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Are you thinking to visit Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies? You’re in for an amazing trip!
Banff National Park sits in the heart of the Canadian Rockies surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and glacier-fed lakes and rivers.
Whether you’re considering a trip to Banff or have begun to plan your trip, this guide will both help you plan and show you why Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies are an absolute bucket list destination!
3 Reasons to Visit Banff National Park Immediately
Setting off for a somewhat spur of the moment trip to Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies, I knew it would be pretty, but oh how mistaken I was!
Having arrived in Banff at night, I was totally unaware of the scenery all around. Starting off the next day along Banff Avenue, mountains towered all around, with the quaint town perfectly nestled among them. If you’ve never been to the Canadian Rockies, the mountains viewed from town will take your breath away before you even see an “actual” sight!
Banff National Park quietly and, quite easily, stole a piece of my heart, which is why I made a return trip to Banff in winter. If you’re wondering why you should visit Banff National Park immediately, these 3 reasons (of many!) should convince you.
1. Lakes in Banff National Park
Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka, and Moraine Lake to name just a few. The turquoise blue of the glacier-fed lakes, set against the evergreen forests and the majestic mountains, will make you gasp every time you set eyes on them.
Lake Louise is the must-see crown jewel on everyone’s list. It’s about a 30-minute drive from the town of Banff, still within the national park. From Banff, be sure to drive along the Bow Valley Parkway from Banff to Lake Louise for a much more scenic drive than the highway. If you’re lucky, you might just spy some wildlife like big-horned sheep or even a bear!
At Lake Louise, you can horseback ride, hike, canoe, have lunch outside at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and of course, just sit lakeside and take in the natural beauty around you.
If you’re up for a moderately strenuous hike, head up the mountain, through the forest, past Mirror Lake, to Lake Agnes Teahouse, where you can give yourself a pat on the back for completing the hike with a light lunch.
Moraine Lake is only a short drive from Lake Louise. Depending on your day’s activities, you could easily see both lakes on the same day.
Grizzly bears feed on fish in the streams near the trails so it’s best to carry bear spray and avoid closed trails. No need to ruin a fantastic day by upsetting some of Banff National Park’s natural residents!
Lake Minnewanka may not be as famous as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake but it’s an absolute gem! The lake is just 10 minutes by car from the town of Banff and makes for an easy first stop as you begin your day.
There are hiking trails and picnic areas, as well as hour-long boat rides, where you can cruise along the 28-kilometer-long lake, learn about its history including a submerged settlement at the bottom of the lake, and capture up-close photos of the surrounding mountains. Avoid waiting in line for boat tickets and get your tickets in advance or go first thing in the morning.
2. Banff National Park Wildlife
Banff National Park is home to many different types of animals. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes, and river otters to name a few. Although I saw some animals during the day, I was luckiest in the mornings and just before the evening.
If you’re like me, then seeing an animal like a bighorn sheep or bear in the wild is such a thrill!
Driving or biking the Minnewanka Loop is a popular spot to search out wildlife, in particular, groups of bighorn sheep are commonly seen near the lake parking lot, on the rocky cliffs near the road, and even on the road itself!
Spotting a black bear or grizzly bear is on the top of the wildlife spotting list for most visitors to Banff National Park. This grizzly bear was not far from the road near Lake Louise. You can tell the difference between a grizzly bear and a black bear not by color, but by the characteristic hump grizzlies have by their shoulders.
As excited as I was to spot a grizzly, it was shocking to see how close people got to this bear! Remember you are in their territory. Respecting the animal is more important than getting the perfect photo. Banff National Park is serious about animal and human safety. Feeding or in any way disturbing an animal comes with high fines.
3. Banff Mountains
The Banff Rocky Mountains surround the town with awesome jagged peaks that can be seen right from the town center. If you’re a mountain person like I am, visiting Banff National Park will feel as if you’ve found where you’re supposed to be.
Cascade Mountain is the peak seen as you stroll along Banff Avenue in the Banff town center. Mount Rundle sits behind the Vermillion Lakes and completes the perfect sunrise photo over the water. And at sunset, brushstrokes of colors paint the sky with the mountain as its backdrop.
To fully appreciate the mountains in Banff National Park, take the Banff Gondola up Sulphur Mountain for spectacular views of the valley in which the town of Banff sits, the mountains surrounding it, and, of course, the turquoise rivers and lakes that are part of the national park. It’s well worth your time and money to enjoy views like these!
How to Get to Banff National Park
The closest airport is Calgary. The airport is serviced by numerous airlines, with flights originating from North America and the U.K. We booked 2 round trip Saver Awards on a United flight from New York to Calgary for a total of 50k miles. For more ideas, see how you can use your points and miles to get to Banff.
It’s about an hour and a half west from Calgary to Banff National Park. The most convenient way to get to Banff is by renting a car and taking the Trans-Canada Highway toward Banff. The drive in the summer is simple to do both day and night because the route is straightforward, just follow the highway to Banff.
Banff National Park Lodging
Banff has plenty of hotels for every type of budget located along Banff Avenue and throughout the town. On my trips to Banff, I’ve stayed at the Fox Hotel and Suites and the Banff Aspen Lodge along Banff Avenue.
I’ve also stayed just 2 minutes away from the town center at the Juniper Hotel, which overlooks the Vermillion Lakes area.
All 3 hotels had comfortable, clean rooms and came with amenities like wifi, parking, and sometimes free breakfast. The Juniper Hotel stood out for its location and views. Even though you don’t have the convenience of walking outside directly onto Banff Avenue to eat or shop, the Juniper Hotel’s location puts you directly in the natural beauty of the park and town.
If you would like to use hotel points for an award stay, you have a few options.
The Banff Royal Canadian Lodge by Marriott is also situated along Banff Avenue. Although reports are, available award nights may be hard to come by.
HomeAway and Airbnb also list many available properties. If camping is more your style, Banff National Park camping is also quite popular. There are over 2,000 campsites. Just be sure to make your Banff camping reservations in advance and get your national park camping permit.
Are you planning to visit Banff National Park?
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