Preparing For Your Canadian Adventure

Time of year: late June through September
Getting there: Drive into Golden, BC or fly into Calgary International Airport (this guide applies best)
Getting around: A vehicle- be it a car, camper, etc.
Lodging: Campsites, BnB's, Hotels, Lodges, Cabins

 
 

Day 1 SUNSHINE MEADOWS

The best first day is one that is most flexible. Once you get to Banff, drive straight to the Sunshine Village Ski Resort and take the gondola to Sunshine Meadows. How much you do at the top depends on the time you have and your energy level. 

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Arrive in Calgary and drive 2 hours to Banff National Park.

From Banff, drive to the Sunshine Village Ski Resort (about 20 minutes). Take the gondola up to Sunshine Meadows.
Walk to the Rock Isle Lake view point and then down to Rock Isle Lake for photos and a good lunch spot. 
Option 1: Hike Healy Pass (18.2km, 5-6.5 hours).
Option 2: Hike the Grizzly/Laryx Lake Loop (8km, 3.5 hours) (the less strenuous and most popular option).

Enjoy the rest of the day walking the streets of Banff to find your dinner spot, buy souvenirs, etc.

Map

Rainy Weather Alternative

Sunshine Meadows should definitely be enjoyed in good weather. I arrived to the viewpoint to serious cloud cover and decided to wait till it cleared and it made a huge difference!
An alternative day could include:
1. Marble Canyon, which I think is the prettiest canyon in all of the Rockies.
2. Lake Minnewanka where you can take a boat cruise or just explore around the lake.
3. Banff Upper Hot Springs, a warm way to enjoy unpleasant weather; although I do prefer natural hot springs more.
4. Johnston Canyon, as one of the most popular trails in the Rockies, I have put it as a rainy day activity because it is BUSY. The only time you can enjoy it is early mornings, at night, or when it looks like it won't be a clear, nice day. So definitely see it, but it doesn't need to be in high season or during nice weather!

Food and Lodging

Food:
1. Nourish Bistro Banff- Vegan restaurant in Banff. It was very challenging to find any vegan options so we ate here ALOT even with how pricy it is.

Lodging: Stay in Banff
1. (Moderate) BnB's in Banff- A very popular way to stay in Banff. It can sometimes feel like every other house is a BnB! 
2. (Budget) HI Banff (Hostel)- I highly recommend this hostel, although it is a little outside of the central Banff area.

Day 2 LAKE LOUISE AND MORAINE LAKE

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Plan to start your day early, especially if you are coming in the Summer. In the Summer, opting to go later will mean taking a shuttle  to Lake Louise from overflow parking lots, but there is no other way to get to Moraine Lake if you don't get parking. Rangers recommend 'before 7:30am' to get a spot.

Drive approximately 40 minutes from Banff town centre to Lake Louise town centre. 

Grab breakfast and lunch to-go from the Trailhead Cafe in the Lake Louise shopping centre.

Drive to Moraine Lake to take photos. (Great to photograph at mid to late morning).
Walk 10 minutes up the rock pile in order to get the famous view of Moraine Lake.
Option 1: Hike the very challenging Mt Temple hike leaving from Moraine Lake (16km, 7-10 hours).

Drive to Lake Louise. (Great to photograph at sunrise.)
Rent a canoe and paddle on Lake Louise. 
Option 2: Hike the more moderate hike to Lake Agnes Tea House (6.2km, 1.5-4 hours). If you want to make it more challenging and equally more rewarding, continue from the Lake Agnes trail to the Six Glaciers trail for two teahouses in one day (16.1km, 8 hours). 

Optional (photography):
Sunrise at Lake Louise before heading to Moraine Lake for mid to late morning light.
Sunset at Herbert Lake (a 15 minute drive from Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway).
If going for the sunrise option, I would highly recommend doing the drive from Banff to Lake Louise after having dinner in Banff on Day 1 so that you spend the night in the Lake Louise area. 

Map

Rainy Weather Alternative

Take advantage of breaks in the weather by continuing the plan. However, the only hike attempted should be to the Lake Agnes Teahouse where there will be shelter and a warm beverage at the end.

Food and Lodging

Food:
1. Trailhead Cafe- Great option to get breakfast as well as lunch to-go for your hike.

Lodging: Stay in Lake Louise
1. (High End) Baker Creek Mountain Resort (between Lake Louise and Banff)- If you're willing to splurge, this is the place. Enjoy your own luxury cabin for the night.
2. (Budget) HI Lake Louise (Hostel)- I really liked this hostel and even enjoyed the restaurant.

Day 3 ICEFIELDS PARKWAY

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The biggest mistake I made on my first trip to the Rockies was doing the Icefields Parkway in one day. There are SO many hikes and viewpoints that by giving yourself part of Day 4 to finish the parkway, you can pull over at ALL the pullouts to get the full experience!

The total drive time from Lake Louise town centre to the last viewpoint for this day is under 40 minutes, so if you aren't planning to stay at one of the resorts or inns (which requires booking in advance), you can leave some flexibility here and choose one of the many  campsites or HI wilderness hostels along the way which don't usually fill up. However, to see the sunrise the next day from Peyto Lake, the closest accommodation would be Num Ti Jah Lodge or HI Mosquito Creek.

Stop at Herbert Lake for photos. (It's on the side of the road- don't miss it!) (Great to photograph at sunrise and sunset.)

Hike Helen Lake/Cirque Peak (12km, 4 hours (or 16km, 6 hours to Cirque Peak)) and enjoy lunch at Helen Lake.

