Trip Report: Canada’s Banff & Jasper National Parks
Now that we are officially through sharing a video and post about each of the U.S. national parks (although we are nowhere close to done talking about them), we thought it would be fun to share specifics about other past and ongoing adventures. We will never stop talking about the national parks, but there are many other amazing places in the world and they’re all on our list.
When we drove from Missouri to Alaska in late June to hit up the eight national parks there, we knew we’d need a few pit stops to keep us sane. We could think of none as beautiful or fun as stopping at two of Canada’s most treasured national parks: Banff and Jasper, located in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta.
These two marked our first international parks! We only had about two and a half days combined in the parks (not even close to enough time!) but we made the most of our quick trip.
Banff National Park
We were so excited to see Canada’s first (and the world’s third!) national park. We obviously have a soft spot for national parks of any kind, and we are excited to make them a cornerstone of future international travel. Banff was a drop-dead gorgeous place to start.
We began our short trip in the cute mountain town of Banff, Alberta. It was evening already, so we quickly got information and maps from the visitor center there, gassed up, grabbed some Canadian cash from an ATM, and headed into the park.
Right away, we were comparing Banff to other similar U.S. national parks. Scenery-wise, it reminded us of North Cascades (but with crowds) in Washington, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and of course, nearby Glacier in Montana.
Getting to Banff
We drove from the east, specifically Kansas City. Driving gave us a nice dramatic approach, although you can also fly into Calgary nearby. I’d recommend renting a car for flexibility and freedom to leave the tour-bus crowds far behind.
We had one and a half days to spend in Banff. Not nearly enough time, but it worked with our long road trip situation. With that amount of time, I’d suggest preparing to put in long days, seeing the highlights of the park, and researching to discover at least one way to escape the crowds.
Where to Stay
We camped two nights in Banff: one in Tunnel Mountain Campground ($27.50 CAD), and one in Waterfowl Lake Campground ($21.50 CAD). Camping was a bit troublesome because we were unprepared and didn’t make any reservations. We tried to snag a spot at Lake Louise, where we planned to hike early the next morning, but they were full and we were sent backwards about 60 km to the town of Banff. I stopped complaining when I realized that Canadian national park campgrounds have showers! An easy solution would be to make reservations online.
In addition to the 2,400 campsites available during peak season, there are many lodges, hostels, and AirBNBs located in the town of Banff and throughout the park.
Trying to see Banff in a day and a half was tough, but we hit most of the key points of interest. Our absolute favorite thing was hiking from Lake Louise up to Agnes Lake Teahouse. From east to west, here are a few of our favorite highlights:
- Vermillion Lakes scenic drive: gorgeous lake reflections
- Bow Valley Parkway: 48-km scenic drive connecting the town of Banff to Lake Louise
- Johnston Canyon & Falls: very cool, relatively easy 3-mile round-trip hike to the upper falls
- Lake Louise: most gorgeous lake color I’ve ever seen. Very popular stop, so try going early or late in the day
- Lake Agnes & Six Glacier Point loop trail: amazingly rewarding 8-mile loop trail with great views of Lake Louise and surrounding glaciers
- Icefield Parkway: road connecting Lake Louise and the town of Jasper; many pullouts and hiking trails
- Bow Summit: short trail leading to phenomenal views
- Mistaya Canyon: short trail to awesome curvy river-carved canyon
Jasper National Park
A trip to the Canadian Rockies is absolutely not complete without a continuing trip to Jasper National Park. It is conveniently connected to Banff, with views rivaling (or surpassing, in our opinion) that of its bigger-sister park. Where Banff provides mint-blue glacial lakes, Jasper boasts multiple glaciers and tumbling waterfalls. Our favorite hike of the trip, up to Wilcox Pass, was located in the Columbia Icefield area of Jasper.
Getting to Jasper
We continued our drive west from Banff to Jasper. The small town of Jasper is located ___ km from the town of Banff.
Our frenzied road trip from Missouri to Alaska allowed only one day in Jasper, but it was certainly an awesome day.
Where to Stay
We did not sleep over in Jasper, but there are so many campgrounds, lodges, hostels, and AirBNB options available for every budget.
Our long day in Jasper had a very similar vibe to our day in Banff: long and full. We chose one hike that seemed like it would draw us away from the crowds — Wilcox Pass — and then just dealt with the crowds at the popular spots. To us, that’s usually a winning strategy.
From east to west, here are some spots in Jasper you can’t miss:
- Wilcox Pass: one of the most breathtaking hikes I’ve taken. About 6 km roundtrip to the Pass; continuing on from there is also possible. This is one of the popular locations of the famous Jasper Red Chairs.
- Icefield Centre: watch the free movie and view the art gallery; buy tour tickets if that’s your thing
- Toe of Athabasca Glacier: a short hike up to the edge of the glacier
- Sunwatba Falls: quick walk to a bridge with a great view of the falls
- Athabasca Falls: popular stop with several overlooks at the falls and interestingly-carved canyon
Banff and Jasper was hands-down the best pit stop along our drive from Missouri to Alaska. We wish we had more time to get off the beaten path a bit and explore deeper into each of these parks, but it is what it is.
We will just have to come back. 🙂