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Banff National Park

Dates: Sep 2014, Nov 2016

Route: In 2014, we drove the 12hrs from Seattle. In 2016, flight to Calgary and then the ~1,5 hour drive to Banff.

Tip: Banff National Park is in the middle of the Canadian Rockies and it gets cold at night, even in the summer. Take appropriate clothing to stay warm and dry.

Canada touts its natural beauty to the world and a visit to the Banff National Park  and attractions around it proves it beyond all doubt. Soaring peaks, windswept lakes, dense forests, aqua-colored lakes, glaciers, and some of the most stunning landscapes we have seen. The drive from Calgary starts out very flat and boring but once you enter the mountains in the distance, it becomes very clear what this area is all about. Having been both in late summer and early winter, we can say that both experiences are equally breathtaking. Given a choice, go in the summer as all the trails and roads will be open, the hikes dry and the days long. The latter is probably the most beneficial as it gets dark very early in the winter.


Located in Alberta and close to the British Columbia border, Banff is a lovely, quaint town surrounded by tall, beautiful mountains. It is the town that most people use as a base to explore the National Park. The small downtown is very lively and full of unique souvenir shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, and hotels. This is where you will spend your evenings celebrating your long days of hiking and discussing the stunning places you saw. Our favorite restaurant is Balkan which is in the heart of the town and serves some delicious Greek food. It is better to stay in an apartment in Banff vs. hotel as they are all modern and cozy. We used the excellent Copperstone Resort in 2014 and the Douglas Fir Resort in 2016.

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Lake Louise

This is probably the first thing to explore outside of Banff as it’s only a short 45-minute drive away. This is an incredibly popular attraction made even so by the location of the 5* Fairmont hotel which is located on its shores. This area is known for its hikes which range from short walks to multi-day backcountry trips. Our favorite ones were the relatively easy walk around Lake Louise, the Lake Agnes Tea House hike and Moraine Lake. You can find a list of and information about the many hikes the area offers here and here. Another fun activity here is to rent canoes and paddle around the lake. Afternoon tea or drinks at the Fairmont is highly recommended as the bar overlooks the lake.

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The Icefields Parkway

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful road we have ever experienced, rivaling ones in Switzerland and Croatia. Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast, you spend hours with your camera out. We spent almost a day just pulling off random exits just to go explore and take photos. You can pull over on the shoulder but be careful as trucks that speed by spray small pebbles and salt that may damage your car or camera. Soaring peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys are all on offer. Note that parts of this road were closed when we went in Nov due to heavy snow. You can find more information on the parkway here.

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Peyto Lake

Probably our favorite place in all the Park, Peyto is a glacier-fed lake that must be seen to be believed. At first glance, it almost looks fake, with it’s ice blue hue in the winter and shimmering turquoise in the summer. These colors are due to the runoff from the glaciers that carry mineral-rich sediment into the lake. Light hitting this sediment causes it to reflect these iridescent colors. The lake is framed by the massive Caldron Peak to the west and a dense forest of pine, spruce, and fir. The far end of the lake gives way to rolling hills that completes what is one of the top photographs we have taken. Access to the Peyto Lake Lookout is very easy and it about 30 minutes north of Lake Louse off the Icefield Parkway. The sign is easy to miss to keep a sharp lookout for it (Google maps does well in showing you the exit). Once you park, it is a short walk up to the lookout on a paved pathway.

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Athabasca Glacier

The drive from Peyto Lake to this Glacier is filled with many scenic spots so plan on double the time if you are a photographer. About an hour drive north of Peyto Lake lies one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world, the Columbia Icefield. What is visible from the parking area is only a small part (tongue) of the ice mass hidden beyond the mountains. There are six glaciers that feed this tongue, with Athabasca being the closest. You can do a hike up to the tongue and play with the ice but for a real experience of walking on the glacier, take one of the tours that take you to the top of the glacier. And there are markers that show the ravages of global warming and how much the glacier has shrunk over the years.

(Click on gallery images below for details)

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