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At some point in our lives we've all seen a picture of the stunning turquoise blue lakes of Banff and Lake Louise. These breathtaking locations are set in the remarkable Canadian Rockies. If this isn’t already on your bucket list, then it needs to be!
Banff National Park is not only Canada’s first national park but the world’s third richest in heritage. It is easily accessible and close to the vast unspoiled wilderness of the Canadian Rockies. With 2,564 square miles of mountainous terrain, surreal coloured lakes, scenic valleys, striking peaks, glaciers, forests, meadows, and meandering rivers, Banff National Park will leave you breathless.
As you discover the true beauty of Banff National Park, feel at one with nature and immerse yourself in the wildlife and jaw-dropping backdrops that surround you. Uncover animals such as bighorn sheep, wolves, cougars, elk, and deer. Banff National Park is also home to black and grizzly bears and it isn’t uncommon to spot these; so make sure before you visit you have read up on how to keep yourself and the animals of the park safe.
With four distinct seasons that are constantly changing and unpredictable no matter what season you visit, you’re guaranteed your very own unique experience.
The town of Banff is the highest town in Canada flanked by Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain. This lively town was designed to be a tourist town with the first street being oriented to offer the best possible views of Cascade Mountain. Early morning joggers will catch a glimpse of deer wandering down Main Street, with an array of top class restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries, and museums lining downtown.
This small town boasts convenient roads and trails that lead to a variety of amenities and local attractions; they also offer a public transport system called Roam. With something to offer all ages, abilities and interests, the town of Banff really does have it all. Hike Tunnel Mountain, enjoy brunch on an outdoor terrace, shop for genuine Canadian goods in Banff Avenue and Bear Street, or enjoy a wide variety of history, culture, and dining options.
Close your eyes and picture emerald green lakes, rugged peaks and glaciers and that’s Lake Louise. Known world-wide for its water, it’s a rare sight indeed as the Victoria Glacier creates a spectacular backdrop. The town of Lake Louise is smaller and quieter than Banff; home to a small shopping centre, grocery store, bar, bakery, and deli, as well as a variety of restaurants and accommodation. Despite the smaller size of the town, Lake Louise is still the perfect base to explore the magnificent Canadian Rockies.
In the summer months enjoy the tranquillity of paddling through the lake, climb the mountains, immerse yourself in the surrounding nature or simply lie back and enjoy the sunshine and fresh mountain air.
When the first snow falls, Lake Louise becomes a hub for a number of winter sports and activities. From skiing to snowboarding, ice skating to sleigh rides, and of course warm cocoa in front of the fire, winter in Lake Louise is nothing short of magical.
Taking its name from the two sulphurous hot springs found on its lower slopes Sulphur Mountain delivers awe-inspiring 360 degree views of six mountain ranges, the bow valley and the town of Banff.
Open all year round, enjoy a Gondola ride to the summit. The eight-minute ride climbs 689m to the top of the 2,281m summit. Once there discover restaurants, observation decks, interpretive boardwalks, and hiking trails. With moderate hiking trails to the summit you can see the jaw dropping views of Bow Valley as well as the Cosmic Ray Station, the Old Weather Station, and Sanson’s Peak. The best part? If your legs are feeling a little sore you can catch the Gondola back down and see the magnificent views and surroundings from a different perspective.
Banff Hot Springs
Banff Hot Springs sits on the mountains north east flank. Discovered in 1883 as one of nine sulphurous hot springs, it is the last remaining open to the public. The hot springs are open late in the evening all year round and are a perfect addition to any trip. In the wintertime the hot springs become even more mesmerising as you watch the snow fall onto the surrounding peaks. Banff Hot Springs are located at the end of Mountain Avenue, 2.5miles south of Banff town.
Top tip: For ultimate relaxation visit the springs in the morning.
Icefield Parkways or Highway 93 is regarded as one of the world’s most stunning alpine drives. The 143 mile route connects Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper, immersing you deep into the Canadian Rockies. Although the route is best travelled by car don’t be surprised if you see hikers or cyclists. Taking around 3-5 hours one way you can drive your own car or there are tours available where you can spot elk, moose, mountain goats and the occasional bear or wolf from the highway.
There are many short hikes that are accessible from the highway for picnics and plenty of photos, or you can book local adventure lead tours. Make sure you stop at sights such as Bow Lake, Crowfoot Mountain, Peyto Lake, Mistaya Canyon, and the Athabasca Glacier.
Don’t miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk along the surface of the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains. Take in the breathtaking views as you look down on the glacier from the glass-bottomed skywalk. If you wish to spend longer on Highway 93 there are a handful of campgrounds, hostels and lodges available along the way.
