Canada Part 1: Banff
It is really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that our Canada trip has come and gone. I feel like we had been dreaming about it forever and then it finally became real life! To be honest, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had been to the mountains before and loved it, but this experience really blew any other mountain experience out of the water. My mom and I kept saying we felt like we were in La La Land because everything was just so perfect. The land is mind blowing, the weather is perfect, the people are incredible and truly everything we did left a huge imprint. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Canada, do it. I have never connected with the world around me in such a way.
Anyways, I have decided to break this post up into two parts simply because I have so much to share and I do not want to leave anything out (especially for my memory’s sake!) This post will be about our first leg of our trip: our time in Banff National Park. We spent three nights in Banff and filled our time to the brim everyday!
Duration: 3-4 hours (including dinner)
This was our first big activity we did and it started the trip out with a bang. In my opinion, this is a must do for Banff. Honestly, maybe it’s just because it was the very first thing we did but, I will remember the moment I got to take in the view of those mountains for the first time for life. I do feel like missing this would have been a huge loss simply because of how incredible it was. It’s hard for me to put into words.
Also, we did have dinner up top at the Northern Lights buffet-style restaurant. Honestly, I thought it was really good however my parents didn’t quite agree.
Tip: We went in the evening at around 6:00 and I thought it was a great time to see it all. Don’t forget a jacket though! It is very cold at the top!
Lake Louise + Canoeing
Duration: 1.5 hours
When planning the trip, I knew that one of my non-negotiables was canoeing on Lake Louise. This had been a bucket list item of mine for years and I am so glad I didn’t miss out on the opportunity when I had it. I must say, renting canoes here is an outrageous expense (3 people per canoe, around $100 USD per hour) and Lake Louise is completely incredible from land, however; this experience for me was like no other and my siblings definitely agree. Sitting in the middle of the opaque turquoise water was a surreal experience.
Tip: GO EARLY. If you get there before 8 am you can get photos without all of the canoes in the water! However, make sure you’re there when the sun is shining because it was very cloudy when we first walked up and the water wasn’t that glowing blue, when the sun came out minutes later it immediately lit up! Another thing, the canoe rentals begin at 8:30, we started standing in that line at about 8:20 and really didn’t have to wait at all for a canoe.
Lake Agnes Hike and Teahouse
Duration: 4 hours
Of our entire trip, this was definitely out longest hike. I personally am glad we did it because it was so rewarding making it to the top! This hike begins at Lake Louise and ends 1200 feet higher than where you begin! It is around 2.2 miles to the top and uphill the entire way., we were definitely sore the next day! Along the way you get to experience Mirror Lake which is about half a mile before Lake Agnes!
We also ate at the Lake Agnes Teahouse! This is the oldest teahouse in Canada and runs off of solar powered lights and no running water. The water for all of the food was pulled from the lake! The menu is extremely limited for obvious reasons, but we enjoyed our tuna sandwiches and cookies! There was just something so special and raw about this experience.
Tip: Wear layers. We experienced so many different temps along this hike (aka a HOT walk and very chilly at the top) Hiking boots were really helpful too. The teahouse is also cash only.
Lake Louise Gondola
Duration: < 1 hour
This gondola ride was probably the most relaxing 14 minutes of my life. We did the open air lifts this time and it was so serene. However, if you are trying to decide between the two gondolas, choose the one in the heart of Banff. This is only a necessity if you are dying to see a grizzly bear! Out of the fifteen bears we saw on our trip, three of them were here and they were the only grizzlies we saw. The view isn’t slacking through!
Tip: search for coupons online! There were some that we missed out on!
Downtown Banff is such a little gem. We went numerous times as it’s hard to avoid because most of the restaurants are located here. I’ve talked below about all of the restaurants we loved below, but I think the shops are super awesome too! I think the Rocky Mountain Soap Co. and the Harley Davidson store are two awesome stops.
White Water Rafting
Duration: 4 hours
We booked our whitewater rafting experience through Chinook Rafting and we chose the Horseshoe Canyon Adventure. Our experience began at 8:15 and had about two hours of river time. After all of the rules, changing into our gear, and the bus rides, the entire experience took about 4 hours. We were very afraid of freezing our butts off (as native Texans) but we had gorgeous weather and the wet suits really did their jobs. We got to experience three rapids and optional cliff jumping (which all three of the kids did!) The rapids were difficult enough to be exciting, but I felt safe the entire time. The cliff jumping had two options: a 6-8 foot jump or a 30-40 foot jump. We all did the higher one and it was exhilarating, but the moment we hit the water was probably the coldest moment of my life. It was shockingly cold. The guides were amazing and SO charismatic. Out guide Vikram made us feel safe, have a ton of fun and even went the extra mile to memorize our names and facts about our lives. We had a very good time!
