The Travellers’ Guide to Banff National Park — Summer Edition
Located in the rocky mountains of Alberta, Canada, Banff National Park is an adventure seeker’s playground. The picturesque views make you feel as if you stepped straight into a postcard, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Canadian Rockies coupled with the glistening turquoise lakes set the tone for a nature-lover’s perfect getaway. But, besides Banff’s mountainous terrain, you should consider discovering the icefields and marvel at the beauty of the glacier that evokes a sense of serenity. So, get ready, pack your bags, but before you go check out my curated traveller’s guide to Banff National Park.
Travel Tips to Consider
- Rent or drive your car. Distances between attractions are far apart, plus a car allows you to explore as many locations as you want and all on your own time.
- Rent a bike from your hotel or the city centre. Parking at different scenic spots is limited if you arrive after 8 am. Having a bike will offer flexibility on those mornings where you don’t want to wake up at 6:30 am to guarantee a parking spot.
- Purchase a park pass to enter Banff National park. It can be done online or you can purchase a pass upon entry. Additionally, for those planning on making multiple trips throughout the year consider purchasing the discovery pass which is valid for 1 year from the month of purchase (N.B Passes are sent in the mail). For those looking for more of a budget option, you can also check the online marketplaces for discounted discovery pass options as well.
- Buy a bear bell and ensure to sing, shout or clap as you are walking on trails. This will alert a bear of your presence and can ultimately save your life.
- Purchase bear spray from a local outdoor store or Rent from a Banff Inn. Most trails have heavy foot traffic, so the likelihood of coming across a bear is slim to none, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you buy bear spray and don’t use it, you can donate it to the local park information centre. From there, it will be donated to the park rangers or other local organizations in need of them. If you decide to rent bear spray from an Inn instead expect to be paying anywhere between $5-$7/day.
- Purchase Gypsy Tours mobile app for $5.99 — BEST PURCHASE MADE ON THIS ENTIRE TRIP!! This app is your personal tour guide in your pocket. The app uses geolocation and as you drive it will suggest nearby attractions, giving information on local/ regional history as well as native wildlife to the specific area you are driving through.
- Bring clothes that you can easily layer. The weather ranges from one extreme to the next: pretty chilly to really hot throughout the day. Click here for layering basics.
Where to stay in Banff
On my trip to Banff, I stayed at the Mount Royal Hotel. I didn’t do much research on the hotel before booking other than checking if it had decent reviews and free parking. Luckily, the hotel was right in the city centre. The back entrance to the hotel was just a few steps away from gift shops, delectable restaurants, and some of the most splendid views of the mountains. I highly recommend this hotel to any Banff visitor. Balkan the greek restaurant, Wild Flour Bakery, The Grizzly House and COWS Banff were some of my favourite places to visit while in the town centre.
If you are flying into Calgary airport, I recommend driving straight to Banff and avoid staying in Calgary or Canmore unless you have reason to do so. This will save you half a day’s trip and you can squeeze in an extra day of exploring.
1. Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basin Historic Site was my first stop during my trip. It came heavily recommended by a friend and was only 6 minutes away from the town centre, so why not start there, right? Cave and Basin is the birthplace of Canada’s National Park System and the reason why Canadian National Parks exist today. THANK YOU CAVE AND BASIN 🙌!! This historical site is home to natural geothermal springs, as well as the endangered spring snail that is found nowhere else in the world. On your visit expect to spend about an hour going through all the interactive exhibits, walkthroughs, and my favourite…the hot springs. The hot springs can be observed inside the cavern and outside as well, but unfortunately, no bathing is allowed due to the preservation of the endangered snail. However, if you are craving a dip in a mineral-rich hot pool I recommend checking out Banff Upper Hot springs. Go ahead and wash the stress away there.
2. Johnston Canyon
Beautiful Waterfalls but…talk about crowd central! I recommend getting there before 9 am or after 5 pm if you want to avoid bumping into people the entire time. The initial start of the trail is extremely overcrowded, but usually, after you walk past the falls there tend to be fewer people. If you decide to keep going on this trail this will eventually connect to Ink Pots.
