Tappin the Canadian Rockies! Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks
Oh Canada, you always seem to amaze me. I feel like I recently just started falling in love with US National parks, and then you go and make me love yours! A friend and I decided that we needed to see for ourselves if the instagram hype around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake was in fact justified- and indeed it is! 4 words: The. Most. Beautiful. Water. And to our surprise- the bluest of the blue water is not just found in these 2 lakes, but in the majority of lakes in the Banff/Yoho/Jasper National park area. This trip was definitely my kind of trip- we saw a ton, took a million photos, did some great hikes, ate some good food, got some good sleep. Let me walk you through it:
Thursday: After several dramas with cancelled flights, we arrived late Thursday night into Calgary. Picked up our rental car from the airport, drove 1.5 hours to Banff National park- Tunnel Mountain Resort. Basically straight to our little condo (complete with fireplace, kitchen, bedroom and couch/pull-out bed) and to sleep. This was a great location to explore this area. The resort was across the street from a bigger resort which had a full-service restaurant, general store with groceries, etc. Our place provided coffee in the lobby each morning (key) and lots of unassigned parking (also key).
Friday: Up early and time to explore. We decided to check off Lake Moraine first (45min drive) - since I think this was the Lake we were most excited about. We arrived around 9am and were not disappointed. First off- canoe ride around the Lake. Gorgeous! Expensive - yes, but worth it- all for the gram. Then we walked around the Lake for more photo opps. By the time we were on to Lake Louise (20min drive), the tourist buses were pulling up and the paths were filling up. Lake Louise we spent a little more time at- we did a hike to the Lake Agnes Tea house (yes you can hike up to other lakes on your way to your Agnes Lake destination). Lake Agnes tea house unfortunately was cash only, so we did not get to hang there, but the hike was challenging and beautiful so worth it! However, it was pretty crowded, and not very exposed so you didn't get many views until you arrived to different lakes along the way (2 lakes on the way I think). After this incline hike we headed back down, walked the perimeter of Lake Louise, and headed back to the resort for a quick shower and change before dinner. The town of Banff from our resort was only about a 20min walk (there was also a free bus option) so we walked down to the town for dinner at Saltlik. Cute steakhouse- decent food, it was warm enough to sit outside, people watch, and chill. After dinner we did a little touristy shopping in the town, then walked back up to our resort. The sun didn't go down until past 9, so we really took advantage of all that daytime light for sure.
Saturday: Another early start- made some breakfast at the condo and then back in the car onto our next adventure. The weather this day was not the best, halfway through the day we were rained on, and by the car ride home some full-fledged thunderstorms were pounding our car, but we made the most of the morning/afternoon. First stop was Peyto Lake in Yoho National park (1 hr drive). This was more of a lookout lake, and even early many tourists were there, so we got those photos, did a quick walk around the area, then back in the car for another hour drive to Jasper national park. On the way we stopped at a few turnoffs to take Lake photos along the way (again- can't get enough of that blue water), then finally hit Jasper and picked a hike in the woods to Stanley falls. I loved this hike, even though it was a little wet and rainy, it wasn't too steep of a climb and you got to walk along the edge of a ton of waterfalls, finally leading up to Stanley. After this, we started to make the drive home (2 hrs)- stopping at the Glacier real quick to try and get a peek. However the storms really kicked up at this point so we had to head out fast, back in the car to Banff. Same routine as the day before- got back and ready for dinner, then walked down to the town and ate at Park Distillery. Really cool spot, good food and the cocktails were great. By the time we were done eating the storm had passed and we walked back to the condo.
Sunday: Much better weather this day- cool but dry. First lake of the day was Emerald lake in Yoho National Park (1 hr drive). I think we actually spent the most time here out of anywhere else on the trip. It was much less crowded than Lake Moraine and Louise- however just as pretty. We not only walked around the Lake (also bigger than both other lakes), but did the Emerald Basin hike through the woods and up the mountains - to finally reach a great vantage point in the valley of waterfalls, enormous mountains and the Emerald Glacier. I absolutely loved this hike- even though it was basically straight up, then straight down. We spent about 4 hours total at Emerald Lake- then drove down the road to the Takawaa falls lookout (huge waterfall- no hiking just park, walk a little and photos). On the way back to Banff we stopped at the Vermillion Lakes lookout as well for some photo opps. Lunch was at Whitebark cafe in town- amazing frittata. For our last dinner we decided to treat ourselves to Sky Bistro- located at the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff- reachable by gondola ride. This was the way to go out on a trip. Yes pricey but worth it. The food was awesome, the views were killer, and after we had access to the rooftop deck complete with firepits and the best photo opps. Really, really cool experience.
Monday: One last hike! 30 min drive to Castle Mountain- what a way to go out. Straight up hike - hike up, hike down. Would have been amazing views I'm sure but because we were so early the fog had not burned off and we couldn't see anything below us. Oh well, something to come back for!
Key Takeaways and Recommendations:
-Tunnel Mountain resort was great- perfect location, had everything you need, walkable to town and relatively close to all the parks/sights. All of Banff is pricey though- so if you are looking for something on the cheaper side you can try Canmore, however it is a 20 min further drive to all of the parks. Or you can try camping!
-While we were there, many forest fires were going on in neighboring areas. It made the air very smokey, and we really didn't get any relief until a few days into the trip. This isn't uncommon, just something to think about if you have problems breathing.
-Altitude- didn't really effect me much as other places (ex. Cusco Peru, Colorado, definitely felt the effects there)
-Temps- the first day it was super hot (90), then the next couple days were 60s, so bring all types of apparel
-Canada loves steakhouses. The majority of Banff's restaurants were steakhouses- no idea why. Vegans be prepared.
-Go early to all the lakes- parking fills up and gets crazy. We were crazy lucky to get parking at every spot.
-You are going to need a rental car for this trip- there are just too many places to see without one!
-We didn't encounter any dangerous wildlife- but that doesn't mean you won't- be prepared they are out there!
-You have to buy a National park pass- either you will go through the gate to Banff and get one there, or someone at a park will make you buy one ($45 I think it came to for 3 days/$15 a day)
Costs per person:
-Tunnel Mountain Resort 4 nights: $830
-Rental Car 4 days: $125
-Natl Park Pass: $45
Total cost of trip: $1350