Banff National Park is one of those places I have dreamed about for years, my wanderlust and desire ignited by what I saw on Instagram and further pursued by blogs and stories I read and heard. When the opportunity arose to make a cross-provincial roadtrip from Vancouver to Calgary, driving through Banff National Park stopping at all the incredible lakes, waterfalls, hikes and roadside pit-stops was a definite must-see.
Most of Banff National Park can be seen in a day with a car, but if you're like me, take your time and camp throughout the park, taking every second to explore the beauty of one of Canada's most famous National Parks. You will need a National Park Pass to enter the park, available at the huts at the park entrances for daily, multi-day or annual use.
Where to Camp in Banff National Park
We spent a night at the spacious Two Jack Campground, nestled into the thick woods behind Two Jack Lake. We spotted a number of wildlife here including three black bears and an elk crossing the road right in front of us! Two Jack's size meant it was one of the more expensive ones at about $30 including campfire permit, but was a lovely place to spend the night.
Things to See in Banff National Park
1. Mistaya Canyon
Mistaya Canyon is a beautiful and quiet stop where you can wander right down to the water's edge to enjoy the beauty. Hike a short ways up along the riverbank for gorgeous horseshoe bend photos against a backdrop of magnificent mountains.
2. Waterfowl Lakes
Famous for being some of the bluest lakes in the national parks, Waterfowl Lakes did not disappoint. Sam even attempted a dip in the freezing water which I watched comfortably from the shore!
3. Peyto Lake
More commonly known as the Fox Lake, this impressive feat of nature can only be viewed from afar. This view of Peyto Lake is actually the best one, as it offers visitors the iconic look at the fox-like shape of the shores.
4. Bow Lake
Stop at the sweet little bridge with the stunning backdrop of the mountains protecting the quiet Bow Lake.
5. Crowfoot Glacier
A stunning right-on-the-road-side view, Crowfoot Glacier takes on the shape of a crow’s foot with a three-pronged foot of ice stretching across the mountainside.
6. Herbert Lake
Not having a shower on the road meant we took advantage of the swimming at Herbert Lake to give ourselves a good wash. We swam across the lake then jumped back in and swam back all right beside the Icefields Parkway!
7. Lake Louise
When we arrived at Lake Louise, we were met with throngs of people, a jam-packed parking lot and views that took my breath away. I’ve dreamed of Lake Louise for years and it was everything I had hoped for.
8. Moraine Lake
This beautiful spot is famous for its tooth-like mountain range stretching across the lake like a backdrop. A rock pile offers visitors a top-angle view – don’t be fooled by those climbing the side closest to the parking lot as there is a trail that wraps around the back side and is substantially safer! This was my absolute favourite place from the whole trip.
9. Two Jack Lake
We had spent the night at the campground just behind this lake and drove down first thing to catch the light over the early-morning paddle-boarders and fishermen. Two Jack is famous for it’s impressive double reflection of the mountain that sleeps behind it.
10. Bow Falls and Banff Pedestrian Bridge
We were greeted with a number of tour-bus groups here as this stop is right in the town of Banff. We walked from the parking lot the whole way up the river and into town - mostly to seek out a bathroom, but also because it was beautiful.
11. Vermilion Lakes
As Sam said, “is it called Vermilion because there’s a million lakes?” And it does feel like that as the road alongside the lakes seems to go on for ages and the various pools of water seem to never end. Banff’s famous slanted mountain graces the horizon line.
12. Banff Town
Sam and I both share a love for the little town in the mountains. It's a must-see and a refreshing change from the nature overload of the park!
13. Johnston Canyon
Lower and Upper Falls make up Johnston Canyon, plus a secret off-road trail that takes you down the creek to the source of the waterfall. There’s a thrill factor involved in the fact that you’re literally walking on bits of metal nailed to the face of a rock.