When people think of Alberta, Canada, they think of Banff National Park. Banff National Park is considered Canada’s most beautiful national park. The 4,000 square miles of Banff hold beautiful sights from stunning lakes to majestic mountains to amazing wildlife. You can also do just about anything your heart desires in Banff. Ski, hike, kayak, camp, Banff offers it all!
Fun Fact: Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park!
This post only touches on a few of the beautiful attractions Banff has to offer, but there is SO MUCH to see and explore. These are my top things you MUST see when visiting Banff!
1. Lake Louise and Moraine Lake
We are going to start off strong with one of the most beautiful and popular spots in Banff National Park! Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are the most visited spots in Banff. They are both known for their beautiful turquoise lakes with mountain backdrops. Lake Louise is twice the size of Moraine Lake, however, Moraine Lake is more popular because of it's stunning scenery. Both spots are insanely beautiful, but Moraine Lake is more breathtaking, in my opinion.
These spots are THE SPOTS for sunrise in Banff. When I say they are THE SPOTS I mean every single person wants to be at these locations for sunrise. So much so that if you don’t arrive at Lake Moraine by 5:00 AM or Lake Louise by 6:00 AM, you won’t be able to find parking. It is, however, a lot easier to find parking at Lake Louise. They won’t even let you into Moraine Lake’s parking lot after 6:00 AM. They shut down the road… it’s nuts. If you aren’t an early bird, don’t you worry! There is overflow parking available with a shuttle that runs all day.
There is so much to do at these lakes, so no matter what time of day you go, it’ll be fun! You can bike and hike in the warm months and ski and snowshoe in the colder months. One of the most popular activities is canoeing which is a magical experience at either one of these lakes. But prepared to spend some money if you renting. Rentals start around $100. SAY WHAT?! If you want to experience these lakes in the best way possible, in my opinion, you have to hike! The hikes here aren’t difficult, so don’t worry.
The best trail, and most popular, at Moraine Lake is the Rockpile Trail. It’s a 0.2-mile hike to the top of a - you guessed it - rockpile! It provides breathtaking views of the lake. If you are looking for something longer and less crowded, the Moraine Lakeshore Trail is for you! It’s a two-mile hike around the shoreline of the lake to the back of the lake.
The easiest trail at Lake Louise is the Lake Louise Shoreline Trail. Similar to the one at Moraine Lake, the 2.5-mile trail brings you along the shorelines to the back of the lake. This is where you can see the reason for the lake’s turquoise blue color - the silt from Victoria Glacier. Another easy trail is the Fairview Lookout Trail. It is a one-mile trail that brings you to a viewing platform towards the back of the lake. If you want a more difficult hike, the Lake Agnes Tea House Trail is for you! This is a very popular trail that brings you to a tea house where you can get tea, soup, and sandwiches! You gain over 1,000 feet of elevation in 2 miles, so it’s more difficult than the others listed. Along with the tea house, you get to see Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes. Both are on the smaller side but are so beautiful.
Alex and I only got to experience Lake Louise because, by the time we got to Moraine Lake’s road at about 6:30 AM, it was ALREADY CLOSED!! And they don’t let you sit there to wait to be let in, so you have to pass it right as a car is leaving or go at the crack of dawn. It’s definitely on our must-see list for when we return! But we were not disappointed with our sunrise views at Lake Louise. And to top it off, there was NO SMOKE THIS MORNING!! It was absolutely incredible.
2. Norquay Lookout
Norquay Lookout is a beautiful lookout spot at the top of a winding road on the side of Norquay Ski Area. You obviously cannot ski here in the summer, but you could go a gondola ride to the top of the ski area! It was pretty smoky the day we came up here, so we decided to only take a stop at the lookout. The parking area for the lookout is at a bend in the road, so you won’t miss it! There is an open field beyond a rock wall that gives you some breathtaking views of Bow Valley and the town of Banff.
There were two red chairs that Alex and I sat in to eat our lunch while taking in the views. As you can see by our picture, it was super smoky but still beautiful! I’ve seen pictures without smoke and woooooof. Beautiful! This is a must see place when you travel to Banff! It’s an easy drive that provides incredible views. Why wouldn’t you come here?!
3. Bow Valley Parkway
Bow Valley Parkway is a must-see scenic drive. It runs along the Trans-Canada Highway for 30 miles and is a great alternative drive from Banff to Lake Louise. Although this road doesn’t provide you quite the views the Icefields Parkway does, it still has a lot to offer!
This beautiful drive is an amazing spot to see animals, especially in the early hours. We saw moose, deer, and bears on this road. It was AWESOME. It is also home to some beautiful lookout spots.
This place needed its own number because it is THAT beautiful, so jump to number 4 if you want to read about it!
There are A LOT of mountains in Alberta. You are in the Rocky Mountains, so duh. But Castle Mountain was different for Alex and I. We saw a picture of it and immediately knew we needed to meet this beautiful, 9,000-foot mountain in person. And yes, it does have a castle-like appearance.
Castle Mountain actually had a name change in 1946 to Mount Eisenhower to honor Dwight Eisenhower for his World War II service. However, a lot of people did not like this change, so its name changed back to Castle Mountain 30 years later.
If you are looking for a nice hike, the Castle Mountain Lookout Trail is for you! It is a 4.5-mile hike round trip gaining 1,700 feet of elevation, so get it does get steep. However, it is a short hike to a beautiful lookout, so it is well worth it! The lookout provides views of the entire Bow Valley. It is amazing!