Tip: Don’t forget your GoPro because they have attachments on some helmets! But, if you don’t have one, don’t worry! They took all of the above photos for us and uploaded them on their website for free!
Duration: < 10 minutes
Every national park we’ve ever visited we have a family photo with the sign! This was a necessity for us, and I think a great photographic souvenir!
Tip: It’s within walking distance from downtown!
Bow Valley Parkway
Duration: 1-2 hours
If you want to see wildlife this is the drive for you! We drove this multiple times (because why take the highway when there’s a scenic route?!) and saw 5/15 bears along this road! It connects the town of Banff to Lake Louise and is definitely worth the slightly slower trek. So many elk and bears!
Tip: Go somewhere between 7 and 10 for the most animal sightings!
Duration: 1 hour
We got to see Lake Moraine on our third try. The parking lot is TINY and constantly full and they will NOT let you in if the lot is full. We were relentless because we heard it was a must see and I am so glad we were. To really get the good (read: iconic) photos, you have to climb this massive rock pile. It’s high but it’s really not too bad as the climb only takes about five minutes. Completely worth it as these crystal blue lakes are incredible and each one is so different yet equally as breathtaking.
Tip: go after 8 as the parking attendants leave and the lot is a free for all. This is when we were able to actually get in and see it (on our third try!) These photos were actually taken around 9pm. I would not try to walk because it is a far drive in.
Duration: 1.5 hours
This experience was completely surreal. I kept saying that I felt like we were living in the world of Avatar because of the bright blue water surrounded by all of the trees. We only hiked to the lower falls, but I feel like I got the full experience. This trail takes you directly next to the water and it’s definitely more of a walk than a true hike. I enjoyed staring at the rushing river even more than seeing the falls!
This is right off of the Bow Valley Highway so it’s easy to do along with other things!
Tip: when you arrive to the lower falls there is a line to go through a cave to see the falls extremely close. You may get wet and your shoes may get slightly muddy so be prepared for that!
Duration: < 1 hour
Again with an iconic must see. We were able to get in without a wait. This was the brightest of the three crystal lakes we saw. You are not able to access the lake directly though! So glad I got to see this!
Tip: Park at the upper lot so your hike to the lake won’t be so steep!
COWS Ice Cream
My sister got ice cream from here three times and I am so jealous of her. I only went once and after I took my first bite the line out of the door was quickly understandable. I ordered (and loved) the Brownie Explosion and my sister loved the Cookie Monster.
This was my favorite place that we ate in Banff. It was AMAZING. Everyone in our group raved and raved about this meal. We went at the very end of the lunch time and had no wait at all when during dinner hours this place is VERY popular. I order the Benchmark Brisket Sandwich with the Hiker’s Greens which was DIVINE. Other meals my family ordered was the Rotisserie Chicken Sandwich and the Rotisserie Chicken! Everyone loved their meal. My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it. This is a must eat!
This was actually our first meal in Canada in Canmore on the way to Banff! (however; I did just check and there is one in Banff too!) This place was honestly fantastic! We went for lunch and most of us got a lunch special which was a small pizza and a salad. We got an array of pizzas and seriously every single one of them was so tasty. I recommend the fig and goat cheese salad though, it blew my mind!
If you’re looking for a burger in Banff, this is a good bet. My parents loved it and raved about it for DAYS. I thought it was good, but not my favorite burger of all time. However, I did get the poutine which was amazing! Also, if you’re a cider drinker you must try the Okanagan Cider. I have never tasted one like it!
This restaurant was so yummy! Everyday they have amazing deals! They also have a rooftop patio, but we didn’t get to experience it because it was raining a bit! I got the chicken parm, but the steak sandwich looked amazing! Also, the queso is a must!
We stayed here for three nights and it was honestly amazing. The resort is gorgeous and impeccably clean. It’s also about a five minute drive from downtown! My only complaint was our room had a loft with two beds and it was very warm. There’s also a bus that stops at this resort that can take you all over town!