BANFF, ALBERTA, CANADA
- When: 30 June-3 July, 2022
- Where (accommodations): Calgary Airport Marriott (Calgary), Moose Hotel & Suites (Banff)
- Transportation: WestJet flight (booked on Delta) from Boston to Calgary, Canada, Turo app for car rental
- Sights/attractions: Lake Minnewanka Cruise, Banff Gondola, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake
- Food/drinks: The Eddie Burger + Bar, Whitebark Cafe, Wild Flour Cafe, Juniper Hotel Bistro, Bear Street Tavern, Cows Ice Cream, Hello Sunshine Sushi
This trip almost didn’t happen. Booked months ago (for a very good price) we found out about the cancellation of our connecting flight from Toronto to Calgary the morning of the scheduled departure. Hours waiting for the airlines to answer the phone (WestJet never picked up), Delta switched our flights to round trip to Toronto only. In the meantime, we scrambled to purchase a ticket to Calgary on a new Canadian airline Lynx. Last minute purchase made this long weekend trip by far more pricey than what we initially planned for. The craziness did not end there. Our Boston to Toronto flight was delayed as we were on the way to the airport. We turned around, got home, monitored the status, then went back to the airport to be delayed once more (and now missing the new Lynx flight too!). There is a good end to this crazy story though. Call it magic, destiny, luck- whatever is was, it was on our side. At the WestJet counter at the airport, we were practically begging the agent to put us on the earlier flight to Toronto. That’s when we heard the next gate announcement informing about a direct flight to Calgary taking off soon. After explaining our ordeal to the manager (or an angel?!), we were put on this direct flight, which transported us to Calgary even earlier than what our initial travel arrangements would’ve gotten us! Believe in miracles.
Since we arrived to Calgary late on Thursday night, we decided to rest at the Calgary Airport Marriott hotel and drive to Banff on Friday morning. It’s about 1.5 hrs away, but after a long stressful day, and time zone difference, this was the best decision.
We booked our rental car through Turo app- it was a lot better price than the usual car rental sites offered. On top of that, most of the companies were fully sold out months prior to this trip. When booking flights we didn’t realize that we are going to be in Banff during Canada Day (as well as a busy Fourth of July weekend). We rented a Tesla for the first time ever, so we had to Google some of the features on how to operate it 🙂 . Sean quickly got the hang of it and we were on our way to our second hotel. It’s an easy and gorgeous drive with the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, it would’ve been a waste to miss it in the dark.
Initially we had booked a different hotel -Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa, but a few days before the trip they called to tell us that they were overbooked. The alternative was to upgrade us to the Moose Hotel & Suites, which we gladly accepted.
This is in the perfect location – the center of Banff! We got a room with a balcony overlooking the mountain and don’t even get me started on their amenities! There is an indoor pool, two very hot jacuzzis outside, spa, plenty of space to lounge near the fire and a very helpful and informative staff. Conveniently this hotel also had an electric car chargers right in their garage- we didn’t have to go looking for a place to charge our ride. We only wished we had more than two nights to enjoy it.
Now that the general info is out of the way, here is our three perfect days in Banff itinerary.
Banff, Lake Minnewanka, Banff Gondola
We were able to check in early (around 11am) and the front desk gave us a rundown on what to expect during one of their busiest weekends of the year. She suggested to leave the car as much as possible and utilize the public transport (bus and shuttles) to navigate the park. She said that most popular places have limited parking, which fills up sometimes as early as 5 in the morning!
Our first day was not overly booked with things to do. We wanted to ease into the weekend and explore only the nearby sights + enjoy this hotel for a bit. Since we came to see nature, our first stop was Lake Minnewanka– just about 5km from the center of Banff. We did not take the bus, but decided to risk it and drive- since it’s so close, we figured we can always drive back and hop on a bus if we can’t find parking. It took some time to get a spot. We circled around the parking lot several times until someone left.
Fairly warm, partly cloudy day- perfect for a walk along the lake. Important note– carry bear spray and don’t walk alone. There are grizzlies as well as black bears and apparently they can get pretty close to people. Sadly (or luckily?) we did not get to have this encounter, but we brought the spray that the hotel provided to us nonetheless.
For lunch we had a tasty sandwich at the Black Anchor– little restaurant near the lake and then did a mini hike/walk to the Stewart Canyon Bridge.
