This is a travel guide for those of you who want to make the most of Banff & Jasper, see Mother Nature in her most majestic forms, get some killer shots, and not burn the quadriceps to much, nor have to fight off bears.
One of the most drives in the world, the drive in itself is just as good as any one of these stops. Be prepared to see bears and elk, Bighorn sheep, moose, and heaps more if you are lucky. We stopped at countless random viewpoints to gawk at the glaciers, and mountains everywhere around us.
Eron coming at ya! – this is my first blog post ever oh boy 😀
Banff —> Jasper here we go…
1. Banff town
Banff has a cuteness that you would expect from a Canadian mountain town. It has all the cute shops and restaurants you would hope for. There is an ice-cold river through town which is great for cooling off, a hot-spring pool, numerous hikes and lakes to check out, and a creepy hotel (Fairmont). We had a laugh, enjoyed the Wednesday farmers market, did work in the library, and were excited to get on the road.
2. Johnston Canyon
Heading west, soon after Banff you should exit the main highway, and find yourself on the Bow Valley Parkway, or 1A. Its a cozy mountain road with a speed limit of 60km/h which leads you to the ‘Johnston Canyon’ car park. This is not a rugged adventurous hike, but rather a heavily trodden path which brings you up the canyon. You hike past a few waterfalls, and eventually after about 30 mins of walking, if you keep an eye out on the right, we will see this sight down a steep hill! It is really gorgeous, but go early – this mild hike/walk gets rammed and we saw queues to get a closer look at the lower waterfalls.
3. Moraine Lake/Lake Louise
Lake Louise is beautiful; despite the millions of tourists, and ginormous hotel right on the lake. There are literally 3 football fields worth of parking, and showing up at 7am didn’t do much for our efforts. See both, it still is amazing, but if you are pressed for time or patience, Moraine is one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen. For Moraine Lake, arrive as early as you can. Seeing the sun rise and light up the peaks of the mountains is absolutely magical, but also – as we were there in high season and the car park is very small for Moraine – we saw cars turned away at 8am because it was already full. Avoiding high season this may not be a problem, but I recommend you opt for the sunrise anyways. Its insanely cool! Also!! —> Make sure to climb the big rock pile, it has the best views by far! (You don’t need to log hop and monkey up the hill.. a little ways back there is a bridge, and a path that takes you up to the top)
Notes – (Lake Louise campground will likely be full unless you book like 6 months in advance, and they will redirect you to the overflow. Its called ‘Overflow Camp’ on Maps.Me) It costs $10 per night, (though no-one checked us for 3 nights) and they do not allow tents (though I saw a cheeky tent in the corner of the car park in the bushes..)
4. Agnes Tea House
One of the few hikes we did. Soooo worth it. Its perched up the mountain above Lake Louise and is on another beautiful lake. The lake is icy cold, and you can walk around it (definitely walk around it), touch snow, and see chipmunks. Don’t forget to bring some dolla-bills for the teahouse. We forgot.
Notes – The trail starts from the right side of Lake Louise, and takes 1-2 hours one way. I’d recommend showing up there as early as you feel – appreciating Louise – and then head up to the Teahouse.
5. Bow lake
This lake was definitely one of our favourite places on the roadtrip.
We made breakfast here a few times, and would come back in the evening to make dinner!
It has the rich vibrant blues of the other more famous lakes, but you can back your car right up to it and just relax. From 9am onwards to about 7pm it can be fairly busy, and I think I counted six or seven tour buses at one point, but if you can be there late in the day(or early) it is absolutely magical. Its a perfect view, and awesome spot for a chilly dip too.
Notes – One night we slept in the trailhead carpark opposite the ‘Crowfoot mountain Viewpoint’ – just 200m south of the Bow lake car park. Theres a toilet, and no one gave us any trouble! (Infact there was even a huge bus camper free-camping in there too.)
6. Mountain Road!
If you want a sweet shot of a long straight road fading into epic mountains but are not sure just which to pick. I think one of the best views like this is right after Bow lake. Two minutes north, look behind you, or if you are coming from Jasper, just before you get to Bow lake, you will see this beautiful scene. (Theres nowhere good to stop.. so try to be safe!)
7. Peyto Lake
Only another 5 minutes up the road is Peyto Lake. Its shaped like a freakin wolf. Its a short ten minute walk up a steep hill to the viewpoint. This is another tour bus hotspot, so I’d recommend arriving early. To escape the crowds, and find a more natural viewing platform there is another 15 minute walk you can take through trails to get to a rocky outcrop with beautiful views of the whole area. (I think Peyto looks a touch less ‘Wolfy’ from this second viewpoint).
