There's something about Banff National Park that is so majestic, in every aspect. Around every corner is a postcard that is unfolding right in front of you. As you explore the first established national park of Canada, you'll quickly find it to be love at first hike. I've been to a number of national parks in the United States, but I can say without a doubt that Banff is at the top of my list, right up there with Yosemite.
While visiting during the shoulder season in May, the weather was very unpredictable with snowstorms and rain. This may be a hindrance to some, but with the emergence of wildlife, trail accessibility and open roads before millions of tourists blanket the park, I highly encourage to visit outside of peak season.
Day 1: Calgary to Banff
Starting off in Calgary. Just 30 minutes into the drive, and you're already in the outskirts of the city, with amazing scenery all around you. Very quickly you'll notice the endless tree lines as you make your way towards Banff National Park.
Our first stop was Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka, both of which are connected to one another, and towered over by the Cascade Mountains in the distance. This being our first point of interest, we were already blown away by the landscape, crisp air and wildlife.
After enjoying the breathtaking views, we were quickly on to our next stop... or so we thought. As we were leaving, we ran into a bit of a roadblock. We came face to face with a couple of bighorn sheep rams blocking our way. What we thought were just a couple, quickly turned into a group of rams crossing the road. Abbey Road-esque, if you ask me.
While we were ready to go about our ways, we couldn't help but channel our inner Nat Geo... or tourist ways. Call if what you like, but it'll be hard for anyone not to get out and get a closer look. We didn't have any trouble accomplishing this, as they were coming right up to our car as if we were selling ice cream.
From Lake Minnewanka, we wrapped around Tunnel Mountain Road, through Banff resort, and made our way to Surprise Corner Viewpoint. Here you'll get a great shot of the Banff Springs Hotel, which was built in the late 1800's. Needless to say, there's plenty of history behind this hotel. It sits right along the Rocky Mountains and overlooks Bow Falls.
After a quick pitstop we continued our journey towards Vermillion Lakes, which is about a 10 minute drive from Surprise Corner. Here you'll find a collection of lakes and hikes surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. You can find a hot spring at the third lake.
Next on our list was Johnston Canyon. It'll take you about 30 minutes to drive here from Vermillion Lakes. Johnston Canyon consists of two falls; upper and lower, both of which are modest hikes. Lower falls is a quick 1 mile hike, while getting to the upper falls can take up to 30 minutes with slight elevation gain. Between the upper and lower falls, we stumbled down a hidden path to find another waterfall that most people will miss along the way.
25 minutes north of Johnston Canyon lies Lake Louise, in all it's glory. This is probably the most popular point of interest within Banff National Park, and I could quickly see why. Photos from Lake Louise are all over the place, and I always wondered... is the water really that color? Most places hardly ever look like they do in photos after all the post process editing, so I kept my expectations low. Once we arrived, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I've never seen a view or landscape as vibrant as this. The famous Lake Louise turquoise comes from the runoff of the nearby glaciers, which overlook the lake. Make sure you stay here long enough for the sun to shine on the lake. You won't regret it!
Just when I thought Lake Louise's view couldn't be matched, we arrived at Moraine Lake. Moraine is right around the corner; about a 10 minute drive from Lake Louise. From the parking lot we could see people at the top of the overlook. The four of us climbed this cliff while sharp rocks were pointing in every direction; being precise with every step, making sure we don't slip and fall. Finally, as we courageously made our way to the top, it was only to find out that everyone else had taken the stairs on the other side of the cliff. I think it goes without saying, but we took the stairs going down.
While gearing up to leave Moraine, we ran into some snowfall. We wanted to wait it out and see if mother nature would let up. But in the end we decided to call it a day, as we were all exhausted and dreading the long drive ahead of us back to Canmore for the night. We stayed the night at World Mark Properties via Airbnb, which is a quaint apartment style complex just a few minutes from the main street in Canmore.
If you plan to make your way to Jasper National Park the next day, I highly recommend camping or lodging in Banff. You'll save a few hours of retracing your steps the next day like we did.
Day 2: Canmore to Jasper
Before we were officially in Jasper National Park, we made a stop along the way at Bow Summit. You'll be driving about an hour and a half from Moraine Lake to reach this point, but the scenery along the way and the view of Peyto Lake at the top of Bow Summit will not disappoint.
The route from Banff to Jasper is one you'll never forget. You'll be driving by the Wapta Icefields and Athabasca Glacier, along with endless fields of trees and gorgeous landscapes.
Our next stop was Sunwapta Falls. Right before the entrance, you can make a quick stop at Sunwapta Falls Lodge, which has a gift shop and cafe. Try their beef stew and thank me later. You can drive right up to the scene, where the upper falls are just a few steps away. Although the upper falls are probably best for photos, the lower falls are still worth the hike.
Our final destination was Athabasca Falls. This is about a 20 minute drive, north of Sunwapta Falls. Here you'll come across the waterfall with the strongest current and downfall among all of the prior waterfalls I've listed above. While we were approaching night fall, it was the perfect opportunity to grab a few photos without tourists jumping in our way, as this spot is notoriously crowded during the day.