Banff is Canada’s first National Park and with more than 3.5 million visitors annually it is arguably one of Canada’s most popular national parks. With UNESCO World Heritage status and hot spots like Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, The Columbia Icefield and Banff Town I can understand why! It might very well be one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Keeping this in mind, be prepared for bus loads of tourists at the most popular sights! If you’ve got some time up your sleeve and a love for hiking you can hit some of the longer trails and discover the true beauty of this place. Chances are you’ll be sharing the trails with only a handful of other people and possibly some bears…
What can I say? Lying in the valley of 10 peaks this lake will blow your mind with how ridiculously beautiful it is! We visited it a couple of times, once early morning and once late afternoon, anytime outside these times and you’ll find yourself taking in it’s beauty with thousands of other people! There are a number of moderate to difficult hikes starting from the lake but unfortunately when we visited it was peak bear season and you’re not allowed to hike these trails with a group smaller than 4 people, safety in numbers, I totally get it! Ryan and I could have tried to join up with some other people but there were plenty of other hikes in Banff that we were able to do so we decided to save these for another time. We did however complete the easy 700m rockpile trail to get a magnificent view of the lake and some of the 10 peaks that rise up behind it.
We stayed at the HI Hostel Lake Louise which is the perfect location for exploring Banff National Park… as long as you have a car, if you don’t have a car it’s probably not the easiest place to get around because its huge! So I definitely recommend hiring a car. We visited Lake Louise itself on a number of occasions because 1. it’s beautiful, 2. a few of the trails we’d chosen started from here and 3. I just liked spending time there! We spent time wandering the lakes edge absorbing the magic of this place.
Lying on Lake Louise is the infamous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. This iconic hotel was established in 1890, it was originally a summer cabin reserved for outdoor enthusiasts and mountaineers. Now a days it’s a luxury mountain resort and Ryan and I couldn’t resist splurging to spend our final night living like royalty! It costs about the same as 5 nights in a hostel but it was worth every cent and after a solid 10 days hiking and exploring we decided we’d earnt ourselves a bit of luxury. We were served by a lovely fellow aussie as we checked in and when we mentioned we planned to go canoeing on the lake that afternoon she gave us a voucher to do it for free! It was supposed to cost $80!! I think I can safely say the bed was the comfiest I slept in in my whole year of travel, with the Maldives coming in at a close second of course.
Mount Fairview Lookout Trail (2 km return + 100m elevation gain – easy)
Starting from the Lake Louise carpark this short, steep trail took us to fantastic vantage point overlooking Fairmont Chateau and Lake Louise, it’s a great option if you’ve got an hour or so to spare.
Fairview Mountain Trail (10.2 km return + 1013, elevatin gain – difficult)
I’m going to start off by saying this hike is not for the faint hearted! It is relentless in every step you take and when you think you can see the summit, you’ve probably got another couple of hours until you actually reach the top. It is a tough hike but it is 100% worth the ache you’ll be feeling in your legs for the days following!
We started off bright and early from the Lake Louise carpark ascending first through a lush green forest, then through a sea of golden larch trees, further up a sparse rocky slope with some seriously good mountain views and finally through the slippery, snowy trail right up to the summit. The snow near the summit was the scariest part for me, our hiking boots were no match for this sort of terrain and we found ourselves slipping and sliding with every step we took! I was very aware that one serious slip could send me tumbling back down the 1000m I had just climbed up! Thankfully this didn’t happen and when we reached the top we were greeted with snow capped mountains all around us! It was pretty chilly at the top so we didn’t spend too much time there before starting our descent. The descent was just as slippery as the ascent, if not worse, by this point the sun was shining bright causing the snow to melt, turning the trail into a slippery muddy mess! Once we were out of the snow we had a smooth run back to the carpark.
Taylor Lake Trail (12.6 km return + 585 m altitude gain – difficult)
This trail is mostly enclosed in thick forest, that is until you pop out near the end and are greeted by the magic that is Taylor Lake! It’s a steady incline for the majority of the trail, it seemed like a walk in the park after the summit trail to Mount Fairview the day before but it’s still quite a tough hike. Made worse by the fact that a fair amount of snow had melted the day before causing the trail to turn into full on mud pits in some sections. None the less its worth the hike and also worth bringing snacks or a packed lunch so you can eat them while enjoying the view of the lake from one of the picnic tables that surround it. We were lucky enough to have the whole place to ourselves!
We decided to take a trip to Banff Town to check out some historic sights and the town itself of course. It’s about an hour drive from Lake Louise, there’s a number of vantage points along the route and I’d recommend stopping at them all for some epic views!
We went to Banff to visit the Cave and Basin National Historic Sight. This site of natural thermal hot springs was the starting point of National Parks in Canada. In 1883 Canadian Pacific Rail workers William McCardell and Frank McCabe descended on the site with intentions of commercialising the springs. The problem was they weren’t the only people to have claimed the springs as their own so the Canadian Government stepped in and named the Cave and Basin a reserve. Banff National Park was established around the reserve and in 1885 Canada’s first National Park was born.
We also spent some time exploring the town, visiting the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Bow Falls and grabbing some dinner at the super cute Bear Street Tavern where Ryan was able to watch the Ice Hockey World Cup.
Kootenay National Park
We took a quick drive through some of Kootenay National Park, mainly so we could say we’d visited it. We really didn’t have time to explore this park in depth but from the looks of it there’s some great hikes to do, just another place to add to the list! We drove past Stanley Glacier took a pit stop at the thundering Numa Falls and basked in the beauty of Vista Lake.
Too qucikly as always our time in Banff National Park came to an end. I’ve been to quite a few national parks in my time and Banff is up there with the best of them! There’s so much more I still need to see and so many trails I still need to hike. Luckily my boyfriend is Canadian so I’m pretty sure we’ll be back!
Next up we drive the Icefields Parkway so stay tuned for that installment coming soon!