Two provinces. Three girls. Four parks. Five days. If it sounds like a jigsaw puzzle figuring out this trip itinerary, I can assure you it was. Banff is on almost everyone’s bucket list and you could spend weeks combing through the Canadian Rockies and still not make a dent in all the trails and wonders to uncover. A drive down the Icefields Parkway is one of the most beautiful scenic byways in the world so don’t rush it if you can help it.
With gorgeous landscapes and limited time, here is how we crammed as many photo stops as possible into one epic long weekend.
An easy hub to fly into, I was shocked by how much Calgary felt like Canada’s answer to Denver. Both youthful, modern, hip cities, the farm to table, cow town vibes were distinctly reminiscent of home. Just like how no one lives in the Mile High for the city itself, Calgary provides easy access to the outdoor recreation ahead. Spend the night, pick up your rental car and hit the road.
You can either hit the closest attractions, Banff and Lake Louise, first in Alberta or drive as far as you can into B.C. before turning around. This was our strategy to avoid backtracking as much as possible.
Jasper National Park
Sunwapta Falls – Jasper National Park
Largely overshadowed by Banff, Jasper is actually the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies, meaning it still has plenty of gems of its own. Sunwapta Falls is a pair of twin waterfalls and a quick stop to stretch your legs. If you’re brave, you can get insanely close to the fray.
Athabasca Falls – Jasper National Park
Athabasca Falls is the most powerful waterfall in the Canadian Rockies, but personally I preferred climbing on the rocks.
Athabasca Glacier – Jasper National Park
You can’t leave the area without experiencing the chill of hiking Athabasca Glacier. There’s a glass skywalk to see it from above or you can walk directly on the icy tundra.
Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park
One of the most photographed spots in the world, a boat ride to Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake is another must-do.
Yoho National Park
Emerald Lake – Yoho National Park
My absolute favorite stop of the trip was our one foray into Yoho, and I wish we had much more time to explore because it absolutely did not do it justice. Emerald Lake is definitely a no-filter necessary kind of place. There’s a trail that circumvents the entire lake and if you plan ahead, you can rent one of the overwater cabins that back right up to the gemstone water.
You can’t go to Lake Louise and not stop for high tea or a drink at the Fairmont Chateau to take in their famous oversized windows. The palatial estate is definitely fit for royalty. If you’re up for it, there are also a series of hikes to various other teahouses hidden in the hills.
Personally, I found neighboring Moraine Lake even more impressive. Scramble up the amply named, “Rock Pile Trail” to take in the entire vista. Playfully called the “Twenty Dollar View,” the scene was once featured on the back of the Canadian twenty-dollar bill.
Banff National Park
Mistaya Canyon – Banff National Park
Mistaya Canyon is a short stop along the highway that opens up into a cavernous landscape that looks like it’s another world entirely. Hold onto your valuables because the raging waters aren’t kind to anything it swallows up (I witnessed first hand as a man’s cell phone met a tragic end).
Peyto Lake – Banff National Park
Peyto Lake is another Banff highlight, the lake a shocking shade of blue. Said to look like a wolf’s head, you can decide for yourself from above at Bow Summit Lookout.
Johnston Canyon Cave – Banff National Park
For intrepid adventurers, Johnston Canyon Cave is an absolute must that you won’t find on any map. Internet guides will tell you to follow a worn footpath between the Upper and Lower Falls, but they fail to mention all the dead ends thanks to similarly curious treasure hunters. Let’s just say its nickname the “cave that ruins friendships,” is well deserved, so don’t let it get the best of you.
Thinking about visiting Banff in winter? Check out this post for the best things to do.
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