On my first cruise to Alaska, I combined that with a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train through the Canadian Rockies, and the beginning of that trip was spent in Banff and Lake Louise. If you’ve never been there, that area is absolutely worth a place on your bucket list – I still call Lake Louise the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen, and so I share a bit about this destination…
Banff and Lake Louise
If you’re looking for outdoor adventure and beautiful scenery combined with the benefits of luxury travel, look no further than the Banff and Lake Louise area.
These two towns in Alberta, Canada are both within the boundaries of the Banff National Park and only about 45 minutes apart. The area offers breathtaking mountain views, glacier exploration, and hundreds of miles of skiing and hiking trails. Popular in both winter and summer, the Banff and Lake Louise area is one of the most memorable destinations in the world.
The larger of the two towns, Banff comes with a greater variety of activities. It has easy access to a variety of outdoor experiences, while also offering premium lodging and dining options.
In the summer, hiking in the National Park is a must. With literally hundreds of miles of trails available, there are options for all skill levels. Some of the trails are paved easy out-and-back routes that still offer breathtaking views of the nearby waterfalls, lakes, and mountains. For those looking for more of a challenge, you can hike up Sulfur Mountain to get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. Don’t worry if you aren’t up for this hike – there is a Gondola that will take you to the same spot at the hiking trail. Once you’re at the top, there are restaurants and shops you can enjoy.
One of the best parts about the Banff area is viewing the impressive wildlife in their natural habitat. Get ready to see bears, elk, bighorn sheep, and much more! It’s important follow your wildlife guide’s instructions along the trails to keep these animals safe.
After all of these adventures, a great way to relax is to visit the Banff Upper Hot Springs. The hot springs discovered in the area are what caused the National Park to be created, to protect the natural wonder for everyone’s enjoyment. Bathing in the hot springs while staring out at the mountain peaks brings a connection to nature that you can’t find anywhere else. The geothermally heated water is rich in minerals, which is believed by many people to have restorative properties.
If you’re not up for outdoor adventures, the town of Banff is quaint with numerous locally owned shops filled with a variety of handmade items and high quality goods. It’s the perfect small town for wandering and trying out the restaurants serving regional favorites and bars with local specialties.
One of the things I loved when I visited the area is the ‘Hop On Hop Off Bus’ that lets you visit all the key sights of the area without needing a car. This is literally a school bus – they turn that into a marketing advantage by highlighting that you can lower the window and capture clear pictures without the reflection of a regular bus window. The bus travels between Banff and Lake Louise with stops at Lake Moraine, Johnston Canyon, and the Lake Louise Gondola, so you can plan your day to explore the Banff National Park easily.
Lake Louise is a small village located close to its namesake lake. The village is a great place to stay if you prefer a secluded feel and a quiet atmosphere. For scale, Lake Louise has a permanent population of approximately 1,000 people while Banff has nearly 8,000.
During the summer months, the watersport activities on Lake Louise are outstanding. You can rent a canoe or kayak and explore the lake at your own pace. You can even try out a standing paddleboard and see how good you are at keeping your balance!
The Fairmont Lake Louise is perfectly positioned for a fabulous view of the lake with the mountains in the background. The day I rode the school bus Hop On Hop Off bus, I had lunch on the back deck of the Fairmont, just staring at the magnificent view – truly the most amazing scenery I had ever seen.
If you’re visiting Lake Louise during the winter months, you’ll have great opportunities to have fun with the snow and ice. Skiing is popular throughout the national park area. Lake Louise freezes over sturdily every year, so you’ll be able to skate straight across it! Dog sled tours whisk your through the mountains and give you great views of Lake Louise, as well as several other surrounding lakes and glaciers.
Regardless of the time of year you visit, the Banff and Lake Louise area is a bucket list trip with some of the most impressive sights in the world.