Our most recent trip was to Banff, Yoho, & Jasper National Parks. As you can see above, you can click the link to check out our itinerary (loads as a google doc).
Saturday July 8: We were living in Reedsport, OR at the time. We left from there and drove up to a rest stop off the Kootenay Highway 6 minutes North of Fort Steele, BC. It kind of looked like a campground and there’s a sign at the entrance that you’re allowed to spend up to 8 hours there. We conveniently packed the Honda Element in a way that we could move all our gear to the front and sleep in the back. It was the middle of July and was very hot but it worked out.
DAY 1 SUN 07.09.2017
We woke up at the rest stop and of course had breakfast at Tim Horton’s, an hour North of the rest stop and just 2 hours from Banff. The plan was to spend the rest of the day in Banff and get to the Lake Louise Campground by the evening (we spent our first 3 nights there and didn’t plan to come back into the town of Banff). With my research, the things that made the cut to see in Banff were
Lake Minnewanka [awesome lake]
Two Jack Lake [viewpoint, boating, picnic, etc)
Banff Legacy Bike Trail
Bow Falls [parking area, cool waterfall]
Vermillion Lakes [cool drive with scenic views]
Johnston Canyon Hiking Area [to upper falls 1.6m one way]
Lake Minnewanka was pretty cool. There was a large parking area with trails and areas to just hang out all around the lake.
Two Jack Lake had my favorite views for the day. I would have loved to have thrown our inflatable kayak in there but we just didn’t have time if we wanted to stick to the agenda.
Banff Legacy Trail was a great bike path that I believe ended in Canmore, AB. I don’t really remember how long it was. I think we ended up starting it at a pull off about halfway between the two. We did, however, go to an awesome little food cart in Canmore that I wish I could remember the name of…woops.
Bow Falls was a neat waterfall with a little parking area. It was very busy at the time. We did get lucky and got a parking spot. It was worth a quick stop.
Two Jack Lake
Vermillion Lakes was about a 4.5 mi drive one-way (dead-end road) with some pull offs and cool views of lakes with mountains all around. It’s something that doesn’t need to take too long but is worth the drive as well. Great spot for a classic Banff area photograph.
Johnston Canyon was cool, however, along our travels we have been to so many canyons that this didn’t seem too special. I’m not saying it wasn’t cool, however, I would have much preferred to spend the time boating around one of the lakes (Two Jack Lake) than have done this hike. I sound spoiled.
After Johnston Canyon we finished up and made our way to Lake Louise.
- Buy your groceries in Banff. The grocery store in Lake Louise is extremely expensive. There are some good, reasonably priced restaurants in Lake Louise. We had oatmeal that we brought for breakfast every day.
DAY 2 MON 07.10.2017
This was the day that I was probably most excited about for the whole trip. We were wise to wake up very early before heading to Moraine Lake. Later in the day when we drove by, parking was full and you couldn’t even drive down the road! Here are the plans...
Lake Agnes Trail to Tea House: 2.2 mi one way.
Starts on the shores of Lake Louise near Fairmont Chateau Hotel
Natural Bridge (very short trail to a lookout point)
Wapta Falls – 2.4 mi hike RT, cool waterfall
Moraine Lake was probably the number one thing on the entire list. If it’s not on your list already, put it on right now.
Lake Louise was the busiest place we went to, however, parking is ample. Not only does it offer boating and a very scenic view, it is the start of many hiking trails.
Lake Agnes Tea House was one of the coolest hikes we did. It is a pretty steep climb and after ascending for 2.2 miles, you can order some tea at the Tea House. The accept CAD and USD so don’t worry if you didn’t exchange any cash!
Lake Agnes Tea House
Takakkaw Falls was next and was pretty sweet and you can enjoy a seat in some red adirondack chairs. This was a very short hike, so if you’re tired after hiking to the tea house, this would be nice to check out.
Natural Bridge was pretty interesting. It is pretty much what it says it is. A “natural bridge” running across the river.
Wapta Falls was fun but tiring after a long day. It wasn’t very strenuous. It’s actually very flat. The trail is only 1.2 miles one way and descends fairly steeply at the bottom to get you to the bottom of the falls.