Notes – To get to the further, more serene viewpoint, go back onto the path you had taken up to the first viewing platform, and keep following it another 150m up hill. At some point there will be a trail off to the right. I wouldn’t say we got lost here, but we were a bit confused which exact trail to take. It didn’t seem to matter, I think there a couple ways to get there. Don’t go uphill or downhill to much and you can’t go wrong. After a few minutes you will see a bunch of rocks!
8. Mistaya Canyon
Its just another roadside stop, but if you have time I think its worth it. Its a very short hike down from the car park, and the power of this mini waterfall/canyon is immense! There were very few people down there with us compared to other stops; I don’t know if that was luck, or maybe it isn’t as popular? Either way I was happy about that!
9. Athabasca Glacier
It’s pretty cool to get right up to the Glacier, but its also a massive tourist hub. If you are not keen on paying out your butt to ride the souped up monster-truck-bus up the glacier, I’d super recommend hiking ‘Wilcox Pass’ as it gives spectacular views of the whole valley, and a way better view of the glacier!
8. Sunwapta Falls
Another overcrowded gem. But despite the mass of people that you will find here, the falls are sooo stunning!
Hot tip – go across the bridge, and down off the path to the left toward the ‘island’ and when you creep right up against the edge of the canyon, the view is perfect, and you may feel like you are the only one there.
9. Horseshoe Lake – sorry for the lack of photo!
You probably won’t find this listed on any other itinerary for some reason, but it was SUPER COOL for a couple reasons! Its not a classic super ‘blue’ lake; its crystal clear still, but because its not as glacial, its way better for swimming. Im a bit of a bear but I thought it was rather warm, especially compared to the blue ones.
This lake is also amazing for cliff jumping! There are rock cliffs that line the side allowing you to jump in from 1m, to maybe up to 6 or 7m at the highest spots. So nice after having to embrace the experience of wading into icy water. When your feet are numb and your belly is full of dread.
I think its the most underrated spot, and I reckon we would have spent more time here if we’d known. Now YOU know! 🙂
10. Athabasca Falls
This is a classic on the tour bus route.. A fine stop with a lovely waterfall. But being so close to Jasper, hoards of people don’t help the natural ambience. It is of course beautiful, and definitely worth a stop if you have time, but after appreciating it, we didn’t feel the need to linger too long.
Notes – Ive read that this view ↓ gets icy blue in winter!
There is heaps of cool stuff you can do from Jasper; hikes, rafting, etc. But my favourite free activities were…
Spotting Elk as they are everywhere; hanging out in a hip laundry/cafe called ‘Coin Clean Laundry’ – you can have a cuppa while washing your clothes, and even pay for a shower! Another favourite spot we ate breakfast a few times and is super beautiful for a walk or swim is ‘Beauvert Lake.’ We also visited the ‘Miette Hotspring’ which is perfectly nice, but its just a pool. —> You have to drive through ‘Pocahontas’ to get there though. Thats pretty cool!
–Personally, I don’t visit wild Canadian locations to see 100 other people there. Try to go in off season if you can!! Peak summer season is July/August, and peak winter season is Feb-March. Push too hard into October and November and you might see snow, so bare that in mind if you don’t want the challenge.
Also consider, the classic blue lakes won’t fully thaw until Mid-Late April, so if you arrive too early, you won’t be guaranteed the blue. All the pictures I’ve seen from winter look stunning though, so if thats your jam, go for it. Late April/May is looking pretty good, the bears are also more active in this time because they’re hungry. (For berries) but….
–Carry bear spray. Its apparently 90% effective, so it would be quite reckless not too. Hike in groups of four or more, and make lots of noise. Our favourite word to shout was ‘PAPADUM” when we had nothing else to say. ***The cheapest place to buy it was at the Banff Visitor centre, at about $38 I think.
–Even if you are there in off season, I’d recommend waking up early if you want to enjoy these locations by yourself.
–Fuel up, and fill up on food in Banff or Jasper. (The Lake Louise store is a joke). OR even Calgary. Mountain stores are expensive.
–Have some time! I think we spent around 5 nights making our way through this itinerary. Spending more time in less places is always better.
–Do a little research on the campgrounds, but don’t stress. There are 11 in total between Lake Louise and Jasper, and I believe almost all of them are on a first come, first serve basis. We stayed at ‘Waterfowl Lakes Campground’ for one night as we wanted to have that cozy campfire, and it was perfectly lovely. Be aware that most of them are not open year round! If traveling in winter.. you will need to do more research.
–Bring cash! All campsites are cash only.
–Download Maps.Me →It has super useful offline maps you can download and it makes your life much better.
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