Banff remains one of the most beautiful areas I’ve explored to date. The drive from Calgary was simple and quite gorgeous — miles and miles of country. I’ll never forget the first glimpse of the mountains — a wall of majesty, impossible to fully fathom in its massive scale — pure beauty.
Remember that you’re entering a national park, so be prepared to shell out some cash upon arrival. We paid to cover our entire stay so we didn’t have to stop each time we drove in.
Where to wander //
The town of Banff itself is pretty touristy. Kinda cute, kinda overwhelming. Nothing that we needed to spend much time on, so we basically drove straight through. We didn’t spend time shopping or exploring the restaurants. That’s not to say there aren’t some gems, but in the interest of time, we decided against it. Here were our big adventures…
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Bring your suit, bring a towel, and lounge for hours (you can also rent these things, should you have forgotten to pack them). The views were unbeatable and the weather was brisk enough to soak for a solid amount of time without overheating.
Fairmont Banff Hotel
Post soak, we wound our way up to the Fairmont Banff Hotel to poke around and stuff our faces with the best burger I’ve EVER had (crunchy kale, pickled onions, and a cheddar beer sauce that basically made my heart stop in all the right ways). Pretty picturesque little situation they’ve got going on up there…
The Fairmont Lake Louise is situated on this famous lake. This area is FLOODED with tourists. People everywhere. The resort itself is nothing to write home about (especially from the outside), but Lake Louise was something to behold. I was incredibly sick this day, and the temperature had dropped from manageable cold to losing fingers cold. But there was no way in that cold hell that I was going to pass up an opportunity to paddle on this lake! This was a huge bucket list item for all three of us, and I was determined to tough it out! Best worst decision I’ve ever made.
Another bucket list stop, Moraine was equally as jaw-dropping. We didn’t spot any canoes (winter was fast approaching, as you can tell), but the short hike up to the lookout was sufficient. Skip the gift shop area unless you really have to pee.
We found out about this lake by happy accident. As we were collecting groceries for our drive out to Banff, a nice gentleman at the grocery overheard us talking about driving Icefields Parkway through Banff. He said, “whatever you do, DON’T SKIP Peyto Lake.” We heeded his advice and, well, he’s now deemed one of the smartest men I’ve ever met.
The hike to the top isn’t terrible. When you’re sick and freezing it doesn’t feel like the easiest hike in the world, but it was manageable. And the view from the top is worth a thousand sicknesses because LOOK AT THAT!!!
We had every intention of making it to Jasper, but upon realizing just how MASSIVE Banff is, we decided to reserve that for our next trip.
Horseback Riding @ Fairmont Banff
We hopped on some horses and took a tour of the backwoods. It was wet and muddy and I felt bad for the horses who struggled on the trails, but it was a wonderful experience. We spotted a moose (our only wildlife sighting aside from millions of birds) and crossed a river.
Where to stay //
We rented an Airbnb in Canmore, just outside of Banff (staying in Banff is crazy expensive). Funny little town. We didn’t make an effort to scout out this area, since we wanted to make the most of our time in Banff proper, but the snow fell on our first night and we were happy to walk around near our condo a bit. The views were still pretty remarkable.
Bottom line //
Get in the car and drive. Stop when you want. Follow the beauty. Research some must-dos, but don’t hesitate to just go. Icefields Parkway is gorgeous, even without an agenda.