Travel : Banff & Jasper Itinerary

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Hi Friends! I love a good adventure and get asked pretty often for my trip notes. Thus, this "column" was born. 🙂 A place where I simply post my travel itineraries with notes and insight. Hopefully, it will give you some tips and help if you ever find yourself traveling to the same places.My husband and I just returned from a super awesome 9 day adventure in Canada. We traveled to Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Yoho National Park. I highly recommend this trip, (even for all you homebodies out there) for several reasons:
• Almost everyone speaks English - so that's convenient.
• They drive on the same side of the road - so driving isn't intimidating.
• Canadians are really nice and helpful.
• Even for those of us on the East Coast, it's only a 2 hour time difference.
• If you're a hiker, once you purchase your park pass, you're done paying fees. So that's great- and cheap- if you like to hike.
• The hikes are just amazing. And there are TONS to choose from for all levels.
• It's GORGEOUS. One of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

You'll notice that I only list one meal a day, and that's because we try to eat somewhat healthy when traveling, or at least ever since we both gained 8 pounds on a certain trip to Oregon Wine Country. Ouch. We pack our own healthy snacks and hit the grocery store for easy meals, which saves money and calories. To read more about my strategies on this, read my blog post How To: Travel and Still Eat (Relatively) Healthy.

Anyway, here's my itinerary, notes and insights. Happy Traveling!

9 Day Itinerary for Banff, Jasper & Yoho National Parks:Day 1: Flew into Calgary, landed around midnight.
Hotel: Courtyard Calgary Airport. (Nice and clean... standard airport hotel.) ]

Day 2: Drove Calgary → Banff (~1.5 hrs driving time)
Picked up rental car and hit the road.

Hotel in Banff: Mount Royal Hotel in downtown Banff (very nice, and literally right in the middle of the downtown area. Great staff, rooftop bar with hot tub, and a laundry room which was not too expensive and came in handy. They also loan you bear spray if you're hiking.) ]

*tip: Banff town is IN Banff National Park. So you will already need your park pass right off the bat. You’ll pass through park gates where you can simply purchase one there. Easy. BUT we had to wait in line for about 40 minutes, so a tip would be to buy and print park pass prior to arrival to avoid the extremely long lines. Literally tape it on your windshield (that’s what they instruct), and you can bypass the lines using the “through traffic” lane. 

More info: Buy your pass online here.

Our park fee was $117 CAD (that’s ~$90 USD) for 6 days of park admission. This is per car, so it covered my husband and I. This gets you in all of the Rocky Mountain Parks: Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Glacier, Kootenay, and more. Considering we hiked a lot every day, I thought that was more than fair. Plus, I was constantly impressed with how well maintained the parks, the facilities, and the trails were. All trailheads had bathrooms, thorough maps, and well maintained trails.

More info: Understanding the Park Fees.

We arrived mid-afternoon, so we chose a short hike:
Tunnel Mountain ~3 miles, views of Banff town, Rocky Mountains, and rivers, shown below. 

Ate Supper (in Banff): Eddie’s Burgers ($$), very good.Day 3: Banff
*Day Trip: Lake Louise (~35 minutes from Banff)

Visited Lake Louise:
For Lake Louise, we had to park in the overflow lot, and use the shuttle service to arrive at Lake Louise. Arrive to Lake Louise super early to avoid this. The shuttle service is efficient (every 15 minutes), but you have to wait in a long line to get on a shuttle. We arrived around 10, still had to wait 45 minutes just to get on a shuttle.

Shoreline Trail  Plain of Six Glaciers  Big Beehive (summit)  Lake Agnes  Mirror Lake  Lake Louise (totaling ~6.8 miles). Lake Louise is absolutely beautiful. This hike was GORGEOUS. Views of the mountains and then a summit to view turquoise Lake Louise from way up high. Moderate hike, the uphill was difficult but not technical. Wildflowers in full bloom made the hike even more beautiful. The only negative is that Lake Louise is very crowded with tourists. However, keep hiking and you’ll leave most of them behind. 🙂 Here's a photo of Lake Louise, and then one from way up at Big Beehive Summit.

Ate Supper (in Banff): Park Distillery ($$): prime rib was excellent, they make their own gin, rye & vodka, but they are known for their gin which you can buy in their teeny store right at the restaurant. Then we went to Cow’s Creamery for ice cream dessert (so good!).Day 4: Banff
*Day Trip: visited Moraine Lake (~ 1 hr from Banff)

Visited Lake Morraine:
We parked in the same overflow lot for Lake Louise to get on the Moraine Lake shuttle. This was the only time we ever had to pay additional fees. It was $15 (CAD) per person. There is not much parking at all at Moraine Lake, so this was worth it.

