This year the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians decided to have their conference in Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. My coworker and I promptly realized that Edmonton is located only about 4 hours from a national park that we both have always wanted to visit: Banff. Mountains and brightly colored lakes and glaciers annnnnd so much beauty that we needed to see (but really it had me at the word ‘mountains’ and everything else was just bonus).
So we decided to arrive one day early to be able to see a list of ‘must-sees’ at this very popular park.
We stayed the night in Canmore, a city about 35 minutes away from our first hiking spot. We first tried to find a hotel room, but was almost laughed at by hotel workers and one snootily said that “the minimum to stay here is $299 per night, and thats the cheapest that you’ll find” but ensured us that it included a continental breakfast (which it damn well better at that price)…and that was at a Days Inn. So we stared at the lady and I wanted to push everything off her counter like a cat and walk out, but instead we just said “no thanks” and wandered out the door.
We ended up finding a last minute Air BnB (props to Angel’s husband, Matt, who seemed very concerned that we would have to sleep outside or in a murder motel). The spot ended up being a unit at a Wyndham hotel and the woman responded within 20 minutes of our request. Best part was it was super affordable for this area, at $130/night (although I think her prices change according to the time of year and if its a weekend). AND it was really nice! Overall we were extremely lucky to find this place, and Leanne deserves flowers and cupcakes everyday of her life now.
Moral of that story: Maybe book your lodging in advance…
Onto the nitty gritty…
I already mentioned that we only had one full day in Banff. So perhaps you are finding yourself in the same boat and you need to know how to see everything major in one day… well thats impossible. But before we left I made a list of everything I really wanted to see and we were able to see everything before the sunset.
So here is how we saw Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake all in one day…
Wake Up Early(ish)
To be honest, we didn’t really wake up super early, but we did get out and moving by 10 am. Looking back on it, if we started earlier we could have seen some of Jasper National Park, but I like to live my life with #noregrets.
Head to Johnston Canyon
All over the world wide webs is this picture of this rock thingy by this cave thingy. And it is hidden somewhere in this canyon. Everything I read about it said “follow the super obvious path in between the lower falls and the upper falls and it’ll take you to the rock”.
Let me just clarify that this is not enough direction for someone like me to fully understand how to get to anywhere ever.
So! Here are some actual tips to get to this rock!
-You have to hike a while before getting there. You will THINK you see what could possibly be this rock in the canyon and then you will bust your butt trying to get to it only to realize that it is NOT the actual rock.
–You don’t have to jump a fence for it. Not that we jumped fences or anything…..
-You will see waterfalls that you think are the lower falls, but they are not actually the lower falls. The lower falls are clearly labeled and have a cute little cave next to them, and all the waterfalls before that are not actually the lower falls.
-After you pass the REAL lower falls, you still have a while to hike before getting to the rock.
-The path looks like THIS:
-On a busy day you’ll see lots of people coming and going down this “super obvious” trail.
So once you find this path you’ll be to the rock rather quickly. If you don’t see a small scramble of rocks heading down towards the water within a couple minutes of going down the trail, you are at the wrong trail.
Once you reach the area, it is totally worth it.
When you decide that you satisfied with the time you have spent in Johnston Canyon, hike on back to wherever you parked your car, because there is a lot more to see.
Head to the Gondola
We hopped in our car and traveled to the Lake Louise Gondola. If you are in Banff on a day that there are one million visitors (like we were) you have to consider parking. It would have been impossible for us to park near Lake Louise, so we went to the gondola first and then took the free shuttle to Lake Louise.
The gondola cost around $30 USD, and is totally worth the views. There is a good chance to see bears on the gondola, however we did not see any.
Take a Shuttle to Lake Louise
Once the shuttle dropped us off at Lake Louise, I think both Angel and I were a little disappointed. There were SO many people there and directly on the lake is a ginormous hotel. I felt pretty far away from nature while staring at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. I know there are some hiking trails that go off of the lake, and maybe if we had enough time to do a couple of those it would have been a little better.
Drive to Moraine Lake
We spent about an hour at Lake Louise and then took a shuttle back to our car parked at the gondola. We quickly drove over to Moraine Lake, and encountered a line of cars trying to park. Luckily we were arriving late in the day so a lot of people were leaving at the same time. Once we got parked, it was only a couple minutes to walk to the lake and it was gorgeous. There are a bunch of weathered logs that you have to climb across to get to a huge rock pile that you can climb to get different views of the lake. After feeling slightly underwhelmed at Lake Louise, I think Moraine Lake gave me a little boost of energy.
Enjoy Sunset at Peyto Lake
After climbing the rocks at Moraine Lake and enjoying the view for a little bit, we jumped in the car and headed north. Peyto Lake was our final destination and we wanted to make sure we got there before sunset.
When we arrived at Peyto Lake, the parking lot was basically empty. We walked the short trail to get to the viewing point and both immediately agreed that this was our favorite spot of the entire day. The sun was setting slowly over the mountains in the background and the bright blue-green color of the lake water was amazing. This lake is a little ways away from where most of the tourists hang out, and is very close to Jasper National Park. If you still had time in your day, I would strongly urge you to continue onto Jasper.
All in all, it was a great day. We were very hungry (because we didn’t have time to eat), and a tad bit tired, but we had a great time.
The drive through the park was absolutely gorgeous, and I do encourage you to stop at every lookout and every little area possible, because everything is beautiful here.
Just a couple images from driving through the park….
It was difficult to leave this gorgeous place after only having one day to explore… but we had learning and mingling to do at our conference in Edmonton.
Hopefully if you ever go to Banff, you can get more time there!
Until next time 🙂