Where to Stop on the Bow Valley Parkway
Banff National Park offers some of the best views of the Canadian Rockies, scenic drives, emerald blue glacial lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and so much more. Here are 5 must-see stops on the Bow Valley Parkway.
Happy National Siblings Day! I'm currently reminiscing about the Canadian Rockies road trip I took with my brothers. I tried to make this the beginning of an annual siblings trip tradition, but life happens, and I think I might be the only one who caught the travel bug in my family! I am so grateful we experienced Alberta, Canada together. It is a beautiful part of the world and I highly recommend it to everyone!
THE BOW VALLEY PARKWAY
The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic route through Banff National Park. It's the route to take if you want to see mountain scenery and wildlife from Banff to Lake Louise. It runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway, but provides helpful markers and immediate access to hiking trails and attractions.
WHY VISIT BANFF NATIONAL PARK?
Banff is Canada's first national park. It offers some of the best views of the Canadian Rockies, scenic drives, emerald blue glacial lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and so much more.
I grew up in New Jersey, so compared to the Jersey Shore, the waters of Banff feel otherworldly. The color is caused by melting glaciers, which cause rock deposits to melt into the lake and in turn, refract sunlight making the waters appear emerald.
Mountains, glaciers and bears, oh my!
Growing up in New Jersey, everything was flat and the only wildlife I saw regularly squirrels. When I saw the Rocky Mountains, I had a feeling we weren't in Kansas anymore. The mountains and glaciers were unlike anything on the other side of the continent. The idea of being able to see majestic moose, elk and bears in the wild really drew me to book those tickets!
HOW & WHEN TO VISIT BANFF
✈ WHEN TO VISIT BANFF
In May, the lakes might still be frozen - so June forward is best for the activities listed here.
We visited Banff at the end of August to the beginning of September. This is the shoulder season and we avoided crowds and snow. The weather was still perfect for hiking.
Fly into Calgary. Banff and all its beauty is about an hour and a half away.
WHERE TO STAY IN BANFF
Excellent options are available for every type of accommodation and every budget downtown, lakeside or under the alpines. We stayed at a hostel because we were budget-traveling college students at the time, but when I go back I'd love to stay at the Baker Creek Mountain Resort!
$ HI Banff Alpine Centre
$$ Castle Mountain Chalets 🐾
$$$ Baker Creek Mountain Resort 🐾
$$$ Mount Royal Hotel
$$$$ Fairmount Banff Springs 🐾
🐾 = dog-friendly
THE 5 MUST-SEE STOPS
ON THE BOW VALLEY PARKWAY
1. BANFF GONDOLA
Sulphur Mountain Summit
Take in the view of the Bow Valley and surrounding Rockies at the summit of Sulphur Mountain. Just outside the town of Banff, you can take a gondola to a mountain boardwalk and a rooftop deck.
Open year round
2. JOHNSTON CANYON
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hikes in Banff - and for good reason. The canyon's deep blue creeks, waterfalls and ink pots (mineral spring pools) are a sight to behold. Depending on how long you want to hike and your skill level - there is an option for everyone.
Johnston Canyon Trails
LOWER FALLS - Leisurely hike through the canyon to the bottom of the falls. Walk along iron catwalks attached beneath overhanging canyon walls. 1.5 miles, easy and flat
UPPER FALLS - Continue on for two more views of the falls: a viewing platform to the bottom of the falls and an outlook across the top of the falls. 3.1 miles, easy with incline
UPPER FALLS TO INK POTS - Keep going to reach the Ink Pots. You'll reach an open meadow with seven deep blue green pools of mineral springs. 7.3 miles, moderate with incline
3. MORAINE LAKE
Valley of the Ten Peaks
This is what made me book the trip to Banff. The view of the Valley of the Ten Peaks and Moraine Lake is one of the most iconic mountain views in the world. You may have seen it as a Windows, Google or Blackberry background picture. Seeing it with my own eyes did live up to my dreams!
The road to Moraine Lake is open from May through October. Trails are best visited June onward.
Moraine Lake Trails
This Moraine Lake Viewpoint Trail, also know as the Rockpile Trail, is one of the best views of the Canadian Rockies, and one of the best mountain views in the world.
0.5 miles, easy
MORAINE LAKE SHORELINE TRAIL
The Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail is easy and flat, and offers breathtaking views of the Ten Peaks.
1.6 miles, easy and flat
4. LAKE LOUISE
Lake Louise is a lake (obviously), but it's also the name of the town and a ski hill. Overlooking the lake is the castle hotel, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. As budget-traveling college students during this trip, and looking to avoid the crowds, we ended up just visiting Moraine Lake instead of Lake Louise.
5. BOW LAKE
Technically, Bow Lake is on the Icefields Parkway, but it is only 30 minutes from Lake Louise. It's a nice transition if you want to go further north and explore Jasper National Park. Or just a nice stop right off the parkway for some photos.
TRAVELING NORTH ON THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY
If you are interested in taking your road trip further, once the Bow Valley Parkway ends, the Icefields Parkway begins. This is another scenic highway through Jasper National Park. It's lined with glaciers, lakes and mountain views.
More great stops along the Icefields Parkway are Maligne Lake, the Athabasca Glacier and Lake Talbot. This is also where you might be able to spot the Aurora Borealis.
Pictured above: Maligne Lake