Banff National Park – Alberta, Canada
A visit to Banff National park has been high on our travel list. When we visited Glacier National Park I even considered driving from Montana to Banff – the same mountain range five hours away. I even made a rough draft itinerary for it during the pandemic quarantine period. When my cousin mentioned wanted to visit Banff, we threw it on the calendar for Labor Day weekend 2022 and committed.
After five days in Vancouver, we arrived super late Wednesday night and we were pretty surprised how jam packed the Calgary airport was this late at night. Since the visiting window is very short for visiting Banff, it is so important to solidify all bookings very far in advance. We grabbed our car rental and drove an hour and twenty minutes to the town of Canmore where we were staying for the next several days.
Our Airbnb was very cute and comfortable. Since we was dark when we arrived, it was very hard to tell anything about our surrounds. Once morning came, we were able to see the mountains all around us and that we were located inside a large shopping plaza which ended up being super convenient to simply walk to the store and pick something up. We were also a five minute walk to the downtown area of Canmore. Two thumbs up for this Airbnb!
Exhausted, we settled in and prepared for our first day in Banff.
Today we had a pretty epic adventure planned – our first time doing a via ferrata. Via ferrata means “way of iron” in Italian and is a system of rungs, ladders, and cables that allow you to climb a mountain while carabineer’ed in. A popular alternative is to take the gondola in downtown Banff to the top of the mountain for an amazing view but that just isn’t our style. To the Mt Norquay via ferrata we go.
Read about our insane experience climbing the Mt Norquay Via Ferrata here!
After an incredible adventure, we were starving. We took the opportunity to explore Banff itself. We parked and immediately adored this town. The woodsy aesthetic of the store fronts with the mountains looming in the background – I can only imagine how beautiful this is in the wintertime.
We headed to Three Bears Brewery for victory drinks and food. The space was huge and we really liked how open it was – there was a freaking tree carved out to make space on the second floor. Everyone enjoyed their drinks and food – definitely recommend.
Since we did not know if we would have another chance to visit Banff with our jam packed itinerary, we did a lap around the stores as some people purchased souvenirs and others grabbed Beaver Tails. Can you guess which group I was in?
Happy and full, we made our way back to Canmore. We made a pit stop in our complex at the Save-On-Foods for our groceries. I put in the order online for pick up to avoid spending a chuck of time wandering around the stores to shop for a large group of people on a multiple day trip. Pros were that it was ready to go and loaded up in no time with the majority of the work done before we even left for the trip. The con was that I got way too much food – it is hard to tell volume online but luckily, they were super great about returns. There were also quite a number of substitutions – some works, and some did not. Overall I was definitely happy we did this and would recommend and do it again. Thank goodness the grocery store was literally around the corner from our place.
After organizing all the food, we made our lunches and packed our bags from the morning since we had such an early morning tomorrow. We were also exhausted after such an exhilarating and physical day so an early bed time was both necessary and welcomed.
There are two main lakes where all those beautiful Banff National Park photos are taken and where the major hiking is in the park – Lake Moraine and lake Louise. Since we were visiting these two popular spots on a Friday and a Saturday, we figured we would visit the lake with the tougher parking situation Friday. While both lakes have difficult parking situations, Lake Moraine is significantly more difficult due to the smaller parking lot so we decided to go there. Lake Moraine parking lots fills up as early as 5AM during peak times so we determined we were not visiting at the peak time so arriving by 5AM should be ok. We woke up at 3AM and were out the door before 4AM for the hour drive to Lake Moraine.
The one benefit of being awake at this time was the insane view of the stars we had on this clear morning – it was just jaw dropping how many stars we could see including the Milky Way and planets as well. We passed so few cars on our drive so I was not worried about our prospects for parking.
And then as we made our way to Lake Moraine, the sign flashed that the parking lot was full. It was blowing my mind – how was that possible? It was before 5AM and there were no other cars in the area. We were baffled and continued to drive to the nearby Lake Louise parking lot to figure out the plan.
Upon further Googling, people were reporting that Lake Moraine parking lot contains 150 parking spots and has been filling up at 330AM – I could hardly process this information- how and why was this happening? Apparently, the sunrise here is very nice so people literally drive in the middle of the night, sleep in the car, and steak out spots for sunrise, then leave. It was infuriating to learn this since we actually wanted to hike around the area and people who just wanted a photo were holding those spots hostage.
