Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

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Banff National Park is a beautiful mountainous National Park in the Canadian Rockies that is easily accessible from the Calgary Airport.  Hikes in Banff seemed busier than in Jasper but not shoulder to shoulder as we have experienced in our closest National Park, Yosemite, on a weekend. There are many hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops in Banff. I suspect many travelers fly into Calgary, drive to Banff and make their way to Jasper via the Icefields Parkway. All the mountain parks here are grizzly and black bear habitat.  We carried bear spray in a harness on our belt on all our hikes and my littlest son made plenty of noise to scare off any bears that might not smell us coming. No bear encounters on our hikes.

 
Practical Information (as of June 2016)

Entrance Fee: $19.60/per vehicle/day which covers all Mountain National Parks (free admission in 2017 in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday)

Closest airport: Calgary (about 140km or 90 miles)

Km to Miles conversion: 1.6 km = 1 mile

 

Lake Louise, near Banff, Alberta

Lake Louise, reflecting Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Lake Louise, reflecting Victoria Glacier, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Starting at 8:15am at the trailhead near the Fairmont Chateau, we viewed this world famous glacial blue lake with absolute awe. The snowy mountain (also known as Victoria Glacier) behind the lake reflected in the water, making the already beautiful teal blue lake even more amazing. The teal blue color of the lakes and rivers in this area come from "rock flour" - fine sediments of rock crushed by glacier - and suspended in water.  The view was most amazing at the beginning of the hike, with a view of all three mountains behind the lake in one frame. The trail hugged the shoreline of the lake from beginning to the end of the lake. The view of the mountains changed as we walked on the trail, revealing closer views of the surrounding mountains.  Lake Louise is fed by the glacial run-off of Victoria Glacier.

Shoreline trail at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada

Catching a glimpse of the hidden mountains at Shoreline trail at Lake Louise,

Banff National Park, Canada

The trail is a flat, gravel packed one with a distance of about 4km (2.5 miles) roundtrip. This trail is probably pretty jogging stroller-friendly. We encountered a few hikers on this crisp morning of 39F, some going through to the Plain of Glaciers trail (5.8km) and some to the two teahouses. Our turn-around point was at the end of the lake, since we were short on time and had several other hikes we wanted to do that day. This hike took us about 1.5 hours round trip to complete, thanks to a protesting hiker among us. As we left the trail around 9:45 am, we noticed the full overflow parking lots and even a line up of cars to get in. Ironically, the parking lot we were parked at, which was closest to the trailhead had spots available, both at our arrival and departure times.

Canoes are available for rental at the Lakeshore not too far from the Fairmont. Public clean bathrooms were located in one of the parking lots. The Fairmont reserves it's restrooms for its patrons only.

 Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Directions: south end of Icefield Parkway, follow directions on roadway to Lake Louise

Features: Teal blue world famous glacial lake reflecting surrounding mountains, View of Victoria Glacier

Distance: 4 km or 2.5 miles shoreline trail

 

Moraine Lake, near Banff, Alberta

Moraine Lake is another beautiful blue glacial lake that has a shoreline trail, just down the street from Lake Louise. Its trail length is about 3 km roundrip. Though I thought the two lakeshore trails would be repetitive, I must say that there are subtle differences between the two that makes each one special in its own right.  Moraine Lake is smaller than its neighbouring Lake Louise, at about half its size.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 Moraine Lake is located in the Valley of Ten Peaks, and has ten peaks rising above its shores. A short climb to the top of a Rockpile at the end of the lake affords a view of the lake with its ten peaks, I'm told. We opted not to do that climb since we were short on time and had some trouble finding the trailhead. Doing some research for this post now, I realized that the trailhead was on the other side of the rockpile and only 0.35 km in length, minimal elevation gain with an amazing view.  Should've, would've, could've... Oh well... next time. 

Lakeshore Trail at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Lakeshore Trail at Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 We did do the lakeshore trail, which gave us wonderful changing views of the ten peaks and a view of Fay Glacier.  A couple of canoes came into view as walked down the lake.  The shoreline trail here though hugging closely to the shoreline, took us underneath shading trees. Tree roots jutted out of the ground here frequently making it pretty stroller unfriendly. There were many driftwood logs large enough to host a quick picnic along the shore.

Boardwalk to glacial stream at the end of lakeshore trail, Moraine Lake

Boardwalk to the glacial stream at the end of lakeshore trail, Moraine Lake

There was a boardwalk at the end of the trail that took us to the edge of a gently sloping glacial melt flowing from one of the peaks directly into the teal blue lake below.The first half of the trail saw quite a bit of foot traffic whereas the last half was relatively quiet. There were many pullouts along the trail which were relatively quiet the further along we went. Views were better near the beginning of the trail though, as the ten peaks can be photographed in one frame. Be careful not to veer off your intended hiking trail - I read that grizzly activity can be high on hikes branching out of some of the trails at Moraine Lake that sometimes require closures of certain areas and/or mandatory groups of 4 or more people hiking together.  We did not have any encounters on our hike up the lakeshore trail.

