The one big thing we had our list for this year was to take a trip to Banff National Park, since the Canadian national parks were free this year and we had never been. For a while there, we didn’t think it was going to happen – we had to keep pushing our trip back because of family commitments, and then because of the wildfires in Montana and Canada – but we finally made it there in October and it was better than we could ever have imagined.
Banff is a huge park and there’s no way we could get through all of it in just a few days (we spend a few in Glacier National Park too), but we did some of the most popular and most beautiful hikes and lakes, so I thought I would share a few tips!
One of the things I loved most about Banff was how dog friendly it is! This is the first time we’ve brought our shiba inu, Amaya, on a trip with us, and it was incredible. Normally I would include whether a hike is dog friendly or not, but just know that all of these are, so take your furry friends!
Distance: 0 miles (you can drive up to it)
Of course, it’s hard to go to Banff and not make a stop by Lake Louise. We didn’t have time to take a canoe out, and it was really sunny and bright when we arrived here, but the lake is truly so blue and gorgeous. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying its glittering water, taking photos, and walking the banks before heading to our next destination.
If you do want to take a canoe tour, you can rent one right on the dock (dogs are allowed in the boats too, so no worries there). There are hourly prices as well as sunrise and sunset tours, and you can find them on the Fairmont’s website.
Lake Agnes & Agnes Tea House
Distance: 5 miles round trip
From Lake Louise, we hiked up the trail to Lake Agnes, which was one of the absolute highlights of our trip. The lake itself was mirror-still and framed by bright yellow larch trees. (They basically look like pine trees, but they change color in the fall and it’s stunning.) But, somehow it gets even better, and there’s a tea house on the banks of the lake where we could sit down, grab snacks and a warm drink, and take in the views.
We ordered a pot of Madagascar Almond tea and a plate of buttery biscuits, and it hit the spot on this chilly morning. It felt like we were in a fairytale – the gleaming lake, the hot liquid sliding into our stomachs, Amaya’s furry body leaning against my legs, wrapping our fingers around the teapot to keep them warm – I couldn’t believe it was real. The teahouse only takes cash (American or Canadian) and is open from June to October, so plan accordingly. You’ll also pass Mirror Lake on the way up this trail, but when we were there in early October it was already frozen.
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip (from Lake Agnes)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
After the teahouse, we continued hiking from Lake Agnes up to the Big Beehive lookout. The trail winds around the lake and then turns to switchbacks as it climbs the mountains, so it is a little more difficult but so worth it. From the top, you’ll be looking down on Lake Louise, and you can really see how incredibly blue and massive it is. For lack of a better word, it’s crazy.
If you’re not feeling up to another 1.6 miles, there is another lookout, Little Beehive, which is only 1 mile round trip. We didn’t go there but it’s also a viewpoint above Lake Louise, just a little farther away.
Distance: 0 miles (you can drive to this one too)
We spent a lot of time discussing exactly what time of day we should go to Moraine Lake (the place I most wanted to go) and decided on sunset. Because it was larch season, the parking lot was packed here all day, but as soon as the sun started going down, it emptied out and we slipped in. There weren’t many other people around as we scrambled over the rocks, climbing higher and higher to get the best view. All the canoes had been pulled off the water, the sun was sliding up the sides of the mountains, and our hands were numb and hearts were happy.
I’ve seen many photos of Moraine Lake in my life and none of them do it justice. The deep forest green trees against the turquoise water, framed by the pointed peaks and purple sky – it was truly a moment I will never forget.
Distance: 1 mile roundtrip
This one required a drive of about an hour and a half from where we were staying in Banff Village (I told you Banff is huge) but this was another one of my absolute favorite spots, so it’s definitely worth the trip. Plus, the drive is on the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic roads in Canada, so you won’t be bored. The Parkway is supposed to be one of the best places to spot wildlife as well, although we didn’t see any.
Once we arrived at the trailhead, the walk up to the viewpoint was only about a half mile, maybe less. The wooden balcony made for viewing the lake was crowded with tourists though, so we continued up the trail and found another much less crowded spot. Peyto Lake is fed from a glacier, which makes it another shade of gorgeous blue, and there are no trails down to the banks, so it’s always still and clear as long as it’s good weather. We stopped to eat lunch here and take it all in. It was so hard to pull ourselves away.
Distance: 0 miles (drive up!)
Since we had already driven up the Parkway, we decided to stop here on our way back and walk around for a minute. Amaya loved wading around in the water and we skipped rocks for a bit before clambering back into the car.
Distance: 3.1 miles round trip
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Banff, probably due to the ease of access and how much beauty is packed into a small space. The canyon is decently narrow, and the trail is a series of platforms that has been attached to the canyon walls in places. There are guardrails and everything, so it’s perfectly safe, simple, and can be done by anyone! There are two waterfalls in the canyon – the Lower and Upper falls, which are both gorgeous – but I almost thought the unnamed spots in between were even more beautiful, like this little double waterfall.
The main reason we wanted to see Johnston Canyon was to see the most Instagram-famous spot, where the river forms a U-shape and is fed by a tiered waterfall. This spot isn’t marked at all, so it took us a while to find it and we almost gave up before we saw some other hikers heading down a mysterious side trail. I’m not going to lie, I did not think this place would be as cool as it was, but it was amazing. The water has formed kind of a large cave in the bottom of the canyon, which makes it feel very secluded and secret. We spent a while here too until it started getting dark and we traipsed back to the car.
Overall, Banff was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, and the fact that I could experience it with my whole family was even better! I loved how so many of the trails were easy and accessible – it would be an awesome trip for kids or to introduce someone to how amazing hiking can be.
Have you ever been to Banff National Park or tried any of these trails? I hope I get to go back someday and explore even more!