National Park Geek Series - Banff
National Park Geek Series - Banff
Well I finally made it to beautiful Banff (and Jasper, coming in a separate blog). These two dreamy places have been on my list for several years. The crystal clear, beautiful blue and turquoise lakes, back-dropped by expansive mountains have been something I’ve been wanting to see with my own eyes for a while.
Several months ago, I made an itinerary for a spectacular vacation exploring both areas for 8 days. I was hoping we would arrive during peak fall color season and be able to see the brilliant yellow larch trees. We did get lucky on the timing to see the fall colors but we also got the very unexpected surprise of early snowfall. We were expecting typical average temps in the mid-50’s for the first week of October in Alberta. Instead, we were handed over much less pleasant temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit with the addition of snowfall; a mini blizzard, if you will. While the snow ended up enhancing the beauty, we did have to cancel and change plans a few times. I’ll speak more on that later but for now, a brief description of all of the things we saw, did, ate, and drank in Banff.
Our first night in the Canadian Rockies was our 11th wedding anniversary and half of the day was spent travelling. Once we arrived in Banff, we went shopping downtown and had dinner and drinks at Park Distillery. I would highly recommend this restaurant as each bite melted the taste buds while we sunk into the cozy and warm decor around us. That same evening, we had the pleasure of visiting Bow Falls and Surprise Corner for a stunning view of the gorgeous (and huge) Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.
The next morning we awoke early to make the hour drive from downtown Banff to arrive at Lake Louise by sunrise (7:30am MDT). The lake’s beauty can’t very well be described with words but is as stunning and blue as all of the photos that I’ve seen of it. From here, we ventured up to the Lake Agnes Tea House. This is one of Banff’s most popular hikes and the tea house is adorable. If you want any food or tea (which I highly recommend) you need to bring cash and arrive early. There is no electricity in the tea house and all water and supplies are carried in daily. If you pay with American currency, you’ll receive change in Canadian currency and the exchange rate will not be in your favor.
After our tea, we continued onto the steep Big Beehive trail where the switchbacks made the trek even more difficult with the recent snowfall. Even though it wasn’t snowing while we were hiking, it was like climbing a mountain covered in ice. We slipped and fell multiple times and decided on our way down to go sledding on our butts. This turned out to be a safe and effective plan, due to incline and ice, we made it down in record time. I wouldn’t recommend attempting this without ice picks on your boots; Ryan did not think that the risk outweighed the reward. Not only does Ryan already place high value in safety but upon seeing an AeroMed land while making our descent, he was even more apprehensive about the risk. I, on the other hand, would definitely do it again because the views were incredible.
The beginning of the Lake Agnes Tea House hike is pretty steep, but overall, I thought it was a pretty easy hike to the top. The Big Beehive portion would have been difficult even without the snow and ice. The trail heads out and back and is 10 km with 510 m of elevation change. We finished in about 4 hours, allowing lots of time to stop for photos as well as a 30 minute rest break to enjoy some tea. On your way to the Tea House, you’ll see Mirror Lake, which was frozen (but still beautiful) and then you are only 0.5 km from the Tea House. You’ll pass a long, tall waterfall and then you’ll see the Tea House and gorgeous Lake Agnes. You can rent canoes to paddle over crystal clear Lake Louise (kind of steep at $115/person + tax). We did not partake in this excursion because we had afternoon plans back in Banff. Instead, we opted for dinner at The Block that evening and it was one of my favorite places we ate the whole trip; so so good!
The next day the snow started and we headed to Moraine Lake. It was still magical but we did not hike the Larch Valley trail because the snow was limiting some of the mountain views. We then drove the Minnewanka Loop road. The loop is 13.1 km and has access to many trailheads and stunning lakes. We stopped at Lake Minnewanka (the longest lake in the mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies), Two Jack Lake, and Johnson Lake. I’d recommend all of these stops, all of the lakes were beautiful and very accessible. We would’ve explored more of the area but the snowfall was turning into a snowstorm. We went to the Banff Upper Hot Springs for a soak and were a little underwhelmed. For one, it didn’t seem hot enough to Ryan and I, and two, it was super crowded. We had dinner and drinks with good friends that also happened to be in the area at Maple Leaf Grille, which turned out to be a solid choice, however I wouldn’t choose the restaurant over Park Distillery or The Block.
The next day we had plans to head to Jasper and explore the Icefields Parkway but the weather had other plans. We ended up booking a room and spa appointments at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel instead. It was definitely a splurge but one that Ryan and I would do again. You can read about that adventure in last week’s blog here. Next week I’ll share all of the things we explored along the Icefields Parkway and in Jasper. Stay tuned!
Have you ever been to Banff? What areas did you explore?
My name is Anna VanAgtmael, and I am a certified yoga instructor with a passion for yoga, travel, and connecting with others.
I believe in trying everything once. My values lie in collecting memories over things. Though we desire adventure and authentic experiences, naturally our fear holds us back.
My ambition is to inspire and encourage you to unmask your fears and jump into the unknown.
Anna VanAgtmael | Yoga Enthusiast | Trip Planning Wizard