Travel Guide to Banff, Canada (Summer)
This 2019 Labor Day weekend, I went to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada to visit the famous blue lakes and mountains that all the Instagram models seem to be at. Banff is blowing up in popularity, so if you haven’t heard of this beautiful national park, I hope this guide gives you a reason to visit! I was here for five days with a group of five people with two days being allocated to traveling, and this itinerary is my version of a perfect combination of hiking, sightseeing, and road tripping.
Get a Discovery Pass if you’re here for a few days because the daily pass is around $20. It’s ~$136 for the whole car, and you have access to all the parks in Canada with it. If you have the pass before you get to Banff you can zoom right into the park without having to wait in line.
Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Park area all near each other and worth exploring if you have the time. Yoho is about 1.5 hours away from Banff’s Lake Louise and Jasper is about 3 hours away.
Temperatures varies and snow can be found on the mountain even in the summer, so bring layers!
Gas is expensive (like $11 a liter) especially near Lake Lousie, so try to grab gas in Banff town or Canmore if you can
I didn’t have signal in a lot of areas within the park, so download a good playlist and an offline map!
Not a tip but veganism is surprisingly easy here. Beyond Meat is everywhere and lots of vegan/gf options/labels at most restaurants
This is the famous Lake Lousie that you’ll see many signs on the road for. Come early for the best opportunity at parking! Everyone wants to see the seafoam green lake that’s the color of a Tiffany’s box. I went on a foggy morning day, which made the lake look a little mysterious, but by afternoon everything cleared up, and we got a clear view of the distance. You can walk along the lake pretty far on a flat paved road, so you can see the Cheateu Lake Louise reflect by the water. The mountains and glacier in the distance will tempt you to hike to it and that’s what we decided to do!
This hike starting from Lake Louise to the Plain of Six Glaciers + stopping on some sites along the way before making it back to Lake Louise took us about 6 hours round trip and 7.5 miles. The hike had some steep inclines, but it’s manageable with the right snacks and hiking games. We passed by a rocky valley that gave me a bit of vertigo, a bridge sitting over water, and lots of beautiful views.
When you get to the end of this hike, you’ll get a view of the Six Glaciers in the valley and see a cute Teahouse. This Teahouse can see upwards to 700 people a day and serves only vegetarian food (with vegan options). There’s no electricity (so bring cash), the employees walk to work, and there’s a huge list of teas perfect to stay warm after a long hike. I had some vegetarian chili and spent time petting the HUGE resident dog, Arlo!
Once we were stuffed from the Teahouse, we made our way down on a different path. We saw the Beehive Mountain and made our way through a grassy mountainside.
Lake Agnes (+ Teahouse)
This beautiful lake on the mountain has another very popular Teahouse by its waterside. We didn’t eat here since we ate at the Plain of Six glaciers, but it was packed with lots of teas and hungry people. The lake was foggy when we got here because of the rain, but when it cleared up, we got a view of the green lake.
This lake was a lot smaller than the others I saw, but it had a greenish, turquoise tint that was a nice break before heading back to Lake Louise.
Lake Lousie (part 2)
After the hike, we arrived back on a clear, non-foggy Lake Lousie! It was nice to sit by this beautiful lake after a long hike and just watch the water ripple and the mountains in the distance.
Road trip along Icefields Parkway
This drive is beautiful with its long seemingly endless road with a new mountain or lake at every corner. I was constantly wowed staring out the window at the vastness of Alberta. We also saw some billy goats and deer hanging out by the side of the road which is always exciting. You can stop by the major sites, take photos, or go hiking on select trails. There’s a rest stop called “The Crossing” Icefields Parkway right in the middle of the path from Bow Lake to the Icefields so you can snack up and get gas if needed.
This is such a vast deep blue lake that’s easy to photograph! You can park right by this lake and be quickly by the water by walking down the hill. One of my favorite lakes to just stare at.
One of the most famous lakes in Alberta is Petyo for its endless path through the valleys and how turquoise the water is. From the parking lot, a steep ten minute walk will take you to a high view of the lake where you can watch the clouds reflect in the water all day.
Yoho National Park - Emerald Lake Canoeing
Yoho National Park isn’t necessarily on the Icefields Parkway, but it’s on the way and has a beautiful lake. You’ll have options to canoe in the very popular Lake Lousie and Moraine Lake, but the lines are very long. Emerald Lake in my opinion is just as beautiful without a wait and a great gift shop. It’s $70 CAD a canoe and can fit up to 3 people.
