9 of the Best Places to Visit in Banff National Park
Banff National Park has my heart. I was blown away by how much beauty was in one place and the miles and miles filled with mountain views. These giants were humbling and I don’t think I ever got over how much beauty was surrounding me. While our trip was short, I wanted to share a few of my favorite places to visit, hikes, and tell you a little bit about our stay!
My boyfriend, Zeke, & I flew into Calgary and got a rental car right out of the airport. I’ll start by saying that a rental car was one of the most important investments we made on the trip. It allowed us to get around according to our own schedule and get to places that might otherwise have been tough to get to. I’m very independent too, so when I can avoid traveling with large groups, that is a major plus! We went straight from the airport to Pizzeria Gaga in Calgary, and were greeted by some of the sweetest people as we ordered an absolutely delicious wood fired pizza. From there, we headed to Banff!
Here are a 9 places I recommend to visit when you head to Banff National Park:
1. It’s a no brainer…. Lake Louise!
I had seen a billion pictures of the famous, turquoise lake in Banff, and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. As much as I love photos, they just can’t capture the full experience of visiting these beautiful places. Lake Louise was less than an hour drive from Banff (the town!) and totally worth it. We went late in the afternoon which we assumed helped us avoid large crowds. Be aware though, it is a popular spot so you will not be experiencing the view alone. A short walk from the parking lot, it's very doable if you're not much of a hiker or want a quick trip. We hiked around the lake to get away from the crowds. If you want a people-free view, I recommend following the dirt path towards the mountains until you find the perfect spot to relax and take in the scenery.
2. Moraine Lake
Another one of Banff’s true gems, this turquoise lake is about a 30 minute drive past Lake Louise. The lake had tons of fallen logs to climb around on and rocks along the shore to explore. I can’t speak to how busy it normally is since we went while it was raining, but I would definitely recommend Moraine Lake if you are planning to head out to Lake Louise. You can head straight from Lake Louise up the mountain to check out the stunning views of Moraine Lake.
3. Johnston Canyon Trail Hike (Lower & Upper Falls)
Wow, this was hands down our favorite hike while we were in Banff! The hike to lower falls is about 1.1 km and takes about 30 minutes. Along the trail you will get to follow several walkways that go above the river where there would otherwise just be canyon walls. The lower falls hike is fairly easy and if you cross the bridge, there is a small cave just ahead that allows you to get up close to the water fall (yes, you will probably be misted!). If you keep heading up, you will then be on route to Upper Falls. It's about 2.7 km’s from the parking lot and gets a little bit steeper, but totally worth the hike.
4. Detour to a small waterfall along Johnston Canyon Trail
I give total credit to my new photographer friend Jess of Jess Leigh Artist for showing us this one. There is a mini waterfall that is accessible through a detour between lower falls and upper falls on Johnston Canyon Trail. It’s about 15-20 minutes past lower falls and along one of the many dirt trails on the side of the path. It was closer to upper falls than we had expected, so Zeke ran all around dirt paths along the way before we found it. Follow a dirt path over some fallen trees and find your way to this gorgeous spot. While it looks like a cave, it is only a rock wall adjacent to a giant rock with a river running through it. Be aware, it can be a bit slippery so make sure you’re in proper hiking shoes.
5. Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon Trail Hike (Approx. 5.8 km/3.6 miles one way)
On a whim, Zeke and I decided to keep going after we reached the Upper Falls on the Johnston Canyon Trail. We headed up and followed the (easy to follow) signs to the ink pots. This was my absolute favorite place I went to during the whole trip. While it’s definitely a steep hike - bring water and comfy shoes! - the views are well worth it. It leads to a valley surrounded by mountains with a river running through it. There are also “ink pots”. These are beautiful clear pools of varying colors of blue and green that provide some GORGEOUS reflections of the mountains. There are also benches scattered around to give you a place to eat your lunch. We snacked on goldfish as we took in the scenery around us!
6. Ice fields Parkway
The ice fields parkway is a beautiful drive through Banff National Park. We drove from Banff to the Columbia Ice Field Glacier which took somewhere between 2-3 hours. There are several gorgeous lakes and mountain views along the way. We also saw wildlife as we were driving along - bears, big horn sheep, etc. If you want to see a lot of beautiful views from the driver’s seat, this is what I would recommend to you. Just be sure to bring lunch since there are not many places to eat along the drive.
7. Columbia Ice fields /Athabasca Glacier
The Columbia Ice fields is a beautiful ice field that is located towards the end of the Icefields Parkway Drive. While we didn’t have time, you can take tours that will bring you onto the ice so you can actually set foot on the Athabasca glacier (pictured above). There are several hikes nearby as well that will help you see the glacier. Since we were in a rush, we just parked at the bottom parking lot to grab a few photos. I had never seen a glacier before, so it was definitely worth the drive to see!
8. Bow Lake
This is another easily accessible view along the Icefields Parkway drive. We walked 5 minutes from the parking lot to get to the sand along the beach. It was beautiful and even had a cute little bridge to cross over a stream. This is a great halfway point between the Columbia Icefields to take a bathroom break and stretch your legs!
9. Canmore & The Three Sisters
Lastly, since Zeke and I stayed in Canmore (about a 15 minute drive from the town of Banff) we had beautiful views of the Three Sisters Mountain Range. There are several easily accessible lakes in Canmore that look up at the three sisters mountain range. This view was right outside our hotel balcony and honestly it was one of my absolute favorites. Definitely worth stopping to take it in, though if you’re in a rush, you can see the mountain range from the freeway as you’re passing Canmore.
Banff National Park was such a magical place and I am so thankful I was able to spend a few days taking in it’s views. We felt that we barely touched the surface for what the park had to offer in our short 5 day trip. For those of you who have been to Banff National Park, let me know what your favorite views and hikes were! For those of you who haven’t been, I definitely recommend adding this beautiful Canadian national park to your travel bucket list!