Now you may be saying, there’s no Banff National Park in the U.S., and you’re right! Nick and I hopped over the border this week to visit Banff, which is located Northwest of Calgary.
When thinking about the last four days, I was struggling to come up with something to write about. I think the simple answer is two things happened on this part of our adventure, my expectations were a little too high and we bit off way more than we could chew with just four nights in the park. So here are some of my overall thoughts on our time there:
- Seems like everywhere is on fire! We arrived to Calgary with a blanket of smoke on Saturday and although we were hopeful that maybe the mountains would be better, it turns out the adjacent park to Banff is currently dealing with a fire as well as what seems to be entirely all of British Columbia being on fire! So Banff was blanketed in smoke upon our arrival as well. The allergies weren’t loving it and the views weren’t ideal as we made our way to the northern most section of the park via Icefields Parkway. The road runs from Banff all the way north to Jasper and has some points of interest along the way. Luckily, after staying in Jasper for the first night, we lucked out and the winds must have shifted so we were granted better views as we made our way south our second day. This is a nice Day 1 vs. Day 2 of our stop at Bow Lake. So smoky!
- The towns of Banff and Jasper are beautiful and quaint little mountain towns worth a visit. Our first night we drove all the way north to Jasper which is within Jasper National Park, a park almost double the size of Banff. We quickly discovered in order to truly explore Jasper National Park we’d need a few more days, but alas, we just had the evening and next morning so we found some tasty food and picked out a hike for the morning. Jasper Brewing Company was our pick which gives you great views of the mountains surrounding the town and, of course, some tasty beers!
The next morning we found a popular hike called Valley of the Five Lakes that gave us a bit of hope for enjoying this area now that the sky’s had somewhat cleared. We had a beautiful hike through five lakes, hence the name, before setting off back south towards Banff. Definitely a quick visit to Jasper!
The town of Banff is a little bigger and gave a fun last day in the park to walk around town and enjoy the sights. After exploring their massive farmers market, we walked around the Park’s Administration building which is surrounded by a beautiful garden of flowers and fountains.
The town also gets to enjoy Bow River which runs through town and has large waterfalls to see as you walk down their nature path. Banff was a cool town to explore so I’m glad we had time to spend the day exploring a town this time around too.
- For those ever wanting to find some super nice campgrounds, go to Canada! Although we only experienced three campgrounds while in Canada, all were borderline to be considered “glamping.” Heated bathrooms, showers, kitchen sinks for washing dishes, and reserveable instead of first come campsites…all seem like basic things but not in US national parks, that’s for sure. Feeling fancy for a few days, that’s all!
- Prepare yourself for just a quick rant. I’ll keep it short, I promise. If you go to Banff, prepare for crowds and tourist attractions. My expectations were higher than they should have been, I know, but I was looking for a relaxing time in nature (and we’ve actually been able to experience that even in crowded Grand Teton and Glacier) but between the tour buses, group tours walking around and crazy stressful parking nightmares at the Icefields, it became a little too much to handle. We actually ended up skipping the famous Moraine Lake due to the fact that they close the parking lot when it fills up and requires everyone else to drive to an overflow lot, pay a chunk of change to take a school bus back to the lake in order to see it! It’s a public national park people!! We wanted to spend the morning there so we even arrived at 6:30am and were turned away even though that is the only access points for the hikes we had planned to do that day. My point is, it was a little frustrating to deal with a little bit of unorganized chaos put on by the national park. But maybe we’re just a little spoiled due to the hikes we got to experience in the last two parks. Just prepare yourself, that’s all I’m saying.
All that being said, we still had a good time and we were able to have a great day with no smoke to get in a challenging, long hike around Lake Louise on our 3rd day in Banff. The hike starts at Lake Louise, which fills up quickly, so we arrived bright and early at 7am to be able to see the lake before the crowds started up.
The hike was a 10 mile loop with lots of climbing to three separate viewpoints. Our first climb up was to Mirror Lake and then a small little tea house sitting next to Lake Agnes. The tea house was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway for hiker refuge. Still in great condition, the teahouse is a popular stop for those wanting to catch their breath and grab some tea.
Upon arrival, the tea house was pretty busy so we trekked on and climbed another 1000 or so feet to the top of the Big Beehive. Two viewpoints up above Lake Louise, the Big Beehive was on our way to the next stop so we couldn’t resist trying to catch another good view!
Our last stop on the hike was the area’s second mountain teahouse, and my personal favorite. The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is named for the surrounding glaciers and sits back in the forest so hikers can enjoy some tea, biscuits, and amazing views from the glaciers high in the surrounding mountains. It was such an amazing stop to have on our hike!
Sadly on our last day in Banff, as we explored town, the smoke started to reappear. We definitely lucked out to have just a few days that were more clear and we hope our luck will continue as we head back south towards Yellowstone.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been gone for 16 days already but it is even harder to think Yellowstone will be our last park to explore! I’m sure it will be another memorable park for this adventure!
Until next time,