It’s probably on every Canadian’s bucket list to make it to some part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks one day. When I found a roundtrip plane ticket to Calgary for under $300, I knew it was finally happening for me!
I gave myself six days mid-May to drive to Lake Louise for two nights and then head down to Banff for the rest of the trip. I was hoping to make it to Jasper as well but I realized it was too early in the season and lots of roads were still closed. Also, accommodations are much harder to find up north so it’s more interesting for campers.
Since I was flying to a city I had never visited before, I did a little bit of research on a few addresses to check out on my arrival. After a night at a nearby airport hotel, I drove in the city and parked the car in East Village.
I visited the local roaster Phil & Sebastian in the Simmons Building which was perfect to do some more travel planning & reading. I walked the city for about an hour, and in general, it felt a bit cold. The architecture was interesting but I felt like there was no sense of community around me. I started to feel pretty eager to get out to nature! I picked up groceries at Safeway and a phone holder for the car and got on the highway.
Getting from Calgary downtown to Lake Louise took about two hours and is the most beautiful drive I have ever done. I kept saying Wow! out loud to myself as I got deeper into the rockies. It really is a special experience to see such beauty while driving to a playlist of your choice and simply being silent (other than the wows and ohs I let out).
I checked in to Lake Louise Inn and felt super happy with my accommodation, a junior suite with a full kitchen so that I could cook meals. After unpacking, I went for a walk to visit Lake Louise Village. Sadly, the Parks Canada booth was already closed for the day so I came back with a few local sour beers from the liquor store instead. I spent the rest of the evening sitting on my porch taking in the surroundings & calm.
On the next day, I woke up to grey skies and could hardly see any of the mountains peaks around me. It’s crazy how clear skies can change the whole mood of the area and I’m glad I experienced it both ways.
I went back to the visitor centre at Parks Canada and confirmed what hikes would be possible or not. That’s when I got pretty bummed out since about 80% of what I was hoping to see was closed because of avalanche risks or simply because it was too early in the season, including Moraine Lake. At least, the Lake Louise was open so I drove right away to it.
We were literally ten people at the site which was amazing, and is the one advantage of visiting early in the season. While I wasn’t able to hike up to the Tea House, I did get to walk around the lake and I was mostly alone for that hour. The whole area was majestic and quiet. I really enjoyed the spot I chose to sit & meditate in, and one of those cute ground squirrels joined me, ah!
After checking out from Lake Louise Inn on my last day, I drove to Marble Canyon in BC and walked around for about an hour. It didn’t look like much when I parked but it is actually a fun & easy trail to get around. It’s impressive to take in the power of water on rocks.
Once I got hungry, I stopped at Storm Mountain Lodge for lunch after a person I care about shared fond memories from working there in the past. I loved how rustic the place was and while simple, everything was about local & high quality products. The staff was also super friendly.
I checked in to Juniper Hotel after lunch. The location was great, just outside of Banff Village which gave me the option of leaving the car behind when I wasn’t in a rush. My room was fine but had a few issues and I didn’t find the service very nice for the price. I walked around the property, got in their outdoor jacuzzi and did some reading for the rest of the evening because this was also a vacation after all :)
The next day, I hiked the Fenland Trail (more than once because I found a way to get lost on a loop haha). It was, once again, such a beautiful place to be in. I passed no more than two people the whole time I was there, which made it my favourite meditation stop.
The loop actually stops near Banff Village, which was my next stop. I chatted with the Parks Canada staff and got a few tips on how to deal with animals I might see on my hikes. That was actually very useful when I took the trail back to the hotel in the afternoon and came face to face with an elk!
The hotel I was staying at seemed to have good reviews for brunch so I ate there and it was indeed delicious but the service was pretty rude :/ My evening ended like the previous day with a hot tub & reading session.
On the next day, I got up pretty early and drove to Johnston Canyon. I’m glad I’m a morning person because showing up early gave me enough time to do both trails (upper & lower) before it became so full that people were lining up everything. I couldn’t have hoped for a more beautiful hike, with rainbows & everywhere. It felt so good to meditate to the sound of waterfalls.
In the afternoon, after resting a little bit, I drove to the Banff Gondola. It gets really busy for cars around there so it was a bit of a struggle to park but after 20 minutes, I was heading up. I appreciate that you don’t have to share gondolas with others (did I say I am an introvert?).
The air felt amazing up there and the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk was a beautiful walk up in the clouds. I stayed for about two hours, and I was able to do some reading in the sun.
On my way back down, I decided to check out the Banff Hot Springs. The admission was super cheap and the money goes back to Parks Canada which is great! However, it was sort of a hot spot for teenager dates so I didn’t stay long! As I walked back to the car to drive through sunset, I got to meet the cutest fox.
Monday came so fast and there it was, my last day before taking the plane at 1am. I checked out from the hotel and drove into Banff Village one last time. I had a delicious sourdough breakfast sandwich at Wild Flour Bakery while seeing if the weather would improve for one last hike.
It felt a bit too cold so I decided to drive down to Canmore to see the Grassi Lakes. It was a short stop since that Monday was a holiday and nobody could find parking anywhere. I truly cannot imagine how the area gets during summer season!
calgary round two
I got back in Calgary a bit earlier than I would have wished for. All the places that I wanted to see were closed because of the holiday. So I did a very me activity and got myself a free day pass at Goodlife Fitness for a gym session. I mean, if you’re going to do nothing, might as well workout?
I spent my evening at an airport lounge until it was time to board my flight.
would I go back?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
There is so much more to see. I would love to go back mid-June and drive straight to Jasper to be as remote as possible at first and then make my way down towards Lake Louise & Banff again.
I recommend this trip to everyone, especially city people. It’s so important to [re]connect with nature, especially now. We have access to incredible lands, it’s up to us to experience them.
useful Things To Know before You go
- You need a park pass as soon as you enter Banff. You’ll see signs on the highway telling you to exit to purchase one but the easiest way is actually to do that online before your trip! All you have to do after is to print & leave it on your car dashboard.
- Stop at the Parks Canada centre when you arrive in a new area. They have super useful information on where to go and what animals to watch out for.
- It’s much cheaper to pick up groceries from Calgary and the drive is so short (less than two hours) that it’s not an issue. For gas too!