Banff National Park is a place that is known for its beautiful lakes, mighty waterfalls, spectacular glaciers and icefields, and the Canadian Rockies. Depending on when you go, the scenery will be different. In the summer, lakes and waterfalls will shimmer a turquoise blue (or emerald) while flowers will bloom throughout the park. In the winter, lakes and waterfalls will freeze and the entire national park will be blanketed with snow. Either way, the scenery is stunning year round.
My friends and I visited Banff National Park and Jasper National Parks this past March (read about our Jasper National Park adventures). We flew into Calgary from LAX (Calgary hosts the closest airport to the park). Not like California, it’s still winter in Canada even in March. During the day, temperatures were in the high 30s and low 40s. At night, temperatures were in the high 10s and low 20s. If you’d rather avoid the snow and the cold, summertime from July through September is the best time to visit Banff National Park. However, one of the perks of visiting during the wintertime is that there will be fewer crowds: an opportunity to be isolated and one with nature.
In case you’re wondering, here are the park fees (in CAD):
Adult – $9.80
Senior – $8.30
Youth – $4.90
Family/Group – $19.60
Commercial Group, per person – $8.30
School Groups, per student – $3.90
Day passes are valid until 4pm on the day after the purchase. They provide entry to 8 national parks including Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, and Elk Island National Parks. You don’t need to buy a pass if you’re passing through or on the scenic parkways such as the Icefields Parkway (#93N) and Bow Valley Parkway (#1A). In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, if you buy a Discovery Pass (a year-long pass) this year, it’ll be valid for two whole years. If not, all of Canada’s national parks are free next year.
Below are the beautiful places we visited:
Vermilion Lakes. A series of lakes along Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway). We sat by the lake to watch the sunset, chatted, and enjoyed each other’s company. Photographers took photos of the scenery. Swans swam in the frosty lakes before us. And birds chirped in the cold air.
Lake Louise. Just off of Highway 1 or 1A, Lake Louise is one of the most popular lakes in Banff National Park, and rightfully so. As the frozen lake emerged into our view, my mouth opened in awe. The lake looked so vast and endless, especially with the snow-peaked mountains in the background. We walked across the lake with snow up to our knees! But we didn’t mind it. We were too busy soaking up the amazing view as we shared the lake with ice skaters and cross-country skiers. From Lake Louise, you can also hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, Lake Agnes Teahouse, Mirror Lake, Big Beehive, and Little Beehive.
Bow Lake. A smaller lake off of Highway 93 (Icefields Parkway), Bow Lake has the same striking view as Lake Louise, except it was less crowded – with just us and a few cross-country skiers. I loved the whole “being isolated in nature” feeling. It was as if for just a couple minutes, the world was ours.
Peyto Lake. A lake shaped like a wolf?! No way! Even though we didn’t get to see any real wolves, the lake made up for it. Peyto Lake can be viewed from Bow Summit, off of Highway 93. Be careful if you go – because the trail was covered in snow, we missed the right turn and ventured left into the snowy mountains. It turned out to be a great adventure and offered breathtaking views of the mountains. Eventually, we found the lake – a short mile or so (maybe even less) from the trailhead.
Mistaya Canyon. This short trail (0.5 km/0.3 miles) to the canyon starts off of Highway 93. There is a bridge that allows you to see down into the canyon. If you walk further, you can sit by the lakes and watch the water rush down into the deep canyon. When we hiked this trail, there was literally no one here. It was great to just sit and listen to the flowing water; another great place to be one with nature.
If you’re planning a trip to Banff National Park, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Layer up. The temperature can change drastically during the day and night. We experienced this change when we hiked from the cool, shady mornings to the warm, sunny afternoons to the cold, windy nights.
- Walk in the appropriate shoes. Bring snowboots, snowshoes, and/or crampons to help you walk on/in the snow. Not all trails require them, so be sure look up the trail conditions prior to hiking them.
- Tire chains. They are not required but can come in handy on icy roads. Luckily, on our trip, the main roads were mostly clear of ice and snow. Some of the smaller and less traveled trails were more covered but still driveable without the chains. As always, drive carefully!
- Winter trails. Trails are not maintained in the winter so make sure you map out the trails you plan to hike.
- Sunglasses. Unless you want to be blinded by the snow, bring a pair of sunglasses.
- Downtown Banff. Visit downtown Banff for some great food, gift shops, shopping, and information center. It has everything you need including a grocery store (Safeway) and a post office.
- Website. Check the Banff National Park website for updates on weather and trail conditions prior to coming to the park. Some roads are closed in the winter such as the popular spot, Moraine Lake.
Banff National Park offers some of the most incredible views and fun activities. Whether you come in the summer or winter, there is always something to see or do. Trust me, it’s hard not to stay busy. I definitely want to come back in the summer once the snow has melted to see the park in a whole new perspective.