Banff National Park, with its distinction as Canada’s first and therefore oldest national park, is located in Alberta east of Calgary and we entered through its western border by way of Kootenay National Park. Banff National Park can logically be divided into three distinct parts: the Town of Banff, the Lake Louise area and the lower end of the Icefields Parkway.
Town of Banff:
We had a short travel day and were planning to arrive early, drop the trailer at the Johnston Canyon campground, and explore the town of Banff. As we approached the exit for the campground, we realized it was closed. Turns out that a big bike race was in progress (as we later discovered) and we soon found ourselves in the compact town of Banff with its narrow streets and way too many cars to comfortably navigate with a trailer. We drove over a river and up a mountain before returning back across the same river to find the highway once more! In the process, we also figured out to travel farther north to access the road to the campground, albeit still full of bikes riders and closed to thru-traffic until the race ended.
While waiting for the next couple of hours for traffic to open up, we met a couple of other campers who were willing to share their thoughts and experiences about Banff and the Canadian national parks in general. It was hours well spent gathering insights and tips that we later found quite useful. Soon we were able to unhook the trailer at Johnston Campground and head back into the town of Banff to see the visitor center, explore the town on foot, and get online at one of the local coffee shops. If you can manage to draw your attention away from the many shops, voices of different nationalities, and cool cross walks streaming out in every direction at traffic intersections, you will also find stunning mountain views in the Town of Banff.
We spent three nights at Johnston Campground (including taking part in the ALS ice bucket challenge sweeping Facebook and Twitter) before moving North to the area of Lake Louise.
Lake Louise Area:
Our visit to Lake Louise was a short time in the planning and a long time in the execution. Originally we had pre-booked a full week that ended up cancelled in order for Skyler (our four legged girl) to have and re-cooperate from surgery. We went back and forth multiple times considering whether or not to keep a visit to Canada on our itinerary. The length of time that Banff, in particular, had spent on our bucket list propelled us to go and we are sure glad that we didn’t miss out!
A veritable feast for all the human senses, the Lake Louise area is everything and more the stuff that poets and artists craft. It’s a hiking paradise and we dug right in on the first day with a strenuous hike on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail fording glacial run-off, enjoying refreshments at the tea house at the top (including a rather cheeky bird), and scrambling back down the trail in a down pour. Victoria Glacier encircles the rear of Lake Louise resulting in its glacier fed waters of turquoise … well, check out the pictures for words fail miserably. We found the Chateau Lake Louise, while exceptional, not as elegant as the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lake National Park. Not that the likes of us got to stay at either one, eh!
Equally as visually stunning (we kid you not) is Lake Moraine with its pristine blue waters and numerous hiking trails. Due to the abundant presence of bears (or so hikers were advised), we were legally required to hike in groups of four or more. Fortunately we did not have to wait long at the trailhead to meet up with an interesting couple from Switzerland with whom we traded travel stories and plotted future trips.
We hiked many miles over the course of our three-night stay at the Lake Louise campground. A trip along the Bow Valley Parkway took us to Johnston Canyon and a day trip exploration of the lower end of the Icefields Parkway included a hike to Peyto Lake that was simply breathtaking!
With the long Canadian Labor Day holiday weekend, the Lake Louise campground was fully booked and we were unable to extend our stay any longer. Earlier, we had scoped out the nearest camping options on the Icefields Parkway (which would eventually take us up to Jasper National Park) and we were fortunate to find an outstanding campsite at Mosquito campground, complete with full view of a river surrounded by mountains. It rained both nights and we awoke to a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains each morning, with no mosquitos anywhere to be found!
We hope that we did Banff National Park justice in our video and pictures. But don’t blame us if it makes you want to visit immediately!!
Up Next: Yoho National Park