We will be back to this lake on Sunday, because I have a boat cruise booked, so this was just enough to explore a bit of nature and familiarize ourselves with the surroundings. Before going back to Banff we stopped by the Two Jack Lake and the Cascade Ponds.
Cascade Ponds area was VERY busy- people enjoying picnics, relaxing on the grass- seemed like a popular place on a holiday Friday. Parking lot was completely full, so we just stopped, took a picture and left.
Back in Banff we grabbed a matcha latte, a coffee and some pastries at the Whitebark Cafe near our hotel. This place was our ‘go to’ for the next few days- never too busy, great food and quick service. Now we are ready to relax at our hotel! It’s not that often that we slow down during our trips, but the amenities were so nice at the Moose Hotel & Suites that we felt it would be a waste to not appreciate them for a few hours.
Rooftop jacuzzis were steaming hot and the view of the mountain made us feel like we were still part of the national park.
We didn’t have dinner booked, but we were able to get a table at The Eddie Burger + Bar. Excellent elk burger, good milkshake, though the service was extremely slow.
We probably would not have minded the wait as much, but we had tickets for Banff Gondola and instead of driving we took our hotel’s advice (and the free bus tickets) to take a public bus. Weather forecast was rain, so I think that contributed to the less amount of people, because there was plenty of parking available at a usually very busy lot. We got lucky once again- rain never came and we enjoyed dramatic clouds/sunset view AND a live band concert on top of the Sulphur Mountain.
Apparently there is a band playing there every night in summer -what a very pleasant surprise! Also, the sunset in July is around 10pm, which made this wonderful first day even longer. Plan for a couple of hours here- we got a 8.10pm gondola tickets up and went down around 10.30pm.
With so much daylight we didn’t even feel jet-lagged, but as soon as we got back to the hotel we went straight to bed- super early morning tomorrow!
Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Peyto Lake, Bow Lake
5.40 am wake up came easier than we thought it would be- I guess two hours time difference was handy after all. Hotel staff suggested that we drive to the Lake Louise Park & Ride (located at the Lake Louise Ski area), leave the car and take a shuttle from there. Reservation needs to be made at least a few days in advance- the only shuttle time available was going to Moraine Lake first (6.30-11am slot). I am glad we took this advice- parking is limited at the lakes, and this way we didn’t need to stress if we’d find a spot or if we’d be turned away. Also, the fact that we went to Moraine Lake first was in our opinion a much better option than going straight to Lake Louise.
Less popular lake (however, we found it MORE beautiful) was as still as glass and not yet crowded at 8.30 in the morning. We were able to enjoy the quiet beauty before it got busy and the sun got intense. As a last minute decision we decided to go canoeing and though a bit pricey, it was worth it.
We had amazing weather (despite the rainy forecast) and the views from the middle of the lake were simply breathtaking. You can’t see reflections like this from the shore, so it’s worth spending an hour paddling to the end of the lake and back. Good arm workout too!
There is a cafe on site in case you need a snack or a coffee. We grabbed breakfast in Banff, but recharged our caffeine supplies here and climbed the Rockpile. It’s a little mound that looks like a pile of rocks- very easy climb as it has steps (we did it with our coffees in hand). You get yet another incredible view of the lake, just from a different angle.
There was a momma bear with cubs right near the parking lot of this lake just the day before our arrival. We didn’t get to see any bears, but the signs warning to be careful are everywhere. I’d say we spent about two hours at this magical lake and then took the Lake Connector – another shuttle bus to Lake Louise. It’s a short ride, just about 20 min. This place was packed. Strangely, most of the people were crowding right at the entrance, while just walking a short distance towards the right of the lake, the views were the same and there was nobody fighting for a spot to take that perfect shot.
I don’t know if it’s the crowds, but this lake did not have the same vibe as Moraine Lake. It’s obviously still gorgeous, but didn’t feel as magical (to us).
We did an arm workout earlier, now it’s time to use those legs. Perfect temperature for a little hike to Lake Agnes Tea House. Well, we didn’t actually get tea, because the line was insanely long, but the hike was beautiful and we really enjoyed it.
With stopping for photos and eating our own brought snacks while resting on the comfortable bench for at least 20 min, the round trip hike was about 2 hours.