Rockbound Lake & Tower Lake
Another great hike in the are is the Rockbound Lake Trail. Blue lakes on top of mountains? TAKE ME THERE! This is an awesome 10-mile hike gaining over 2,400 feet of elevation. It does get steep at points, but there are many switchbacks to help with the elevation gain.
You will first encounter Tower Lake which is a small but beautiful lake with green waters. It is a great resting spot to eat a snack before finishing the rest of the trail to Rockbound Lake. You will need a snack break, my friends. The last push is steep, so be prepared! Rockbound Lake makes it all worth it! It is in the middle of the mountains but has an open section with an incredible view of the Rockies. There is a trail that brings you above the lake and allows you to take in the full beauty of this area.
If you have the time, make sure to hike this trail!
Storm Mountain Lookout & Morant’s Curve
Both Storm Mountain Lookout and Morant’s Curve are pullover spots on the Bow Valley Parkway. All you need is a few minutes at each spot to take in the beauty of the Bow River with a spectacular mountain backdrop.
Morant’s Curve is one of the most photographed spots in Banff National Park! If you time it right, you will be able to capture the classic picture of a train running along the river.
4. Johnston Canyon
I LOVE THIS PLACE!!!!! A fairly easy hike to multiple waterfalls?! Uh, yes, please. Sign me up!!
Johnston Canyon is a very popular hike through a beautiful canyon along Johnston Creek. The hike brings you to two big waterfalls - Lower Falls and Upper Falls - but there are many smaller waterfalls along the trail.
The hike to Lower Falls is the easier portion of the trail since there is minimal elevation gain. There is a tunnel across from the falls that provides an awesome viewpoint. The line will be LONG to get there though. We didn’t go to this viewpoint because we heard people complaining they were in line for 20 minutes already! No thanks. We enjoyed our view from the other side and began to hike towards Upper Falls.
The hike to Upper Falls has more elevation gain but still isn’t difficult. This portion of the trail was our favorite! Sections of the trail are under super tall trees while other sections follow the creek offering views of smaller waterfalls. So awesome! As you approach Upper Falls, you will notice there are two viewing areas - one across and one above the waterfall. We went to both! The one across from the waterfall had a short line that moved quickly which was nice. It offers a beautiful view of the falls from the bottom. The view from above, however, was my favorite. It’s a small ascent to this platform and allows you to look down at the falls. So pretty!
If the 2.5-mile trail to Upper Falls wasn’t enough for you, you can continue to hike another two miles to the Ink Pots! The Ink Pots are green colored mineral springs sitting in a beautiful meadow! This portion of the trail is less trafficked, so it’s peaceful. If you have the time, I would recommend hiking to the Ink Pots!
This was my favorite hike of our trip since we didn’t get to hike to any summits due to the amount of smoke in the area.
5. Bow Lake
When you hear about Banff, you hear about Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. You don’t hear as much about Bow Lake even though it holds the same beauty as the others. It is not a hidden gem since it is easily accessible off of the Icefields Parkway, but it tends to be less crowded than the other lakes in Banff. It is a nice change of pace!
Bow Lake is one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park sitting at an elevation over 6,000 feet! Similar to the other lakes in the area, it is fed by a melting glacier which gives the water a blue color. If you are looking for a beautiful reflection shot, this is the place for you! Clear skies and calm waters allow for a beautiful reflection of its neighbor Bow Summit. This is a great place for sunrise, too!
6. Peyto Lake
I am saving the best for last!
Peyto Lake is unworldly. Plain and simple. Its bright turquoise color makes it one of the most beautiful lakes in the world! “Is the water really that blue, or is your picture photoshopped?” No photoshop here, folks! The water is actually THAT blue. The lake is fed from melting glaciers similar to most of Alberta’s lakes. The melting brings glacier sediments to the lake which gives it the turquoise color when the sun hits it. It’s an amazing sight!
When I first saw a picture of Peyto Lake, I thought the classic picture view required a crazy hike. Guess what? IT’S DOESN’T!! It’s actually very easy to get to the viewing platform. The parking lot is easily accessible off of the Icefields Parkway. However, the signage is not the greatest, so keep your eyes peeled! There is always an influx of cars going here, so just follow the pack.
Once you are parked and ready to go, it’s time to walk 2 miles up a moderately steep path. The path is paved which makes the hike easier! The small hike ends at a viewing platform with views of Peyto Lake and the surrounding mountains. It is B-E-A-Uiful. Go ahead and drool. It’s okay, you are not the only one.
Mother Nature was kind to us the day we visited Peyto Lake (THANK YOU!!). The smoke was clear, and the skies were blue, so we were able to experience the full beauty of this lake. It was very crowded at the lookout because everyone wants to classic shot, but there was plenty of room!
After you clean up your drool and take a billion pictures, it’s time for some decision making! You can head back to the car and continue your adventure on the Icefields Parkway, OR you can hike! There are a few great hikes around Peyto Lakes that offer amazing views. One of the popular ones is the hike to Bow Valley Summit. From the viewing platform, follow the path to the left. At the 3-way intersection, take the middle path. This will lead you up to the Bow Valley Summit where there are beautiful views and fewer crowds. There are multiple lookout points along the trail, but the best view is at the end! You will be at the south end of the lake looking north. The hike will take an hour or two round trip, so make sure to give yourself some time! If you want a completely different view, you are in luck! You are able to hike to the lake’s shoreline from an unmarked pull-off area about 1 mile north. However, this trail is STEEP and will take you about 1 hour round trip. It’s totally worth it if you want to dip your toes in the cold waters!
No matter how you want to experience this lake, you will not be disappointed!