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Canadian Rockies: Banff, Yoho, and Jasper in 12 Days

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1: Banff

  • Two Jack Lake
  • Banff Avenue
  • Vermilion Lakes

The Canadian Rockies were one of the places I wanted to see most in the world. I was very excited for this trip and did a lot of planning to make the most of our time.

We arrived in Calgary, got rental car and drove 90 minutes to Banff. First stopped by Lake Minnewanka and got out at Two Jack Lake. Very popular area, lots of people in and on the water and a great place to picnic. Beautiful view of a tree-lined peninsula with mountains in the background, similar to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake in Jasper.

Went to hotel (Rundlestone Lodge – ok, some cleanliness issues though), dropped off luggage and drove to Banff Avenue to take the iconic picture that makes the road look like it runs right into the mountains (best view between Buffalo and Caribou Street). Then went to Vermillion Lakes, which we thought would be easy to skip but ended up with one of my favorite pictures of the trip with Mount Rundle reflecting in the water. Less than 10 mins from downtown Banff and definitely worth it. Great dinner at El Toro, called it a day.

Great introduction to the Canadian Rockies.

Day 2: Banff to Jasper

  • Johnston Canyon
  • Castle Junction
  • Takakkaw Falls
  • Icefields Parkway

Got to Johnston Canyon early (8:30) and there was plenty of parking. When we left a couple hours later, it was full. We walked to the bottom part of the upper falls and did the “hidden cave” as well. The path leading down to the hidden cave is on your right about 10-15 meters before the very first railing of the upper falls area. There were barely any people in the canyon on our walk in (it’s more of a walk, not a hike), but on the way out it was getting pretty crowded. Spent about 2 hours total.

Drove north along the Bow Valley Parkway (saw 2 bears cross the road in front of our car) to Castle Junction. Make a left to head towards Route 1 and pull over by the bridge for the best view of Castle Mountain with the Bow River in the foreground.

Went to Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park to meet up with the rest of the family for a picnic lunch. Not exactly on the way but it was the only chance all of our family had to see it together. Spent a few hours here, walked to the falls, then took the Icefields Parkway to Jasper (3 hours). Plenty of places we wanted to stop but the twins were sleeping most of the way so we didn’t want to risk waking them up. Most beautiful drive on earth. Checked in at Alpine Village for the next 8 nights.

Day 3: Waterfalls

  • Stanley Falls
  • Sunwapta Falls
  • Athabasca Falls

Drove about an hour south on the Icefields Parkway to do the 2-mile roundtrip hike to Stanley Falls. The trailhead isn’t that well marked, but there is a road sign that just says “Beauty Creek” and a small pull-off on the east side of the road. This turned out to be our favorite hike of the whole trip even though it was so short. Saw maybe 10 people total so it’s not crowded at all, about 7-8 different waterfalls on the way up to Stanley Falls. Beauty Creek is the perfect name – highly recommend this.

Then drove back up towards Jasper and stopped at 2 of the most-visited places in the Canadian Rockies. Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Sunwapta is OK and really only worth it if you jump the fence/guardrail and go down to where the waterfall is. The view from the bridge isn’t that great. We felt Athabasca was overrated (kind of figured that going in based on the pictures). Lots of people and you can’t really get that great of view. Might as well though, you only need a half hour at most for both Sunwapta and Athabasca and they’re right off the highway.

Day 4: Mount Edit Cavell Meadows

  • Patricia Lake
  • Pyramid Lake
  • Mount Edith Cavell

We had family pictures at 11 so just hung around the cabins for the first part of the day. Smoke from the wildfires in British Columbia had moved in overnight and you couldn’t see the mountains – pretty huge bummer. Stopped at Patricia and Pyramid Lakes, basically right beside each other and 15 minutes from our cabin, but you could barely make out the silhouette of the mountains in the background because of the smoke.

We all went to Mount Edith Cavell at 4 PM and walked to the lookout area, then did part of the meadows trail to get a better view of Angel Glacier. It was a very cool area, recommend doing part of that trail to get an elevated look.

Day 5: Maligne Lake and Spirit Island

  • Bald Hills Trail
  • Maligne Lake
  • Spirit Island
  • Medicine Lake

Drove about an hour to Maligne Lake to do the Bald Hills hike. It starts at the very end of the only road (there is only one road that goes there). Took the shortcut up (well marked) and it is pretty steep. Got to the top and there was basically no view because of the smoke. Really disappointing because the view looking down the length of the lake with mountain after mountain lining the shore was one of the views I wanted to see most on the trip. Maybe next time.

Spirit Island is arguably the most recognizable image of the Canadian Rockies. We had tickets for the Spirit Island cruise at 3 and it turned out to be a lot better than we thought it would be. It was pretty clear down there and the view is really awesome. Thought it might be overrated and a bit of a tourist trap, but it wasn’t at all. You drive past Medicine Lake on your way to/from Maligne Lake, but it only has water some of the year. Beautiful area, glad it was full when we went.

Day 6: Maligne Canyon

  • Maligne Canyon
  • Patricia Lake
  • Pyramid Lake
  • Pyramid Island

Views were better, smoke lifted a bit. Started out at Maligne Canyon, 15 minute drive from Jasper. Awesome place, definitely worth seeing, but difficult to get the magnitude of the canyon in pictures. Have to see it in person. Maybe 2 hours to get from the parking area to the 5th bridge and back. The first 4 bridges are real close, and the 5th and 6th are far but you can drive and park closer to each of them rather than walking from the main parking lot if you want.

Went white water rafting in the Athabasca River, which was a lot of fun. Awesome views of the surrounding mountains.

Went to Patricia and Pyramid Lakes in the evening, walked around Pyramid Island. Good pictures all the way around, and a great reflection of Pyramid Mountain can be seen at Patricia Lake if the water is still.

