My husband, Rob and I had been wanting to explore Banff National Park since we discovered this magical land existed, which wasn't until we moved to Seattle about 2 1/2 years ago. If you know us, then you also know that we love to explore via camper vans. From Hawaii to New Zealand, and now Banff, Jasper, and Mt Robson National Parks it's our favorite way to explore to see as much as possible!
With Rob turning 30 we decided to make this road trip one for the books and booked our flights for June, just after his birthday. June-August/September is the best time of the year to go weather wise, but it is also CROWDED. So you may want to consider off season if you are trying to avoid the crowds and are okay with a little bit of snow and colder weather. With that said, I do have some tips to avoid the crowds and see just as much beauty if you want the warm weather and blue skies, so continue to read on.
We took a late flight after work on a Friday into Calgary, Alberta and when we arrived we spent the night close to the airport (where I made friends with the only cat I will ever like). The next morning, we took it slow after a long work week, went for a short run (the elevation got to us), picked up some coffee, showered (because who knows when we get our next shower) and headed out to pick up one of the coolest (decor wise) vans we have rented thus far from Karma Camper Vans. They are a newer company and we were the first to take the van out, so this gave me all kinds of giddiness and feels.
After picking up our camper van, next stop was to a grocery store where we needed to stock up on food for the week! Cooking on the road is one my favorite parts. I can't really explain why. I think it's because we take it back to the basics and who doesn't like to cook outside? There is something freeing and liberating about it, no distractions, just connecting with the outdoors and paying full attention to the food you are preparing and putting into your body. There is no better way to reconnect to our most basic needs than being outside exploring and camping. After we picked up groceries, we headed off towards Banff, which is about an hour and half west. Since we took our morning slow and spent a decent amount of time learning about the van before we headed off, we didn't have much daylight left, so once we got into Banff we decided to find a campground close by to settle in, make dinner, relax, and plan the rest of our trip.
After cooking up some dinner, we decided to hit the hay early so we could venture to the famous Lake Louis a 50 minute drive NW in the morning.
Day 2: Lake Louis and The Plain of Six Glaciers Hike. The drive was beautiful, but when we arrived to the town of Lake Louis, we soon realized we were not the only ones with this idea. Since it is a huge tourist attraction, we were re-rerouted to shuttles, with over an hour and a half wait, which would then take you from the parking lot (11KM away from Lake Louis) to the Lake, should have done a little more research on this ourselves! This is not the way Lake Louis was marketed to us through the instagramsss... AnyWHO once we got to the shuttles, I asked one of the rangers if there was any way to walk up to Lake Louis, rather than waiting over an hour. He suggested we park in the town of Lake Louis which was only 5KM away from the lake and walk from there rather than the shuttle parking lot. This was genius, because there was a hiking trail we found along the way that took us from the town to the lake, but “OH SNAP!” once we arrived, DISNEY LAND on steroids once again. Tourist, selfie sticks, Instagram models ERRYYWHERE. My recommendation is to go early (like 6AM early) we got there around 10AM and this most certainly was not early enough.
To our relief, the further you trekked down the lake path, the more dispersed the people were and the less crowded it became. There are a few hikes you can take around the lake, but I would recommend doing one of the tea house hikes, which start at Lake Louis.
We did The Plain of Six Glaciers hike to the Teahouse, a 13.8 km out and back hike. This hike was incredible! Not only were the views breath taking, with views of Lake Louis from behind and Glaciers in your face, but you also get to enjoy a treat at the painfully charming tea house, tucked in the Glacier Valley. Fill your belly mid hike with your choice of freshly baked scones, pies, cakes, hummus, breads, and of course TEA- which will be at 3.7 miles in! Everything is made from scratch and all of the ingredients are either hiked in or flown in by helicopter. The servers hike in themselves and spend a few days up in the valley. This sounds like an epic summer job to me for college/high school students! If only I could go back in time. We stopped prior to heading to the top of the trail. There are also out houses available, if an emergency arises!
After stopping at the tea house, we trekked to our destination, which is where we found the most solitude. We hiked atop the ridges of old moraines on the north edge of the Victoria Glacier, where you eventually end up at a dead end on steep rocks, over looking the glacier and for us, a waterfall.
Since we hiked from our car, this ended up being close to an 11 mile day for us so we were pretty pooped by the end. We hiked our way down, which was just as breathtaking, met a friend from Australia, relaxed a little at Lake Louis, and headed to our next campsite for the evening. Although we wanted to explore more in the Banff area, we also wanted to get away from the crowds, so Jasper was our next destination. If you can, Lake Moraine is another destination in Banff close by. The next three days of our trip into Jasper and Mt Robson will be posted soon!