Top 10 attractions in Banff National Park
A few years ago, Banff National Park was named a "Best of the World Destination for 2017" by the prestigious National Geographic magazine.
For me too it was love at first sight, from the first glimpse of mountains, the first gust of wind. I fell in love with this region, which is simply overflowing with treasures, each more stunning than the next.
Here are my 10 favourites (and those of National Geographic too, I'm sure).
1. Moraine Lake
This glacial lake in the lovely Valley of the Ten Peaks is considered by many to be the most beautiful spot in the Canadian Rockies.
Surrounded by 10 majestic mountains and famous for its stunning turquoise blue water, Moraine Lake reaches its highest level in mid-June.
This natural wonder is about a one-hour drive from Banff. For the best experience, visit in the morning before 10 a.m. to avoid the crowds and watch the colour of the lake change as the sun rises higher in the sky.
2. Upper Hot Springs
Banff Upper Hot Springs are located in the heart of Banff.
Relaxation guaranteed: the water in the hot pool is maintained at a temperature of +/- 38 degrees Celsius.
Discovered in 1884, the hot springs are one of the most popular attractions in Banff National Park as well as a real historical gem.
3. Vermilion Lakes
Sitting at the foot of Mount Rundle and a 5-minute drive from the township of Banff, Vermilion Lakes are a series of 3 shallow lakes. To reach them, take Vermilion Lakes Road, a scenic 4.3-kilometre route.
When the water is calm, the lakes provide a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains. If possible, visit the lakes at sunset for an unforgettable magical moment.
4. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is without a doubt one of Canada's most stunning natural wonders.
Despite its immense popularity as a major tourist attraction, it would be unthinkable not to stop here for a few photos. With the snowy Victoria Glacier in the background, your photos will be postcard-perfect.
Lake Louise is about a one-hour drive from downtown Banff. To avoid the crowds, try to visit before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
5. Johnston Canyon
30 minutes from Banff, you will find the departure point for the Lower Falls Trail, one of the most popular day hikes in the area.
This easy one-hour round-trip hike will lead you deep into Johnston Canyon. After just a few minutes' walk, you will already be at Johnston Creek and the Lower Falls.
There can be a lot of hikers on the trail in summer. I suggest going early in the morning to avoid the hordes of visitors.
6. Peyto Lake
Located 40 kilometres north of Banff, Peyto Lake is my favourite place in Western Canada.
A short fifteen-minute trail off the Icefields Parkway leads to a scenic viewpoint with a spectacular view.
The water of the lake is a stunning turquoise blue and comes from Peyto Glacier. The contrast with the surrounding pine forest makes for a simply magnificent vista.
7. Sulphur Mountain
Just 5 minutes outside the townsite, the Banff gondola will whisk you to an elevation of more than 2,300 metres in less than 10 minutes. Once at the top, you will enjoy breathtaking vistas in every direction!
If you're feeling energetic, you may prefer to hike up the mountain along the marked hiking trail. This will take about 4 hours round-trip (11 kilometres).
If you don't have that much time but are in the mood for some exercise, you can hike up and take the gondola back down.
8. Bow Lake
Located along the Icefields Parkway about an hour's drive from Banff, Bow Lake is very popular with tourists and local fishermen due to its easy accessibility and panoramic views.
The turquoise waters of the lake are supplied by runoff from the Bow Glacier, which can be easily seen from the lake.
On sunny days, the mountains reflected on the calm surface of the lake are a spectacular sight to behold. If possible, try to visit in good weather. I promise you it will be worth your while!
9. The Bow Valley Parkway (Route A1)
The Bow Valley Parkway is a scenic secondary highway that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway from Banff to Lake Louise.
The parkway offers numerous viewpoints, hiking trails, interpretive displays and picnic areas, providing many opportunities to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
This 48-kilometre heritage route crosses Banff National Park. The chance of seeing wildlife is extremely high, especially early in the morning and at the end of the day.
The parkway is also extremely popular with cyclists. Drive carefully, respect the speed limits, and be prepared to stop without notice.
10. Lake Minnewanka
Last but not least! Lake Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff National Park, and is 20 minutes north of Banff townsite.
A little bit of history: in 1941, the village established on the shores of the lake in the early 19th century was flooded by the construction of a dam. This incident raised the level of the lake by more than 30 metres, completely submerging the village known as Minnewanka Landing. Today, the lake is a fun destination for scuba divers, who enjoy exploring the "underwater ghost town".
The lake is also very popular with hikers and fishermen, and is the perfect spot to relax with the family.
If you go hiking, be careful: the area around Lake Minnewanka is home to a high concentration of grizzly bears.
I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the safety recommendations before hitting the trails.
And there you go!
Banff National Park is clearly well worth a visit. If your trip is flexible, don't hesitate to spend at least 2 days in Banff. You could also add a night near Lake Louise to reduce the driving distances.
What would you add to this Top 10 list? Don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below.