Awe-inspiring views, crystal clear lakes, mountain roads, log cabins and some of the world’s most beautiful climbs, it can only be one place right? Yes, the Canadian Rockies.
Choosing Canada for a holiday was definitely not a hard decision, I used to be a travel agent and that is where my need to visit the Rockies came from. I created numerous itineraries for clients that wanted to take a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, one of the world’s most famous rail journeys.
So I haven’t quite reached my goal of riding the Rocky Mountaineer, but Alex and I have just completed an incredible journey, starting in Calgary, ending on Vancouver Island.
Apart from a short stay in Calgary, Banff was our first destination. Just an hour and a half from Calgary International Airport, this, along with Canmore, is one of the easiest towns to visit in the Canadian Rockies. Whilst Canmore is technically not in the national park, it is right on the perimeter so I will include it all the same!
Banff National Park as I stated earlier is relatively easier to access, we drove in on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), in order to enter the park (unless you are driving through and not stopping) you must purchase a Parcs ticket. This park ticket also provides access to the surrounding parks such as Yoho and Jasper, it cost us $136 for 6 days, which when you think about all the upkeep of the park, it is pretty reasonable. Day passes are also available for $90.
The park was established in 1885, making it Canada’s first National Park, it encompasses 6,641 square kilometres of beautiful, mountainous terrain. Tourism in Banff has become hugely popular, especially during the summer months, as well as the peak winter period for skiing. We found that May is a great time to visit as the weather was pleasant the whole way through. Whilst we would start the mornings in trousers and a big coat, by lunchtime we would be in our shorts and t-shirts. Avoiding the crowds was a big thing for us, we also saved a lot of money by travelling outside of the peak season, the only downside is that many lakes are still partially or fully frozen, we were unable to see Moraine Lake as the road was still closed from winter.
Our first stop was Canmore, a pretty mountain town filled with both tourists and locals, the streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, and the whole town is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. From here we headed up towards the Grassi Lakes, an easy and fairly short hike uphill to two stunning crystal clear lakes. In comparison to other lakes around Banff, Grassi Lakes are relatively small, however, they are just as beautiful and this turned out to be one of my favourite places on the trip.
The drive to Banff gets more and more beautiful the further you go, and the actual town itself is a great shopping, eating and social destination. Not many people realise Banff was originally a town in which the park was named after, I would recommend staying here for a few days to get a feel for the place. Most sights within the national park are accessible from Banff itself, so spend a few days here and you will get lots ticked off!
The Johnston Canyon, another of our favourite spots, is just 40 minutes from the heart of Banff and in my opinion, is one of the park’s most underrated spots. There is an easy trail that takes a gentle climb from the carpark, the path is enough to fit 2-3 people wide and is paved a large portion of the way. This trail loops up to the lower falls, and for those who want to go further, the upper falls (I would highly recommend doing this). From the bottom of the trail to the top of the falls is a distance of about 2.7km, if you are still not tired then you can travel a further few km to the ink pots, several cold mineral springs that bubble.
For those who don’t want to or are unable to travel outside of Banff town centre, there is the Bow Falls Trail that you can reach easily on foot in around 20-25 minutes with minimal elevation. The falls aren’t the most spectacular in the park but they are pretty and you get a good view of the famous Banff Springs Hotel too!
Our final day in Banff was spent at Lake Louise, but that deserves a post to itself…