3. Ink Pots — Hiking Trail
The hike to the Ink Pots is roughly an 8–10 km round trip and it can take between 2–3 hours. This trail can be found past the Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon. An alternate route is through Moose Meadows which is 2 km away from the Johnston Canyon parking lot. Here, the parking lots are medium-sized but do not get full too often in comparison to the one at Johnston canyon. Many prefer this trail over the Johnston Canyon walk because it is less crowded.
Regardless of what route you decide to take, expect to be surrounded by rushing waterfalls, turquoise pools and summer flowers up and down the stream.Truly a beautiful hike.
**Fun fact: The Ink Pots get that beautiful turquoise colour from the minerals being fed by the glaciers.
4. Paint Pots — Hiking Trail
A unique, 1km trail located by the bordering Kootenay National Park. Recommended if you have some extra time while in Banff and for families with children. On this short walk, you will find plenty of wet, red, clay soil, water pools, and what appears to be the remains of old antique machinery laying around. An alternative route to Paint Pots is to take the 3km trail from Marble Canyon. We met a couple of people along the way who had taken that route and said it was a nice hike with no complaints.
**Fun Fact: This area is of significance as the original inhabitants of the region travelled here to collect the vibrantly colourful soil for ceremonial body paint.
N.B Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty on this trail. Expect some level of mud.
5. Marble Canyon
This visit felt like a breath of fresh air after visiting Johnston canyon. There was nobody else on this trail when we arrived. It was extremely peaceful with the contrasting roar of the water rushing through the canyon below us. Also, at the beginning of the trail, there is a little beach area that you can walk down. Stick your feet into the water if you dare! It’s freezing. This was one of my favourite activities while on the trip.
6. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is considered one of the most photographed attractions in all of Canada. Visitors from around the world flock to this location to snap the turquoise blue waters and glacier melt. However, you should plan to wake up early and arrive before 8 am to guarantee a parking spot. I highly recommend taking a scenic canoe ride on the lake. For those that are a little bit more adventurous check out the “Plain Of Six” glaciers hike, the trail starts at the base of Lake Louise.
**Fun Fact: Did you know that it wasn’t always called Lake Louise? This was the third name that was given to the lake. It was first called “Ho-Run-Num-Nay” meaning lake of little fishes by the Stoney first nations people who were the first inhabitants of the area. Then it was dubbed “Emerald Lake” after a Stoney nations member led a Canadian railway worker to the lake.
7. Plain of Six Glaciers - Hiking Trail
This is a moderate 14.6 km hike that offers jaw-dropping views of the six glaciers. At the halfway mark, you will find the famous Mountain teahouse that was built in 1927. Here, you can stop to purchase a hot meal and tea before continuing your hike. As you near the end of the trail, you are presented with an up-close and personal view of the glaciers. You can hear, feel, and see the avalanches as they occur right before your eyes. This hike is LONG BUT 100% WORTH IT! If you thought the lake was beautiful, the glaciers are even more captivating.
This is the famous lake that is present on the back of the Canadian dollar. This lake offers easy trails, canoe rentals, and lots of exploring options. There is a large island that was formed by a rockslide that a lot of people tend to climb up to explore and take pictures. If you are more of the adventure/explorer type, skip the canoe rental at Lake Louise and do it at Moraine Lake instead. Click here for more activity suggestions at Moraine Lake.
N.B Similar to Lake Louise after 8 am it is harder to find parking. However, after 4 pm the volume of visitors decreases and it will be much easier to find parking.
To conclude, I would like to say that my trip to Banff National Park was truly magical and rewarding in every way possible. Every difficult hike felt easy since my mind was so consumed by the mesmerizing landscapes, lakes, and wildlife. The beauty of the park made me want to wake up early because I wanted to ensure I had a whole day’s worth of exploring and go to bed early because I already wanted the next day to start. I will be returning to Banff national park. In fact! My next flight to Banff has been purchased already.
N.B: I am not sponsored by any of the companies I have mentioned in this article. So if you enjoyed this article and would like to see more, please support by buying me a coffee.😊
Coming soon: Further scenic location suggestions on the icefields parkway and Jasper — Winter Edition!
I would like to give a big thank you to my dear friend Rebecca Hugh who helped me finalize this article. Please show your support and check out her blog at https://www.rebeccahugh.com/