Hello everyone! I am so pumped to get to share our time in Banff with you all. I am going to do a separate blog post for Glacier National Park (I am writing with post from the airport while we are en route to Montana.)
Banff National Park was hands down one of the most (if not the most) spectacular places I have ever seen in my whole life. After visiting Zion National Park in 2013 I thought nothing could top it, and y’all this topped it. The turquoise lakes, the snow on the mountaintops, the yellow larch trees. It was absolutely amazing and if anyone were to ask me where they should go on a trip this would be HIGH on the list. The Canadian Rockies stole our hearts and left us absolutely in awe of God and His creation. I miss them…sigh. OK, on to the details of the trip…
Let’s start there before I begin: why are we at the airport instead of driving from Banff to Glacier? RENTAL CARS. They are super hard to get, even more so if you are looking for a one way rental car (renting in one location and dropping off in another). I shared this on Instagram and so many of you had the same issues when renting a car. All that to say, if you are planning a trip out west I would start with making sure there are rental cars available! (Also: the rental car pick up at the Calgary airport was a disaster the day we picked up. We talked to another couple who actually couldn’t get one and instead rented a car in downtown Calgary. They got a taxi from the airport to the rental car place. Might be an extra step but I do think it might have saved them time!)
We basically planned this whole trip (and the bulk of the budget) around staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I cannot tell you where we found a photo of it, but once we saw it we knew we wanted to see it. There is another Fairmont located in Banff (Fairmont Banff Springs), but I am so glad we stayed on Lake Louise. The views were absolutely stunning, there was a ton of trails you could hop on straight from the hotel, and it was a quick drive to many other places we wanted to see. I would say the only negative we found was there weren’t a ton of places to sit and enjoy the hotel. Like the lobby was for checking in but had very few seats to sit and read a book and enjoy the lake.
NOTE ON COST: Something we paid extra for was to be on the gold level at the hotel, and we think it was worth it’s weight in, well, gold. The gold level gave us complimentary breakfast on our floor every morning, and this wasn’t some shabby continental bagels and fruit spread. There was an omelette station, espresso machine, french toast…you name it. It was amazing! This same “gold level lobby” also served heavy appetizers and desserts every night from 5-7pm. The breakfast spread also had sliced meat, peanut butter, jelly, bread, fruit, etc. Honestly, you could save a ton of money by taking advantage of these amenities. We ate breakfast every morning, would make a sandwich for our hikes, and then eat an app at the nightly happy hour. Some of the appetizers were so heavy (think sliders and charcuterie to name a few) we honestly could have made dinner out of it.
The only negative we had about the hotel was that the restaurants were all super nice. I know that sounds like a weird thing to complain about, but I guess since it’s a nice hotel they figure you will be fine paying $85 for a steak. Nate and I like nice food, but are also happy with a burger and fries. I guess just keep in mind if you stay at this hotel, there aren’t a lot of restaurants super close by besides those on the property, and those on the property ain’t cheap. I will say, the one restaurant that did have a burger (Alpine Social) did make one hell of a burger!
A huge pro for me was that the room had a bathtub. After long days of hiking, I was thrilled to take a bath!! Not sure if all rooms had one but highly suggest requesting one.
The last thing I want to note is the timing! We went September 15-23rd and we were technically there “out of season.” This was great because it meant it was slightly less crowded and we didn’t have to battle for park passes, but it also meant we were risking some things being closed. For instance: at some point Moraine Lake closes because the road to get there has avalanche risk. The day we went canoeing on Lake Moraine they told us it would likely be the last day for canoeing. The gondolas in Banff were still running but the restaurant at the top was closed. This is partly because of the weather (it did snow on our trip and by October the temps would be even colder!) and staffing. They have people from all over the world come on a work visa to work the “high season” (summer) and many go home around Labor Day. That means they no longer have the staff to operate some of the restaurants and attractions. Both Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers Tea Houses close in the winter. Chateau Lake Louise becomes less of a hiking attraction and instead a place to stay for skiing and ice skating on the frozen lake! All that to say, note the weather before booking and check to make sure things are still open. If you are planning to go during the summer, you will likely need to make sure both park passes and car passes are available before you book. I would hate for you to book flights and lodging and then not be able to get a park pass!
