12 Apr A Photo Essay: Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada
After visiting twice in one summer, Banff National Park became one of our favorite spots in Canada. Although both road trips were too short, one was three nights and the other was two, we were still able to cover quite a bit of ground. One of our favorite pastimes quickly became gazing at the bright blue lakes with rocky mountains in the background. There are so many spectacular lakes throughout the park, and depending on the light, the range of blue hues varied along a spectrum that we never knew was possible. From bright aqua to a milky blue, we witnessed shade after shade.
In addition to staring at the lakes with our jaws flapping in the wind, we canoed on Moraine Lake twice, camped in two different campgrounds, hiked the Johnston Canyon Trail and the Sulphur Mountain Trail, rode the Banff Gondola, soaked in the warm waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs, explored the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and wandered around the adorable downtown area of Banff.
Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park, and it is situated within the Canadian Rockies mountain range. The park encompasses more than 2,300 square miles of mountains and wilderness. While we still have so much of the park left to see, we have already fallen in love with this slice of mountain paradise. Here’s a peek into our two adventures through the park—hopefully we can add visit number three to the list soon!
Lake Louise is located a short drive from the Village of Lake Louise. Just like many of the lakes throughout the park, the glacial lake is a bright turquoise and surrounded by snow capped mountains. There are several hiking trails, canoes are available for rent, and a beautiful castle-like hotel, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, overlooks the lake.
When driving along the Icefields Parkway, we had to make a stop at Bow Summit for views of Peyto Lake. A short walk from the parking lot led us to these views of the milky blue lake in the valley below.
Located just a short drive from Peyto Lake, we found Bow Lake and couldn’t resist stopping there, as well. Bow Lake is located right next to the Icefields Parkway and it is easily accessible from the parking lot. We relaxed on the rocky shoreline and snapped way too many photos before continuing on our way.
Moraine Lake ended up being one of our favorite spots in the park. The lake is located less than 10 miles down the road from Lake Louise, but the road to the lake is closed during the winter months (usually mid-October to mid-May). There are hiking trails, a lodge and canoe rentals at the lake, and if you are visiting during peak summer times, make sure to arrive early because it gets busy, especially if you want to rent a canoe.
We loved this lake so much that we couldn’t resist renting canoes both times we visited. The water was bright turquoise and crystal clear–it felt as though we were gliding through the air! Even though our visits were only a month and a half apart, it was interesting to see how different the atmosphere felt. Our first visit in mid-July felt like summer, and our second visit at the end of August felt much more like winter; however, both were equally as beautiful!
The Johnston Canyon Trail consists of a catwalk that is suspended over a river deep inside the canyon. The hike is fairly easy and the trail to Upper Johnston Falls is 3 miles roundtrip. Along the trail you will find several cascading waterfalls and fantastic canyon views!
Another adventure that we really enjoyed was hiking up Sulphur Mountain and then taking the Banff Gondola back down the mountain. The hike is 3.4 miles each way and the elevation gain is 2.300 feet–it was a steep hike but very rewarding. The views from the top look over the town of Banff, and if you don’t feel like hiking, you can take the gondola both ways.
The town of Banff is adorable and filled with restaurants, bars, shops, a river to canoe on, and plenty of other activities. We couldn’t resist spending an afternoon browsing the shops and relaxing at coffee shops before heading out to dinner–dining out was a welcome break from campfire food!
Banff National Park has several hot springs and you can learn more about the hot springs at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. The site is more of a museum and you cannot actually go for a swim in the springs. Honestly, this wasn’t our favorite spot, but since admission is only a few dollars, it was an interesting way to learn about the park and the hot springs within its boundaries.
In our opinion, the Upper Banff Hot Springs was a better way to experience the hot springs in Banff. Soak in the outdoor pool and gaze at the mountains in the distance–it is the perfect way to spend a few hours of your day. Plus, if you are camping, it’s a great way to take a shower…in the showers prior to entering the hot spring, of course!
Throughout both of our visits, we spent several nights camping at the Tunnel Mountain Village I Campsite and one night camping at the Lake Louise Campground. We enjoyed both campgrounds and we lucked out with nice weather every night except for the morning when we woke up with ice on our tent!
Vermilion Lakes is a series of lakes near the town of Banff. We enjoyed checking out the views from several of the lakes, and while we didn’t end up hiking in this area, there are several hiking trails if you do want to explore more.
Lake Minnewanka is located in the eastern portion of the park, an area we didn’t get to explore much. We drove around the area one afternoon but ended up getting stuck in a thunderstorm. The only sight we had time to see was Lake Minnewanka, but it was worth it for the views!
We always seemed to be busy around sunset, so one of the only sunsets we managed to catch was through the car window. We loved how late the sun set in July–it didn’t get dark until after 10 p.m., which gave us plenty of daylight to explore!
Even with the late sunsets, we managed to stay up late a few nights to capture some star photos. The first shot we captured was from a lookout point just across the road from the Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff.
This was the night at the Lake Louise Campground where temperatures were below freezing, but at least we lucked out with clear views of the sky!
We couldn’t get enough of Moraine Lake in the daylight, so we had to make an evening trip to take some night photos, as well. Even though the lights from the lodge were bright, we still managed to capture some stars!
While we love so many spots throughout Canada, Banff National Park is definitely one of our favorites. The endless lakes, mountainous landscapes, and opportunities for adventure make this a standout destination!
Have you ever been to Banff National Park?