Photos at Peyto Lake view point. (Great to photograph at sunrise or mid-day to mid-afternoon.)

Optional: A couple other trailheads you will pass along the drive are for Bow Glacier Falls (9km, 3 hours) and  Bow Peak (12km, 4-4.5 hours). Past the Peyto Lake viewpoint, trailheads include Parker Ridge (4km, 1-2 hours) and Mistaya Canyon

Optional (photography): 
Sunrise at Herbert Lake, a 15 minute drive from Lake Louise. However, if you wanted to another sunrise at either Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, this is the time! 

Map

Rainy Weather Alternative

One option could be to postpone the Icefields Parkway until the next day (that is, if the forecast shows improvement). If you choose to postpone, your day 4 would be to do day 3's plan to Peyto Lake and then turn around and come back along the parkway to spend another night in Lake Louise, eliminating day 4's plan to see the Edith Cavell Glacier and Jasper (not as important). You could then spend your actual day 3 doing one of the rainy day alternatives from day 1 and continue Day 5 as planned from Lake Louise.

Food and Lodging

Food: No options after leaving Lake Louise. Be prepared to eat at the lodge or cook for yourself at the hostel.

Lodging:
1. (High-end) Num Ti Jah Lodge
2. (Moderate) Glacier View Inn or The Crossing Resort
3. (Budget) One of the HI Wilderness Hostels e.g. HI Mosquito Creek, HI Rampart Creek, etc.

Day 4 EDITH CAVELL GLACIER + JASPER

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Continue along the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper.

Stop to hike Wilcox Pass (8km, 2-3 hours) to get a view of the Columbia Icefield.

Take a worth-while detour to the Edith Cavell Glacier. Walk to the base of the glacial lake.
Option #1: Continue from the base of the Edith Cavell glacial lake to the Cavell Meadows Summit (9.5km, 4 hours).
Option #2: Other highly rated hikes in the area include Campus Pass (31.9km, 10-12 hours), Verdant Pass (19km, 6-7 hours), and Tangle Ridge via Tangle Pass (17.6km, 6-8 hours).

After arriving in Jasper, drive the short distance to Pyramid Lake. There is an awesome bridge to an island that you must see.

Option #3: Drive 1 hour from Jasper town centre to Maligne Lake to kayak the very popular Spirit Island. Although I have kayaked on the lake, we weren't up for doing the full 22.5km kayaking trip in one day. It is on my to-do list as a overnight trip next time!

Optional (photography):
Sunrise from the Peyto Lake viewpoint, just a 15 minute drive if staying at HI Mosquito Creek or the Num Ti Jah Lodge!

Map

Rainy Weather Alternative

1. Maligne Lake- The drive to Maligne Lake is extremely scenic so make a day of it- enjoy the restaurant and explore around the lake. Option to take a boat cruise to Spirit Island (although, kayaking (in good weather) to Spirit Island is preferable)! 
2. Maligne Canyon

Food and Lodging

Food: (in Jasper)
1. Coco's Cafe- Best for getting breakfast and lunch to-go. Vegan and vegetarian options. 
2. Patricia Street Deli- Good for getting a sandwich to-go.
3. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria- Vegan options, but I enjoyed it more as a vegetarian.
4. Earls- A Canadian chain that is always good.

Lodging:
1. (Moderate to High end) Jasper hotels and cabins- I plan to try out a cabin option next time in Jasper.
2. (Moderate) Jasper BnB's
2. (Budget) Jasper Downtown Hostel- Just remodelled and very nicely done.
3. (Budget) HI Jasper Hostel- A bit more in the wilderness and more beds per room, which I found less enjoyable.

Day 5 DRIVE BACK ALONG ICEFIELDS PARKWAY + EMERALD LAKE

The last day is also flexible. Head back along the Icefields Parkway to Calgary for your flight. However, give yourself the time to take a detour to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, BC. This is a busy spot so it is ideal to go early morning (up until 9am) and anytime after 7pm.

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If you can make your flight for Day 6, lodging options and additional activities are provided!  

Drive back along the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park).
Paddle on Emerald Lake ($60 per hour). Check their hours.
Walk around the beautiful Emerald Lake Lodge.

Notice signs for 'Natural Bridge' while driving back down along Emerald Lake Road. It is a worthwhile stop for photos.

Optional: Drive and walk a short distance along a paved road to Takakkaw Falls or for something more intense, do the Iceline Trail (12.8km, 4-7 hours).

Map

Rainy Weather Alternative

None, this plan is still doable.

Food and Lodging

Food:
1. The Siding Cafe- One of my favorite lunch spots with vegan and vegetarian options in the Rockies!
2. Truffle Pigs Bistro & Lodge- Lunch or dinner with vegan and vegetarian options.
3. Emerald Lake Lodge- They have three restaurants. Limited vegan and vegetarian options.

Lodging: If you can swing catching an early flight the next day, stay the night in either Field, BC, the Lake Louise area, or Canmore.
1. (High End) Emerald Lake Lodge (Field, BC)- If you are willing to splurge, this is the one. It is secluded, private, and adorable.
2. (Moderate) BnB's in Field, BC
3. (Budget) HI Lake Louise (Hostel) in Lake Louise- I really liked this hostel and even enjoyed the restaurant.

This 5-day Canadian Rockies Itinerary is just the tip of the iceberg. To get more out of the Rockies, see my full Canadian Rockies Guide

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