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At the # 3 spot is Banff and Jasper National Parks. The Canadian Rockies are gorgeous and there is so much to see without having to hike. We explored Banff, drove the length of the Icefields Parkway, and visited Jasper. If you are pressed for time, I recommend doing just Banff (including Peyto Lake).
Things to do:
Personal Opinion/Timing Tips: I try to maximize my time when I’m on vacation. I don’t get paid time off, so Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays are my days to travel. I try to take the least amount of time off and see the most while I’m on vacation.
You can do Banff in 2 full days. Jasper can be done in 1-2 days.
Airport: Calgary- it’s about a 2 hour drive to Lake Louise
Where to stay: we stayed in the nearby town of Canmore. It took us about 40 minutes to drive to Lake Louise. We went during Canadian day (around our July 4th), so all the hotels were booked and expensive. We were told that it was a bucket list to stay at the Fairmont on Lake Louise but at $900/night, we decided to pass. Canmore is a small town with all the amenities such as supermarket, liquor store, and restaurants. There are a lot of hotels so there are lots of options on finding affordable lodging.
We stopped by the city of Banff for dinner. Parking is hard to find, so prepare to drive around! There are a lot of restaurants and bars so its a good spot to hang out if you have time.
Lake Louise is very accessible. You park about 500 feet from the lake and walk along a flat path towards the lake. There are kayak rentals and restrooms on site. A lot of hiking trails start here as well.
We did Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike. It is a 9.4 mile roundtrip and 1500 feet elevation gain hike up to a tea house where you can buy snacks and/or drinks. Try to stay on trail! On our way down, we got lost and ended up in the moraine and had to climb rocks and find our way out. It was fun, but we also had about 8 other people around and it was still very early in the day. It’s a long trail, I would recommend Bee Hive trail over this one. Depending on what time of the year you go, there still may be a lot of snow and ice on the trail. It was July, and we had snow at the top of the hike.
Moraine Lake is near Lake Louise. You’ll have to drive about 15 minutes up to it. It is just as gorgeous and there are rocks and cute little areas you can climb for a different view (and different photos). Definitely worth a visit!
Peyto lake is surreal! It has THE most turquoise waters out of all the lakes. There is a short, 1 mile hike up to the top and there are a few spots where you can get away from the crowds to take photos. It is a MUST do!
Johnston Canyon was a fun little hike. You can hike for as far as you’d like and turn around whenever you’d like. There are small little creeks and waterfalls on the trail. Make sure to stop and enjoy the view. The beginning of the trail is crowded and there are some tight areas where you’ll have to take turns walking through. We went 1.5 miles in and turned around.
Maligne Canyon is in Jasper National Park. There are numbered viewpoints on this trail. We ended up going all the way to the 7th stop. I don’t recommend going past the 3-4 stop. It begins to look the same and you CAN drive to the other stops. When we went, the mosquito were OUT! We had to spray ourselves every 15 minutes!
Parker Ridge Hike: This hike is located near the Icefields between Banff and Jasper. It is a steep hike. We only did a mile of it to the viewpoint. There, we were able to see the Icefields and surrounding peaks.
Icefields: This is located right near the visitor center. It is a short hike up to the base of the Athabasca Glacier. There is an option to take a tour and walk on the glacier (I’m saving my glacier walk for Alaska!) The Icefields Parkway is a road that connects Banff and Jasper. Its long and the views are of glacier carved mountains. If you’re on a time crunch, you can probably skip the Icefields and drive.
Athabasca Falls: This area is a cute stop off the Icefields Parkway. There are waterfalls and little caverns to explore. Plan to spend at least 45 minutes here. If you have time, its worth a stop.
Whitewater Rafting: We decided to go on a last minute rafting trip in Jasper. It was fun but the rapids were calm. If you’re looking for lots of splashes and big drops, this isn’t it. The water is also very cold (it is glacier run off). We went with company: White water rafting Jasper
Other options: While doing research, I found these hikes. We did NOT actually do these.
Banff: Lake Helen (7.5 miles round trip, requires a 0.65 mile climb to the top ridge)
Jasper: Mount Edith Cavell: Long curvy drive to get to trailhead, 10 minute walk to edge of glacier but recommended to go all the way to the meadow
Jasper” Bald Hills trail: Panoramic views of mountains and lakes in area, 6.2 miles roundtrip, bring bear spray
Jasper: Morro Peak: 2.5 miles roundtrip, easy but some steep areas