I then turned to other options – how the heck were we going to get to Lake Moraine? It was a three hour walk from the Lake Louise parking lot to Lake Moraine so that was not an option. There is a shuttle that goes from a nearby ski resort to Lake Moraine but you need to reserve it ($8 CAD a person) and not surprising, those time slots were all booked for the rest of the duration of our trip. I read that they do release a small group of tickets 48 hours ahead so our best bet was the trip for the Sunday morning tickets. I waited for 630AM to roll around and when I checked for Sunday at 630AM, nothing happened.
I did not want to delay at Lake Louise any more and since Lake Louise was on our itinerary anyway, we decided to do all the hiking trails here for the day. Surprisingly, the parking lots here were still very available even at 7AM. It is just odd how disproportionate the parking varies between Lake Moraine and Lake Louise. It really must be because of the sunrise at Lake Moraine – I cannot think of any other reason!
Anyway, after a very eventful and equally uneventful morning so far, we walked over to Lake Louise and instantly the mood changed. We could not get over how beautiful it was! While it was still a bit dark, we were able to sneak through the crowd and grab a few photos before starting on our trails for the day.
After getting our fill of photos here, we continued on and got ready to start our journey hiking around Lake Louise.
Read about of adventure hiking the Lake Louise Trails here!
Happy and exhausted, we drove back to Canmore to enjoy showering and more food. Kevin and I made pasta for the group and we carb loaded up. We relaxed before all heading to bed early after waking up at 3AM and hiking 15 miles.
In the spirit of spacing out our big hiking days, today was a more relaxed day. We slept in a bit, had breakfast, and left Canmore around 8AM. Today we were leading to Bow Lake and Peyto Lake. After such a magical day yesterday, it was hard to tell if other parts of Banff National Park would be as impressive.
Read about our day explore Bow Lake and Peyto Lake here!
What a great day exploring these lakes I am so happy we made it here. After driving back to Canmore, we celebrated another successful day at Banff National Park at Canmore Brewing Company. This brewery is very well rated and everyone enjoyed their craft beers. It was a great spot to relax and they had food trucks as well.
For dinner, we made tacos at the Airbnb and enjoyed another low key evening relaxing. We had another big day tomorrow – we were finally getting to see Lake Moraine.
After failing on Friday to get parking at Lake Moraine, we were lucky to be able to secure bus shuttle reservations from the Lake Louise ski resort to Lake Moraine at the 48 hour before drop of spots. Our bus time was for 8AM. The confirmation email suggest arriving a half hour early since you have to check in and get the physical tickets and there are lines both for that and the bus itself.
There was still plenty of parking at our arrival and as I dashed out of the car to get in line for our tickets, not only were there no line but there was a sign with a phone number for getting reservation spots. The people that walked up to the booth before me had no reservations – the staff told them to call the number and get any reservation time for today and that they would issue them to tickets for now. After all the stressing Friday morning, this was all we had to do?! Now, I can’t say this is the experience every time cause the website was explicit in the rules that these guys seemed to throw out the window but wow. I stepped up with my confirmation code and was issued a card for the bus.
There were two bus lines – one going to Lake Moraine and the other going to Lake Louise so we got in the Lake Moraine line and waited about twenty minutes for the bus to load us up and depart. It was a 25 minute drive to the parking lot of Lake Moraine and there was something satisfying watching the guard move the barricade to let us though. It was time to explore Lake Moraine!
Read about our day hiking around Lake Moraine here!
Another trail of beautiful views! We hopped on the bus and headed back to the ski resort where we hung out for a bit. I can’t imagine what it is like to be here at wintertime in this log cabin of a ski resort.
Since it was our final evening, we went out in downtown Canmore exploring the streets and shops, having dinner (we went to Graze), and of course ice cream (Lovely Ice Cream). I wish we had more time to enjoy this area it was so well designed and we just wanted to see everything.
And then our time came to a close, we did our final load of laundry, we packed up, and cleaned up the Airbnb since we had a very early flight in the morning. With an hour and a half drive from the airport for a 630AM flight, it was a bit of a bear leaving around 330AM. Early bed it was on our final Banff sleep.
Wow, Banff National Park was on our list for awhile and it definitely delivered. The views are unbelievable and it is impossible to take a bad photo – it hardly looks real in real life! There is so much to do in and around this area that we did not even have time to consider – horseback riding, river rafting, more time to explore the towns, driving the Icefield Parkway, and countless number of trails in the area that we simply did not have time for with four days. The majesty of Banff National Park certainly captured our attention and I cannot wait to go back and explore more.