Banff and Jasper National Park, the Great Canadian Outdoors.
With current times currently making travel difficult and highly frowned upon, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on my last travels I went on. It makes me appreciate those adventures much more given the current circumstances. In 2019, I ventured out to Banff in Alberta, Canada, twice. Once in the spring and in the fall. The 2019 year for me was tough for travel after becoming a first time home owner, but I still made an attempt to keep true to my name, which should now be Eric Frey the Stay at Home Guy.
Banff is a place that has been highly sought after for people's travel bucket list, especially over the last decade, and for good reason. Banff is an interesting and unique travel destination. I found it had a sort of highly modernized feel to it, but still had a rustic adventure side only a short drive away, which often is not the case with many locations. I found the main street areas of Banff to be quite bustling with crowds and fancy designer shops. Unique little restaurants and bars dot the main streets of Banff, but yet just a few miles away, you can be wandering through undeveloped, beautiful landscapes.
Banff and Jasper National Park's are home to some world famous landscapes. As you might guess, these famous landscapes are quite popular for anyone in the region visiting. Further on in the article, I will discuss some of these famous landscapes (such as Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, and the Columbia icefields) and some tips for visiting these locations.
Aside from reflecting on my journey to this wonderful region of the Canadian Rockies, I decided to also write this article after many people had asked about my experiences while traveling to Banff, and if I had any recommendations or tips to do a trip here. It's a great location to travel to experience the great Canadian outdoors and see amazing wildlife. You can still do all of that by either camping by hotel stays too!
When is the best time to visit Banff and Jasper National Park?
The answer to this question would best be answered by it depends! Both parks are open year round, but obviously the range of activities varies by the season. If you enjoy winter activities and colder weather. Peak skiing season in these two national parks is around December to March. Aside from skiing/snowboarding activities there is ice skating, snowshoeing, helicopter tours, snowmobiling, and more. Obviously, any hiking trails around this time of year will definitely require snowshoes. I attempted a hiking trail in late May and had to stop near the end due to 4-5 foot snow that I kept falling through and having to crawl back out of my footprint. My pants were soaked by the time I called it quits on that hike!
For spring, summer, and fall, there is a big change in type of activities as well. The changes in activity include hiking, road trips throughout the park, camping, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, wildlife viewing and more.
One big tip I would recommend is that if you are looking for wild life, and especially bears, go in the spring time when the snow is about to melt. I went to Banff twice in 2019, once in May/June and once in September. I barely saw any wildlife in the fall trip, and I assume the reasoning was due to the mountains being cleared of snow, the wildlife pressed up into the mountains more at that time since food sources would not not buried under deep amounts of snow. In the spring, park wildlife are hungry and the lower altitude spots open up from snow cover sooner. I saw over 10 bears with minimal effort in the spring, and didn't see a single bear in the fall.
The town of Banff and Jasper remain open most of the year, though hours may become limited in the winter months. This is more of the case in Jasper rather than Banff.
There will always be something to do in the area no matter the time of year, though I would like to think the best times to go are spring through fall. But with the better times of year comes more of a tourist population. Plan ahead and prepare for lots of people, especially for some of the major attractions!
Where to stay?
The options are plentiful when it comes to options for places to stay. Airbnb's have a strong presence in the Banff and Jasper area, and there are some real unique properties to stay at. Aside from that, there are some wonderful hotels that range in price quite a bit. Competition for places to stay is a real and constant thing here in the most popular months. If you come during that time, reserve plenty in advance. This became an issue for me on my second trip to Banff in 2019 when we tried to camp. We had to search all over to find a campsite, and lucked out with our very last campsite we called and had available to us fortunately. It's never fun to stress out last minute over where you will be sleeping later that night!
There is a pretty big amount of campgrounds dotted around the two national parks, and the Canadian government has a pretty nifty way of reserving said campground sites. The following link will take you to that official reservation website.
What to do while in Banff and Jasper National park?
This shouldn't even need to be a question, there is so much to do in these wonderful national parks!
There are well marked and placed trails for people of all ages and abilities. There are definitely some challenging hikes, yet plenty of moderate, easy, and short hikes as well.
Some of the most popular spots to visit in Banff and Jasper are Lake Louis and Moraine Lake, along with the Columbia Icefield.
These three locations are honestly probably the busiest spots in the national park, so busy that they actually have overflow parking from Lake Louis and Moraine Lake. Make sure to take this into account prior to heading out to one of these locations for the day. Earlier and evening hours are best for less people.
There are plenty of trails to hike at each location, and the Columbia Icefield has the unique opportunity to venture onto the glacier, though this costs extra money to do. There is also a cool walkway that extends over a canyon below. The Columbia Icefield Skywalk is only accessible by those who bought tickets from the visitor center (they drop you off via bus at the skywalk). Use the following link to go directly to the icefield website for more information.
My favorite aspects of the parks were the plentiful amount of solid hiking trails and endless beautiful views. Make sure to make the most of it and get up early for a peaceful sunrise or stay up late for an amazing sunset. This area is known to have some picturesque settings for sunset especially.
On my second trip to Banff, I set out on a cool summit hike to the top of Mount Rundle which is known as route Rundle 1. Mt. Rundle sits immediately southeast of Banff, you can't miss this prominent and unique looking mountain.
Unfortunately, weather the day of this summit was not spectacular, and probably a bit dangerous, but I was determined. I plan on writing an article about this hike which in the future will be included in this article as an additional link.
The view from the top was amazing, it really provided a great viewing location of the town of Banff and the entire valley.
If hiking, nature, and great beautiful landscapes are not your thing, well you need to get out of Banff then. Just Kidding! But seriously. There is plenty of shops, museums, and other touristy things to do in the town of Banff, so for those who are unable to adventure, or if the weather is crummy, seek out the indoor activities for the day.
Both Jasper and Banff have some wonderful restaurants and shops to see. I really enjoyed trying out a new restaurant every day. My favorite place to go was Tooloulous's in Banff.
No matter what, you will be find things to do in Banff for days if not more. I spent roughly two weeks there in 2019 and still had plenty of things to accomplish or see still.
Lions, tigers, and bears oh my! Okay, well maybe not lions and tigers, but bears most likely!
If you are going to Banff and Jasper in order to see some spectacular wildlife, you will likely be in luck. Lots of wonderful giant animals call Banff and Jasper home, including moose, black and grizzly bears, elk, deer, caribou, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, foxes, wolves, cougars, lynxes. There is plenty of wildlife to go around. As mentioned before, spring is likely a better time to spot said wildlife, as when the mountains clear up of snow, they tend to roam away from the mountain valley and it's roads.
Be safe when around any wildlife as you never know when and if they may feel like attacking. This is especially true with grizzly bears.
For bear spotting, one of the location's I found best for locating bears was the Bow Valley and the Bow Valley Parkway (road). Pay attention to the ditches right alongside the roads, and the immediate forest area by the roads. I suggest attempting this in the very early morning hours or right at dusk.
Thoughts and Conclusions on Banff and Jasper
Banff and Jasper really capture essence of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, they are two of the most popular parks in Canada, and Canada has done an excellent job of maintaining the parks, developing them and yet not destroying what makes them so special.
The wild side of these two parks are definitely specular, and the beautiful mountain views are endless. Make it a goal to come out and see these two amazing national parks at some point in your life. If you are living in the United States, try to make a road trip of it and also see one of the greatest national parks in the United States, Glacier National Park (in my opinion anyways).
You'll find plenty of things to do when you do, the possibilities and adventures are endless in Banff and Jasper National Park.
Please see below for additional photos!