DAY 3 TUES 07.11.2017
We usually make a nice breakfast at our campground and enjoy the mornings with a wood fire. We decided we’d have our oatmeal in more scenic locations. We took our camping box with our pocket rocket to Herbert Lake to enjoy the scenery before continuing on with our third full day. Here were the plans for the day.
Crowfoot Glacier (can see it from the car)
Herbert Lake (no hike, parking area)
Hector Lake [3.1mi RT]
Lake Helen [7mi RT]
Bow Glacier Falls [5.6mi RT]
Peyto Lake [3.8 mi RT to lookout] (lake itself is a .3 mi hike)
Mistaya Canyon [.3 mi one way]
Crowfoot Glacier had a pull off if you wanted to look at it more closely but we could see it just fine on the drive. Another one that is exactly what it sounds like; a glacier that looks like a crows foot!
Herbert Lake was where we had our oatmeal. We started the morning early and were the only ones there. We made our oatmeal, coffee, and tea by the car and brought them right down by the lake to relax and get ready for the rest of the day.
Lake Helen: We actually did not do this one. As I’m sure you noticed, there was a lot of hiking planned for this day and not everything made the cut. Based on google images, we chose to do the Hector Lake hike instead of this longer Lake Helen hike.
Hector Lake: The night before I read that we had to cross a ford! I did not do advanced enough research before. This was a cold day and we knew we would be able to fit it in tomorrows plans so we decided to forgo it for this day
Bow Lake was awesome and is right along the Icefields Parkway. You can just pull over and take in the scenery of this one. It’s a must-see for sure.
Bow Glacier Falls is a hike we did by accident. The trail we took starts from the Peyto Lake parking lot. We got there and went to the Peyto Lake lookout first. I had read about a short hike to a different view of Peyto Lake and we were looking for that and accidentally ended up on the Bow Glacier Falls Trail. This trail ended up being amazing with terrific views. We had the entire hike to ourselves which was a great change of pace for such a busy area. We didn’t get any pictures of the views from the top as very dense fog came in while we were up there.
Bow Glacier Falls Trail
Peyto Lake was unbelievable and one of the most amazing sights from the trip. The view from the lookout is amazing but it wasn’t enough. We did end up finding the trail and it was a lot shorter than I thought to the more “private” lookout. This is a must see. Definitely add this to your itinerary.
Waterfowl Lakes were amazing, just like everything else in this area. It was a fairly short hike to see both lakes.
The Chephren Lake trail starts from the Waterfowl Lakes area. When we got to the trailhead, I could not remember what the lake looked like and we were trying to decide if we were up for hiking the extra almost 5 miles. We figured since I put it on the list, it must be worth it. It was.
DAY 4 WED 07.12.2017
DAY 5 THURS 07.13.2017
Mistaya Canyon: If this trail was longer, we probably wouldn’t have done it because the days take a lot out of you. We mustered up our energy since it was last on our list and you just don’t regret the things you do. It was another really cool spot that we’re glad we went to.
DAY 4 WED 07.12.2017
Wednesday was moving day. Moving to our second campground that is. We were all done with Banff and Lake Louise and were ready to take the incredibly scenic Icefields Parkway to the Wapiti Campground in Jasper. Of course we planned out plenty of stops along the way and they were as follows...
Bridal Veil Falls
Parker Ridge [3.1 mi RT, lookout view for a glacier]
Wilcox Pass Trail [View = Athabasca Glacier, 5 mi RT, starts @ Wilcox Campground]
Tangle Falls [Roadside waterfall]
Sunwapta Falls [short walk]
Athabasca Falls [short walk]
Hector Lake returns to the plans. It was the first thing on the agenda and we were up early again but we weren't going to skip this one twice. We were the second ones at the trailhead and I had recognized the truck that was already there from the evening before. **Tip: this trailhead is not marked from the road. It is about a half mile before the Hector Lake overlook pull-off when heading North on the Icefields Parkway. We made it to the ford, dangling our keys in attempt to keep any bears away (why buy bear bells when you have keys, right??? More on bears later). With my camera in my backpack, falling while crossing the ford was not an option. Only a few steps in, I lost my left flip flop to the river. Being very careful with each step, I made it across with only 1 fall scare. Leslie was next. The water already went halfway up my thighs (I'm 5'7" and she's 5'1"). With her camera (and my lens on it) in her bag, falling was not an option again! She made it about 1/3 of the way when I shouted "it only gets harder!" She wisely made the decision to turn back. I crossed back again and thankfully did not fall. It was a memory we'll never forget and it was definitely for the best that we did not make it all the way. The hike was great and I would recommend it, however, just be aware of the ford!
