We’ve been excited for our visit to Banff for a while now. Known for its abundance of beautiful, glacial lakes and astounding scenery, it’s a nature lover’s paradise.
By no means is it an ‘off the beaten track’ destination, as the busloads of tourists will attest. However, with the variety of activities and trails around, you’ll hopefully enjoy some outdoor goodness away from the crowds.
Lake Louise is really popular. So much so that during the summer, there is an overflow parking lot and shuttle service a few miles up the street to accommodate all the visitors. The shuttle also makes drop-offs at the small Lake Louise village. However, as of our recent visit, the shuttles don’t run to Lake Moraine.
If you want to stretch your legs, a good way to do it is with a hike to the Lake Agnes teahouse. The trailhead starts just past the Fairmont hotel on Lake Louise. It’s a moderately strenuous hike that’s mainly uphill for roughly 3 miles roundtrip. The reward is relaxing by Lake Agnes and enjoying some tea and snacks at the busy teahouse.
Tip: bring cash if you plan on purchasing anything at the teahouse. There’s no electricity, so no access to card machines up there. This also means no cold drinks. While enjoying a pot of tea was nice, we don’t recommend the lukewarm, $3 CAD dixie cup lemonade sans ice. 😖
Johnston Canyon/Bow Valley Parkway
The 51-km long Bow Valley Parkway parallels Hwy 1 between Banff and Lake Louise. Jump on the Parkway for a windy, picturesque drive and to access Johnston Canyon. There’s also a few trails here and a little shack where you can enjoy a pre- or post- hike ice cream, pastry or coffee.
Access to the lake is off a spur road on the way to Lake Louise. Parking here is extremely limited as the lot is small and has spaces only marked for cars. You’ll often find people parking by just barely pulling off to the side of the one-lane street. There is a section for RVs but only a handful of vehicles can be accommodated there. Additionally, unless you arrive early in the morning (before 8am) or in the afternoon (after 3 or 4pm) in the summer, the spur road will likely be closed off to you.
Picture perfect Peyto Lake (say that three times fast!), located off Hwy 93, is roughly one hour from Banff. Parking is limited but you can improve your chances by visiting early morning or later in the afternoon.
A short but moderately steep hike takes you to the lookout area with sweeping views of the lake below:
Bow Lake is also on Hwy 93 and is situated on the way to Peyto Lake (if traveling from Banff) so it’s easy to knock both off your list at once.
Town of Banff
Banff wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be a slightly sleepy, ski lodge type town. Instead, it’s better described as an energetic town with lots of shopping, restaurants and people watching. But crowds aside, I really liked it! What’s more, the streets had cute animal names like Bear, Moose and Beaver street. 😁
While there, we indulged in some good food and sweet treats – Masala indian restaurant , Tooloulou’s creole cuisine, and SaltLik steak house were some stand outs. We then balanced that out with some fun horseback riding along the Spray River and canoeing along the Bow River.
Canoes can be rented from the Canoe Club for $40 CAD/hour. The prices are much more palatable than the highly inflated prices you’ll find for rentals at Lake Louise or Lake Moraine (shouldn’t you get to keep the canoe at those rates?). However, they’re sticklers for returning the canoe right on time and will charge you for each minute increment you’re over the time limit. 😕
And these cuties…😍 mama and baby!
RV/Oversized vehicle parking: We camped at Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court campground, which is less than a 10-minute drive away from Banff Town. It’s not easy to walk into town from the campground however, as the road leading into town is steep. However, there is a shuttle (fee) that you can catch from the campground to various parts in the city.
The campground itself was clean and we enjoyed full hookups. There are also clean restrooms and showers. Reservations can be made in advance online.