Columbia Ice Fields (Jasper National Park)
You can see a living glacier in Jasper National Park which is a pretty eye opening experience. This glacier is beautiful, and it produces its own weather meaning it is very cold and windy as you climb to the top. There are also markers that show how much the glacier has receded throughout the years - it lost half of its size in the last 150 years, losing about about 5 meters a year. It’s incredibly sad to see the receding glacier, so appreciate it while you can.
You can book a tour that takes you to climb the glacier, but it’s quite pricey, so my group didn’t do it. However, if you’re interested, you can purchase tickets in the visitor center and also get a beautiful lunch view of the glacier (they have beyond meat!).
This is one of those hikes where the trail is the view! Luckily there’s also a view at the end of the hike of a beautiful waterfall! Johnson Canyon breaks into an upper and lower falls, so you can see both bodies of water close up.
You can actually sail on this Lake and spend some time on a boat. We decided to just sit by the lake and watch the water. Watching water quickly became a pastime for our group, and this Lake is impressive because of its size!
This is one of the most famous lakes in Banff because of its light blue water and beauty. Up a short nature walk takes you to the top view of Moraine Lake where you can see everything. It’s beautiful to just watch the water flow and clouds move.
Unwind in Banff Town
Banff town has a lot of shops and restaurants to explore and after three exhausting days of wishing you lived here. I also love getting small souvenirs, and there are plenty of stores that let you fill your suitcase. I suggest checking out Banff Tea Company for fresh tea leaves and the lululemon store because the CAD to USD conversion is in your favor! On Wednesday’s there’s a farmers market too :)
Other Activities Considered:
These national parks are huge, and you can easily spend weeks exploring every part of the mountains, but here’s some other activities my group played around with but didn’t get to do:
Everyone said this was a great activity to do when it’s cold, and your body is tired from hiking all day. We wanted to spend more time outside, so we didn’t go to the hot springs but heard great things!
There’s a gondola that takes you to the top of the mountain for a pretty hefty price of around $64 per person. We didn’t think it was worth the price, but it seemed like a quick and scenic way to get up the mountain.
Explore further into Jasper National Park
Jasper is about 3 full hours away from Banff, so if you’re only here for a few days, it may not be worth the drive. However, there are a lot of beautiful spots like Maligne Lake within this park!
What to Eat:
There aren’t that many good restaurants near a lot of the attractions, and I prefer eating while staring out into the lake/trees/mountains during my hikes, so I packed a lot of sandwiches/granola bars to keep myself full during the day. I suggest doing a Safeway grocery trip before to pack some food and bring some bars with you! However, there were spots within some bistro attractions that had Beyond Meat which was a plus! Here are some the vegan-friendly restaurants I loved that I ate at while in Banff.
This 100% vegetarian restaurant can make anything vegan, so this was my home base. I shared King Kong noodles in a peanut soup, mac and cheese with gnocchi, beyond burger, mushroom ravioli, cauliflower bites, and their 27 ingredient nachos. They also have a list of raw desserts and a long list of alcohol so you can try some local beers!
This cute tea shop in Banff is vibrant and feels like a great community cafe to read and hangout. They have some vegan pastries like an apple cinnamon muffin and scones. I enjoyed the vegan burrito made with tofu scramble, but was also tempted by the vegan bowl. The teas are also local, so I opted for a turmeric tea.
This popular bakery has fresh bread and lots of vegan options including an amazing chocolate torte that tasted like ferreo roche, a vegan lunch sandwich made with blackbeans, and lots of pastries like cookies and muffins.
Wild Orchid Bistro (Canmore)
This gluten-free asian restaurant has a couple vegan options that are well labeled. They have a heated outdoor seating area with a view of the mountains. I got the special vegan sukiyaki which was a vegetable and tofu soup that cooks right in front of you. I also got some classic vegetable rolls. The vegan green curry also looked like a signature item that I didn’t get to try.
Accidentally Vegan Canadian Snacks
I love snacking on road trips and when hiking, so I loved trying these Canadian snacks!
Maple Cream Cookies
Ketchup Chips (not Lays because it has Dairy)
All Dressed Ruffle Chips
Where to Stay:
There are a lot of places to stay in Banff town and even on Lake Louise (the famous chateau is quite beautiful), but staying near Canmore is the way to save money. I stayed in Harvie Heights which was about 20 min away from Banff town and a lot cheaper for a group than staying in the more touristy areas. Besides, you’ll get to enjoy Mountain View’s when driving into Banff everyday if you stay outside of town!
Overall, Banff was an amazing trip, and I really recommend it. Summer is a perfect time to visit, but if you like to ski, winter will treat you well. This has been one of my most favorite national parks, and I’m glad I got to share it with all of you!