Hi all! Michelle here. My husband Shaun and I just got back from an anniversary trip to Banff and Jasper in the beautiful province of Alberta, Canada. This place literally looks like a different planet. The lakes are all glacier-fed, and the specific rock flour from these glaciers causes the waters to be the most beautiful shades of blue you've ever seen. As I was sharing photos of the beautiful landscapes from our adventures, many of my friends and family members asked me for our exact itinerary. I have to give 100% credit to my husband, Shaun, who planned literally every single detail of this trip (#bloomboy!) He totally nailed it. Here is a summary of the wonderful trip he planned for us with our best Candian travel tips. I couldn't recommend checking out Banff and Jasper more. Enjoy!
- Free Apps to Download:
- Google Maps - many areas in the National Parks are remote and have no service. Make sure you have Google Maps and follow these directions to download Banff and Jasper maps offline so you can navigate (walking/driving) directions with no service or roaming charges.
- AllTrails or Hiking Project - both allow you to read reviews of different hikes and navigate them offline to make sure you're on the right path.
- Sunrise Times - sunsets are so pretty here! We used this to plan our nights around being at a good spot for sunset.
- Any free currency converting app - just to make your life a little easier :)
- We went end of August/early September which we thought was perfect. The weather was still nice, but it wasn't as crowded/touristy as Summer, plus the animals were very active.
- Flights to Canada were very reasonable! We flew from PHL into Calgary and it was only ~$350 each round trip. (Calgary is about a 1.5 hour drive to Banff.)
- We personally got in late on a Saturday, spent Sat-Tues night in Banff (3 full days), drove to Jasper (4 hours from Banff) and spent Weds-Fri (3 full days) in Jasper. Saturday was a travel day back to Calgary to fly home. It was a lot of driving, but luckily it is literally one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We felt 3 days per town was perfect! By the end of the trip, we could barely walk from all the hiking, so it felt like the perfect length.
- Rental Car:
- You will absolutely need a rental car to get around! We used the app Turo which allows you to rent a car from a person vs. a dealership. We got a super nice car with no mileage limits for much cheaper than a rental car company. We had a great experience!
- For Banff, we stayed at the Hidden Ridge Resort. Shaun got a great deal on this through his company travel program, and it was a real treat. The view from the pool was insane, and it was very close to Banff town and had a free shuttle into town and back. Highly recommend!
- Jasper town is very small, so you want to book hotels pretty far in advance to get a good deal! In an effort to save money, we stayed outside of town in Hinton, at Jasper East Cabins. It was fine, but it was very far from everything. I would definitely recommend booking early and spending a little extra to stay in the actual town of Jasper to save yourself some valuable driving time (even though the drive is beautiful and you will see lots of wildlife!)
- Wherever you stay, book a place with a kitchenette! The main towns are pricey, and the parks have limited food/drink options. We stopped at grocery stores to get some staples and made our own breakfasts/packed lunches for our hikes daily. This saved us a ton of time and money.
- Pack: good hiking boots/shoes, a camelback, and layers. Some hikes are pretty difficult and you will need good gear for the best views. Depending on your elevation, the temperature can shift quickly. Pack a windbreaker and hat to easily layer up/down. Shaun also packed hiking sticks and they were a huge help on the steeper climbs.
- Buy: bear spray. You have to buy this when you get there and you can't take it home, but I'd recommend getting bear spray (pepper spray on steroids). It's very unlikely you will need to use it, but it will make you feel safer in the woods! More tips on bear safety here.
General Banff Recommendations:
I loved Banff for so many reasons! The town was adorable, clean, unique, and fun. There were views for days - everything is so picturesque, and there are flower pots and hanging planters everywhere. Also, Canadians are SO NICE! We met the funniest, sweetest people on our adventures. Here are some general tips:
- Don't Miss:
- Lake Louise & Moraine Lake. You either have to get there super early (~6am), or park in overflow parking and take the shuttle into these 2 locations (they're kind of far from each other.) It's much easier to get the shuttle to Lake Louise, but Moraine Lake shuttles are limited and you have to pre-book your timeslot early in the morning or they sell out! Many people don't realize this and don't get to see Moraine Lake, which I actually liked better. Check out the schedule here and make sure you pre-book a shuttle as soon as you get to the lot.
- Wildlife bridges - you can't miss these on the highway because they're stunning, but I loved their animal over and underpasses that help wildlife cross safely. Learn more about those here!
- We also booked a Fishing Tour and a Via Ferrata climbing tour, more on those below!
- Banff Town - obviously! The main town is beautiful and there are tons of restaurants, art galleries and shops to check out. You have to be a tourist and get a picture with the Banff sign. We ended up at Rose & Crown every night after dinner since they have live music nightly.