Hector Lake Ford
Bridal Veil Falls didn't impress me too much. The view from the road was definitely worth a quick stop since it is just off the highway. In my opinion, there are definitely more impressive waterfalls, but it was in a nifty location, seeing it from afar.
Parker Ridge: After doing a little closer research, it made sense to choose between either doing the Parker Ridge or the Wilcox Pass hikes. From my understanding, they are ultimately very similar views at the end. The Wilcox Pass trail is about 2 miles longer RT. After doing my research, we ended up going with Wilcox Pass, as it seemed the views along the hike were better and we had no problem doing a 5 mile hike as opposed to a 3.
Wilcox Pass did not disappoint! You quickly get above treeline and from there the views throughout the entire hike are incredible. We were unfortunate to experience some dense fog, light rain, high winds, and cold weather during this hike but it was absolutely worth it. The views of the Athabasca Glacier were throughout and the final view overlooking the mountains and the glacier were phenomenal. If you're choosing between this and Parker Ridge, you definitely wouldn't be making a poor decision with this one. And if you aren't up for the full hike, there are a set of red Adirondack chairs about halfway which would be an excellent turnaround point.
Tangle Falls were extremely easy to access. There is a pull off right across the street and they are 100% view-able from the road. No hiking required, however, there is a path if you want to climb up to the top of the falls.
Sunwapta Falls: After seeing amazing photos of this one online, I was most excited about this more than any of the falls we had planned to see. There are several viewing points and none of them get you the best view. If you keep walking past the bridge about 50 feet, take a left down the path and you will find the best views. Some people may hate me for sharing this info, but I can't resist. I spent about 15 minutes photographing from this area. There were plenty of people at the falls and not one other person came to this special spot.
Athabasca Falls was the last stop for Wednesday and was another that was very easy to access. It's just a short walk on a paved surface to several viewpoints of this waterfall with a mountain view in the background.
DAY 5 THURS 07.13.2017
The last two days of the trip were not quite as intensely packed with things to do on the itinerary.
Talbot Lake (to take in the view)
Sulpher Skyline Trail
Miette Hot Springs
That is all that was on the plans for that day and things only changed slightly. Talbot Lake was on the right when driving North toward the Sulpher Skyline Trailhead so we stopped and took in the view as the sun was starting to come out. We saw plenty of caribou on the ride as well.
Talbot Lake was beautiful. Another amazing lake with mountain views and reflections bouncing off the water. After hiking the Sulpher Skyline Trail, we ended up coming back here and lounging in the hammock.
Supher Skyline Trail was an amazing hike. Doing the Wilcox Pass Trail and the Sulpher Skyline Trail on back to back days really spoils you if you like a good hike. I believe this one is also about a 5 mile round trip and it ascended pretty much the whole way. It was doable, but keep in mind the ascent and the elevation if you're used to flat hikes. The views at the end were incredible, however, and it was more than worth it. We started pretty early so the trail wasn't too crowded but we definitely noticed a lot more people coming up on our way down. Trail starts from the upper right corner of the Miette Hot Springs parking lot (not where the giant hiking signs are).
Miette Hot Springs: We were literally right here but we didn't end up going. It is not too expensive (only $6.75, I believe for an adult). We decided against it because the time we got done with hiking, it was pretty crowded and we were too hot. We've been in a couple other hot springs when it's hot out and it's not quite as enjoyable. Also, it is very commercialized. With what we ended up doing after, we felt we made a good decision to skip this one.
