I’ve just finished a year of living in Banff, one of the most beautiful places in both Canada and the world. Banff is one of those places you could spend a lifetime and still not see everything, there is just so much to see and do! What I love most about Banff is that nowhere ever looks the same twice, every day of every season of every year looks completely different from the last, so nothing ever gets boring or old. You could visit the same mountain or same lake every day for a year and still notice something different each time. Whilst there are endless amounts of things to see and do there is definitely a top list of ‘must sees’ for any one visiting Banff National Park for the first time.
HERE ARE MY 10 FAVOURITE SPOTS IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK:
You’ve probably seen photos of this magical place before, it frequents instagram pages regularly. It also happens to be the most photographed place in all of Canada, which is a huge feat considering it’s only open to the public half of the year (roads are closed from mid-october to mid-may). This incredible lake is famous for it’s insanely blue water, so blue that if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes you’ll insist the photos have been photoshopped (it really is that blue, I promise!!!).
In my opinion Morraine Lake is far more beautiful than the more famous Lake Louise nearby. It always blew my mind how many people visited Banff and never even knew that Morraine Lake existed. They were missing out big time! Whilst it is lesser known than its neighbour Lake Louise it sure isn’t a secret destination either, during the busier summer months of July and August cars can be lined up for kilometres fighting for a car spot. The stunning turquoise water is a result of the refraction of light off silt-like glacial rocks at the bottom of the lake. Sometimes the glacial flour can float in the water, giving it a creamy texture. Due to this, the water looks a hundred times more impressive on a blue sky day compared to a cloudy day, so try to take this into consideration when planning your days.
Lake Louise is definitely the most famous lake in Banff and probably in all of Canada. The emerald coloured lake at the bottom of the victoria glacier is world-renowned for its beauty. At about 2.5 kilometres long and 90 metres deep, the lake offers a surreal paddling experience in the warm summer months and one of the most scenic skating rinks in the world in winter.
The Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury hotel open year round, sits on the shores of the lake. The Lake and the Chateau have been popular holiday destinations for millions of people including famous faces Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Queen Margrethe of Denmark as well as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Lake Louise and Morraine Lake fight over the title of the most photographed lake in the world.
I love, love, love Peyto Lake. This lake is the furthest from the town of Banff but is SO worth the hour-long drive out. In the summer months the glacial water projects a milky blue that looks magical against the surrounding mountains and glaciers and in the winter it freezes to make the ‘wolf’ shape even more prominent and fitting for the freezing temperature of the winter wonderland. Once you park in the car park you have to walk up quite a steep road (10 minutes in summer/25 minutes in winter), which is made even harder in the winter when the snow can be over a metre deep and with each step you take your whole leg sinks into it, making you wet and even colder than you already were. With that said there is something so magical about Peyto, at all times of the year, that makes it so worth the effort and time. Trust me, you’ll love it!
TWO JACK LAKE
I frequented Two Jack Lake regularly during the summer. It’s only a short drive away from town, there are lots of flat, grassy areas to lie in the sun, it’s a nice place to go for a quick swim or have a picnic and it’s a pretty stunning place too.
My favourite time to visit this lake is at sunset as you can view some pretty spectacular sunsets (as well as awesome reflections on a wind-free day).
If you aren’t going to be doing all day hikes to the top of mountains during your time in Banff then one thing I highly recommend you visit is the Banff Gondola. At $40 entry fee it’s a little pricey but the view is incredible. As the website says ‘you’ll see more mountains in a moment then most people see in a lifetime.’ The 8 minute Gondola ride will take you to the top of the 7846ft summit. From there their are pathways and observation decks stretching across 1km of the mountain giving you endless opportunities to get the perfect photo and to sit back, relax and admire the beauty of the mountains. In the summer the restaurants are open too, often advertising three course meals or brunch for only $10 extra than the regular gondola ticket (this includes the ticket), so it’s really good value. It is always much cooler on top of the mountains so be sure to bring something to keep you warm, especially in the winter when it can be up to -40 degrees celsius.
Grass Lakes isn’t too well-known with tourists but is a favourite with the locals. This beautiful place isn’t actually inside Banff National Park, but within the Canmore/Kananaskis area, a short thirty minute drive out of Banff. From the car park the hike is about 45 minutes up and is a relatively easy hike for all fitness abilities. The lakes at the top are so different to any other on this list, the water is a rainbow of greens and blues and just so mesmerising. It’s also the only lake we visited during the middle of winter that wasn’t frozen, so the full rainbow of colours could be seen at any time of year. Again, if you plan on hiking up in the winter it can be very icy and slippery so be ready to fall over or slide on your butt if you aren’t planning on taking ice cleats with you. Sliding around, however, can be super fun. This video is of Andy, my brother Jordan and I siding down on a log we found. SO MUCH FUN!
This short hike in the town of Banff is very popular with locals and tourists alike. The short and relatively easy walk can be done by anyone, of any age or fitness ability, and takes roughly an hour from bottom to top. Despite the name Tunnel Mountain does not have a tunnel inside it, it is named this due to original plans to build a tunnel through it for the trans Canada railway, before they realised that their was a natural valley they could build it on instead. Tunnel Mountain is a perfect place to hike up and admire the view of Banff and the stunning scenery around it. I prefer to go first thing in the morning or before sunset in order to beat the crowds and hike whilst the air is still crisp (in the summer, that is. It’s always crisp in winter). In the winter the path can be a bit icy and I would suggest hiring some ice cleats to make your adventure a bit easier.
One of my favourite spots to go and watch a sunrise or sunset or just sit in the sun and admire the beauty of Banff is from the Norquay lookout. Just a short ten minute drive out of town it is super accessible and a great place to go at any time of day or night.
Vermillion lakes is the closest lake to the town of Banff. I love this place for so many reasons. It’s a great place to go watch a sunrise or a sunset, both light up the sky and mountains in different ways, it’s a great place to watch for animals too as bears and elk frequent the area. On a wind-free day you can get some pretty spectacular mountain reflections on the water, which are a great photo opportunity. It’s also a really nice place to go sit on a wharf, read a book or have a picnic and just reflect on life and the beautiful surroundings.
JOHNSONS CANYON (VIA 1A / BOW VALLEY PARKWAY)
Johnsons Canyon is another of my favourite places in Banff National Park (but are you getting the feeling I love them all?). There are a number of hikes you can do along the beautiful canyon, the shortest of thirty minutes taking you to the lower waterfalls, an hour hike will take you to the upper waterfalls and if you are feeling adventurous a three-hour hike will take you to the ink pots. In the winter the paths can be super icy and whilst it is SO much fun sliding down the paths on your butt you can get some pretty hardcore bruises from the almost guaranteed falls you will have. So if you aren’t into bruises or sliding then be sure to hire some ice cleats for the day. The canyon looks different in every season but it always looks beautiful. Another great thing about Johnsons Canyon is you have to drive there via the Bow Valley Parkway/1A which is a beautiful, scenic road where wildlife like elk, deer or bears are almost always spotted. You can also take this road all the way up to Lake Louise if you want to avoid the highway (though do dive the highway to Lake Louise at least one way as it is one of the most stunning drives)!
Now go and plan your holiday to one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever visit in your lifetime! I love, love, love Banff and I know you will too! You can thank me later.
Which of these spots would you most like to visit?
Or what other spots do you think deserves a spot in this list?
Let me know in the comments below!