This is definitely the kind of trip I would get a travel agent for. We used one and sadly, ours just wasn’t very helpful. I won’t get into it but I think having someone who really knows the area, understands park closures and rental cars and passes and all the things would be absolutely worth it. I feel like people hear “travel agent” and think it’s super expensive. Oftentimes they are actually free and can even get you some pretty good deals! They get kickbacks from the hotels and resorts they book you. Just something to think about.
So the first day we flew from Charleston to Atlanta, then Atlanta to Calgary. You have to fly into Calgary to get to Banff area, AND everything travel wise went smoothly. The biggest thing I’ll say again was renting a car at Calgary airport was very crowded. It might not always be that way but it was based on our observation.
Calgary was way flatter than I expected it to be! Sort of like when you fly into Denver and you expect it to look like Boulder. When we first arrived we got lunch on Stephen’s Avenue, which is perfect for walking around (at least it was closed to car traffic on Friday when we were there). It’s full of tons of restaurants, people with guitars, singing and a really fun atmosphere. We ate at Salt Lik where I had some amazing broccolini I will think about for years to come. While in town we just walked around as there wasn’t a ton of shopping, mostly restaurants. We came back to Hotel Germaine where we stayed for the night (we opted to stay a night in Calgary as opposed to driving all the way to Lake Louise after the long day of travel). It’s was a perfect location right off of Stephen’s Avenue! We have noticed that Canada seems to be more earth friendly, for instance when you go to your room you put your key card into a slot for the lights to work and when you go to leave your room you take your key card out and the lights go off.
We then got dinner at Major Tom. I had asked for suggestions from you all before the trip and received so many incredible recommendations. I made reservations weeks in advance since we heard it was really popular and our dinner was AWESOME. It was such a cool location; you could see all of Calgary because we were 40 floors up. After dinner we were really tired because of the travel, and I’m so glad I made us an early dinner reservation factoring in the time change. We went back to the hotel and passed out!
We woke up in Calgary at the crack of dawn (thanks time change!) and got a Starbucks. We got on the road and drove to Canmore. On the way into Canmore we stopped at Summit Cafe and had breakfast, which came by a lot of recommendations and it was delicious! And then we drove the rest of the way into Canmore parked, shopped, and walked around. Y’all, we loved Canmore. We were there on a Saturday so it was very lively. The streets were bustling, there was a craft market, everything was blooming, the trees were changing color, the hanging baskets and pots were stunning. We just fell in love with it! We could definitely see ourselves going back.
We went from Canmore to Banff. Banff was way bigger and felt more touristy than Canmore. We got lunch at Salt Lik (the Banff location this time…yes, broccolini again!) and walked around and shopped a little (I was surprised there weren’t nearly as many unique boutique stores as Canmore). Then we left Banff and headed to Lake Louise which is where we stayed. We checked into our hotel, the Fairmont Lake Louise, and were pretty exhausted. We did a really quick hike up just to see the lake which was only about a mile (I think the hike was called the Fairview something hike) and got to see the lake from a lookout point. That lookout was stunning. Then we came back down and had a simple and easy dinner at the Fairview Bar. Then we went to bed pretty early again because we were so tired.
We woke up early, snagged breakfast at the hotel, and hiked to the Lake Agnes Tea House which was just lovely. It is this little teahouse nestled right by Lake Agnes and you feel like you are in the Shire. It was really crowded (a popular place to visit + a Sunday + gorgeous weather) but we just got our tea to go and the line moved pretty quick. We also got tea biscuits with jam and I don’t know if it was the hike or what but that jam was life changing! Then we hiked over to Six Glaciers Tea House. This was a pretty strenuous hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House from Lake Agnes with a high elevation change, mostly uphill followed by a steep downhill terrain. We made it to Glaciers Tea House and had lunch. From there we went on to the Six Glaciers lookout, which was also a really hard hike. Then from there we had the entire way back, which was a bit daunting after having hiked 6 miles and still a long way to go; you could see the hotel wayyyy off in the distance and knew that’s where you had to hike to! We got to ice our feet in the lake which felt amazing after a grueling hike. It was hard, but such an incredible day.
(Note: you can hike just to Lake Agnes, or do a different hike to Plain of Six Glaciers. Doing BOTH in one longer loop is quite a bit longer and harder.)
When we finally got back to the room and I took a much needed bath. Nate ordered a pizza (there was a pizza place in town – about a ten minute drive – called Timberwolf Pizza) and we ate it in bed while we watched the new Indiana Jones movie. We were probably asleep by 8PM!
