The bright blue lakes, the snow peaked mountains, the crazy wildlife; Banff is a town on most people’s bucket lists. Before I travelled to Banff in May of 2017 I had been to all of the provinces East of Ontario, but never out West. Let me tell you, there is a reason they say West is best. I knew after that trip I had to return as much as I could, and went again in February of 2018. Both trips were different and awesome, and both times I stayed with a close friend who lives and works in Banff. I got to experience this amazing region in the eyes of a local and got to see and do a lot in the span of a week and half. The following are 5 things I believe you cannot miss if you end up in this amazing place!
#1: THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
When I first arrived in this cute town, I had no idea seeing the Northern Lights was even a possibility. I thought I’d have to fly to Iceland to experience that. My friend who I stayed with, and all of his friends, had been tracking the lights and they were supposed to make an appearance late one night while I was there. So we left the house around midnight, grabbed some coffee, and went to the closest lake (Lake Minnewanka). There was actually a crowd of people in chairs, sitting around the lake, waiting for a show. Well a show we did see and it was so beautiful.
If you are planning to go to Banff and have the time at night, check out a tracker online to see if seeing the lights is an option for you! Remember, you do need to be patient, and make sure to bring a hat and mittens for the chillier nights.
#2: MORAINE LAKE/LAKE LOUISE (BOW VALLEY PKWY)
These are the famous mountains where the huge peaks stand behind the bright turquoise blue lakes. You’d be silly to miss these beautiful sights, but here are some extra tips to make sure your experience is the best it can possibly be!
Getting to these lakes from Banff is about an hour drive. If you’re driving yourself, be sure to take the Bow Valley Parkway. This is your best bet to see some awesome wildlife (while keeping a safe distance of course), and there are a lot of extra stops you can make along the way for great views of all the different mountains and spanning vistas. We stopped so often to walk around and take some photos, and we also saw black bears, big horned sheep, and lots of elk!
Keep in mind, these are the most famous lakes so they are quite busy. If you want an almost people-free experience be sure to get there early. You won’t only be alone to enjoy the views, but the sunrise would be so beautiful!
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may not have access to Moraine Lake!!! When all of the snow starts melting in the spring, there is a huge risk for avalanches. They keep the road to access Moraine Lake closed until they know it’s safe for the public. I got very lucky because I was in Banff the last week of May, and the road to the lake opened my second last day. As soon as it opened we made our way there and it was definitely worth the wait and anticipation! You will be in awe, I guarantee it.
#3: HIKE HIKE HIKE!
I’m not going to lie, hiking when the elevation is high is a lot harder than what I’m used to in flat old Ontario. I didn’t even get to hike a hard trail in Banff and I still struggled a bit. Not that the hikes were hard, they were fairly easy and we saw children doing them, the only issue I had was the altitude difference.
I hiked Tunnel Mountain as well as Grassi Lakes in Canmore (about a half hour from Banff) and both were accompanied by not only heavy breathing but beautiful views and exploration.
Now that I’m home and can look back on what went wrong, I do wish I would have hiked more. There are SO many trails and so many mountains, if you’re interested in hiking, this is the place to go. If you would love to do some hard routes, Ha Ling Peak, Big Beehive at Lake Louise, and Peyto Lake are some great ones!
#4: EXPLORE THE TOWN ITSELF
Amazing food, cool shops, and fun activities! The town may be tiny, but it offers a lot to anyone of any age visiting. I’ll list a few of my favourite places in town so if you’d like you can check them out too!
High Rollers- Not only do they have some pretty damn good pizza (even one you put maple syrup on), they also have bowling lanes! After you stuff your face with some good pizza, play some rounds on the bowling lanes with all your friends.
Tooloulous- There will probably be a line but my GOD it’s worth it. If you want to treat yourself to a sweet or savoury breakfast, this is the place to be. I indulged in the best breakfast poutine I will ever eat in my life.
Mt. Norquay Lookout- If you want to just hangout for a bit with a nice view, make your way up Mt. Norquay and take a seat in the big red chairs. You get an amazing view of the town as well as the surrounding mountains, and it’s just an awesome place to relax for a little.
Bow River- If you want to take on some easy water activities, the river that runs through Banff is a great option for you. There are multiple spots that offer canoe, kayak, and raft rentals for a pretty fair price.
#5: GO AGAIN (AND AGAIN)
Obviously this isn’t possible for a lot of people, but if you have the option, visit this amazing part of Canada at a different time of year. I’m very lucky that I got to experience Banff in the late spring while it was getting warm out, as well as in the middle of winter for a mind blowing ski & snowboarding weekend.
Both trips were totally different, and I still feel like I need to go back to experience the West in the summer.
While a lot of people prefer not to go there in the winter because it’s very cold and a lot of roads can be closed because of conditions (very understandable), I think if you want a true Canadian experience you need to see this place while it’s snow covered. It offers a different range of activities for you to do as well! Skiing/snowboarding, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and more.
All in all, Banff and the surrounding areas offer SO much to see and do, it’s understandable most people want to experience it. I hope this gave you a little insight into something more you could add to your own trip, because all of this made mine awesome!