The national parks of Banff and Jasper are all about lakes, mountains, waterfalls and wildlife. The Rocky Mountains had been on my bucket list for a while and they did not disappoint as Banff and Jasper quickly became one of my top 3 destinations I’ve ever been. We road-tripped around the national parks, driving along the Icefield Parkway, and stopped off at pretty much any place where we say a sign for a view point or to a lake to take in the beautiful sights.
The Lakes and Canyons
When we first arrived into Jasper National Park, the first lake we saw was Moose Lake as we drove in and we couldn’t believe the vibrant blue colours of the water so had to immediately pull over the car to take a close look! After spending a few days driving around, Moose Lake is by no means the best lake here but it was the first one I saw and I couldn’t believe it.
We also checked out Lake Annette whilst in Jasper; the water was so clear and my photos just did not do it justice. This lake also has it’s own little beach and just around the corner is Lake Edith. We actually visited this totally on a whim when we saw a sign and thought why not!
There are many other lakes in Jasper that we didn’t visit such as Maligne Lake, Patricia Lake, Pyramid Lake and Mildred Lake that look just as beautiful and worth checking out if you have time.
When in Jasper, you can take a hike through Maligne Canyon, walking alongside the stream of the deep canyon and it will eventually lead you out to a lovely waterfall with plenty of nature along the way. There is also Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls as you start to head south out of Jasper so make sure to stop off there for a quick view of the cascading water.
As you start to drive towards Banff, you will most likely be driving along the Icefields Parkway which is the main road connecting the two and from here we also saw a few little waterfalls along the way and stopped off at one called Tangle Creek Falls with the water coming down over many levels of the rocks.
Whilst on the drive to Banff, you have constant views of the mountains and the many glaciers peaking out between them. Along the way, we had views of Stutfield Glacier and actually drove up to Athabasca Glacier to climb up to the tow of it. I must say, we were unprepared of this as we only had gym trainers on but it was still possible but would be better with hiking boots for sure!
You can also stop off at Colombia Icefields Skywalk and walk along the glass floor off the edge of a cliff. We didn’t actually do this at the time but I would love to go back and do this whole trip again and include this.
Lakes, Lakes and More Lakes
There are so many lakes to go and see whilst in Banff, far more than in Jasper, and each of them are more breathtaking than the last. The most famous of all these lakes is of course, Lake Louise which is a huge turquoise glacier lake that you can actually canoe on, or iceskate on in winter, and makes for a spectacular view with the mountain as the backdrop. Lake Moraine is also nearby but we didn’t end up going here; as these 2 are the most popular lakes in Banff, the parking was a bit of a nightmare and Lake Louise was crowded compared to any other lake so we bypassed Moraine Lake.
Despite the popularity of Lake Louise, my 2 standout lakes in Banff were easily Emerald Lake and Grassi Lakes. Emerald Lake was near empty when we were there so you really feel at one with nature and not like you are at a tourist spot. The water was bright blue in colour with the mountains surrounding it.
Further south you will find Grassi Lakes; there is a bit of a hike to get to them with 2 routes (an easy and a hard) – we did the hard route and if you’re afraid of heights, I would definitely suggest the easier route as you are climbing up the side of a mountain to get there (my friend turned around halfway through and didn’t get to see the lakes because of the difficult terrain and height and I did the rest alone!). At Grassi Lakes, the water blends from green to blue, with the mountains reflecting on it perfectly. To make things better, there are 2 lakes here for you to marvel at and if you keep climbing, you can even find some pre-historic caveman paintings on some rocks.
When in Banff, we also stopped off at Waterfowl Lake and Bow Lake but there are so many here to see such as Peyto Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Two Jack Lake and Valley of the Ten Peaks which I will definitely go to next time. Not a lake as such but we did also stop hike Johnston Canyon whilst in Banff and there are bright blue pools and waterfalls to meet you towards the end and you can actually go through to see the waterfall from behind.
Banff Upper Hot Spring
After many long days of driving around the national parks and hiking to the lakes, we took a well deserved rest at the hot spring. After spending so much time looking at the water, you are finally able to get in some yourself and relax in the hot outside pool whilst looking across the valley as Banff Upper Hot Spring is actually at a higher elevation.
I went to Banff and Jasper in September, which by luck, is a great time to see wildlife and this was an unexpected benefit for me. We saw many elk whilst driving around as it’s their mating season and we actually saw a male elk perform a mating call and saw 2 male elk fighting with their antlers and we also saw a really cute little chipmunk whilst at Emerald Lake. Other animals to look out for are of course the bears and moose, we didn’t see any and I think they are quite rare but bears are out more in September gathering food before hibernation. Top tip: pack a bell to have on your backpack, this way if a bear is around, they will hear you coming and you won’t take them by surprise to prevent any nasty attacks.
Where To Stay
We stayed in multiple places whilst driving around the national parks, driving up from Vancouver. We didn’t make it straight to Japser from Vancouver and stopped off for one night at Samesun Kelowna before heading to HI Jasper and then Samesun Banff.