This day was pretty rainy but we also needed a good rest day so we decided to hit the road and explore! We wanted to see Peyto Lake on the Icefields Parkway (this parkway takes you all the way to Jasper National Park). We stopped at multiple pull offs along the highway and found some hidden gems! First: Bow Lake. This stoppoff had a lodge (aptly named “The Lodge at Bow Lake”) with a coffee shop. We got a hot tea and stood for a bit enjoying Bow Lake. From there we went to Peyto Lake which really is worth seeing. It is turquoise and has a great, super easy to get to lookout that is wheelchair accessible and paved. The lake itself is shaped like a wolf which is truly so cool!
We then stopped at two or three other lakes along the way (Waterfowl Lake, Saskatchewan River Crossing) and then ended at this one gas station on the road that was more of a true travel stop with restaurants and souvenirs. It was super crowded because there’s not many gas stations out here. We just grabbed some snacks and then we decided to turn around because it would have been another 1.5 hours to Jasper National Park and a 2.5 hour drive back to the hotel from there.
We decided to head to Banff for lunch at Park Distillery, which has it’s own gin and vodka brand! We walked around a bit then got back in the car to head to the hotel. We ate dinner at Alpine Social which is one of the hotel’s restaurants and it was delicious. We were really craving a cheeseburger and french fries and it did not disappoint. Then we walked out and looked at the lake which you really don’t tire of seeing. It changes color throghout the day based on the sun and the snow on the mountains is simply stunning. We came back to the room and finished the Indiana Jones movie that we didn’t finish from the previous night from utter exhaustion.
This was probably one of the best days we’ve ever had in our lives! We woke up and took a shuttle from our hotel to Moraine Lake. This lake (along with Lake Louise) are very pupular so you ether have to get to the parking lot at the crack of dawn to get a spot, or take a shuttle. Our hotel had a shuttle and it was a quick 20 minute drive (would be a little further from Bannf). We had someone the night before tell us we really should hike to Larch Valley. We didn’t know this when we booked, but there are around two weeks to a month that all the larches turn yellow, and there’s an entire valley of them, and if you happen to get to see them during this time it’s absolutely incredible. Also, it has freshly snowed. There was snow on the ground and yellow trees and it was absolutely breathtaking. One of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I cried on and off the entire time we hiked so blown away by it all.
After getting back down from Larch Valley we still had a while until our next shuttle. We checked out the lodge and gift shop at Lake Moraine and then we weren’t really sure what to with the time before the shuttle came. Low and behold! While we were waiting, the canoe rentals opened up!! This is a pricey excursion (it was $155/hour on Lake Louise and $140/hour at Lake Morraine) but so increbly beautiful. A few of you all had written and told me to do it if I could and that I wouldn’t regret it and you were right. We floated on a canoe on a turquoise glacier lake as snow flurries fell around us. It felt like we were in Narnia. After an hour, we returned our canoe, got back on the shuttle to the hotel. When we got back to the hotel we got a massage at the hotel spa (bliss!!!) then went to dinner at Louiza which is one of the restaurants at the property.
That night we are on property at Louiza and got to bed pretty early. The next morning we woke up, had one final delightful breakfast in the gold level lobby, and took one last view of Lake Louise. I believe I got teary-eyed and told her I would be back to see her.
We then went back to Canmore for one final visit. Canmore was hands down my favorite town we saw while in Canada. I had many people email me and tell me to visit and I totally get why. It’s quaint and lovely and I can totally see us going back and staying near that town with the kids.
Alrighty! That’s all for Banff. What questions do you have? I will do my best to answer!
Day 1: Calgary
Lunch at SaltLik, dinner at Major Tom, stayed at Hotel Le Germain
Day 2: Calgary to Canmore to Banff
Lunch in Banff at Salt Lik, dinner at Hotel (Chateau Lake Louise) at the Fairview Bar
Day 3: Hike to Lake Agnes and Plain os Six Galciers
Lunch at Agnes Tea House and then again at Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, dinner pizza picked up from Timberwolf Pizza
Day 4: Drove Icefields Parkway
Lunch at Park Distillery in downtown Banff, dinner Alpine Social (at hotel)
Day 5: Moraine Lake and Larch Valley Hike
Lunch we packed PB&Js, dinner at Louiza (at hotel)
Day 6: Travel back to Calgary, stopped in Canmore, fly to Montana
Lunch at Fergus and Bix in Canmore, dinner in Seattle (during our layover)