What the heck is Banff?
You’re going to…Canada?
Those were two of the most common responses I heard when mentioning the fact that my husband and I were taking a summer vacation to Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with friends. And after taking a week to mend my vacation hangover, I’m here to share why Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada should be on your bucket list!
- Perfect weather. We went at the end of the summer season, and the weather reminded me of San Diego/Coastal California. Breezy in the mornings and evenings and sunny and warm in the afternoons. Zero humidity. And the other bonus is that the altitude didn’t affect us – it’s lower than Denver!
- The natural beauty is unreal. We kept pinching ourselves and asking if we were experiencing real life – it felt like we were on a manmade set of a movie. Words and photos could never the views justice. The water is bluer than any I’ve seen AND with mountains as the backdrop. It was truly magical. And so peaceful.
- The food. I’m one of those people that judges a trip by the food. Well, it at least plays a part in the experience for me. And Banff did not disappoint. In fact, not a single one of us could think of a bad or even mediocre meal we had – even the beer and cider were delicious. I included some of our favorites in the itinerary below!
- First class everything. My friend kept saying, “Guys, this is so first class“! And it’s true. This was a quality over quantity trip in every way – the food (see above), the accommodations, the excursions, the scenic views, the sunsets, the parks, the people. Every single experience we encountered was top notch.
- Canadians are so nice. Canadians literally live by the Hakuna Matata motto – we heard “no worries” more times than I can count. The area we were located also has quite a few transients and travelers, and it’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re surrounded by such exquisite beauty.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR BANFF + CANADIAN ROCKIES:
I received quite a few DMs with questions about our trip. So below are my best answers and recommendations:
#1 question was what was the cost. We often use points in our travels, but we didn’t for this trip. The total we spent as a couple for 7 full days was around $3,300. That included 2 roundtrip plane tickets, rental car + gas, a really nice condo with a hot tub (this was a splurge and so worth it), excursions including canoeing and white water rafting, food, and some shopping.
Next most asked question was would I recommend for kids? My husband and I disagree here. He says yes, I say depends on age. It’s hard for me to give a fair say because we went without children and it was absolutely glorious. I couldn’t imagine our 6 and 4 year old girls on the intense hikes we were on, and it definitely wouldn’t have been as peaceful with children. But like anywhere you travel with children, it’s all about expectations!
Rent a car. Unless you plan to stay in one spot, I recommend renting a car. We couldn’t have gotten by without one, especially because Uber and Lyft are spotty in Canada and do not operate in Alberta – the territory we were located. We used our car multiple times a day.
Travel Arrangements: We flew into Calgary Aiport, rented a car, and drove to our condo in Canmore (we stayed at The Summit at Grande Rockies – we give it a 5 star review). Canmore was a great hub based on many recommendations! It is the cutest town with plenty of sites, hiking and restaurants of its own, and then we drove to our destinations each day.
START EARLY. I cannot stress this enough. Luckily, we had read plenty of reviews in preparation for our trip – so we woke up early each day and got to our destination no later than 7am. This is critical, otherwise, you will be joining hundreds of other tourists as it gets to be later in the day. Definitely takes away from the experience in my humble opinion.
Layers. I may have packed the day before (which seeped into the day we left), but mentally I was prepared. Since we were going at the end of summer, I wanted to be prepared for it to be hot and also chilly. I started every morning with my thermal jacket, a long sleeve shirt, and pants – and by the end of the day I was in a tank top.
Invest in quality shoes. I brought two pairs of shoes – and I woke up every morning so thankful I decided to pull the trigger and purchase them! I brought hiking boots (I personally think this was a necessity with all the hiking) and durable sandals, and they were able to get me through all levels of diverse terrain. *Link to my exact shoes at bottom of post.
Wish I would have… gotten in better physical shape to prepare for our trip. I’m not kidding. The first day, we hiked nearly 12 miles alone – and I was sore the entire week. I closed my exercise rings every single day and used muscles I don’t use very often.
