ONE OF CANADA’S MOST BEAUTIFUL NATIONAL PARKS

WHAT TO DO IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK? MY JOURNEY

Before I talk about what to do in Banff National Park, I’ll talk about logistics. If you are staying several days in Canadian national parks, it is worth buying a discovery pass. It is possible to buy them directly at the entrances to the national parks.

MORAINE LAKE

Sunrise at Moraine lake

Sunrise at Moraine lake

Sunrise at Moraine lake

Moraine Lake

Sunrise at Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Bear at the Moraine Lake parking

Consolations lakes

Consolations lakes

We start with the most beautiful place in the national park, Moraine Lake. I think you could see it in the photos, it is a real natural beauty! I was so excited to see this with my own eyes! And once in front, I said to myself that my dream was really coming true. It’s breathtaking !
But getting there is a little more complicated than you might think. I’ll talk about when I was there but I really advise you to go to the Banff tourist office and ask them at what time the parking lot is full. When I was there, they told me 4am, and they hadn’t lied to me. The two times I went there, I was there at 3.45am, and I was clearly not the only one. I know, waking up is hard, but the reward will quickly give you energy. The proof, I did this madness twice… Be careful, if the car park is full, you will hardly be able to go there. You will have to park further and potentially take the shuttles. Check the times as it can change from year to year but I’m not sure they arrived in time for sunrise. Once you are in the parking lot, there is no charge, you can stay there as long as you want.
From the parking lot, take the stairs that go to a slightly elevated view. Instead of going right where everyone is going, I advise you to go left. You will have no one in front of you from the platform where you will be, and it is one of the most complete views you can have of the lake and the mountains. It’s is five minutes to arrive at the location. And now, all you have to do is wait for the sunrise to leave an orange light on the mountains and reveal the colors of the lake. A show that I will never forget, it’s magnificent! This place is part of one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen so far (even if the one in Rocky Mountain National Park was also super beautiful).
Once the sun is up, go for a walk around the lake via the trail they call the Moraine Lake Shoreline, which is a fairly short hike of about an hour round trip. You will have different points of view on the lake, until you arrive at a small waterfall. If you are there in the morning, you can see the mountains reflecting on the lake.
One hike I did with some friends I met on the road was the hike to Consolation Lakes. I am going to tell you about experience because in reality we got completely lost and I want to avoid the same thing for you. When we were there, they advised to be 4 minimum to do the hike. They say it is by law. I have never been checked but this signal is still to be taken very seriously. Because if they say so, you have a one in two chance of encountering a bear on your way (believe my experience). So be equipped in case of encounter! The path to get to the lakes is very simple, 6 km there and back with a little difference in altitude (329 m). You arrive on the view of the first lake with the huge mountains! Then this is where things got complicated for us. On Maps.me, there was a path that indicated that we could continue and go around the two lakes. Mistake… There are no marked trails. We went as far as seeing the second lake. The passage between the two lakes gives magnificent views! The path to get there is just huge rocks, so be prepared. Once there, I advise you to turn around by the same path as we went around the first lake. And there again, big mistake… We crossed forests, no paths, muddy places, to end up having to cross the river and return to our starting point of the first lake. So it’s up to you, but I advise you to go only as far as the passage between the first and the second lake, then come back by the same path. If you do that, count a good 2 to 3 hours.
LAKE LOUISE

Sunrise at Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Big Beehive

Lake Agnes

Lake Louise

Plain of Six Glaciers

Palace of fine arts

Lake Louise

The second most beautiful place in Banff National Park (and also very popular) is Lake Louise. Same as for Moraine Lake, ask the tourist office what time to arrive before the parking lot is full. When I was there, you had to arrive before 7am. Same as Moraine Lake, if the parking lot is full, you have to go to another parking lot much further and take the shuttles they offer. It seems to me that you have to reserve the shuttle slots but I’ll let you look at it on the website. Once you arrive at the car park, you have many terminals to pay for your parking by the day. Then head to the lake. It’s five minutes to get there. Then you will see people all over the lake facing the mountain. You will understand, this is where you have to be. Depending on where you prefer the view, you’ll have plenty of space. If you’re taking photos, I recommend picking a spot that allows you to photograph the canoe/kayak hut on the left. The reflection of the light in the lake is super beautiful! Make yourself comfortable, and admire the second most beautiful sunrise in Banff National Park. Sunlight shines directly on the snow-capped mountain. It is absolutely amazing!
Once the sunrise is over, a beautiful hike awaits you. First, go to Lake Agnes which is about an hour’s walk from Lake Louise via the Lake Agnes Trail View Point (7.4 km / 435 m elevation gain). You know you’ve arrived when you see a tea house. There are 2 at Lake Louise. There are 2 small houses without water or electricity, where you can buy food and drink. They go up everything themselves every morning, and go down everything on foot. Honestly, what courage! If you arrive early enough in the morning, you can admire the mirror effect of the lake. It looks nice ! Then, walk along the lake to climb up to the Big Beehive. Be prepared, this part of the hike climbs quite well, and in zig zag (3.5 km / 341 m of elevation gain). But you won’t regret the view up there. Once you have finished the climb, you have a trail on your left that allows you to access different viewpoints on Lake Louise. You can see the color of the lake, turquoise green. It’s incredible ! Then continue the trail to join the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. It is a long hike that gradually climbs. On the hike, during a turn, you have, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful views of the lake. You can see the mountains surrounding the lake with the hotel in the background. It’s very beautiful ! After, you arrive at the second tea house. Continue your way to go to the glacier. The views are incredible, you are surrounded by several peaks with eternal snow. That’s wonderful ! If you are patient, go at the end of the road and wait a bit. You will be able to hear and observe snowfall from the glacier. It is impressive to see! Then, return to Lake Louise. You will arrive on a clay beach. After a good hike like this, it feels so good to be able to dip your feet in the water, which is very cold though! Admire the lake with the hotel at the end, and return by the path that runs along the lake to the car park. This whole hike took me 4 hours overall, but that’s without the breaks. A very nice hike that I recommend.