All of this before even lunch time! It pays to start the day early 🙂 . Since we had a few more stops before going back to Banff, we decided to have lunch at Chateau Lake Louise restaurant overlooking the lake. We briefly considered staying at this Fairmont hotel, but after seeing the room prices (and not having the most amazing experience with this chain in Quebec City) we chose Banff. After being there I think it was a good call. There is nothing else around, so if you are staying there, you enjoy the lake view, but to go anywhere else you have to drive. Crowds of people is also off-putting. Definitely stop by and enjoy their espresso martini (or two) though. Food was average (for Sean to not finish his ravioli is pretty rare), but the drinks and the view were excellent.
It’s only 2.30PM and we have just enough energy for another lake. We took a shuttle back to the car and drove another 45 min to the bluest lake I’ve ever seen. Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint is where we parked our car (though it said parking is only for busses, so if you come earlier in the day and there are a lot of vehicles, you might have to park at the lower lot and hike up). From this parking lot it was just a couple of minutes walk to the view.
No filter, no enhancements, this is the color of this glacier lake. Absolutely incredible.
On the way back to Banff we stopped briefly at the Bow Lake, but after the views earlier, this was just another ‘basic’ lake (getting spoiled, I know!).
We made it back to the hotel with enough time to enjoy their rooftop again. It felt great to soak in the hot tub after all the workouts!
Since it’s Saturday and we knew it will be a busy weekend, we booked dinner in advance at Juniper Bistro, located at the Juniper Hotel. Good food, nice view (though it got too chilly to eat outside, so we stayed inside near the window).
And this completes another full, but very exciting day!
Lake Minnewanka Cruise, Downtown Banff and Meadow Spa
We woke up to a cloudy and much colder last day in Banff. Temperature dropped from 68F (20C) to just around 55F (13C), so we were glad we packed some layers. We were also very grateful for the gorgeous two days when we had most of our nature activities. The only planned thing we had for Sunday was a Lake Minnewanka cruise, which was for 10am. Since it’s a short 15 min drive from the hotel, we started the day by walking around sleepy and quiet Banff and picking up breakfast at the Wild Flour Bakery. They were pretty busy, line of at least 20 people, but the croissants and the dandelion latte were worth the wait.
We had no trouble finding parking near Lake Minnewanka, but it could have been due to the not ideal weather. The cruise however was sold out- glad we booked it in advance. Luckily the boat was enclosed, so we didn’t have to freeze in the cold wind and the two guides were super informative.
We learned about the history of the lake, the town, what kind of fish lives in these waters etc. It was a perfect one hour excursion that I’d recommend to anyone visiting Banff.
Our flight from Calgary was scheduled for 1am, car return was not due until 10pm, so we decided to spend the whole day in Banff. We asked for a late check out, grabbed a snack from Whitebark Caffe, relaxed and enjoyed the fireplace until it was time to leave the room.
While the rain was holding off we walked around the cute town, did some shopping and enjoyed lunch at the Bear Street Tavern. Their wings were exceptional and the pizza was served with a chili oil and honey sauce! Very unexpected and delicious combination.
And knowing us, we can’t skip dessert. Cows Ice Cream has a lot of unusual and very tasty flavors- I particularly recommend Cownadian Maple- as you may guess, it involves maple syrup and it tasted heavenly!
Just as the first raindrops started to fall, we went back to our hotel, because we had a couples massages booked in their Meadow Spa. Yes, you can be checked out as a guest, but still enjoy the full amenities when you have a spa treatment. Also, if you don’t want to use hotel rooftop (especially since it was raining), the spa has their own jacuzzi, which we thoroughly enjoyed before and after the massages.
Perfect rainy day to slow down and relax before the flights home. We got dinner at Hello Sunshine (how ironic)- great sushi and a fun atmosphere. After, with no rush, we made our drive back to Calgary.
Surprisingly there were no delays coming back (we had a layover in Toronto) and we made it home with plenty of time to rest before Fourth of July fireworks in Boston.
So there you have it- three perfect days in Banff. Though it seems like a long way to fly for such a short time, it was well worth it. Maybe the early mornings, maybe the long daylight hours, but it felt like a lot longer trip than just three days. It was perfect mix of nature, physical activities and rest/relaxation. We don’t love the red eye flights, but given the fact that we got home on a day off and didn’t have to go straight to work was easily manageable. Banff is a fantastic National Park and we’re super grateful to check it off our bucket list.
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