We weren't really sure what we were going to do for the rest of the day since we were done hiking by about 1pm. We ended up just driving back toward the campground, looking for a good place to park and go for a road bike ride. We ended up parking back at Talbot Lake, hung up the hammock for about an hour, relaxed, and then rode our bikes about 10 miles south and back. That was an amazing place for a ride to take in the views a little more easily than while driving and we saw a family of big horn sheep. While riding, we noticed on the right hand side of the road several people were pulled off at the lake and dipping their feet and going for a swim at a little un-official "lake beach," which I believe was part of the Athabasca River. It was 2 miles south of Talbot Lake. We hung out there and just relaxed and dipped our feet in for a while and we enjoyed that a lot more than we feel we would have enjoyed the hot springs.
DAY 6 FRI 07.14.2017
The final full day for us in Alberta. We didn't plan any big hikes for this day. Our last day was about enjoying some scenic views across some lakes. I was pretty excited to photograph all of these lakes on this day so a huge thanks to Leslie for being very patient with me! From my research, I was expecting to enjoy Lake Edith the most. We knew this would probably be a great day to throw our inflatable kayak in the water. Here were the plans:
Maligne Canyon ended up being a longer hike than we realized. We took the Maligne Canyon trail to bridge 5. It was a nice hike along the river that descended quite a bit from our starting point. There was one nice waterfall coming downside the canyon. Nice mountain views in the backdrop toward bridge 5.
Annette Lake has a fantastic paved 1.5 mile loop that goes around the entire lake. There are astonishing views from every part of the path and there are several benches and areas to sit for relaxation or a picnic. Thanks again to Leslie for being patient with me since I stopped countless times to take photos of this lake.
Lake Edith was one we spent a very short time at. Being our last day, the fatigue was catching up with us. We didn't look for any trails, just enjoyed the scenery, saw the European woman take off her clothes, got a photo (of the lake, not the European woman), and took off for Patricia Lake.
Patricia Lake was hands down my favorite spot of the day and one of my favorite lakes of the entire trip. It was not a "tourist attraction" like Moraine Lake or Lake Louise so it was very unpopulated and the views of this lake and the surrounding mountains were absolutely breathtaking. We spent quite a bit of time here relaxing and taking photos and after visiting Pyramid Lake, we came back for some kayaking! The water was so clear, the views in every direction were stunning, and the weather was perfect.
Pyramid Lake is much bigger than Patricia Lake and there were far more people here. They have boat rentals, picnic tables, hiking trails, and probably much more. There was a lot to do here and thew views were incredible as well. For some reason, this lake didn't quite strike me like Patricia Lake did, which is why we chose to boat at Patricia. If you don't have your own kayak/canoe/SUP, this would be the one for you in this area since there is a rental shop right at the lake.
That was pretty much it for the trip! After that we went in town to a local coffee shop and then went back to our campground for an early dinner. We did have a little excitement there. We made sausages on a hoagie and while we were eating a black bear was about 90 feet from us just passing through! We immediately began packing the car while keeping an eye on it but it ended up not being an issue. The bear just kept going and was out of sight after a few minutes. That night, too, there were many caribou hanging out at the campground just minding their own business.
Q: Do I need bear spray or bear bells?
A: I would say yes. We actually ordered ours on Amazon for about $30 a week in advance but the shipping (even with Prime) was 4-5 business days and being the week of July 4, we did not get it in time. We figured we'd just buy it there. We got to the shop and it was $80 CAD (~60 USD) and we cheaped out and decided to risk it. We ended up being fine. We didn't see any bears along hikes and as I mentioned earlier, the one hike we were concerned, I shook my keys to mimic the sound of bear bells and on other hikes we just made sure to have healthy conversation to make noise in attempt to keep the bears away. In our time there, however, we did see a total of 8 bears including 4 black bears, 1 brown bear, and a grizzly with 2 cubs. With that said, I would go ahead and get the bear spray if you're going to be doing some of the less populated hikes.
I'd love to continue updating the post and answering more questions as they come in! Please don't hesitate to ask by heading over to the "Contact" page !