Banff National Park, Canada Travel Guide

Visiting Banff National Park was on my bucket list for a long time, and for good reason--that area is downright gorgeous all year long! After sitting down for a coffee date with my friend Michell, we both spontaneously decided that we were going to go for it. So after a few months of planning, we made our way to Canada in July of 2017. Our first stop was in the Vancouver area where we spent 4 days (Vancouver blog post coming soon). After Vancouver, we flew to Calgary and spent the next 4 days exploring the breathtaking beauty of Banff. 

Sadly, I ended up being super sick throughout the entire trip, but my friend and I are such go-getters that you wouldn't have been able to tell at all! We were still getting up early every day, going to sleep late, and getting the absolute most out of our trip in what little time we had. 

Where we stayed:

  • We stayed in an Airbnb in Calgary, and then drove for a couple hours to Banff National Park every day. We did this because the cost to stay in Calgary was significantly less than the cost to stay in Banff, and we also wanted to explore Calgary a bit. We actually ended up getting super lucky because all of Banff lost electricity while we were there, so we enjoyed the luxury of having electricity in our Airbnb. However, the driving in and out of Banff got a bit old, so I'll definitely try to stay in Banff the next time I go. 

What we did:

  • Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is absolutely stunning and is the shade of blue I only thought existed in photoshopped images. However, this lake needs no filters or photoshop because it is naturally the most unreal, beautiful shade of blue. The overlook to this lake also offers gorgeous mountain views! Bonus: the hike to this overlook is very short and easy! The downside is that it gets pretty crowded, but don't let the crowds deter you! This lake is definitely worth the quick stop. 

  • Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is a must see for anyone who visits Banff. The easy access (you literally just walk up to it from the parking lot) makes this lake accessible to anyone, and the views are absolutely stunning. To avoid the crowds plus catch some gorgeous views, we visited Moraine Lake at sunrise. We got there very early, climbed the huge pile of boulders next to the lake, and claimed a prime sunrise viewing spot. I'm so glad we arrived early (about 30/45 minutes before sunrise) because the awesome spot we got made viewing the sunrise all the more enjoyable. If you come for sunrise, make sure you wear layers and bring a few snacks. It'll be a bit of a wait!

  • Lake Louise

Lake Louise is yet another must see lake in Banff. It's easily accessible and gets very crowded, but seeing its beauty is worth dealing with the crowds. This lake is seriously so breathtaking that Michell and I got teary-eyed just looking at it! There is no picture out there that does this lake justice, so you will have to visit this lake for yourself to see what I mean. 

  • Lake O'Hara (Yoho National Park)

Visiting Lake O'Hara ended up being a last minute decision for us, but we are so so glad that we visited this lake. We loved it so much that it ended up being one of our favorite locations of the entire trip. I highly recommend visiting and hiking around this gorgeous lake!

Before you go, know that there are a couple challenges along the way. First, it's about a 7 mile uphill hike along an unpaved road to arrive at Lake O'Hara. There is a bus that takes visitors up for a fee, but since this visit was a last minute decision and we didn't have a reservation, we ended up hiking the 7 miles up. Considering the hike was uphill and we were carrying camera equipment, this hike ended up taking us a couple of hours. There is more hiking once you arrive at Lake O'Hara, so I recommend taking the bus if you can so that you have more energy once you arrive. 

Lake O'Hara itself was absolutely gorgeous, but the fun didn't end there. We ended up hiking to Opabin Prospect by taking the West Opabin Trail. The hike definitely had its challenges (more of an intermediate hike) and ended up taking over an hour (we stopped to take photos often), but the reward was a stunning view of Lake O'Hara and Mary Lake. Seriously one of the most amazing views I have ever seen! This view is an absolute must-see, and to top it off, we only ran into a few people along the way. I can't wait to go back someday.

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Tip: there is a bus that you can take back down the unpaved road for only $10 and without a reservation! We ended up taking the bus down and were very glad that we did. 

  • Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park)

Emerald Lake was beautiful, and we had fun walking around and admiring this lake. We didn't spend a ton of time here, but the time that we did spend was filled with stunning lake and mountain views. Also, this lake was way less crowded than some of the other easily accessible lakes such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. I think I'd like to go back here and do some canoeing!

  • Johnston Canyon 

Johnston Canyon was the only thing we did in Banff that didn't somehow involve a lake, so the deviation was very welcome! Rather than seeing lakes and mountains, Johnston Canyon is all about the canyon (duh), streams, forests, and waterfalls. Also, the smell of this place was just so fresh and wonderful. 

We loved seeing the gorgeous waterfalls and streams, and we even went off the path for a bit so that we could stand behind a waterfall! It's pretty popular for people to go off the path at a certain point and experience the waterfall up close, so if you are interested in doing this, then just follow the people along down to the waterfall. You'll know when you've reached this point! 


What we ate:

  • Cows ice cream in Banff

Michell and I love ice cream, so we ended up stopping at Cows in Banff (the town) like three or four times. The ice cream here is delicious, and they have a great range of flavors. The amount of ice cream options is a tad overwhelming, but if you go to their website, you can find a list of the flavors that they carry and figure out what to order beforehand. 

  • OEB Breakfast Co. in Calgary

If you are in Calgary at all, you must must must eat breakfast at this place! We ate here every morning, and it was seriously some of the best breakfast food I've ever had. Everything was farm fresh and delicious. Do yourself a favor and go eat here. 

  • Whitehorn Bistro at Lake Louise Ski Resort

Eating at Whitehorn Bistro was just as much about the experience as it was about the food. To arrive at this restaurant, we took the gondola at the Lake Louise Ski Resort which offered some spectacular views of the scenery. The views didn't end there though, because Whitehorn Bistro has a patio that offers panoramic views of the mountains as well as Lake Louise! As far as the food goes, we had a very delicious meat and cheese platter. Honestly, I didn't care too terribly much about what I ate since the views were so amazing. 

  • Regrub in Calgary

I mentioned how much we like ice cream, right? Yeah, well this stop was all about shakes! This place had some crazy, yummy shakes featuring donuts and Oreos and cotton candy and cheese cake, and the list goes on! Plus, we had some burgers that weren't too bad either. The downside to this place was the super long wait. If you're in a rush, then this is probably not the right place to go. 

Have any questions or comments? Comment below or contact me! I'd love to hear your thoughts.