You are about to set foot on the first national park in Canada—Banff National Park. A place known for its beautiful lakes, mighty waterfalls, the Rocky Mountains, spectacular glaciers, and icefields. Depending on when you go, the scenery will be different. In the summer, the lakes and waterfalls will be turquoise blue (or emerald) with flowers blooming throughout the park. In the winter, the lakes and waterfalls will be frozen and the whole park will be blanketed with snow on top of snow on top of more snow. Either way, the scenery is stunning year round.
A couple of my friends and I—including Jennifer—visited Banff and Jasper national parks in mid March (you can read about our Jasper adventures here). From LAX, we flew into Calgary, the closest airport to the park, just a little over an hour drive. Unlike California, it was still winter here. The weather was approximately in the high 30s and low 40s during the day and approximately in the high 10s and low 20s during the evening or early morning. Stay warm! If you want to avoid the snow and the cold, the best time to visit is in the summer with July as the warmest month. However, one of the perks of visiting in the wintertime is there are less crowds; an opportunity to be isolated and one with nature.
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 (wow!): 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. Time to plan your next vacation here!
Below are the beautiful places we visited:
Vermilion Lakes. A series of lakes along Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway). During the sunset, we saw lots of photographers taking pictures of the scenery and swans swimming in the frosty lakes. There was a small bridge that goes out to the lake where we sat, chatted, and enjoyed the sunset like old friends.
Lake Louise. Just off of Highway 1 or 1A, we heard that this is one of the most popular places in Banff and rightfully so. As the frozen lake emerged into our view, I couldn’t help but open my mouth in awe. The lake looked so vast and endless with the snow-peaked mountains in the background, completing the whole “wow” effect. We walked across the lake–snow up to our knees, but we didn’t care, we were too busy soaking up the amazing view. We also 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), it has the same striking view as Lake Louise but less crowded. It was just us and a few cross-country skiers. I loved the whole “being isolated in nature” feel. 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. Since 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 made it back down and found the lake, the snow glistening as it outlined the shape of a wolf. Howl away!
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.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- Layer up. The temperature can change drastically during the day and night so wear layers. We experienced this change when we hiked in 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 you should look up the trail conditions prior to hiking them.
- Tire chains. They are not required but can come in handy on icy roads. However, when we went in March, 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 where you’re hiking.
- 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.
- Time zone. Banff is on Mountain Daylight Time. Change your clock accordingly!
- Website. Check the website for updates on weather and trail conditions prior 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 and see the park in a whole new perspective.
If you have any other questions about our trip or want to know how to prepare, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to answer them!