Parking price for a day at Lake Louise: CA$12.25 / €9.30

JOHNSTON CANYON & BOW VALLEY

Johnston Canyon

Upper falls

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon

Morant’s Curve

Ink Pots

To get to the Johnston Canyon trail you have to drive through the Bow Valley. You ride in the middle of the forest with a view of the mountains. It is a very nice road where you can see some animals, and where you can stop at several places to take pictures. A stop that I advise you to do is the Morant’s Curve. From this point of view, you can admire the curve of the river with the railway line that runs along the river. It’s quite pretty. And if you have a little luck, a train can pass there. But you need patience, you will not be able to know the train schedules in advance. They run every 30 minutes but sometimes every hour or more.
Then head for the Johnston Canyon trail which is a popular hike for tourists. Definitely recommend going early because the hike is on a very narrow walkway. And with people, it’s not pleasant. It’s quite simple in terms of the trail, there is a path to follow of 11.7 km and 608 m of elevation if you go to the Ink Pots. The first part of the hike runs along Johnston Creek all the way to Upper Falls. Most visitors stop at the Lower falls which are very impressive, but continue to the Upper falls which is even more impressive! It is a large waterfall that you can admire from the top. That’s wonderful! On the way, you can see several beautiful waterfalls. It was a hike that I really enjoyed! After the last waterfall, continue the path to go to the Ink Pots. This one is in the forest until suddenly arriving on a super beautiful point of view. Then you can observe the natural phenomenon of the Ink Pots. These are actually several small sources of protected water (you cannot swim) with different colors (blue, green…). If you look closely in these springs, you will be able to see moving sand circles. I thought it was super cool to see. Once you have seen these sources, turn around to return to the parking lot by the same path. The hike took me about 3 hours in total.
TOWN OF BANFF

On the way to Sundance Canyon

View from Mount Sulphur

On the way to Sundance Canyon

Surprise Corner Viewpoint

Morant’s Curve

Banff Avenue

In the summer, it is difficult to park in the town of Banff without paying. So they set up a large car park near the station, free and possible to stay there for a certain number of hours. It is very close to the city center, so it is super convenient. My favorite street in town is obviously Banff Avenue. The main street with lots of shops and restaurants. From this street, you can observe the snow-capped mountains. It’s so beautiful ! The city has a lot of charm, wooden or stone facades. A great atmosphere, and pleasant to walk around. Another place I like in the town of Banff is the surprise corner viewpoint where you can admire the Fairmont Banff hotel. This is the most beautiful view of the hotel!
Not far from downtown, you have the Cave and Basin Natural Historic. You can go there by car, parking is free. I still advise you to go there around the opening because when I left, the parking lot was almost full. The Cave and Basin aren’t very impressive to be honest, and have a bit of an unbearable smell. But what is good about this place is that you discover that it is the cradle of Canadian national parks! There is a nice interesting exhibit on the history of Canadian national parks. They also tell the story of the place itself, which was before a swimming pool open to the public, closed because of the fragility of the terrain. I really recommend you to visit the place for its explanations. If you have the Discovery Pass, admission is free. An hour will be enough for you to go around the place.
If you have a little time, you can continue your walk in the area by going to Sundance Canyon (8 km / 145 m drop). If this is your first time in Banff National Park, I recommend that you start with this hike which will give you a nice little warm-up for the rest. The trail runs along the river, it’s super pretty. In one place we even see 2 different colors of the river intersect, with a view of the mountains not far away. Then, the canyon is very pretty! A beautiful waterfall surrounded by large rocky cliffs. Came back via March Loop on the way back, but not really worth it. The path was very muddy and the views aren’t the greatest from this trail.
The view from the top of Mount Sulfur is a great view of Banff. You can go up by the cable car, but the prices are exorbitant! If you are in good physical condition, walk up and down, it is a 10.9 km / 756 m hike. I’m not going to lie to you that the climb is not easy but you will be happy with the view you have up there! A beautiful view of the river, a lake in the distance, and the town of Banff. Honestly, it’s very pretty. There is also a platform with exhibits about Swiss mountaineers and animals from the region. Yes, you read correctly, about the Swiss mountaineers, because they were the first to climb 50 / 56 peaks over 3,000m in Canada before 1911. They are part of the history of these national parks, it is very interesting to discover. The hike in total will take you about 3 hours depending on your pace. I have a friend who did it in 4 hours.
OTHER LAKES

