeared! The infamous canoe rides on Lake Louise (available mid-June to September only) will set you back over $100!! Sure it’s a lot, and I didn’t do it, but I’m sure it is a completely unforgettable and magical experience! .
Hiking trails around Lake Louise
There are several hiking trails around the lake that offer fantastic views. My favourite hikes were the Lakeshore trail (an easy and very popular 4km round hike that walks along the shore of the lake) and the Fairview Lookout. The Fairview Lookout hike is a 2km round hike that gives you an INCREDIBLE areal view of the lake and the Fairmont Chateau from the viewpoint. Both offer insanely gorgeous views of the mountains and lake.
The 7km roundtrip trail to Lake Agnes teahouse is a very popular trail although you don’t actually get to see much of the lake as the trees are in the way. To access the trail turn right at The Fairmont Chateau and you will see the signs for the trail. Reward yourself with some tea and lunch when you reach the teahouse, which is super cute. It has no running water or electricity and in June at the beginning of the season supplies are flown in by helicopter and fresh food is brought up the trail daily by the staff.
If horseriding is your thing, I was told it is much better to do it at Lake Louise (with Brewster Adventures) and not at Bow Valley. The views are much better, however of course it is a lot more expensive, with a half day excursion costing over $150CAD. But if it’s something you really want to do, and you have the time for it, I’m sure it’s absolutely worth it!
Lake Louise Gondola and grizzly bear viewing
A good way to see the grizzly bears and the beautiful scenery in the Rockies is to go on the Lake Louise Gondola. It is open from May to October and is a 15 minute ride each way. Usually grizzly bear viewing is best in June – if you are lucky you can see them as you are driving through the park. However up on the Gondola is one of the best places in the world to spot these wild bears in their natural environment!
I always used to get the brown (grizzly) and black bears mixed up, I couldn’t remember which ones were the dangerous ones. Then one lady in Banff told me “If it’s brown, lie down, if it’s black, fight back”. So be scared of the brown ones and play dead, but with the black ones, make yourself as tall as possible and try to scare it away. Once a black bear came into her garden and she scared it off using this technique. Luckily I didn’t have to put this into practice, but it’s handy to know!
Moraine Lake: one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited! Smaller and less crowded than the hugely famous Lake Louise nearby, but I preferred it 100% more as the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. It was also easier to reach the viewpoint, and you literally have the place to yourself if you get there early! The vibrant turquoise water is insane with gorgeous snow-peaked mountains towering around it. Really I was blown away by this stunning landscape! And yes the water is really this colour!
Whilst Moraine Lake is one of the most picturesque lakes in the world it is only accessible from June to September. This is due to large snowfalls and potential avalanches from October to early June. To get to this viewpoint, take a left and go up the Rock Pike Trail (literally, a trail on a pile of rocks). It is a short and easy climb I really recommend as the colour of the water looks even more amazing from up there. The views are so beautiful and you literally feel like you are in a postcard.
Moraine Lake and The Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of Canada’s most photographed views. The distinct colour of the water is at its bluest in June and July (when I visited), and is caused by the light refracting off the rock flour in the lake.
A popular day hike in Banff National Park is Johnston’s Canyon trail, with its dramatic natural beauty. This fairly easy hike is open year round, meaning in the winter you can see the frozen waterfalls and go ice climbing up frozen waterfalls!! Hike to both the Upper and Lower falls, around 6km in total to see the beautiful waterfalls, overhanging Canyon walls and deep pools. In total this took me 2 hours in complete.
Banff town is located high in the Canadian Rockies at an elevation of over 4,500ft, making it Canada’s highest town. It is the gateway to Banff National Park. Banff town is gorgeous; be sure to spend some time here, it is so pretty and always alive with people! Banff Avenue, the main street, is packed with cute cafes, boutique clothes shops, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. There are shops selling fur and also an amazing Christmas shop (who doesn’t love Christmas shops?!). I would LOVE to visit this town when it is covered in snow. In every possible direction you can see mountains, and you could easily spend a couple of days in the town just exploring.
There is a lot of accomodation available in Banff, from expensive luxury hotels to affordable hostels. Do make sure to book in advance however as they do book out weeks or even months in advance especially in the summer months. If you stay at Samesun Backpackers in Banff, they do lots of group activities to the springs, tunnel mountain, vermillion lakes etc, as well as happy hour and good cheap dinners! Many hotels in Banff are expensive so this is great if you are on a budget!
If you have time, do the Banff gondola lift on Sulphur mountain for $64 ($58 if bought online). The gondola ride takes you almost 7,500ft above sea level from Banff Town. It gives you an epic view of Banff, Bow Valley and a 360 view of six incredibly stunning mountain ranges in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. I also climbed Tunnel Mountain (2.6 miles up) for a gorgeous view of Banff town – I would highly recommend it.
There is a free bus (route 6) to Lake Minnewanka from Banff town at 10am every hour. Lake Minnewanka is a spiritual lake and there are lots of wild chipmunks on its shores, 10km from Banff Town. (The chipmunks are certainly not afraid of us humans but to protect them please don’t feed them!). The eerie Lake Minnewanka (‘lake of the spirits’) holds a secret that not many people get to see. There is actually a WHOLE TOWN at the bottom of the lake still intact thanks to the lakes’ ice-cold glacial fed water. It can only be visited by scuba divers. I spent only an hour or so here walking around the lake, it was so nice and peaceful. June/July is also a popular season for grizzly bear sightings around Lake Minnewanka (hence another reason why not to feed the chipmunks and leave food around!).
Unfortunately I was only in Banff National Park for 24 hours, which is absolutely not enough time to see everything. However I still did so much in the short time I had! I would have loved to have stayed here longer, relaxed and enjoyed the atmosphere in Banff more, but I know for sure I will be back!
Banff hot springs
I didn’t have time to do it this time but top of my list next time will be to soak in the Banff Upper hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. The hot mineral water is known to soothe your body, and it is open til 11pm! 100% natural mineral water flows here and the water temperature is around 38 degrees Celsius or 100 Fahrenheit. Entry is less than $10CAD too: bargain! Take the ROAM bus route 1 for $2 towards Sulphur mountain (as parking is limited at the hot springs).
A short hike from Banff town is up Tunnel Mountain.
The Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the world. It is something I am dying to do next time I’m here! Brewster Sightseeing does an amazing day trip from Banff to Jasper (from May-mid October) stopping at Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Athabasca glacier and Colombia Icefield, before ending in Jasper. You pass over 100 ancient glaciers, endless waterfalls and emerald green lakes on this fascinating trip. The scenery is just out of this world. Stay tuned for next time!
Whilst 24 hours is definitely not enough time to explore Banff National Park, if it is all you have you can still see a lot!
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