Your Guide to Banff National Park

Your guide to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Moraine Lake, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise and more!

Banff National Park has been on my list for a long time. From the turquoise blue water to vast hiking options, Banff has activities for both families and outdoor enthusiasts alike. In peak summer the crowds can be a bit overwhelming, but with a little careful planning you can enjoy a bit of solitude in this majestic place!

Here were my favorite places in Banff (+ some tips!):

Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park

Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka

Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka are both on the way from Calgary to Banff. There are camping and picnic options along the lake, as well as gorgeous views of the mountain range! You can spend some time here to break up your drive before you get to Banff and even take a dip in the water if it's not too cold.

The best time to visit is a warm afternoon.

Vermillion Lakes

Vermillion Lakes is closer to the Town of Banff. The water doesn't have that glacier blue color, but in the right light you can see mountain reflections off the water.

The best times to visit are sunrise or sunset.

Johnston Canyon Hike

Johnston Canyon is a well marked hike near the Town of Banff. There are railings for most of the way to both lower and upper canyon. Although this hike is very very crowded, the canyon should not be missed! I enjoyed Johnston Canyon more than Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. The best part of this hike is a turn off that leads to a massive rock and perfect place for a snack.

The best time to visit is early morning. Be warned that if you arrive later, you might have to *wait in line* to take a photo of Upper Johnston Canyon. (We did not wait in line).

Emerald Lake Canoe

Ok Emerald Lake is in Yoho National Park, but I didn't want to make a separate post for it since it's relatively close to Banff :) Canoeing is the best activity here. The boat house closes at 7PM, but their last rental time is 5:45PM. They are strict about this policy - we arrived at 5:48PM and they wouldn't rent us a canoe. 

Sunrise at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Moraine Lake Sunrise

Moraine Lake is Lake Louise's neighboring sister. Although smaller and less popular, I think Moraine Lake is much prettier. The lake's colours were glowing blue at sunrise and the crowds were in the 10's not 1000's. We set a 4AM alarm and arrived at 5:30AM. We were with maybe 20-30 other people at sunrise, but most of them stayed relatively quiet to enjoy the sunrise together. You'll definitely be surrounded by tripods though so be prepared for that.

PS after sunrise, a good spot to get breakfast is Bill Peyto's Cafe in town.

The best time to visit is sunrise. 

Plain of Six Glaciers + Lake Agnes Hike

There are many trails around Lake Louise that can be connected into a great day hike. Most hikers will do either the Plain of Six Glaciers to the famous teahouse or the Lake Agnes hike to another teahouse. We decided to start with Lake Agnes with increasing elevation and then loop it to Plain of Six Glaciers. The hike is relatively straight forward and is clearly marked all the way through. 

Starting at Lake Louise, make your way counter clockwise around the lake and look for Lake Agnes hike signs. The hike up Lake Agnes is pretty steep and will get your heart pumping! You'll get great views of Lake Louise below. Once you make it to the Lake Agnes teahouse, there is a clearly marked sign to link up with the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. 

From here, the trail is pretty flat in terms of elevation. For the last two miles, you'll be weaving around with some horse poop and snow. After a few switchbacks, you'll reach the teahouse where you can sit down for tea and their famous chocolate cake.

The entire hike is around 11 miles and took us 5.5 hours including a break at the teahouse.

The best time to start this hike is early morning to avoid the crowds.

Canoeing at sunrise in Lake Louise. Banff National Park in Alberta Canada

Lake Louise Sunrise Canoe

Our first time at Lake Louise, we were completely overwhelmed with the crowds. We were bumping shoulder to shoulder with so many visitors that I felt like I was in Downtown Disney. We left after a few minutes a little bummed out.

The next day we decided to canoe Lake Louise at sunrise. To our surprise and delight, there were only 10 people with us! We had the lake more or less entirely to ourselves and it was so incredibly dreamy. We still had some haze because of the ongoing wildfires in Banff, and that made the sun shine bright orange when it came up above the mountains.

Packing List

I packed way more that I probably should have because the weather ranged from 35 degrees to 80 degrees. It was especially cold during sunrise and I had about 4 layers of clothes on :)