- Places we ate in Banff:
- Chuck's Steakhouse: This was our splurge night, and it was so worth it. Alberta is famous for their Alberta beef, and the steaks here did not disappoint. It was easily the best steak I've ever had, and I am still thinking about the scalloped potatoes. Yummm.
- The Balkan: yummy greek food! Try the spicy feta dip and their famous lamb.
- The Grizzly House: This is kind of like the Canadian melting pot. You can cook your own meat at the table with all the different sauces and spices. We kept it light here and split a small order of steak and scallops. So good!
- Dessert: Beaver Tails and Cows Ice Cream have long lines for a reason. So good!
Our favorite Banff Hike: Devil's Thumb
Our favorite Banff hike was Devil's Thumb at Lake Louise. This was a 3+ hour hike and definitely isn't for the faint of heart, but you can't beat the view from the top! You have the perfect split view of Mirror Lake (the darker blue) and Lake Louse (the icy blue). That peak that Shaun is staring up at in the middle bottom photo? That is the peak we are standing on at the photos from the top! I swear!
Banff Excursions: Fishing Tour & Via Ferrata
These Banff excursions were awesome!
- Fishing Tour via Wapiti Sports - My husband loves fishing, and we had a great day fishing on the gorgeous Bow River with Nick who kept us smiling and laughing the entire time. Nick was very fun to be around, extremely knowledgeable about the area and, of course, a great fisherman. We learned a lot and had the most beautiful views of the Bow River via boat.
- Via Ferrata - This was such a cool experience! Our guide, Jesse, was great. He was very knowledgeable about the area and surrounding mountains, and he even took awesome photos that he emailed to us immediately after the climb. It may look intimidating, but it's extremely safe as you're strapped in the entire time. Don't be scared - you can totally do it. The view and experience is worth it!
Driving to Jasper - Stop at Parker's Ridge:
All of the yes to this beautiful hike! Don't miss Parker's Ridge on the way to Jasper. A pretty quick/moderate hike up to an AWESOME view of the glacier melting into the river. We found all kinds of coral fossilized into the rocks which just blew my mind, ran into some mountain sheep, and found all kinds of cool flowers and plants. One of my favorite most diverse hikes of the trip.
Wildlife Spotting in Jasper
Jasper is THE place to see wildlife! We saw deer, elk, coyotes, mountain sheep, mountain goats, bears, moose, hoary marmots (google these), and pikas (definitely google these - so cute). There are wildlife tours you can book, but don't even waste your money! Just drive around and keep your eyes open. Learn more about the wildlife there and how to respectfully/safely admire them here.
Must See in Jasper: Lake Maligne
I was very pleasantly surprised by the Lake Maligne excursion in Jasper! Our tour guide Cass was wonderful and I learned and retained a crazy amount from our short boat ride there and back with her. We lucked out with the weather - it was the perfect day to see Spirit Island and the 360 views of the mountain range. Lake Maligne is simply gorgeous. I recommend the lunch add on - I think it was $10 extra and it allowed you to order any lunch entree from The View Cafe (amazing views!) which ranged up to a $30+ steak. Eat after the tour so you're not rushing around.
Favorite Jasper Hike: Sulfur Skyline Trail
Sulfur Skyline Trail was our favorite in Jasper! Maybe it was the time of year, but the colors of all the plants and trees were just stunning. The views from the top are breathtaking, and we saw a bunch of little pikas (my favorite) so I was in heaven. This one is pretty steep so you definitely want good hiking shoes, especially for the last section near the summit.
Coolest Thing Ever: Athabasca Glacier Tour
This was soooo cool! We booked a glacier tour via Rockaboo Mountain Adventures. We lucked out and somehow scored a private tour with Max, the owner of the company. Max recently retired from Parks Canada rescue team, and he taught us how to drill into the ice and actually let us lower each other into a glacier crevasse to explore. It was quite literally the coolest thing we’ve ever done. (We got very lucky with the time of year and weather, you can't always do this.) We learned so much about the area and the glacier fields. No other tours give you the option of going into the crevasses so this is definitely the one to go with. Couldn’t recommend them more! *PS the glacier bus tours are SO LAME and extremely harmful to the glacier! Locals hate these and are trying to get them banned. Be cool and awesome and do a walking tour vs. a bus tour :)
If You're Extra: Mini Photo Session
This was our anniversary trip, and I knew the scenery would be insane, so we booked a mini photoshoot in Banff at Lake Moraine. We used an awesome company, Flytographers, that offers mini 30 photo sessions at vacation destinations all over the world. We worked with Robin who you can contact here. He was great to work with, and we're so obsessed with how these photos came out! We will treasure them, and the memories from this trip, for years.
If you got this far, thank you for reading! I hope this helps you plan the best trip to Banff and Jasper to see these amazing sights for yourself.