Traveler: Danielle Gervalis and Mike Ramsden
When: September 2017
Overall Experience: The scenery in Banff National Park is unmatched. There is truly no place on Earth that will match the unique beauty of this place. In order to get the breathtaking views without the crowds, you’ll have to do a few strenuous hikes early in the morning, but I promise it’s worth it! Here are a few of our favorite shots and hikes from our travels to Canada.
A brief easy walk from downtown will take you to Bow Falls. This easy trail follows the river with many places to sit down and admire the scenery.
Some of the most dramatic scenes of nature can be found around the lakes of Banff National Park, however you aren’t the only one who will want to take in those views. Hordes of tour buses leave the town of Banff at 7:00am to head to the lakes! So if you want some quiet time to take it all in, you will need to rise with the sun.
We left town at 5:45am, the first stop was Lake Louise. The parking lot was basically empty when we arrived (packed by the time we left around 8am). We walked through the trees to the lake’s dock and joined a few other early risers to see the sunrise.
Since it was a little cloudy, we decided to start the trail and headed to the far end of the lake. This trail is flat and paved, one could easily push a stroller or wheelchair if needed. There are multiple benches along the way facing the lake so you can sit and enjoy the beautiful aqua marine lake.
If you want to do more challenging trails, then Lake Louise has surprises in store for you! We hiked the Lake Agnes – Big Beehive via Mirror Lake loop and were dead tired by the end of the day. To get to the tea house, walk past the opulent Fairmont Chateau and stick to the right to get on the Tea House Trail.
The first half mile is paved but it’s a 3.4km uphill hike. You will have a sliver view of the colorful lake once you get through a few switchbacks.
You’ll know you are getting close once you reach Mirror Lake. Smaller than its sister lakes, it’s still a pretty color and a nice shady spot to take a breather.
Continuing on the right side for another half mile takes you to Lake Agnes and the Tea House. The last jaunt is past a waterfall and up a flight of stairs to get to the lovely Lake Agnes.
The Tea House is a quaint log house serving tea, obviously, scones and sandwiches. It was very crowded when arrived so we didn’t wait for a table but they also have a carry out option. As this cafe is completely off the grid, it only takes cash for payment.
Past the Tea House, you can continue to hike around Lake Agnes on the Little Beehive Trail. From here, you are connected to the upward Big Beehive trail, which is a series of steep switchbacks until you get to a small cleared plateau. From here, you will head to your left for sweeping bird’s-eye views of Lake Louise. Once you are done hanging out in the clouds, the trail takes you down the opposite side of the mountain and loops you across to Mirror Lake and back down the way you came to Lake Louise. Tackling this hike was pretty strenuous! The trails are narrow and uneven in many areas and the elevation gain is over 1,100 feet! The good news is once you reach the bottom, you can dip your tired feet in the ice-cold water to rest them up!
Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks at an altitude of 6,183 feet, this glacial lake is deep blue in color and surrounded by impressive snow-capped peaks. While smaller than Lake Louise, it’s still mightily impressive and absolutely worth spending a few hours here. We scrambled up the Rock Pile at the front and enjoyed a granola bar while dangling our legs over the lake.
This trail wraps around to face the impressive valley below. I was stunned by the beauty from the sunlight streaming through the clouds, highlighting the hills and trees. It’s an incredible site and it seems like the mountains and trees go on forever.
Once you’re finished admiring the view, take the easy walk back down to the parking area. There’s also a flat trail around the lake where you’ll pick up the different shades of blue from the lake. If you’re exhausted from hiking, you can give your legs a break and put your arms to work by renting a canoe! They run about $95 an hour though….
One of the most scenic drives in the world is the 144 miles stretching from Banff National Park to Jasper through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. You could spend a week exploring the different hiking points from the side of the highway and be blown away by the views at each stop! I highly recommend stopping at these two incredible places:
Fed by the Bow River, you’ll find this peaceful, less crowded but still impressive lake with a massive glacial waterfall in the distance. Bow Lake was seriously majestic, I was shocked it’s not as famous as Lake Louise. As you walk around the area, you get hypnotized by the repetitive sounds of the little waves hitting the shore. I truly felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. There’s also a small visitor center and lodge for overnight guests if you are inclined to stay overnight.
There are a few trails around the stunningly turquoise lake for all levels of hiking. There is a short, accessible trail to an overlook area of the lake. It’s steep but paved and all ranges of athleticism can be found walking the trail. Word of caution: it can get very crowded at the overlook, so you might be jostling around to enjoy the view or take a few photos.
If you are up for a more adventurous hike, continue on past the overlook towards the Bow Summit Lookout and you will get to see the lake in all its glory and far away from the crowds! It’s a gorgeous reward to the hard work you’ll put in getting to the top.
Johnston Canyon and the Ink Pots
Once again, I warn you to get started on this trail early as this is one of the busiest places in Banff. Only 20 minutes from town, the trails are narrow and the lower falls viewing point can get backed up. We hiked to the lower and upper falls and then onward to the Ink Pots for a total of seven miles round trip which took about three hours.
From the lodge, it’s an easy half mile hike to lower falls. The air is cooler through the canyon and you’ll walk along the trail hugging the side of the mountain. At the lower falls viewing point, a small bridge leads to a cave where you can get up close and personal with the falls. Be careful walking in and out of the cave as it’s very slippery!!
Out of cave and back on the trails, we continued on to the upper falls for another mile. I could not believe the huge falls dropping before me, at 100ft it seemed staggering. There are multiple viewing points here as well, but if you are afraid of heights you might not want to venture out on the catwalk overhang. Consider this as you look at the falls, this waterfall was the site where extreme kayaker Tao Berman hurtled over the edge to set a long since eclipsed world record for the tallest waterfall descended in a hard shell kayak.
We carried on another two miles on some tough trails to see the famed ink pots in the Johnston Valley. There are 5 inkpots in varying shades of blue-green color dependent on how fast they fill from the underground spring. Those with greener hues fill at a slower pace and thus have more sediment materials than the deep blue pools. You can even see the bubbling spring water at the sandy pool bottoms.
However, the real star here is the location itself. The Ink Pots are in an open meadow with gorgeous views of the mountains with a river running through it. The valley actually evokes an emotional experience. It’s an imposing feeling to be standing in the middle of the Banff National Park surrounded by towering mountains with glimmering snow caps and the sounds of rushing water as your background music. The Ink Pots themselves pale in comparison to the valley. It’s worth taking this grueling hike.
Side hike: In between the Lower and Upper Falls there is a side trail on the right which takes you down to the river and a waterfall where you can walk underneath the falls.
Right outside of town are the Vermilion Lakes, a series of three lakes with spectacular views of Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle. You can hike around the marsh areas or canoe here from town. However, the best time to visit this site is for sunrise or sunset. We took the short drive from town and parked along one of the docks and waited out the sun. We were not disappointed, the reflections of the mountains off the water are incredible as the sky turns a dusty pink. However, our biggest surprise came when we saw a giant bull elk driving back into town!
Another easily accessible lake from town, you can catch the Banff bus for an easy drop off and walk around the flat trails. We were told it’s a hot bed for local fauna including rams, bear and elk. We didn’t see any of these critters but we did find a beautiful, peaceful lake with literally no one else around.
Good to Know:
- Take the proper precautions when hiking and heed the warning signs about encountering wildlife
- Keep this natural wonder clean! Whatever you bring it, hike it back out
- The trails are well signed but it’s always good to bring a map. We were there on a busy week but we really didn’t see any rangers throughout the area
- I know we’ve said it throughout the post, but I strongly advise getting up early and hitting the trails to avoid the crowds and have a more pleasant experience!