Whoa! I don’t think I have ever gotten so many texts, emails, comments, messages and requests for a travel guide and recap as I did for my Banff trip that I took for my girlfriend Amanda AKA The Miller Affect’s wedding. I am SO excited to share my Banff travel diary and guide with you guys because this has honestly been one of my favorite trips I have ever taken and I want to share my honest opinion on everything we saw, did and where we stayed so if you are planning a trip soon you will be prepared!
Banff, Alberta is in the middle of a National Park (which you have to purchase a park pass to enter when you get there, but in honor of Canada’s 150th year the passes were free this year, which is AWESOME.) and I can’t even put into words the beauty and charm of this place and the mountain town of Banff. We flew into Calgary and Banff is a little over an hour drive from there– and you are driving straight to the mountains so it’s quite the scenic drive as well! I will say that the town of Banff is more of a “tourist” town, however, everyone is super friendly and the town itself is super cute and charming. It is also pretty centrally located to most of the activities we did so that is something to think about as well.
What to Do
Whoa, where do I even start? We covered so much ground during our trip and I feel like we packed in SO much during our stay– just how I like it! Here are some of my favorite “must do’s” while you are there.
- Rent a Canoe at Lake Louise- You know those viral Pinterest pictures you see everywhere of people canoeing in turquoise blue water with casual mountains in the background? Yup.. chances are that was at Lake Louise. The Fairmont Chateau sits right beside Lake Louise, so you can also stay there and wake up to those views every morning. If there is one thing we learned early on when visiting some of these scenic spots it was GET THERE EARLY. I am talking like 7AM. Most days we got up and moving around sunrise, which sucked at the time but was so worth it when we got to witness some of these locations peacefully without hundreds of tourists and selfie sticks around. We made it to Lake Louise around 7am and were able to just take in how freaking gorgeous it was, snap some photos, and then were one of the first to hop in a canoe on the lake. Of course the blogger in me wants to have these gorgeous uninterrupted photos, so in the beginning those were kind of my motivation to waking up early to “get the shot”– however, more importantly than that it was so relaxing to experience these places peacefully which is honestly how I feel like they are meant to be experienced.
- Moraine Lake- Just a few miles down from Lake Louise tucked in the mountains sits Moraine Lake. In my opinion, Moraine was more beautiful than Lake Louise! Perhaps a little less crowded too– probably because it is a bit more secluded than Lake Louise which has the Fairmont Hotel adjacent to it. Once again, the gorgeous colors of this glacial-filled lake are absolutely stunning. There is a small path that you can hike up that overlooks the lake which is when you can truly take in how gorgeous it is.
- Hike Ha Ling Peak- Let me start off by saying I had a love/hate relationship with this hike which was about 3.5 miles had an elevation of about 8,000 ft. This was basically natures stairmaster, and I might or might not have been cursing the entire way up. Being from Texas, there are little to no mountainous areas for hiking– so I have done very little hiking. After asking some of the locals in town, many of them suggested Ha Ling for a moderately difficult hike. (Sidenote: we actually had intentions to do another hike they called EOR- or East End of Rundle, but our navigation skills aren’t on par and we somehow ended up at the base of Ha Ling– haha! So, we actually ended up doing this hike by accident). I will be honest I thought this would be a pretty leisurely hike and we would be up and down in about 3 hours, but I was way wrong. People had on hiking boots, walking sticks, and like serious hiking gear– meanwhile, we were in workout clothes. This was WAY more of a workout than I was anticipating, however, the hike was definitely doable for anyone who’s in decent physical shape. Once you get to the top it is pretty windy and chilly, but the views are insane from every angle. I might have been cursing the whole way up, but I am so glad we did it. Some spots were pretty slippery and steep on the way down, but going down was MUCH more pleasant than going up! All in all, it was worth it!
- Bow Valley Parkway- This drive is one of the routes that will take you from Banff to Lake Louise/Moraine and is a scenic and wooded drive that is known for animal sightings. We drove this a handful of times and sadly did not see any moose or bears (which were two animals at the top of my list), or honestly really any exciting wildlife. Maybe we just had bad luck! Ha– but the drive alone is beautiful and peaceful. Honestly driving and looking at the sights was one of my favorite things to do during this trip.
- Johnston Canyon- This was a simple hike ( I say hike, but there were literally walkways with railing leading the way so idk how many of you qualify that as “hiking”) with gorgeous views of waterfalls. You were literally hiking along beside them which was really cool. This is also a pretty touristy hike so if you go during the summer be prepared because you will definitely not be alone– I will say it does clear out a bit as the hike goes on. There is also a “secret cave” here as you make your way from the lower falls to the upper falls. It is not necessarily marked but was fairly easy to find! This was definitely a hike that would be enjoyable for all ages and skill levels– like I said this was more of a walking trail than anything.
Banff Travel Tips
- You will need a car- A car will be a must for your trip! Not only to get you from the airport in Calgary to Banff, but just in general during your trip to get to all the scenic spots.
- Peak Tourist times June-August- This is prime tourist time in Banff because of the warmer temps and beautiful weather. Just be advised that there will be a ton of people and if you want to take in many of these experiences without crowds I would suggest going right before or after peak season, OR just wake up really early.
- Wear layers- Even during June it was pretty chilly in the mornings and then warmed up during the afternoons.
- Book Hotel in Advance- If you are going during peak times we found that hotels fill up FAST, there are not a ton so make sure you are doing that in advance.
Where we Stayed
During our stay in Banff we stayed at a newer hotel called Moose Hotel & Suites. This was literally the perfect location for our stay– walking distance into town which had shopping, restaurants, and bars. It was also perfectly situated for us to get in and out of Banff when we were headed to some of our destinations. The hotel had an outdoorsy/cabin vibe with the moose theme throughout the hotel, which I loved! Our suite had a little living area with a fireplace which we turned on a few nights. However, probably one of the coolest things was the rooftop hot tubs– I am pretty sure we visited those at least 4 times during our stay. It was so nice to relax after hiking all day, plus there were some pretty amazing mountainous views from the rooftop. I would definitely recommend staying here if you are traveling to Banff, it perfectly suited all of our needs and the staff was amazing!
Like I said, this was absolutely one of my favorite trips and won’t be the last time I visit Banff! Even though we were there for a good amount of time, there is so much more I would have loved to explore. I have also decided when I return that I have to find a way to bring Ellie so she can explore with me too! If you have any other questions or need recommendations, feel free to reach out!