Larch Valley trail → Sentinel Pass. Hiked all the way up the switchbacks to the summit at Sentinal Pass. A little scary for me (I’m afraid of heights), but well worth it. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. There are so many hikes at all of these locations to choose from. After coming back to the lake, we walked the Shoreline Trail around the lake (a nice stroll after the hike), and then the Rockpile Trail (very short) for amazing viewpoints. (Total ~8.5 miles). We LOVED Morraine Lake. It’s not nearly as crowded as Lake Louise, and just as beautiful, as seen below.

​Here's a photo (below) from way up at the summit at Sentinel Pass.
Tip: We use an app called AllTrails for almost all of our hikes these days. It gives you the chance to look up hikes by location, find out how technical or difficult a hike is, the distance, the views, and even read reviews and tips about it. It's kind of like Yelp for hikes. We rely on it a lot since it also has a way to view your location (via GPS) on the trail map so you can check your status, or check in to make sure you are still on the right trail. This is handy that it uses GPS (no cellular data needed), so it works even if you’re out of range for cell service.​Ate Supper (in Banff): Block ($$, Asian fusion)

Day 5: Drove Banff → Jasper (~3.5 hours driving time, but allow MUCH more for scenic parkway with stops, seeing wildlife, waterfalls and maybe even do some hikes.)

[ Hotel in Jasper: Alpine Lodge (Amazing little gem!! Individual log cabins with a fireplace. Ours had a deck overlooking the woods, where we had coffee in the mornings a glass of wine at the end of the days while looking for wildlife. They also have Adirondack chairs overlooking the Athabasca River.) ]

Upon leaving Banff, stopped for a morning hike:
Johnston Canyon, both the lower falls and on to the Upper Falls. (~3 miles) Arrived around 11am and both parking lots were full. We had to park on the road, about a 10 minute walk to the trailhead. Very, very crowded. The falls are pretty, but it was hard to take the crowd. I’d suggest going early if you want to do this one.

Then we started our drive to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. This drive between Banff and Jasper is gorgeous. We stopped along the way at several hikes and viewpoints, listed below:

On Icefields Parkway:
• Hiked Peyto Lake Summit Overlook. Make sure to go off the main trail (on well traveled paths) for stunning views of Peyto Lake, the delta, and the mountains (shown below). This was AMAZING. One of our highlights of the entire trip. Hike was ~3.8 miles. The photo at the top of my blog post was taken here as well.

•We also stopped at a couple viewpoints along the parkway including Bow Lake and some waterfalls. Many of these are right on the parkway with parking.
Stopped at Athabasca Glacier. You can walk up a steep incline to view it, but you need a guided tour to go on the actual glacier. We opted just to view it and continue on our journey. Cool and windy- wear a jacket!Ate Supper (in Jasper): ALBA ($$ Italian, good!)

Day 6: Jasper

Patricia Street Deli: Picked up sandwiches to-go for picnic while hiking. Highly recommend this deli!!! Delicious food and the owner is full of tips for your day. 

Valley of the Five Lakes (~7.2 miles). There are a couple steep places, but overall an easy hike. Pass along all five lakes-- all beautiful green and blue water. Had a picnic on the shore. Very nice.

Also Hiked:
Old Fort Point. (~2.3 miles). Did the less traveled trail, and it was pretty isolated. Had to make lots of noise because there are so many grizzly bears in this area. The trail ends at the place where a fort used to be on a summit overlooking the Athabasca River and Jasper (town).Ate Supper (in Jasper): Downstream. ($$) Right in Jasper town, went directly after hike in hiking clothes. Somewhat trendy, but casual. Hiking clothes were fine, as it is for most places in Banff and Jasper. Good food!

Day 7: Drove Jasper → Lake Louise (~3 hrs)
[ Hotel at Lake Louise: Baker Creek Mountain Resort (it was nice, though a little dated. Still very nice, though, with gas logs and a balcony.) ]

Got sandwiches again at Patricia Street Deli to-go. Then hit the road.

Stops On Icefields Parkway:
Athabasca Falls: ½ mile to viewing point.
Sunwapta Falls: 1.9 miles
Parker Ridge hike: 3.4 miles. Very steep, but not technical. It was rather windy and cold. Views at top are of glaciers, mountains and valley, as seen below. I was glad to do it, and glad to be done!

Ate Supper (at Lake Louise): Baker Creek Bistro. I would not recommend it. Overpriced, white wine wasn’t cold (ha-ha, but I was disappointed), and just "ok" food.Day 8: Lake Louise → Calgary (~2 hrs)
[ Calgary Hotel: Courtyard Calgary Airport (same as the first night)]

*Day Trip: Full Day to Yoho National Park (25 minutes from Lake Louise), then drove to Calgary that night.

