The Best of Banff
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | August 15th, 2017
Nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and established as Canada's first national park, Banff has some of the most stunning and unique scenery in all of the world. Turquoise lakes, jagged snow capped mountains, and exhilarating hiking are just a few of the sights to see while visiting this amazing nature preserve. We explored Banff for a week in August 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the beauty and tranquility of this park. Even though it was extremely difficult, I have officially chosen my top five favorites sights in Banff.
Moraine Lake tops my list as the most beautiful sight in all of Banff, and for good reason. The jaw-dropping blue water, majestic evergreens, and perfectly placed mountains look like something an artist created. Sunset is the best time to visit, when the mountains form a glistening reflection on the surface of the lake's waters, and the lighting is picture perfect.
The most famous sight in all of Banff is Lake Louise. Named for Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, this popular lake is a must see. Hiking, biking, canoeing, skiing, shopping, dining - the activities are endless at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hike to the top of Big Beehive for epic views of the lake below, canoe the calm glacial lake waters, or enjoy a fantastic meal on the patio of the Fairmont Hotel. Whatever you choose to do, Lake Louise will have fun and fantastic views waiting for you.
Up for some adventure while in Banff? I highly suggest hiking the Big Beehive trail at Lake Louise. While standing at the lake front, turn to your right and you will see a large mountain top that resembles a beehive. That is the summit. Don't get discouraged, it looks a lot worse than it is. The hike is completely doable, and totally worth it! Depending on your speed, the round-trip trek takes an average of four hours. That includes stopping for photos, snacks/water, and resting. From the top, you will be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Hotel. Also, along the route is Mirror Lake, Lake Agnes, and a quaint teahouse. The teahouse is located at Lake Agnes, is cash-only, and offers a variety of snacks and beverages, as well as public restrooms (the only restrooms along the whole trail). With so many amazing things to see, the Big Beehive hike should definitely top you list of things to do in Banff.
Peyto Lake is a beautiful and bright turquoise colored lake located along the Icefields Parkway. Because of its color, Peyto is often seen in many advertisements promoting Banff National Park. Most people wonder if the color is real. Well I can assure you it is, and it is exquisite. In the summer months, the glacier ice melt flows down into the lake carrying rock flour. This rock flour is what gives the lake water its bright color. Add strong sunlight, and the water practically glows. The best views of Peyto are from Bow Summit, and it is very easy to get to. From the parking lot, a simple ten minute walk (slightly uphill) will take you to one of the most memorable places you will ever see. Be sure not to miss this beauty!
The town of Banff is located less than ninety miles from Calgary, and has so many great lodging options, shops, and activities to enjoy. There are historic hotels with rustic accommodations, museums and art galleries, parks and hiking trails, lakes for canoeing and paddle boarding, a variety of restaurants, and even a lively nightlife scene. Banff is a wonderful place to stay, some say the best in all the park.
Weather - The best time to visit Banff National Park is from June through August and December through March. The summer months of June through August bring comfortable weather and an array of outdoor activities. Temperatures hover around a perfect 70°F, and activities such as hiking and boating are in full effect. The winter months of December through March excite ski lovers from around the world. Hoards of tourists pile into this snowy wonderland for top-notch skiing and winter sporting. Be sure to bundle up as temperatures rarely surpass 32°F.
Getting Around - Having a car is very helpful for getting around Banff. All of the major attractions have parking lots and parking is free. The lots do fill up quickly, so try to get to the sights before 10am or after 3pm, when more spaces are available. The two most popular attractions, Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, run out of parking spaces quite often. Because of this, there is shuttle service available to and from both sights. You will see the shuttle serviced parking lots while driving to the lakes.
Be Prepared - Be sure to keep a good amount of gas in you car at all times. Gas stations are few and far between and you don't want to get stuck. Fill up often, and also grab snacks and water for the car. We kept a cooler loaded with food and beverages and that came in very handy. Stores and restaurants are only located in the tourist areas and they close early. We missed dinner one night because we didn't make it back in time. Packing sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and lots of water is definitely a good idea.
Accommodations: If you don't mind splurging, I highly recommend staying at either the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise or the Fairmont Banff Springs. Both hotels are stunning, and located in great areas. If you're looking for more budget-friendly options, check TripAdvisor and Airbnb.