Day 7: Sulphur Skyline hike

  • Sulphur Skyline Trail
  • Jasper SkyTram

Lots of the drives in the Canadian Rockies, especially from Jasper, were about an hour. We drove to Miette Hot Springs, which is where the Sulphur Skyline hike starts. The trail is well marked at the end of the parking lot. There is only 1 road to get in/out of the hot springs. It took us just over an hour to get to the top, and it’s one of the best 360 degree view we’ve ever seen. There are mountains in every direction as far as you can see. Spent a good hour up there, had lunch, went back down. About 3 hours total, 5 miles roundtrip.

Drove back (several stops for pictures along the drive), went up the Jasper Skytram in the evening. It’s a steep price but the views are pretty great. You can hike up as well to save money.

Day 8: Mount Robson Provincial Park

Drove an hour to Mount Robson Provincial Park and had a picnic lunch near the parking lot with a great view of Mount Robson. Did the Kinney Lake hike, which is around 5-6 miles roundtrip, depending on how much of the lake you want to walk around. Family-friendly hike with not much elevation, and absolutely worth it. Beautiful lake. Berg Lake is further along the trail, which I would have loved to have seen, but you either have to bike, camp, or spend the entire day getting there and back.

Day 9: relaxing day in Jasper

Last full day, little bit rainy and smoky. Hung around the cabin and went to downtown Jasper to walk around and shop.

Day 10: Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff

  • Icefields Parkway
  • Tangle Creek Falls
  • Peyto Lake
  • Bow Lake
  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake

Drove back down the Icefields Parkway to the Lake Louise area, where we were staying for 2 nights. Made a lot of stops on the way, but the further we got towards Banff National Park the worse the smoke got. There were more wildfires, and one in Kootenay National Park that just started a day or two before.

Tangle Falls is right off the road about an hour and 10 mins from Jasper, and you can just pull over and grab a picture or get out quickly. No more than a couple minutes needed and it is worth a stop.

Went to Peyto Lake – Bow Summit, which was one of the places we were looking forward to most on the trip. Only need about an hour here. We had a good view, but we couldn’t make out the mountains in the distance. Still better than we anticipated, based on the views on the drive down.

Also stopped at Bow Lake (10 mins, head to the Num-Ti-Janh Lodge for a good view). There’s a great landscape with Bow Glacier Falls, the lake and the mountains from the highway, but you couldn’t really see it unfortunately. Didn’t keep any pictures from Bow Lake, nor Lake Louise (our next stop), and Moraine Lake wasn’t that good either. Kind of a downer of a day.

Stayed at Paradise Lodge, which is perfectly located between Lake Louise and the road to Moraine Lake. Great, clean place too (of course expensive, though).

Day 11: Yoho National Park

  • Iceline Trail
  • Natural Bridge
  • Emerald Lake

Had a full day to spend in Banff or Yoho while parents watched the kids. Wanted to do the Iceline hike in Yoho, which is supposed to be one of the best hikes in all of the Canadian Rockies. Would have done Lake O’Hara but couldn’t get bus tickets (even though we clicked to purchase them the exact second they went on sale – still salty about that).

Sadly this was the worst day of the whole trip for smoke and there was no sky whatsoever. Did it anyways, a little over 13 miles in 6 hours. Starts at Takakkaw Falls parking lot and we went in the direction of Laughing Falls first, which is a really nice waterfall. You can tack on Twin Falls but that adds about 5-6 more miles and we did not do it. The view overlooking Takakkaw Falls from the opposite ridge is amazing, but it’s hard to not be disappointed in the experience.

Went to Emerald Lake but the smoke was bad. If you look at pictures online of what it should be, you’ll feel our pain. Stopped at the Natural Bridge, which is on the road on the way to Emerald Lake. Lots of people on and around the bridge, so go early or late if you want pictures without people in it. Not that amazing but it’s a 5 minute detour if you’re going to Emerald Lake, so might as well.

A smoky view of Emerald Lake in the Canadian Rockies
Our view at Emerald Lake

Day 12: Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, take 2

We had a few hours in the morning before we had to drive to Calgary for our flight. Went to Lake Louise first, around 8 AM, got to park near the front. Was never that impressed with pictures of Lake Louise unless it was from the gondola where you could get the hotel, lake, and mountains all in a row. I mean that in a comparative sense, with other lakes in the area. We had better views for sure but still smoky.

The road to Moraine Lake was closed at 8:30 AM on a Wednesday, which panicked us a little. We waited on the road (they said we could get a ticket for it, but we held strong) and in about 10-15 minutes they let more cars in. They’ve since closed the road to personal vehicles. You can get the most up-to-date info on visiting Moraine Lake and Lake Louise here.

Moraine Lake is one of the most stunning lakes in the world. We actually got the reflection and had much better pictures than our visit 2 days before. Again, still smoky, but I’ll take it. Good end to the trip.

Final thoughts on the Canadian Rockies

Few things worth mentioning: everything is very expensive, including groceries. Mosquitos were awful, have bug spray. Even though we knew there were going to be record crowds and people everywhere because all the parks were free (Canada’s 150th celebration), it didn’t seem too terrible.

If you’re going to the Canadian Rockies, I’d say driving the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper is a must. Yoho National Park is also worth visiting, but I’d prioritize Banff and Jasper if you’re short on time.

Get out of your car and walk more than the first viewpoint at places and the crowds thin out. We saw 12 bears, a couple elk, a few deer, and maybe a wolf but probably a coyote. Most animal sightings were in Jasper National Park. The views at the beginning of the trip driving down the Icefields Parkway were jaw-dropping. The Canadian Rockies have the most continuously-beautiful mountain scenery I’ve ever seen.

Traveled in July 2017

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