Day 1: Lake Louise
Again, we arrived early (just before 7 am) and we were able to snap some sunrise photos on the lake. It was absolutely breathtaking. Then, our group decided to do theTea House Challenge Hike. I had no idea what we were in for, but I’m so glad we did it on the first day because I was the most eager. It was pretty intense – we ran out of snacks and water! But it was so worth the hard work.
Day 2: Canmore
This was our “hub”, and we decided after our intense hike the day before we needed a day of rest. We got massages, ate pizza + drank cider (some of the best cider we’ve had was in Canada because it’s not too sweet), and walked along the river to watch the sunset. It was the perfect “day off”. *Favorite Foodie Spot: Rocky Mountain Flatbread lives up to it’s “Best Pizza” reviews.
Day 3: Emerald Lake
This was my favorite destination and an absolute must in my opinion. Again, we arrived early – earlier than anyone else in fact. We grabbed a coffee and soaked in the quiet of the most beautifully colored lake I’ve ever seen – it really is the color of an emerald. My husband admitted that he was thinking the canoe ride we paid for was going to be “overrated”, but once we completed the hour on the lake, he said it was one of his favorite things we did on the trip. *Highly recommend the $75 canoe ride (we rented 2 canoes with 3 people per boat). Also, we bought quite a few gifts in the gift shop for family back home – it was so well-curated by a mother-daughter duo who had been in business for 30+ years. Then we went for a day-long hike and went to dinner in the town of Banff. *Favorite Foodie Spot: Cilantro Cafe on Emerald Lake had the most delicious roasted red pepper + gouda soup. Seriously delicious. And dinner in Banff we ate at Banff Avenue Brewing. Recommend the bison burger and white wit brew!
Day 4: Canmore
This was another “rest day”, except rest meant biking halfway to Banff – which was 20 km. I’m so glad we decided to do this because it was a really fun way to get to see a different view of the Canadian Rockies. Well worth it! In the evening, we explored Two Jack Lake (we really wanted to rent Stand Up Paddle Boards, but didn’t book far enough in advance) and Lake Minnewanka where we saw elk, which was so exciting! *Favorite Foodie Spot: Half-Hitch Brewing – recommend the spicy bean burger, nachos, and rose sangria!
Day 5: Kicking Horse River and Yoho National Park
Our final day in Banff, we decided to go big. We went white water rafting at Kicking Horse River and were so glad we decided to end on that note. It was a 12 km ride through the river, where we had the chance to go swimming at the end. The water was FREEZING, but now I can say I swam in the Canadian Rockies. Well worth it. After lunch, we decided to go hiking and explore Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park. *Favorite Foodie Spot: Truffle Pigs in Field, British Columbia who had delicious cider, and I recommend the beet and sweet potato soup!
If we had more time, we would have loved to visit: Peyto Lake, Lake Moraine, Bow Lake, and maybe stay one night at the Fairmount on Lake Louise.
WHAT TO PACK:
This packing list is for late summer. My top suggestion would be to come prepared with layers! The mornings and evenings were chilly – in the 40s – while afternoons heated up to 70s-80s. And while on a hike, that’s pretty toasty. Everything I purchased was on sale during Memorial Day and Independence Day Weekends.
Athletic Tank Tops for layering *I love Old Navy, super cheap with sales (only $9!) and very lightweight and comfy
Swimsuit – our condo had a hot tub that we used every night, so swimsuit was a necessity
Extra necessities: bug repellant, sunscreen, water bottle, back pack, plenty of snacks for long hikes (I love the Kirkland brand protein bars as they only have 1g of sugar and 21g of protein!), bear spray (our friend had a bear bell, but we heard the spray is a must, and I think I would have been more comfortable had we had some).
Unnecessary purchase (at least for our trip): rain jacket. I bought and packed a lightweight rain jacket and never once busted it out. In hindsight, we wouldn’t have probably spent the day hiking had it been raining. But mine was too cute to pass up, and it was on sale.
So What Do You Think? Did I Miss Anything? Happy to answer any questions!