5 Trip Ideas for Banff National Park, Canada

Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national Park located in Canada’s Alberta province and is a short 1.5 Hour drive from the nearest city of Calgary. Over at Banff National Park, you will get to see alpine landscapes straight out of a postcard with snow-capped mountain ranges, pristine lakes, dense coniferous forests and glaciers. Whether you are really into nature or just looking to take those Instagram worthy pictures, this is one of the places that should be on your bucket list!

The scenery at Banff changes drastically according to the different seasons and if you are looking at doing some serious nature exploration, I would definitely recommend heading there during the summer period. When I was there, it was the first week of October with temperatures hovering above freezing point. Some fall colours could be seen in certain areas of the park but I think we were too early to see the actual change in colours of the leaves. I was there for 3 days and had the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful places in Canada. We booked certain activities for our trip as a package which is much cheaper but it is possible to explore the places individually or try out hikes around the lakes which are free!

Here are some 5 trip ideas if you’re heading to Banff National Park!

1. Horseback Riding along the Bow River

Located just a stone’s throw away from the main town area of Banff, Warner Stables offers guests a unique way to take in the breath taking view of nearby mountain ranges as well as the Bow River all while riding a horse! No prior horse riding experience is required and the horses are well trained and very responsive to the directions given so you won’t need to worry about falling down. The tours are also conducted in groups with guides helping you along the way if you get too overwhelmed with the horses.

Different trails are available ranging from 1 to 3 hours but because we had a tight schedule that day, we went with the Bow River Ride Trail which took us about an hour to complete. The first part of the tour brings you on a trail through a nearby forest where you get peeks of the mountain ranges on the other side. If you’re lucky enough, you might even see some Elks roaming among the trees!

At the halfway mark, the trail makes a turn where you will be riding just next to the Bow River. This was the best part of the tour as you really get to view the mountain ranges as though they were straight from a postcard.

There will be a few stops along the way where the horses will get to relieve themselves so take this opportunity to take some pretty pictures for your memory!

2. Sulphur Mountain/Banff Gondola

If you every consider viewing the scenery of the Canadian Rockies from above, I would suggest heading up Sulphur Mountain. Sulphur Mountain is located about 5 minutes (by Car) from the main town area of Banff. If you are looking for more action, hiking up the mountain is another option which will take about 2 – 3 hours! The hike up the mountain can be quite steep and if there is snow, it can be very slippery. An alternative to getting to the top of Sulphur Mountain would be via the Gondola. I took the Gondola up when I was there as the tickets were inclusive in our package we bought. We were told that we only had 90 minutes to spend on top of the mountain as our return tickets down the mountain was fixed. However, I think we stayed beyond 90 minutes and had no issues coming down. It would be best to check with the staff on site.

The views from the Gondola while heading up were breath taking but that isn’t even the best part yet. Once you reach the top, head out of the main viewing deck and follow the trails and boardwalks to the other view points. The boardwalk extends to another peak where you get a bird’s eye view of Banff Town. There are also a few trails if you want to venture off the main boardwalk. Do give yourself sometime to fully explore the top of Sulphur Mountain as it really offers you some of the best views from above!

Just a side note! Do check the weather forecast before heading up as clouds are a very important factor if you want to catch that beautiful view. Do check out Banff Jasper Collection for their Gondola’s hourly rates!

3. Lake Louise

Lake Louise is probably the place most tourists head to when in Banff National Park. When I was there, it was filled with hoards of tourists with their selfie sticks and DSLR cameras lining the shore. Lake Louise is about a 45 minutes’ drive from the town of Banff and is most famous for its Emerald/Turquoise coloured lake.

While most people come here for the photos, there are actually quite a few activities to try out here. The most popular (and pricey) activity would be to canoe on the lake itself. Canoe rentals are offered by the boathouse a 5 minutes’ walk from the car park and they are the only vendor renting out canoes in the area. Rates are $105 CAD per hour or $95 CAD per half an hour per Canoe. Each canoe can only fit up to 3 adults but the most ideal situation would be to have just 2 in a canoe as it can be a bit squeezy.

I opted for the 1 Hour rental and while it was rather pricey, the experience was really unforgettable. Even though it was a lake, the currents were pretty strong and we had to constantly paddle or we would end up drifting off course. While the lake did not seem that big, I would recommend giving yourself ample time to paddle back to the boathouse and not get too caught up in taking photos. We paddled to the end of the lake where there was a shore but we weren’t allowed to dock. It was really very therapeutic to be sitting in the canoe and being surrounded by such clear and pristine waters. If you’re looking at taking that insta-worthy shot, paddle to the middle of the lake where you can get the perfect view of the mountain valley as well as the glacier.

Beside canoeing, there are a few nature trails which also brings you to view points along the lake. These trails vary in distance and difficulty so do remember to check before attempting them! Another well known spot in Banff National Park is Lake Moraine which is 10 minutes away from Lake Louise. If you have extra time after visiting Lake Louise, be sure to drop by Lake Moraine as well.

4. Tunnel Mountain

Just beside the town of Banff is Tunnel Mountain which offers an easy to moderate hiking trail. The hike takes about 2 to 3 hours and if you are nearby and want to squeeze in a quick hike without driving too far, this would be ideal. The trail gradually becomes steeper towards the summit but I personally feel that it is still manageable. As you reach the top, you will get to see the whole of Banff town as well as Mount Rundle. I’ll let the pictures do the talking!

5. Glacier Skywalk/Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure

Our friends recommended that we head up north of Banff National park to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center where we would visit the Glacier Skywalk as well as walk on a 10,000-Year-Old ice sheet (Glacier). The drive took around 3 hours from the main Banff Town area and I would strongly recommend only heading here if you are on your way to Jasper National Park. The drive to the Glacier Discovery Center was simply jaw dropping with ice-capped mountains and constant changes in scenery. We simply had to stop a few times so that we could get off the car and bask in the beautiful view of the scenery.

When we reached the discovery center, basically the visitor’s center, it was swarmed with tour groups. The tour package that we had gotten gave us access to the Glacier Skywalk and the chance to head up to the Athabasca Glacier on the Ice Explorer which is basically a massive all terrain vehicle. The first part of the package, which was going up the Glacier on this all terrain vehicle did not go as planned. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the vehicle was unable to head up the glacier and we were left waiting in the vehicle without heating. Despite updates from the driver every now and then, we waited for about an hour before being transported to the next part of our package which was the Glacier Skywalk. We were told that this happens every once in a while as the Vehicle might not have enough grip while heading up the steep slopes and it would be very dangerous.

The Glacier Skywalk was unfortunately underwhelming. When we got there, it was filled with loads of tourists and to put it short, it was basically a glass walkway that allows you to see what’s below you. However, as it was super crowded with selfie sticks basically everywhere, it was impossible to truly enjoy the scenery around you. The whole experience was not the best and I would not recommend heading out of your way just to come here. However, if you are on your way to Jasper National Park and want to experience walking on the glacier, you can consider dropping by.

About the Author:

Song Wei Liang
Constantly looking at planes and hoping that i’m on the next flight out. I hope my travels will inspire others to head out and explore what’s out there!

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