Canada - my solo road trip in Banff National Park

Jodie Love on 01 September 2018
This was part 2 of my three-week epic cross-country adventure in Canada and I was going it alone. I had met up with family in Toronto and I was meeting a friend when I got to Vancouver but for this mid-section I had 4 days to explore Banff National Park as a solo traveller.

I decided the best way for me to do this would be to hire a car, so I flew into Calgary and picked up my ride directly from the airport. Let the adventure commence! As I was travelling alone I decided on this occasion I would stay in a hostel so I would at least be surrounded by other travellers in the evenings for a bit of company. As it turned out I was so exhausted that I was usually in bed before 9pm sleeping off my days adventures so it didn’t matter either way. I arrived in Banff National Park just before dark, the journey was relatively straight forward and other than a queue to pay the park fee, it didn’t take me much time at all. The minute you enter the National Park you are taken aback by the landscape and I almost wished I wasn’t driving so I could spend more time gawping out of the window. After a quick drive through Banff town to take in my surroundings I headed to my hostel for a bite to eat and an early night.

I got up super early and jumped in the car, straight to Tim Hortons to fuel myself for the day ahead, which apparently would become a bit of a habit as the days went on. First on the hit list today was Johnston Canyon, following the well paved walkway through lush forest to the Lower Falls and then on to the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls trail took me around an hour and was slightly steeper once I passed the Lower Falls. The walk itself was beautiful though with lots of viewpoints along the way and then two main viewpoints at the end of the walk looking over the dramatic falls cascading into the deep pool below. In the afternoon I decided to take a ride on the Lake Louise Gondola which whisks you up 2088m to the top where you have a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain ranges. The ascent is the perfect opportunity to try and spot grizzly bears hanging out in the forest below. Once at the top I took a stroll along the panoramic viewing platform where the views just kept getting better and better. Aside from the incredible views there are also restaurants, a Wildlife Interpretation Centre, and daily guided walks. I got there in the late afternoon so I had already missed the walks for that day and it’s too dangerous to hike on your own because of the bears so I didn’t end up doing any of the hiking trails at the top. I still spent a good hour or so at the top admiring the views with a lovely coffee. In the evening I wandered around the town of Banff and sampled the local delicacy that is Poutine (basically chips, cheese and gravy but way better) before weaving through the various different gift shops. It’s a lovely little town with lots of shopping opportunities and plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from in the evening.

Day two had me up even earlier as I wanted to visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and knew I needed to beat the rush for the car park as they fill up early. Moraine Lake is typically harder to get to as they shut the road that leads in to the car park as soon as the car park is full, then there’s no option to wait anywhere, you just have to keep driving past and hope you hit the turn off just as there’s an opening. I opted for Lake Louise first as there were a couple of hikes I wanted to do here. I got here just after 7am and managed to get a spot in the car park which is right on the edge of the lake. When you arrive your eyes are drawn first to the beautiful lake and then to the incredible chateau style hotel which sits right on the edge – I promised myself next time I’d definitely treat myself to a stay here. I opted to take the Lake Agnes Tea House hike which is a popular route and I needed to make sure there were always people around as it’s too risky to hike alone with grizzly bears roaming free in this area. It’s just over 7km to get to the tea house and the views are insane. You spend the majority of the hike overlooking Lake Louise as you creep up the side of the mountain, then around halfway up you hit mirror lake which is a beautiful spot to have a rest and a bite to eat (if you’ve brought snacks with you). The end of the trail brings you out at Lake Agnes which blew me away, I couldn’t fathom how this stunning lake was so high up in the mountains! There’s a quaint little tea house right on the edge of the lake which serves hot drinks and light bites but it was super busy so prepare to wait a while for a table here. I left here and did a drive by of the road leading to Moraine Lake but it was closed so I headed up the Icefields Parkway to check out the stunning scenery on this stretch of road. I must have stopped so often that I may as well have walked it because there were just too many photo opportunities. Peyto Lake was a particular highlight on this stretch of road and one that I found almost by accident as I hadn’t read up about it at that point. Heading back towards Banff I decided to do another drive by at Moraine Lake but it was still closed – I really wanted to go here so I pulled into a nearby motel car park and waited for a little while before trying one last time. After around half an hour had passed I decided to give it one more go, by this point it wasn’t too far away from being dark so this was my last shot for the day and it was open – yay! Once you’re in you can see why this is such a popular spot, apart from being possibly the most Instagrammable spot in the whole of Canada it is absolutely stunning. I sat for a while at the top of a huge pile of rocks just staring at the lake, it’s hard to believe how blue it actually is. After taking plenty of selfies and having my picture taken on the famous Instagram log that sticks out into the lake it was time to head back to the hostel and call it a day.

After ticking off all my absolute must sees I spent the last couple of days exploring Banff town, Bow Falls, more of the Icefield Parkway and driving to as many lookouts as I could find. Banff National Park is a truly magical place and I can honestly say that it is exactly how you see it in pictures - I had never seen bluer lakes or more beautiful scenery than I did on this leg of my Canada trip. If you want to include Banff National Park in your Canada itinerary please get in touch and I’d love to help you make it happen.