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in the park, carved into limestone bedrock by thousands of year’s water erosion. This natural attraction is a must-see on any trip. Picture overhanging canyon walls, waterfalls, deep pools of Johnston Creek and lush forests and you may come close to just how beautiful it really is. The canyon is suitable for families and people of all fitness levels and ages. It is accessible via smooth trails and catwalks from the northern end of the parking lot behind Johnston Canyon Lodge.
Trails to the lower falls are both stroller and wheelchair accessible, the trails to the upper falls are little steeper and include a few steps. Start your trail to the lower falls through the forest before walking alongside the creek on catwalks and up into the canyon. At an easy pace you can expect to reach the lower falls in roughly 30 minutes. Make sure you go through the short tunnel to Canyon Rock where the viewing platform just a few metres from the falls. Be aware you may get misted by the water so make sure you take a waterproof just in case!
As mentioned, the trails to the upper falls are a little steeper, continuing on from lower falls you will climb through forest and out of the lower canyon. Prepare for this to take around an hour as you reach a total of 120m. The upper fall drops a total of 40m into a deep pool below, and here you have two viewing platforms to choose from. One overlooks the bottom of the falls and the second is accessed by a slightly steeper trail to a platform overhanging the gorge. From here you can see the top of the falls. If you wish to still continue and enjoy a longer, quieter hike, follow the trail to ink pots. These seven green coloured mineral springs are located in open meadow roughly two miles from the upper falls.
As the snow starts to fall, Johnson Canyon brings a whole new experience. As winter draws in the upper falls freeze and make for excellent beginner and advanced ice climbing. Guided tours are available which provide all the equipment for a safe climb. It is said that the most peaceful time to visit is during spring and fall where you can make use of the long summer days, early mornings and mid-evenings.
8.7 miles out of Lake Louise you will find this striking glacier fed lake. If you visit in the summer months, the stunning turquoise water of Moraine Lake will be an ever-lasting memory. Surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and rock piles, the vivid shade of turquoise intensifies during the summer (around late June) as the glaciers melt.
There are several hikes available, even accessible walks, however, hiking restrictions apply during times of high grizzly bear activity whom roam many of the trails in the Moraine Lake area. Explore The Rockpile Trail, Moraine Lake Lakeshore Trail, Eiffel Lake, Wenkchemna Pass, Larch Valley, or Sentinel Pass. In the fall the rich autumn shades paint a surreal backdrop to your hike.
Like most places in the Canadian Rockies come winter it’s a skiers haven. Enjoy a 9.3 mile cross country adventure with tracks set to end at Consolation Valley and Ten Peaks. Access to the lake itself is not permitted during the winter months due to high avalanche risk from November to late April.
A mere three minutes from Banff, Lake Minnewanka is a large glacial lake that spans 13 miles and an astonishing 466 feet deep. It is the only lake situated in Banff National Park that allows limited use of power boats and it also one of the best places to spot the Northern Lights.
Enjoy a boat cruise to Devils Gap or discover the submerged village of Minnewanka Landing and the most recent dam by scuba diving 60 feet below the surface of the lake. Alternatively, hike the Lake Minnewanka to Devils Gap trail - a great trail during early and late season. For the cyclists, cycle the Lake Minnewanka trail along the shoreline on narrow rolling, single tracks which also has several technical sections. The trail is closed from July 10 to Sept 15 to reduce the risk of wildlife encounters. An angler’s paradise, the lake is full of trophy size lake trout, rocky mountain whitefish, and lake whitefish.
In the winter grab your cross country skis or snowshoes and follow the Cascade Trail, which is groomed regularly and runs 8.7 miles each way.
At Lake Minnewanka you can picnic, mountain bike, hike, canoe, dive, or snow shoe for the most memorable experience.
A popular spot for locals to escape the liveliness of Banff, Vermilion Lakes is situated in the Bow Valley. Due to its distance from Banff town it is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise or sunset whilst admiring the wildlife. It is also easily accessible by walking, cycling, or driving.
Views of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain set the scene to spend a relaxing day around the shores of Vermilion Lakes. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard along the meandering waters of Echo creek and forty mile creek into the stunning Vermilion Lakes.
In the summer (or winter) months pack a picnic, take a blanket and some warm clothes and watch as the sky changes colours. In the winter you may even be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights dancing in the dark night’s sky. Stretch your legs and loop through marshlands near the lakes on the 1.2 mile Fenland Trail. On this well-groomed gravel and boardwalk trail walk through white spruce forests, spot wildlife such as moose, elk, beavers, bears, and a variety of bird species.
Whether you paddle the serene waterways, explore leisurely trails, spot the Northern Lights or see the frozen shapes in the icy lake, you will never forget your time spent here.