Our Banff Road Trip, and Tips to Fully Enjoy The Park

Hello everyone! It has been a little while since we have posted an article about our travels and we have some catching up to do. We recently took a two-month road trip through the United States heading up into Alberta, Canada. We had many stops along the way including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but our main plan was to make our way to Banff and Jasper. It was an epic trip and there will be more posts on that coming soon, but in this article, we’re focusing on our Banff road trip and our tips and tricks for having a more enjoyable time there.

Before we get into some of our tips and what we learned during our stay let's talk about how it actually went and what we did on one of my favorite Canada holidays we've taken by far.

The fail, and Bow Lake

You could say our first day in the park was a bit of a fail! Being super excited to see the staples such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, we decided we couldn’t wait to knock those out, so we went for it on the first day. What we didn’t know is that you can’t just go to those lakes whenever you want…
I guess we should have known what we were getting into given that they are a couple of the most famous lakes in the world. As it turns out, the lakes are so busy they close the parking lot and force you to pay for a shuttle up. It didn’t seem like a big deal until we discovered the hour-long wait for each lake!

By this point, we had wasted half the day driving all the way up to the lakes and being turned around only to realize we would have to spend the rest of the day waiting in line just to get a glimpse. It was one of those “not at all what you were expecting” kind of days. After contemplating whether it was worth it or not, we received a great piece of advice from a park ranger. He told us the only way to avoid the crowds and get into the parking lots was to come back in the early morning. We decided to take his advice and save our visit to the lakes for another day.

Still determined to see one of these “legendary” glacial lakes, we decided to drive farther up the icefields parkway and explore around Bow lake for the rest of the day. You can reach the lake right off the main road and it makes for a perfect picnic area. It’s also a great spot to pose for some photos if you’re willing to brave the cold waters like us! I don’t think I’ve ever felt water so cold!

Columbia Icefield, and Ice Explorer

Our next day in Banff went a little smoother. We booked a tour with Glacier Adventures to be taken onto the Athabasca glacier. The whole tour was awesome. They took us out on these monstrous vehicles they called “Ice Explorers”. This thing was easily the size of a school bus, only it sat on what I can only describe as monster truck wheels. The Ice Explorer had no problem getting up and down wild terrain leading up to the glacier, let alone driving on solid ice!

Once on the glacier, everyone rushed out onto the vast (300 foot deep) layer of ice to explore and take photos on their own. We even got to drink water straight from the glacial melt, and let me tell you, it was some of the best water I have ever tasted. Aside from exploring on our own, the guides were all very informative about the Athabasca Glacier and its long history as part of the Colombia icefield. All of that, plus some great wildlife spotting! I think our second day went much smoother!

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

On our last day in Banff, we awoke to the unpleasant sound of our alarm clocks going off at 5am. Reluctantly we crawled out of bed, rubbed the sleep from our eyes and piled into the car. Everything from here on out went much smoother than the first attempt. We pulled right up and parked in one of many open spots and walked up to the lake with only one or two other people in sight. It may have been a little chilly, but it felt so worth it as we watched the sun slowly creep down from the mountain peaks until it lit up the turquoise water of Lake Louise.

Even though Lake Louise is the more notable name, I think I favor Moraine Lake for a few reasons: it is easier to get into even when the park is super busy, the lake is surrounded by much more intense cliffs and the water is a completely different shade of blue. And you can walk along a short path that leads to the top of a hill that provides the perfect view of the lake for photos!

We had an absolutely amazing time exploring Banff national park and I would highly recommend taking the time to get out there if you haven’t already.

Here are some of my tips that might help you out should you decide to make the trip:

Tip #1 Figuring out where to stay

During our research phase of the trip, we quickly discovered how high the prices were and how difficult it was to find a place in Banff so, we opted to stay at a much cheaper Airbnb in Canmore, just outside the park border. I would recommend looking there if prices seem intimidating. It’s about a half an hour extra to drive to the big sights from Canmore, but I think it was well worth the hassle.

Tip #2 Wake up early for Lake Louise

Let’s just say this, I don’t like waking up early. But I would highly recommend getting up just before sunrise and make your way over to Lake Louise. For one, it is the only time you will be able to claim a spot in the parking lot. And there’s nothing quite like watching the sun crawl its way down the mountains and light up the lake.

Tip #3 Keep an eye out for the wildlife

You should keep an eye out for wildlife as well. On our trip, we saw mountain goats, elk, and even bears. We actually had a really close encounter with a bear on one of our hikes. We turned a blind corner and suddenly we were face to face with a huge black bear. The bear then stood up on its hind legs and was easily 7 feet tall. We took the message and backed up nice and slow and lived to tell the tale. But I would advise taking some precautions such as having bear spray with you and making lots of noise when hiking alone. It was an incredible experience, but also pretty terrifying.

Tip #4 The best time for Moraine Lake

As we talked about before, the best time to visit Lake Louise is as early as possible in the morning. What I wanted to mention here was that I think the best time for Moraine Lake is actually the afternoon. The light shines perfectly on the water at that time and creates the stunning deep blue color we all want to see.

Unfortunately, getting into Moraine is quite difficult in the evening because of how crowded it gets. You can take the free shuttle up for Moraine and you might have to wait up to an hour. Or you might be able to get lucky if you wait near the entrance for them to open it. To keep things moving, they open the gate every 20 minutes or so to let just a few cars in. So, you have to be fast but you just might be able to sneak in!

We had an amazing journey to Banff and all the stop along the way. I hope this article was enjoyable and helpful for anyone planning on making the trip themselves. There will be more posts coming soon about some of the other stops we made along our summer road trip!

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