Ate Breakfast (In Lake Louise): Trailhead Cafe, very good coffee and breakfast. Very crowded with minimal seats, but you can always take it to-go.

Stopped at the Natural Bridge on the way to Emerald Lake. This is a 15-20 minute stop overlooking the bridge.

Emerald Lake Trail → Emerald Lake Basin → back to Emerald Lake Trail (~6.8 miles). Emerald Lake has a small parking lot, expect a pretty good walk to get to the trailhead or get there super early. The Emerald Lake Basin hike we did was a beautiful hike with views of the mountains as you hike to the basin with forest scenery along the way. The actual lake has a shoreline trail around it (the Lake Trail) and is loaded with beautiful scenery. One of my favorite lakes to look at... it's just beautiful!

​On to Takkakaw Falls: ~15-20 minute drive off the highway, then only a very short walk to view the falls. Beautiful falls, well worth the detour. Take a jacket, it’s cold!
Ate Supper (in Banff in route back to Calgary): Returned to Eddie's Burgers. Yum.Day 9: Flew out in the morning from Calgary

That’s basically our itinerary! Here is a list (below) I compiled while planning the trip, loaded with ideas, some Icefields Parkway highlights, stuff to do by location, helpful links, and what I’ll try and do next time. 🙂Icefields Parkway Possible Stops, in orderJasper → Banff:
In Jasper National Park:
•Athabasca Falls
•Sunwapta Falls
*View point at Upper Falls
*Can hike down to Lower Falls
•Tangle Ridge (Viewpoint of Rockies)
•Tangle Falls (right on the parkway, I think)
•Glacier Skywalk (glass viewpoint)
•Athabasca Glacier

In Banff National Park:
•Peyto Lake Hike
•Hector Lake

Hikes, Things To Do, etc By Location:

•In Banff:
*Banff / Lake Louise Website
*9 Bucket List Hikes
*Banff Hot Springs
*Banff Gondola - restaurants, boardwalk 2k stroll, 360 degree views, package deals available online for tickets and special events.
Morning Yoga on the mountaintop ($64per person) 9-10am w/live music
• Banff Gondola Sunset Festival (craft beer, food, music, $64 pp) 7-10pm
• Sparkling wine bar with popcorn $35 pp
*Movie Under the Stars in Banff town
*Afternoon walking history tour
*SUP, Canoe, rafting.
*Bow Valley Parkway (Scenic parkway with viewpoints)
*Hike on Bow Valley Parkway: Johnston Canyon
-upper and/or lower falls, catwalks through the canyon. For both, 2-2.5 hrs
-from Upper Falls, carry on to the Ink Pots (~3km, 1hr from upper falls)
-early morning to avoid crowds. Very popular spot.

Moraine Lake (in Banff National Park): CAN do Lake Moraine and Lake Louise in the same day, as they are 15-20 minutes apart, and accessed by the same road (Lake Louise Drive), if you’re not doing long hikes.
*Website with info
*Hike: Sentinel Pass & Eiffel Lake ~6km
*Canoe $105 per canoe
*Rockpile Trail- best views or Moraine Lake ~40 minutes round trip
*Moraine Lakeshore Trail - 2.9km, about ~45 minutes

•Lake Louise
*Website with info
*Shoreline Trail, ~4km, 1 hour & starts in front of the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel
*Fairview Lookout Trail (slight elevation for views) ~2km round trip, 45 minutes
*Lake Agnes Tea House (busy, get there early)
*Big Beehive Lookout Summit

•Yoho National Park (info here), (~1 hr from Banff, 15 min from Lake Louise)
*Yoho is from the Cree language, it translates to “awe”
*wildflowers peak at end of July
*Iceline Trail in Yoho (full day, 18-21km loop. Allow 8 hours)
*Takkakaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest free falling waterfalls- 1260ft; word from the Cree language translating to something similar to “magnificent”; accessible by car
*The Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River (en route to Emerald Lake.)
*Emerald Lake for it’s deep turquoise green color

-Shoreline walk ~5km, ~1.5 hr (accessible by car)
*Lake O’Hara and it’s surrounding area for it’s hiking trails offering stunning views of mountains and glacier lakes (I read it is considered THE premiere hiking area in the Canadian Rockies)
*Burgess Shale: one of the world’s most important fossil sites and the viewpoint for the engineering marvel of the Spiral Tunnels.
*Spiral Tunnels view point (train tunnels)

*Wapta Falls: easy 2.4km trail that leads to the 150 meter wide falls (the full width of the river)

Next Time:
• More Yoho National Park
• O’Hara lake hikes
• Kootenay National Park
• Morning yoga at the top of the gondola in Banff

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