 My guess which one of the white peaks is Fay Glacier at Moraine Lake

My guess at which white peak is Fay Glacier at Moraine Lake

This is the lake that is featured on the back of the Canadian $20 bills printed between 1969 to 1979. The road to Moraine Lake closes during the winter from mid-October to late May/early June, this year opening on May 24, 2016.  The signature blue color of the lake does not usually occur until the lake is completely thawed out, usually around mid- to end- of June.  It does get busy here, and the road may be closed when it gets too busy.  Best times to visit are before 9am or after 5pm.  We arrived at the parking lot around 10am, and had about 20 parking spots to choose from.  There was lodging near the shores of this lake as well. Canoe rentals were also available.

 
Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Directions: South end of Icefields Parkway, Follow exit for Lake Louise,  (this GPS coordinates led us in the right direction: 51.330524, -116.180838)

Features: Teal blue glacial lake with ten mountain peak looming overtop, Walk to the mouth of glacial run-off stream into the blue lake, View of Fay Glacier

Hike distance: Lakeshore Trail: 3 km (~2 miles) roundtrip

Other Amenities:  Cafe, lodge (open June to October), canoe rental

 
Johnston Canyon, near Banff, Alberta

Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff

Along Bow Valley Parkway, about halfway between Banff and Lake Louise lies the busiest trail we hiked during our trip. The trail to Lower Falls of Johnston Canyon saw the most foot traffic, though not shoulder to shoulder as I would describe some of Yosemite's most popular hikes. Beyond Lower Falls on the hike to Upper Falls, the crowds lessened slightly. Between Lower and Upper Falls, there are 5 waterfalls, Upper Falls being the tallest of them all, Lower Falls the second tallest.

Catwalk under rock overhang, Johnston Canyon Catwalk across from a brown walled section of canyon

The hike took us on walkways overhanging the canyon and under overhanging rocks. There were times where the trail was suspended directly over the rushing blue waters directly against canyon walls. At the first falls, Lower Falls, there was a line up of people waiting in the tunnel to get to the viewpoint of Lower Falls. Not knowing what lies ahead, we waited patiently in line for 10-15 minutes for an upclose view of the spraying Lower Falls. Knowing what it looks like now, we probably would not have waited in line. The view of the Lower Falls from the bridge before the tunnel and from the above walkway were better, in my opinion.

One of the 5 waterfalls between Lower and Upper Falls

One of the 5 waterfalls between Lower and Upper Falls

Catwalk over Johnston Canyon

Catwalk in Johnston Canyon

 

We arrived in the early afternoon at Johnston Canyon. Not realizing there was plenty of overflow parking just south of the trail entrance, we parked along the road not too far from the trailhead. The hike to Upper Falls was about 3 miles in length return, to Lower Falls 1 mile return. There are many viewpoints along the way of the rushing blue waters in the canyon below. Three kilometers beyond the Upper Falls, the hike continues to the Ink Pots. Our turn-around point was the Upper Falls due to time to constraints, though the Ink Pots seemed interesting. At Ink Pots, they are 7 mineral springs that bubble to the surface at 4C with quick sanded basins.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Directions: Follow Bow Valley Parkway and look for directions for Johnston Canyon, located about ½ way between Lake Louise and Banff on Bow Valley Parkway.

Features: Overhanging walkways inside canyon with views of 7 waterfalls, teal blue rushing waters below

Hike Distance: 1 mile return to Lower Falls, 3 miles return to Upper Falls, 7 miles return to Ink Pots

 

 
Cave and Basin National Historic Site, Banff, Alberta

Cave Basin - Canada's first National Park, skylight above is how these thermal waters were discovered

Cave Basin - Canada's first National Park, skylight above is how

these thermal waters were discovered by three railroad workers

 

Known as the birthplace of Canada's National Parks, Cave Basin National Historic Park is a unique location that showcases a thermal spring found underground in a cave. These waters have been used for bathing for many years, recently shut down to protect miniature snails that live in these waters. The snails are on the endangered species list. A reasonable admission fee is charged for entry into the cave. The cave tour is a quick 10-minute jaunt to the spot where the three men first discovered the thermal springs, which is also the location where Native Canadians performed rituals. The entry to the cave is through a previous 1900s bathhouse currently occupied by the Canadian Park Rangers. Above the bathhouse was a viewing platform with a view of the many mountains surrounding Banff. Beyond that, there was a 1km boardwalk climbing the marshlands above to more views of hot springs. It is illegal to touch these thermal waters here, but there is a fountain in front of the old bathhouse where you could immerse your fingers into these “healing” waters. If you're looking to take a dip in the hot springs, Upper Hot Springs have the facilities to accommodate you.

 

View of century old Bathhouse from the boardwalk above

View of  old Bathhouse from the boardwalk above

 

There is plenty of life in these thermal, sulphur- smelling hot springs. We spotted many fish-like organisms swimming, small worm-like organisms crawling on the water surface and a miniature snail on a dried leaf. White, green and yellow-orange hued algae-like plant life make their home here.

 

Life in the Thermal Waters, Cave Basin, Alberta

Life in the Thermal Waters, Cave Basin, Alberta

 

Cave Basin is just a few minutes outside town center Banff. Directions along the town roads led us there easily.

 

Practical Information (as of June 2016):

Address: 311 Cave Ave, Banff, Alberta

Admission to Cave: CAN$3.90/adult, CAN$1.90/kid over 6yrs old, Boardwalk: free

Hours of operation of Cave and Visitor Center: 10am-5pm  (Summer hours)

 

Warning: The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information provided at the time of publication, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and be safe.

 

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