Guest post by dzr1107
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.
If you’re thinking of traveling to this area, just do it.
- Lake Minnewanka Trail
- Surprise Corner Viewpoint
- Vermilion Lakes
- Mount Norquay Lookout
We arrived at Calgary and stayed over night at the airport hotel. We drove Route 1 to Banff and saw the following sights the next day:
Lake Minnewanka: You can drive a scenic loop that brings you by Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. We stopped and walked along the Lake Minnewanka Trail to the bridge and back. There were several good spots to picnic and it was a very flat, easy trail. You can also take a boat tour of this lake. We did not spend much time at Two Jack Lake, but it may be a less crowded alternative.
Surprise Corner view point: There is limited parking and tour buses stop here, but if you can time it right, you can get some amazing photos of the Fairmount hotel, set against a sea of pine trees.
Vermilion Lakes: We drove down part way along the Vermillion Lakes and picnicked. Very scenic, but I don’t recall too many hiking trails.
Mount Norquay Scenic Drive: This gives you a panoramic view of Vermillion Lakes and part of Banff. I wouldn’t call it a must do, but it’s worth it if you have extra time. You’ll reach a hairpin corner with a pull off. This is the best place for pictures. There’s two red Adirondack chairs for you to rest and enjoy the view. We continued to the ski lift, but I don’t think it’s necessary to continue past the viewing point.
Iron Grill Bar & Pub: This was a delicious place to eat with tasty beer.
We stayed in Canmore, which I find to be less crowded and congested than Banff. For 20 extra minutes, it’s worth it.
- Bow Valley Parkway
- Johnston Canyon
- Banff Gondola
- Cascade of Time Garden
We covered a lot of ground primarily south of Castle Junction.
Bow Valley Parkway: Also known as Route 1A, this is a wooded and scenic (I mean it’s all scenic) and slower parallel to Route 1.
Johnston Canyon: This has a medium sized parking lot and restrooms. Most people only hike to the lower falls, but we hiked to the upper falls as well despite the rain. It is an easy hike, with the lower portion primarily on platforms. The lower falls have a rock cut out that you can go into for a different perspective of the falls. You’re there, so you should do it. The upper falls are slightly less impressive, but it’s a nice hike in the woods to get there and you pass a little waterfall too. If it’s not disgusting hot and teaming with people, I’d do the short distance to see it. You walk out on a platform to get the view.
Back on Route 1A, there are several spots to pull over and take pictures. We headed south at Castle Junction.
Banff Gondola: This was the only one we did so it’s hard to compare; it was well worth it with good weather. You arrive at a station with food, gift shops, and bathrooms. Many people just stay here, but you can take a trail out along the ridge. Do this. You see Banff, all the lakes, and the wooded valley on the opposite side. There is also a gravel trail you can walk down on the wooded valley side, which we took for a little bit to get some pictures.
Cascade of Time Gardens (Administrative building): this was a free area to park and walk through gardens of colorful flowers. It’s not a must do, but is a delightful short and easy stop.
- Moraine Lake
- Lake Louise
- Post Hotel & Spa
We got up relatively early and saw the following:
Lake Moraine: This gets very crowded, and most likely you will have to take a shuttle bus. People apparently sleep over in their cars to get parking, so plan accordingly. The lot is a bit away from the exit you take to head up to Lake Moraine, so there’s some back tracking involved to get to the lot. Once at the parking lot, you’ll need to buy tickets for the shuttle. The shuttles are legitimate school buses. At the drop off point, you can head right for a gift shop and food area, or left to take a short hike up to the lake overlook (you’re dropped right at the lake, this is just a higher view). It was overcast and rainy the day we went, but the lake color was surreal and the pictures were incredible even without all 10-mountain peaks. The weather kept people off the lake, so we rented a canoe and did a few laps around the lake. You can see some hidden glaciers towards the back of the lake, but this can also be accomplished by walking the trail.
After checking into the Post Hotel, we decided to go see:
Lake Louise: We parked and fought the crowds to get a view of the Lake and Fairmount hotel. From the surface, Lake Louise did not have the same breath-taking blue color of Lake Moraine. The crowds also dispersed once you walk away from the main board walk area that runs from the canoe rental, parking lot, and hotel and then continues as a trail around one side of the lake.
