Rough Draft: Banff and Jasper National Park
Due to the COVID quarantine, I am creating rough draft, “off the shelf” travel itineraries for when travel resumes normal operations so we do not waste any time getting out and exploring!
One of the biggest request from you guys was itineraries for visiting the National Parks which happened to be one of my 2020 goals. This may have to be a 2021 goal as I think everyone (EVERYONE) will be flocking to National Parks as a post-COVID escape plan. Many of the photographers we traveled with on our storm chasing trip frequent the country’s National Parks capturing unbelievable pictures and they could not speak more highly about visiting these areas. I have not hit many of the iconic National Parks so I will be taking the next couple itineraries to discovery them.
Now access to these parks would be dependent on Canada opening borders but hey, I am hopeful for 2021. Banff has been quite a trendy destination in recent years and in researching this national park, it is easy to see why. Enormous mountains of the Canadian Rockies surround the small town of Banff, creating endless hiking options and beautiful glacier water lakes. Beyond hiking, there is an opportunity for rock climbing, horseback riding, white water rafting, canoeing, skiing, exploring via ferratas, and hot springs. I noticed that Jasper National Park is very accessible and wondered why so many stop at Banff. There is just as much to see and do here as well. If I am going to travel all the way to Alberta, Canada, might as well make a week of it!
When to visit
The window of opportunity for “perfect” weather is quite small. While these parks can be a winter destination, you have to be prepared that many trails will be inaccessible, lakes will be frozen, and the snow will be plentiful – perfect for winter sports! Even into the spring, there is no guarantee the snow will be gone even by April. Peak season for weather and unfortunately high price tags and crowds is June to and August. The spring shoulder season can be unpredictable with snow remaining and lake still frozen, but the fall shoulder season into September and early October provide a nice alternative. Though from what I am reading, crowds are increasing the the fall as well due to the popularity of the parks. The fall also brings change of season cool air and the leaves change color, making for some wonderful scenery.
How to get there
You are going to want a car to get around the park and potentially to get to the park itself, especially if you do more than one park of add a city destination. Flying into Calgary seems like the easiest option as Banff is under a 2 hour drive from there. From downtown Banff, Lake Louise is just under an hour drive. From Lake Louise, Jasper is a 3 hour drive but there are many stops along that drive known as the Icefield Parkway.
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Where to stay
There are a few options here depending on how you are traveling. From campsites to lodging and many Airbnbs in between there are plenty of options. But booking in advance is important as this is a very popular park to visit. If concentrating on Banff, the town of Canmore came recommended for affordable accommodations. I am very tempted to rent an RV and make it a real nature immersion.
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How much does it cost
The price structure for these Canadian parks is a bit different than the US National Parks as the charge is done by day. It is a $10 fee per person per day, $20 for a family/group car load so you definitely get a bargain if you are traveling with more than two people. There is also the option of purchasing a Discovery Pass for $70 a person that permits access to over 80 Canadian parks for a year. For Kevin and I, we may consider the Discovery Pass since it would cost the same for a 7 day trip!
What are the trails
Let’s review the most popular trail options at both Banff and Jasper National Parks. Unlike other parks, the more popular hikes here are on the longer side so pack a good pair of hiking shoes and a pack for the multiple trails.
- Ha Ling Tail – 4.5 miles, hard, under 4 hours
- Sulphur Mountain Trail (gondola option but $$) – 6.3 miles, moderate
- Tunnel Mountain Trail – 2.8 miles, moderate
- Sunshine Meadows (gondola option but $$)
- Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots- 7.3 miles, moderate, 3 hours
- Consolation Lakes Trail – 3.6 miles, easy, under 2 hours
Banff – Lake Louise Area
- I separated this out because this portion of the park is quite far away from central Banff and many travelers doing a similar itinerary split the trip into these three parts.
- Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley – 6.8 miles, hard, under 5 hours
- Plain of Six Glaciers – 9.1 miles, moderate, under 4 hours
- The Beehive/Lake Agnes – 8.2 miles, moderate, combination of trails but Big Beehive is where reward is, under 5 hours
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Herbert Lake
- Emerald Lake
- Bow Summit and Peyto Lake – 4.1 miles, moderate
- Wilcox Pass Trail – 5.8 miles, moderate, under 4 hours
- Bald Hills Trail – 9.3 miles, moderate
- Valley of the Five Lakes – 3 miles, easy
- Maligne Canyon Trail – 2.1 miles, moderate, under 2 hours
- Sulphur Skyline Trail – 4.8 miles, moderate, 5 hours
- Edith Cavell Meadows, Cavell Meadows Summit via the Cavell Meadows Trail – 5.3 miles, moderate, under 3 hours
- Edge of the world hike – 1 mile, easy, under 30 min
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Waterfowl Lake
- Medicine Lake
- Patricia Lake / Pyramid Lake
- Crowfoot Glacier
- Athabasca Glacier
- Athabasca Falls
- Columbia Icefield Skywalk
- Sunwapta Falls
It is very easy to shorten or extend this trip. You can take either national park on its own, add time in the cities of Calgary or Edmonton , or road trip beyond this area altogether. Honestly, it did not look very far from Glacier National Park, perhaps rent an RV and take all three parks for an adventure.
Based on the duration of the hikes and the proximity to each other, here is how I would structure a 7 day itinerary. For us, we would most likely be flying into Calgary and renting a car for the week.
|Day 0||Afternoon||Arrive in Banff|
|Evening||Sunset at Two Jake Lake / Lake Minnewanka|
|Day 1||Morning||Johnston Canyon / Ink Pots Trail (7.3 miles)|
|Afternoon||Via Ferrata at Mt Norquay|
|Evening||Bows Fall Viewpoint|
Sunset at Sulphur Mountain (hike or gondola)
|Day 2||Morning||Lake Moraine and Rockpile|
12 miles, 6 hours, difficult
Route: Larch Valley – Sentinel Pass –
Eiffel Lake – Lake Shore
|Afternoon||Lake Moraine and Rockpile|
|Day 3||Morning||Lake Louise and Trails|
12 miles, 6 hours, difficult
Route: Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail – Big Beehive –
Little Beehive – Plain of Six Glaciers – Teahouse –
Lake Louise Lakeshore
|Afternoon||Canoe on Lake Louie|
|Day 4||Morning||White water rafting|
|Day 5||Morning||Drive IceFields Parkway|
– Crowfoot Glacier
– Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Hike (4.1 miles)
– Waterfowl Lake
|Afternoon||– Columbia Icefield Skywalk|
– Athabasca Glacier (ice walk tour)
|Evening||– Sunwapta Falls|
– Athabasca Falls
|Day 6||Morning||Sulphur Skyline Trail|
4.8 miles, moderate, 5 hours
|Afternoon||Maligne Canyon Trail|
2.1 miles, moderate, under 2 hours
|Evening||Jasper Planetarium and Dark Sky Telescope|
|Day 7||Morning||Edith Cavell Meadows|
5.3 miles, moderate, under 3 hours
|Afternoon||Valley of the Five Lakes |
3 miles, easy, under 2 hours
I wouldn’t necessary commit to doing the trails in this order. You could even do the entire thing in reverse or mix and match as you see fit. I also would not want to commit to the longer trails on the last day of the trip cause I would be stressed out about missing the flight in case it is a bad hiking day and it takes longer to complete. Don’t want to cram so many long trails into the days and would rather chill at the hot spring? Change it up! There are lots of shorter trails that can be completed as well, as well as several gondolas that can transport you for a fee to panoramic views. And do not forget to check the National Park website frequently as the trail status can change – trails (even before COVID) can close for maintenance.
I did not include a food section in the itinerary because most of the food here is trail snacks and lots of water! Stop by a grocery store to stock up for hiking. There does look to be a ton of great places to grab coffee, ice cream, and dinner!
If you have been to Banff or Jasper National Parks, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are!
We actually got to visiting Banff National Park in 2022 – read all about our trip here!
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