I’m by no means an expert, but there are definitely some tips that I think are worth considering if you ever make it to Banff National Park. Oh, and I found out why the water is so blue.
Explore the city of Banff … with caution
Tourist traps are inevitable, nearly anywhere you go. The city of Banff is no exception, but it’s still one of those places you should get to and explore. Walk up and down the streets to check out the shops, and head to Bow Falls. The hot springs are really nice, too – just go there a little later in the evening to avoid the crowds.
Have access to a car
Banff National Park is absolutely massive. Having the freedom to explore and make your own agenda is pretty fantastic. You’ll need a car to do this.
Get an early start
We left our camp every day by 7:30 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. the crowds set in, parking gets nuts, and the hazy lighting from the sun sets in. It’s definitely worth your while to get to Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake, and Peyto Lake early. You could get away with getting to Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise a little later … just be prepared to park and walk a ways.
Establish a base camp or “home”
While driving an hour or two each day may sound obnoxious, it’s really not. The drives are so incredible and stunning, it’s worth the peace of mind having a place to call home for a few days. If you camp, I highly recommend Two Jack Lakeside – you’ll just need to book a ways in advance. If you’re not a camper, there are tons of accommodations in and around Banff.
Don’t go in early July
With Canada Day being July 1 and Independence Day being July 4, plenty of Canadians and Americans (and others) head to Banff. This is actually the busiest time of year in Banff.
Give yourself time for a lake day
No doubt, you’ll see a lot of lakes. The best thing about them: you can never see too many of them. But actually spending time to enjoy the waters is completely another thing. We had a little time to spend at Two Jack Lake, but having a full day to canoe, kayak, paddle board (or whatever) to just relax and enjoy the lake is worth it. You’ll be plenty busy seeing everything else. Take time to chill at a lake. Seriously.
Get to Jasper
We never made it to Jasper, but heard (and read) wonderful things. If you have 10 days and are driving, spend 4-5 days in Banff and 2-3 in Jasper. If you’re not much of a driver, there are a lot of bus tours that will take you up the Icefields Parkway.
Spend time in Calgary
Even at 1.2 million people, Calgary seems oddly quaint. It’s a hip, chic city that’s absolutely lovely. It’s worth taking a day or two to explore.
How the water gets so blue
Most of the water features you see in this area are the result of glacial runoff. Water leaving the glacier is muddy with rocks, gravel, and silt. As the stream slows down, it acts like a bit of a sieve, leaving most of that stuff behind to become a river delta. Silt flows into the icy water; most of it sinks to the bottom of the lake. Fine particles of rock, known as “rock flour” basically get caught into the silt. When the sun catches it, blue-green rays of light are emitted, resulting in lakes and rivers that are various gorgeous shades of greens and blues. Who knew?!?
Checking off an item on my bucket list – add it to yours!
Banff had been on my “get to” list for a while. Everything about it was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Long story short, go. If my stories and photos haven’t motivated you to go … I’m a failure. 😉 But seriously, GO.