- Lake Agnes Tea House
This was a hiking day. We got to Lake Louise early, parked without issue, and then walked along the shore of the Lake Louise. This part of the trail is very flat and allows for good photos looking back on the Fairmount. It’s great early when the lake is calm and you get a mirror image of the hotel and mountains. We then took a short, uphill connector trail and walked past the Big Beehive, Lake Agnes, the Teahouse, and the Little Beehive. The Teahouse and Lake Agnes were the most crowded areas of the trail, but it was otherwise very peaceful and not that difficult of a hike. Lake Louise becomes bluer the further you go up in elevation. At the summit, you can see Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, and Lake Louise. While the entire hike was beautiful, this was the sight to see. It also snowed at the top in September. Plan accordingly.
- Yoho National Park
- Bow Lake
- Peyto Lake
- Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre
Today we traveled from Lake Louise to the Columbia Icefield.
Field Visitor Center: We started with a quick detour to the Field Visitor Center in Yoho National Park. They have an exhibit on the Burgess Shale, which is a very important fossil bed in British Columbia (508 million years old). If you plan in advance, you can take tours and see these fossils for yourself – it’s an all day trip. If you don’t, like us, you can see a few in the visitor center and learn more about it.
Bow Lake: It’s a very pretty lake worth the stop off the road.
Peyto Lake: This lake is gorgeous and worth the stop, especially if you plan on hiking a little bit. They have several view points that are essentially right off the parking lot, but these are very crowded. We attempted to hike the Peyto Lake Overlook trail, but I don’t think we found it. As you go towards the left (looking at the lake), there are several trails and off shoots that are not well marked. We took what we thought was the trail, but I don’t think it was. Either way, we just kept heading up and eventually saw a flat rocky overlook that we went to. There was no one there and it provided a great view of Peyto Lake, so we went with it.
Columbia Ice field Parkways – Definitely pay for the tour to go out on the glacier. You buy tickets and get in line at the Discovery Center and are put on a glorified tank to begin the journey out to the ice fields. I recommend being either the first or last tour out, so you have less people to share the ice fields with. We were the last group around and it was great being the only group out there. We did not combine it with the sky walk, but driving past it, I don’t feel as if I missed out.
We stayed the night at Glacier View Inn, which I recommend if you can book. It’s got limited rooms and is a great location on the Ice fields to minimize back tracking or making you rush through this beautiful stretch of road.
- Sunwapta Falls
- Athabasca Falls
- Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
We continued our journey on the northern part of the Icefields Parkway:
Sunwapta Falls: This is a must see and a great photo op. The upper falls – which are gorgeous – are easily accessible from parking. We did the wooded 2 mile RT hike to see the lower falls. There weren’t too many people on the trail (granted it was snowing), and had the overlook of the lower falls mostly to ourselves. I find the upper falls to be more spectacular, but it’s still a nice little walk if you have time.
Athabasca Falls: Compared to Sunwapta, I didn’t find it to be that impressive, but it was worth the stop to check it out. It was definitely more crowded.
We spent the night at the Fairmount Jasper. While it may not be as lavish as other Fairmounts, it was very nice and there was ample hiking/walks to do on the property.
- Maligne Lake
- Maligne Canyon
- Pyramid Lake
We spent the day exploring Jasper:
Maligne Lake: We were determined to take a boat ride of this lake based on other reviews; however, due to the weather/fog, we decided not to. Even though we didn’t explore the lake, it was still a very scenic drive out with the road nestled between mountains and a rambling creek. We also saw a moose family, big-horned sheep, mule deer, and elk on this journey.
Maligne Canyon: On the way back, we stopped at Maligne Canyon, which is closer to Jasper proper. This beat our expectations and had several trails and view points into the canyon, allowing you to see how little or how much you desire.
Pyramid Lake – I highly recommend this as a place to watch a sunset. We had a great blend of cloud cover and sun, and got to watch a gorgeous sunset. You can either walk down and hike to the island, or go past the main parking further up and look out over the lake and island from the comfort of your own car. Both are gorgeous. I did not walk around the island, but don’t feel I was missing out.
The next day, we drove from Jasper to Calgary. This was doable in a day with a few road side stops – no hikes – and we didn’t feel we were rushing. We stayed at the airport hotel and flew out early morning the next (next) day.
One of my top trips ever. Again, just do it.
Traveled in September 2018