Banff is the topmost tourist destination in Canada so definitely, a lot is written about it on the internet. When I started to google about my itinerary, I found multiple websites telling me about the top things to do in Banff. But I couldn’t find a one-stop-shop where I could get an idea about everything like the bucket list, weather, food, travel mode, route, tickets, suggested itineraries, what to pack, etc., etc. I hope this blog will help the first-time travelers to Banff in planning their trip even at the last minute.
Best Time to Visit Banff
They say there is no ideal answer to ‘what is the best time to visit a place’ because everyone has her/his priorities. But for Banff National Park, that does not hold. There is the best time to visit Banff and that is between July-September unless you want to ski. That’s the best weather too. We were wearing our Parkas in the first week of October, the first snow falls by October in this part of Canada. If you are a first-time visitor to Banff then please do visit in the season otherwise you will miss out on the brilliant colors of the Lakes in Banff.
How to reach Banff
Now, most of the non-inhabitants/tourists will have to fly in from some other Canadian province to visit Banff. Our route map started from Toronto, we took a WestJet flight to Edmonton, rented a car from the airport, drove to Calgary (around 3 hrs), took a halt there and started our journey to Banff next morning. Most people fly directly to Calgary but we had to take a round trip, Edmonton-Calgary-Banff-Yoho-Jasper-Edmonton. Even if you are landing in Calgary, renting a car is the best way of traveling. There is a divided paved highway all across the national parks, with viewpoints and stop-overs, so you will enjoy driving through this scenic route.
Banff Bucket List
Wherever you go, there is always a list of top shot places to visit and ours were Lake Moraine, Lake Louise, Sulphur Mountain Gondola, Peyto Lake, Town of Banff, Johnston Canyon, Bow Lake, Crowfoot Glacier, Lake Minnewanka, Banff Upper Hot Springs, Vermillion Lakes, Hoodoos, Castle Mountain, Bow Falls, Surprise Corner in that order. If you are short on time then do the first 7 things from above.
The itineraries may vary as per your taste and time constraints. I am sharing a route map which we followed.
Driving to Banff
We started from Calgary early in the morning and headed straight towards the Town of Banff (around 1.6 hrs). As soon as we hit the highway, we spotted the green and white maple leaf boards along the road as markings for the Trans-Canada highway. From the highway towards Banff, you will witness the entire expanse of the Rocky Mountain Ranges from South to North.
View of the Rockies from Trans-Canada Highway towards Banff
On the way, we stopped at the viewpoints to see Kananaskis, Dead Man’s Flat, Mount Rundle and Welcome to Banff board ? or you can just keep driving through the highway admiring the beauty of the majestic Rockies.
Sulphur Mountain and Banff Upper Hot Springs
We drove straight to Sulphur Mountain Gondola via the Town of Banff. You have to book the Gondola ride in advance and pick a time slot, the ticket price was $58/adult. In the first week of October, the view at the top was filled with 6 snow-clad mountain ranges and we were packed in our Parkas. There is an Above Banff interpretive center to tell about the history of Sulphur Mountain and its significance, its really fun for kids. There is a mountain top dining place too. My husband who is a trail walker took a boardwalk to the top of Sanson’s Peak to catch a glimpse of Sulphur mountain cosmic ray station. The view from the top was breathtaking.
View from the Top of Sulphur Mountain
Our next stop for the day was Banff Upper Hot springs. It was a relaxing dip into the natural sulphur hot springs with the snow-clad mountains in the backdrop. Our toddler was really excited to get into the pool of hot springs. The ticket was $8/adult.
On the way back to the town of Banff
Next, we took a stopover at the Vermillion Lakes viewpoint, Bow Falls and the Fairmont Banff spring hotel popularly known as the Surprise corner to click the Banff’s popular postcard picture. We missed out on the walking hoodoos trail as we were short of time and headed towards Lake Minnewanka. The boat tour costs $56/adult. The Lake is filled with crystal clear water, you can see the mirror image of the picturesque mountains in it.
Lake Minnewanka-Banff National Park
We headed back to the picturesque town of Banff. We had a stroll around the market in the evening and tried grilled steak in dinner.
Johnston Canyon and Castle Mountain
The next morning, we started early towards Johnston canyon Lower Falls, a 1 km stroller accessible trail walk. But we forgot that it’s October and the snow would have made the trail non-accessible and we were skidding over the ice while trying to walk the trail so, we headed back ☹. On the way from Johnston Canyon to Lake Louise, we came across Majestic Castle Mountains. And yes, they resemble an actual castle in the sky. We took a detour to get a closer look.
Castle Mountain Range-Banff National Park
Lake Moraine and Lake Louise
Our next stop was the most awaited Lake Moraine and the valley of 10 peaks, the top spot on our bucket list. But our destiny didn’t let us go there, there was a severe snowstorm a day before and the single road to the Serene Lake Moraine was closed and our hearts were shattered☹. Consoling each other, we headed towards Lake Louise, parked our car and walked through the snow-clad Pine cone trees right from the fairy tale books. After walking around 600m, we reached Lake Louise which was swarming with people trying to click their best selfies in front of the beautiful lake with a heart-shaped image of the mountains falling on the waters. We pushed our kid’s stroller zig-zagging amongst the crowd and clicked a few good pictures.
Lake Louise-Banff National Park
Bow Lake and Lake Peyto
We headed towards Bow Lake via the beautiful crowfoot glacier viewpoint on the way. There are actually big black crows in that place. Our toddler chased one of them. Moving on, we reached the bow lake viewpoint with crystal clear water that the image of the clouds was mirroring into it. After spending some time there, we headed towards Peyto Lake. Due to snow on the roads, we had to park our car way below the actual parking spot and trek up to the Peyto Lake viewpoint. We took our stroller, pushing over the ice on the road, it was almost 1 km trek uphill. But the trek was worth a view, we had never seen a lake so blue and serene like Lake Peyto. You can’t really reach the lakeside, can view it from the top of the hill. To go back to the parking lot, we took an off beaten forest path full of snow, ice and pine cone trees. It looked liked heaven on earth. With memories from this amazing national park, we headed to our next destination- Yoho National Park!