Will and I recently went on a hiking trip to Banff in Alberta, Canada to hike the Canadian Rockies. I suggested that we mix things up a bit, and have a little adventure that was different than our usual, summer beach trips. We hiked for three days, and then spent our last day in Calgary to make catching our morning red eye a little easier. In case you’re traveling that way soon, put together our hiking itinerary, along with some extras, to help you plan your next trip.
I had been wanting to go to Banff for some time, and I’m so glad that we finally crossed this destination off our bucket list. Even though we did not have perfect weather while we were there (we had some rain and snow during our morning hikes), the views were just absolutely breathtaking, and we really enjoyed all the places we went, and the people that we met along the way.
We were there mid-June, which is not their peak summer season. We had some unpredictable weather, but that can happen any time you’re in the mountains, so what can you really do? We packed layers, so we’d be ready for anything rain or shine!
We stayed at the Rundlestone Lodge in Banff. It was a cute lodge, and our room was very spacious and nice! We had a balcony that looked out over Banff Ave., and an upstairs loft room that had a huge jacuzzi tub (separate from the full bath downstairs) and a little lounge area.
Our Hiking Plan of Attack
We decided, before we even got to Banff, that we would get up at the crack of dawn to drive to our hikes so we could beat the crowd. Even though we were not there during the “busy” summer months, there were still a lot of tourists in the area, and we had read that things get pretty busy by mid morning/afternoon.
Some locals that we met our first night in town also informed us that parking spots are limited at the places where we were planning to go, so you need to get there early, because when the lots are full, park rangers close the roads, and you’ll just have to wait for a parking spot to open up… Who knows how long that could take!
Lots of people take busses up to the lakes and trails from the city, or they also park their cars at the Lake Louise Gondola and there is a shuttle that will take you to lake Louise/Moraine/Johnston Canyon, but we did not want to do that. We had a car, so why not use it! We also wanted to beat the crowds so we could enjoy all the sights and trails before they got swamped with people.
Day 1 | Johnston Canyon, Inkpots, & Sulphur Mountain
Will suggested that we do Johnston Canyon as our first hike of the trip, and I thought that was a good plan. It’s not really high in elevation, and a lot of the trail getting through the canyon is paved (see pictures below). It was a really nice walk through the canyon, and through to the lower and upper falls. The lower falls has a little cave you can walk through too, to get really close to the waterfall!
Once we made it to the upper falls, we decided to keep going to the Ink Pots. They’re a cluster of little ponds with a natural spring, and they’re all connected by a series of bridges. In the ponds you can see little swirls where the water fills the pots, and they range in colors from blue to green based on the rate of speed that they are filled. Yes, we stop and read all the signs!
It is just a couple extra miles from the upper falls to the Ink pots, and that hike gets a little more steep, but it’s worth it to check out!
After taking a little break for a snack, we continued past the Ink Pots until we met this bridge, and then we turned around and went back. You can cross the bridge and continue on to infinity and beyond, but we had an afternoon hike planned, and it was also time to get some lunch!
The weather fluctuated a lot during our hike in Johnston Canyon. It started out a little overcast, at times would be really sunny and warm so we’d take our jackets off, and then 10 minutes later the cold would come through again and we’d have to put all our layers back on… Remember to always be prepared with layers because, like Forrest Gump says, you never know what you’re going to get!
After fueling back up with some lunch, we hiked up Sulphur Mountain, an almost 3.5 mile, switchback trail. The elevation of Sulphur Mountain is over 8,000 ft., so this was a more challenging trail than our morning hike (walking sticks recommended!). The hike is worth it though, because there is a great view from the top of the mountain of Bow Valley and the city!
At the top of Sulphur Mountain there are also a couple restaurants, observation decks, and a gift shop, so you can really spend some time up there. If you’re not up for the challenging hike, you can take a gondola up and down the mountain (keep reading for more details).
After our hike and checking out all that there was to see on Sulphur Mountain, we had a little time to kill before we could get a free ride down the mountain on the Gondola, so we stopped in the Sky Bistro for a drink. They had a very good cocktail list, a full bar for anything you might want to drink, and their food menu looked really good too (we wanted to get cleaned up from a long day of hiking before we ate, however, so we did not eat there).
Sky Bistro is a great location for a date night. The design and vibe of the restaurant was really cool, and the views from the windows were spectacular.
