When we traveled to the PNW in June we ended our trip on a high note, in Banff. We drove from Vancouver into Banff and spent 3 days taking it all in. The massive area that this park spans is incredibly beautiful and also a bit overwhelming if you don’t have much time, like us. We wanted to do ALL the things, but we couldn’t. We did make sure to see the can’t miss spots like Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. I’ve got a few tips to share too, that may help if you’re planning a trip to Banff.
If you are thinking of taking a trip to Banff, let me just go ahead and help you now — stay in Canmore! Especially if you are traveling during peak season. We spent very little time in the actual town of Banff because there were SO many people — EVERYWHERE. It was a bit claustrophobic to be honest. While you do have a beautiful view of the mountains, that was about the only positive I found in the town of Banff. Plus, it is only about a 15 minute drive between the two towns, so it’s not as if you’ll be farther away from the most notable areas of the park.
We stayed at Basecamp lodge in Canmore, which was very new and very affordable (affordability is not always in abundance here). We loved it there. It was also conveniently located right next to Rocky Mountain Bagel Co., which we walked to every morning. So yummy.
Depending if the lakes in Banff are a big factor in your trip, make sure you are planning a trip when they will be thawed. They usually do not thaw before late May/early June. We happened to time our visit perfectly with the thaw of lakes, completely unintentionally. I had honestly not even thought about the lakes possibly still being frozen, because it was summer. But that easily could have happened. Thankfully, the lakes thawed just a few days before our trip, because seeing them in all their emerald glory was very important to me. Our first day there was June 4th, for reference.
Once the lakes begin to thaw it is a rather rapid transformation. Once that water begins moving, it can only take a few days to completely thaw. You can keep up with the thawing of Lake Louise with a webcam link from a webcam at The Fairmont Chateau here.
Also, if you’re planning to travel in the summer still take warm clothing. It snowed on us while were there – IN JUNE!
Lake Moraine was my absolute favorite lake, while Peyto Lake was Bobby’s. And yet, canoeing on Lake Louise was my most favorite experience while we were there.
If you’re planning to visit lake Louise and Moraine lake, I would encourage you to arrive EARLY and park in the lot at Lake Louise and ride the shuttle up to Moraine Lake. There is a very large parking lot right before the exit to Lake Louise that is seemingly free – but turns out it’s not. We learned that the hard way on our first day. You will still have to pay to ride to Moraine Lake and back but at least that’s only one round trip.
The wildlife sightings were one of my most favorite parts of our whole trip! Because ya know, I’m a nerd. So if you’re are hoping to see some wildlife while you’re there, make sure to get up early and take the lesser traveled roads.
We saw elk and black bear along the Bow Valley Parkway and Minnewanka Loop. We also began our drive down the Icefields parkway which evidently has many viewing spots for wildlife. But, the entire parkway is about a 3 hour drive and we didn’t have enough time to drive it completely or get off at any spots. So, If I get to visit again I would plan an entire day for the Icefields Parkway.
On our way back to our base in Portland, we traveled through Kootenay national park where we saw a wolf! And as we continued our drive into Radium Hot Springs, we saw a group of big horned sheep.
I also really enjoyed seeing the wildlife overpasses while were there. They made my heart happy.
Banff was by far our most favorite spot on our PNW trip and I am so grateful that we were able to visit.