A vacation to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is an unforgettable experience. Include a little time in adjacent Yoho National Park to increase your enjoyment exponentially. This eight day itinerary will give you a rich experience with plenty of hiking and wide exploration of the area.
Plan your trip between mid-June and mid-September and fly to Calgary International Airport on a Friday afternoon. Pick up your rental car and head west. Banff is Canada’s first National Park and encompasses thousands of square miles of stunning mountain terrain. The Townsite of Banff is a resort town with eateries, shopping, historic sites and other entertainment. Pick your accommodations according to your budget. Tunnel Mountain Campground is convenient and the most economical; the Banff Alpine Center Hostel offers moderately priced rooms and a shared kitchen. The hotels, abundant in number range in price from about $150 per night and up to thousands. Make your reservations as early as possible. You’ll need three nights.
Day One (Saturday) – Get Acclimated.
There is so much to do in the townsite that you can’t exhaust it all. Spend your first day checking it out. Ride the Sulphur Mountain Gondola for a bird’s-eye, 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. Take a dip in the Upper Hot Springs, explore the enormous and elegant Banff Springs Hotel and visit Bow Falls just behind the hotel. Go to the Visitor’s Center on Banff Avenue to check the trail conditions and get hiking advice.
Have a nice meal at one of many casual restaurants in town. The shopping area is perhaps over-developed, think ski resort. If that puts you off, spend as much or as little time as you need to buying your food and souvenirs. There’s too much outdoor beauty to hang around town too long.
Day Two (Sunday) – Take a Hike (or two).
Start your hiking experiences with a hike up Tunnel Mountain. It is not too challenging, but does give you a chance to bag a mountain top. It is right in town and offers some good views of the Bow Valley. Get an early start to avoid the crowds.
After lunch you can walk on the Fenland or Marsh Trails. Both of these level trails at the edge of town give you views of Mount Rundle and possibly some glimpses of wildlife.
Days Three to Five (Monday through Wednesday) — Backpacking Trip to Egypt Lake.
This three day trip will give you a taste of the back country including some beautiful mountain views and bedazzling wildflowers. Start off early in the morning at the Sunshine Ski Village parking lot just north of Banff. From here you can take the shuttle bus for about $15 to the Sunshine Meadows to start your hike from a higher elevation. It’s an 8.5 mile hike up over the spectacular pass, known for its floral foray. An Egypt Lake map by Gem Trek is a good resource for your trip and it’s darn fun to look at while your planning your adventures.
After pausing to take in the wonderful view at the pass, head down to Egypt Lake where you can camp in the meadow or stay in the back country shelter. Get reservations for either accommodation three months in advance by calling the reservation center at 403.522.1264. Using the campground as your base camp the best option for a hike the next day is a stiff climb up to Scarab Lake, Mummy Lake and Whistling Pass. It is well worth the workout.
While you’re in the area spend some time exploring Egypt Lake and the creek that flows from it. A shorter hike up to Pharaoh Lake is also worthwhile. On your hike out go back over the pass to the Healy Creek trail and down to the Sunshine parking lot where your car will be waiting.
Now head north to Lake Louise. If you plan to camp, it’s advisable to make your reservations far ahead of time. Beginning in 2016, you can do this as early as January 1, and you have a better chance of landing a coveted spot. The Lake Louise Alpine Center Hostel is also a decent accommodation and provides use of the kitchen for meal preparation. You will need three nights.
Day Six (Thursday) – Lake Louise.
Lake Louise area is always crowded in the peak season, but it is a premier hiking area so it’s worth the hassle of tour buses and traffic snarls. Start early and get to the trails before traffic builds up. Try to arrive at the lake by 8:00 am. You can take in the famous view of this turquoise gem, explore the stately Chateau Lake Louise and still start your hike before most people have arrived.
The Plain of the Six Glaciers (6.9 miles round trip with 1178 elevation gain) is the beautiful classic hike of this area. You’ll walk along the lake shore and up into a complex of moraines and active glaciers. The teahouse at the end of the hike is a nice reward for your efforts. Enjoy lunch or a snack along with a nice cup of tea.
You can go beyond the teahouse to get a closer view of the glaciers hanging on the spine of the Continental Divide. Take the same trail back or if you have the legs take the high trail up to the top of the Beehive for a spectacular view of the lake and the mountains beyond it. You’ll return to the lake shore after descending down past the Lake Agnes Teahouse and Mirror Lake along the way. This route is 13.7 miles round trip with a 1755 elevation gain.
After cleaning up and having dinner take a drive up the 11 km road to Lake Moraine. Getting there mid-day is near impossible due to frequent traffic jams, but you’ll have it mostly to yourself after 8 pm and it will be light well after that. Take some cookies or other dessert to eat while look out over the incredible view.
Day Seven (Friday) – Yoho National Park.
No strenuous hiking today as you’ll be taking a driving tour of Yoho National Park along Trans-Canada Highway 1 through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. First up is a drive up Yoho Valley to Takkakaw Falls fed by Daly Glacier and dropping an impressive 1240 feet. This valley is the starting point for some fabulous backpacking destinations if you can squeeze some extra days into your schedule.
Further along the highway stop by to see the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering feat that allows the trains to descend the steep valley and then the Natural Bridge on your way to Emerald Lake.
If you have the time and inclination for a canoe ride, this is a great place to paddle. You’ll have Mount Burgess towering over you as you enjoy the peaceful cerulean blue water. You can also take an easy one hour hike around the lake. As you head back up the valley, stop by the hamlet of Field. It’s a nice place to take a little walk-around and maybe find a pastry and cup of coffee. After you’ve taken this in, head back to your Lake Louise accommodations for the evening.
Day Eight (Saturday) – Take a Final Hike.
Your last day will feature a spectacular hike through Paradise Valley. Because of bear activity, you are usually required to hike in groups, so you may need to find some hiking partners in the parking lot. It won’t be difficult. The first part of the trip climbs through the valley to Lake Annette with impressive views of enormous Mt. Temple to keep you energized along the way.
Further up you’ll rise above tree line and be enthralled by the 360 degree view of mountain peaks.
Hike further to refresh yourself at the cascading waterfalls over the Giant Steps. This is day long hike of 13.5 miles RT with a 1253 foot elevation gain. Take your time and enjoy it thoroughly.
After your hike, with eight amazing days behind you, drive back to the airport for the evening so you can catch your flight out on Sunday. You’ll have amazing memories and hopes of coming back to the area again to further explore its grandeur.
Click this Link for a detailed itinerary of this trip including dining suggestions and other highlights for your free time.
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