There is a gondola if you don’t want to hike the steep trail up to Sulphur Mountain. CHECK THE RATES and see what you would prefer to do! If you want the best of both worlds, after 7 P.M., you can get a free gondola ride down from the mountain, so you can hike up the mountain, check out all the sights on the top of the mountain, and then have a ride down.
At the base of Sulphur Mountain is one of Banff’s hot springs. While natural hot springs might have some therapeutic benefits, the hot springs actually just looks like a big hot tub pool. And they were pretty crowded (we walked by to take a peek). Not really an ideal hot spring experience in my opinion.
A local bartender gave us a good tip one day for an alternative to visiting the hot springs. She informed us that you can buy a day pass for the Fairmont Spa and be provided with a nice robe & access to their pools, hot tubs, steam room, sauna, etc., and all for around $25 a day (a lot cheaper than hot spring rates!). Not to mention, the hotel has nice bars/places to eat, so you can really have a nice afternoon in a luxurious hotel for a decent price.
It was a rainy morning on day two for us, but we headed out, rain or shine! We went to Lake Louise, and after taking in the beautiful scenery at the base of the lake, hiked up Lake Agnes trail to head to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
The higher we went up in elevation, the rain turned to snow, but we kept going! We made a stop at Mirror Lake, and then continued on to our final destination.
After the Tea House we were originally planned on going off on a couple more trails, but with the snow, visibility was a little bad; and I made the mistake of wearing a shirt with a cotton blend, and I ended up getting very cold, so I wanted to go back to our hotel to take a hot bath. Not to mention, we were slightly sore from hiking over 11 miles our first day, so I was not opposed to taking it a little easier on day two. Hot epsom salt baths were definitely our best friend on this trip!
At the Tea House we enjoyed some biscuits with jelly and a local wild berry tea. There is no electricity in the Tea House, so it was very rustic, and a cool spot to check out. They are cash only too because of the no electricity thing, so just keep that in mind.
We actually took a ride on the Lake Louise Gondola on our day three hiking, but I’m including it on day two of this guide because that is how we originally planned it. Because of the lower visibility with the snow on our day two, we decided to wait and see if we’d have better weather day three, and we did!
Our plan for the Lake Louise Gondola was to eat at the Whitehorn Bistro at the top of the mountain, so we got the dine and ride tickets, which gave us a discount going up the gondola from the regular rates, plus a $20 credit for each of us to use up at the restaurant. Totally worth it! You can just ride up there to walk around and view the observation decks, but the Whitehorn Bistro had delicious food, and is another awesome place to dine with a gorgeous view.
Our day at Moraine Lake started out with a walk up the Rockpile to check out the views of Moraine Lake. After taking lots of pictures, we took the Trail to Consolation Lake and back, and then just walked around the lake a little more to enjoy the view.
We originally planned to hike Larch Valley Trail for better views of the lake, but since we put off Whitehorn Bistro for a day, we changed our original plans to make accommodations for a good meal! We also wanted to do a couple different stops after lunch, so continue reading to see where we went!
Trail to Consolation Lake
The Trail to Consolation Lake started and ended a little rocky, but was a nice, easy trail over all. The trail followed alongside a river, so we had nice views during our hike. It is just about two miles to Consolation Lake, so this hike is not too long as well.
A nice employee at Whitehorn Bistro told us about Takakkaw Falls, the second largest waterfall in Canada. Takakkaw Falls is actually in Yoho National Park. We crossed over into British Columbia to check out the falls, but it was not too far of a drive from the Lake Louise Gondola (and of course, it was another scenic drive!).
There are several views of the falls on your drive to the Takakkaw Falls Trail, but once you get there, it is just a short walk down a trail until you’re at the base of the falls. There were also a lot of picnic tables around this area, so if you’re packing lunch for the day, this is a great spot to stop for lunch to enjoy a great view.
If you want to try to spot some wildlife There are several scenic drives you can go on during your stay in Banff. We took a drive down Highway 1 on our way back from Takakkaw Falls on our last day, and it was totally worth it because we spotted a black bear (unfortunately I couldn’t get a good picture of him in time before he went along his way)!
On this drive we also saw a sign for Internment Camps, so we had to stop and see what that was all about. On our stop we learned that Banff National Park was a sight where Canadians held immigrants from enemy countries during World War I. During the war there was less of a budget for the National Park, so they used the prisoners for hard labor. We were very surprised that POW’s helped build part of Banff National Park, but were happy to learn some Canadian history.
A great thing about summertime in Banff is the very long days! The sun didn’t set until around 10 P.M., so if you get up early each day, you really have a lot of time to fit a lot of sightseeing in.
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