Sunset at Two Jack Lake

Lake Minnewanka

Sunrise at Two Jack Lake

Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake

Boom Lake

There are so many lakes in Banff National Park, I haven’t done them all. But here are 3 other lakes that I saw during my stay.
Two Jack Lake which is a lake to do at sunset and sunrise. The reflection of the mountain on the lake is absolutely incredible! As well as the colors that are projected on the mountain. It’s very beautiful!
Didn’t go around Lake Minnewanka, but did a couple of viewpoints by car which are super nice. My friends did the hike along the lake and they didn’t find it terrible in terms of the views. Up to you.
Johnson Lake is one of the first lakes I saw in the area. I started around 7.30am to get that beautiful reflection of the mountain in the lake. And I got it. There weren’t many people around at that time. I recommend doing the hike counter clockwise, it’s very pretty. The trail is very easy, about 1 hour for 3.2 km and 74 m of elevation gain, most of the time you are in a forest that runs along the lake. Very nice to start the visit of Banff National Park.
Boom Lake is a very nice lake to see as well. You have a parking lot at the beginning of the hike, which is not very big but I was there on the weekend, in July, around 11am and there was still plenty of room. It is not necessarily full. The 10.8 km / 604 m elevation hike is essentially through a forest. And then suddenly you arrive on this huge lake with mountains on the edge of this lake. That’s wonderful! Honestly it’s perfect for a lunch break because the view is incredible and there isn’t really a path to go around the lake, well I didn’t see any. So you might as well take advantage of it and stay a little while in this place. The hike takes about 1h30 and is not complicated to do.

Even after seeing incredible national parks in the United States, Banff National Park surprised me with its breathtaking beauty. The lakes and canyons are so beautiful! And there are so many hikes to do to discover the park. It’s incredible ! It is for me an unmissable in Canada.

WHEN TO GO?

I was at Banff National Park around early July. I had a day or two of rain but otherwise the weather was great. Sometimes a little cloudy but much less than in Grand Teton National Park.

Jan Feb March Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
OK OK OK OK
HOW LONG?

It’s really hard to define. It all depends on what you are doing and your physical condition. If you like nature and hiking, I will say that in a week you can see the most beautiful hikes in the national park, as well as enjoy the city. But quite honestly, I think there is plenty to do for two weeks if you want to visit a bit more than just the main points.

WHERE TO SLEEP? MY ACCOMMODATION

TWO JACK MAIN CAMPGROUND
Lake Minnewanka Scenic Dr,
Alberta T0L 2C0, Canada
Price : $ CA 26,20 – €20,30 / person / night for a campsite without fire.
Click here to book for a night

A very good campsite with sanitary facilities. The pitches are in the middle of the forest.

TUNNEL MOUNTAIN VILLAGE 1
Tunnel Mountain Rd,
Banff, AB T0L 2C0, Canada
Price : $ CA 34 – €26 / person / night for a campsite without fire.
Click here to book for a night.

A campsite without sanitary facilities, also in the middle of the forest. Very well.

Little tip, some campsites display different prices depending on the location. This is usually due to the fact that they offer pitches with or without the possibility of making a fire. For most campsites you have a building where you can put wood and cook pots for free. In addition, if you have a location where it is possible to make a fire, be aware that you will have to pay for a fire permit in addition.
If you are a little late for your reservations and there are no campsites available on the exact dates you want, on the site to reserve campsites, you can say that you do not mind changing campsite during the dates selected. The site will then direct you to other free slots. It’s very well done !

MY 3 TIPS TO VISIT BANFF NATIONAL PARK
  • Go to the tourist office to ask what time the parking lots at Lake Louise and Moraine are full.
  • Bring bear spray as there are plenty in the area, and sometimes very close to the trails.
  • I really advise you to do the sunrises in the region, it is for me the most beautiful moment of the day there.
  • And as a bonus: start with Lake Louise and then Moraine Lake, otherwise you may be disappointed by the Lake Louise sunrise.

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