After all the hiking and scenery I saw in Alberta, Canada, California just doesn’t have the same appeal to me. So sad.
If you are into hiking and the outdoors, Jasper National Park and Banff National Park should absolutely be toward the top of your bucket list.
I had been wanting to go for a while and had no idea what I was missing out on. I feel very fortunate to have gone and hope you one day get to go as well! Save for a bear attacking you, you will not regret it!!
Here is my trip report on the second half of my Jasper National Park and Banff National Park and trip.
This trip showed me some of the most beautiful and majestic scenery I’ve ever seen. The lakes and mountains are so easy to access, its amazing!! And the best thing was that the crowds were pretty minimal on most of the trails we hiked! Always a good thing, at least as long as you don’t run into any bears !
Going down the grid of photos below is essentially the order of the places that we stopped at. Going North to South, from Jasper town through the Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise and ultimately Banff town.
For the second part of our trip, we used Canmore as our base and drove out to the surrounding areas each day. It wasn’t too bad, but looking back, Lake Louise might be a more central place. That of course depends on the hikes and activities you want to do. For me it was primarily hiking. Read on for more on our experiences there!
Icefields Parkway and Banff National Park Hiking
Out of all the trails we hiked I can say what my favorites were-
- Consolation lakes
- This trailhead starts out of the Moraine Lake lot. It is as easy as it gets. For the most part flat, maybe 100 feet elevations gain/loss MAX. The lake at the end of the trail was beautiful. I liked how there were multiple streams and trees scattered in front of the lake and boulders to the right. Those unique aspects made this my favorite hike of the trip.
- Larch valley
- I was really looking forward to do this trail. This was also out of the Moraine Lake area. I read that the larch trees turn a pretty yellow color in September, but I think we were a couple weeks too early. So not many of the trees had changed color yet. Plus, there was light snow falling intermittently and the visibility of the surrounding mountains was poor. On a clear day you would be able to see 10 mountain peaks surrounding you. How epic would that have been!!
- Parker Ridge
- This was a relatively easy trail, minimal elevation gain and very quick access to some epic scenery. You have full view of a valley and the Saskatchewan Glacier. As you get closer to the end of the trail you walk precariously on the side of a narrow ridge. It’s kind of sketch, but totally worth it
- Wilcox Pass
- We came here twice. The first day we planned to hike, the weather was horrible. Sleet and snow with very poor visibility. We left sadly thinking that we wouldn’t come back up and make the hike this trip. But as the weather improved later in the week, we decided to drive back up and do it. This gives you a nice view of the Columbia Icefield Glacier from above. Also an easy hike with quick access to vast mountain ranges and snow covered peaks.
- Plain of 6 Glaciers
- this was our first major hike. It was great to hit the trail after all the driving, sitting and travel. The weather could have been better but we made it to the top before the clouds came in and obscured the glaciers. There wasn’t any sign indicating that you made it to the viewpoint. So we kept hiking until we didn’t see any discernible trail. That is where I took the shot below.
My least favorite trails were:
- Lake Agnes
- This was the most crowded trail we hiked. It’s easy to access as the trail starts right at Lake Louise and its a short hike that is partly paved. The teahouse on top is a tourist magnet. Once you reach the lake, there isn’t much space to spread everyone out. So while it was a nice lake, the crowds at the adjacent teahouse detracted from the beauty of it. I guess if you go very early or toward dusk, it might be less crowded and more scenic.
- Ink Pots
- I might have had too high of expectations for this trail. The first part was nice as you hike parallel to Johnston canyon. I thought it was more scenic and less touristy than Maligne Canyon. So if you like Canyons go to Johnston rather than Maligne. After you hike out of the canyon, you are in mostly covered forest.
- Going to Ink Pots, it felt like it took forever to get there. When we finally got there, there were a handful of lightly colored pools with some bubbles in them. So, not exactly exciting. But the valley that you get to see once there was pretty cool. Overall not exactly a trail I would recommend unless you have extra time that you don’t know what to do with.
- Bourgeau Lake
- This hike did not start well as we missed the turn off for the parking lot of the trail. There was a sign that we saw indicating it was coming up, but no actual sign saying to turn or this is where you go! So we had to drive an extra 15 minutes or so and make a U at the next exit.
- This was by far the steepest and most strenuous trail we hiked. It did not help that we got a late start and hiked the last part of the trail in the complete dark. As we knew it might be dark by the time we got back, we packed our headlamps. But the work/reward ratio for the trail just wasn’t worth it. So if you are considering this one, I’d cover the above trails first. The views at the top of the trail just didn’t do it for me.
There were also a handful of short trails we did, but these were the highlights. Both good and bad.
Overall, for the 9 days we spent there, the weather wasn’t exactly the best, but it wasn’t horrible either. The best thing about the crappy weather was that the temperatures were cool (30-40F). So despite all the long distances we covered hiking, we didn’t break a sweat!
Icefields Parkway food vs Banff Town food
In terms of food, the absolute worst food we had was at the Columbia Icefield Visitor center. If you can, I would try to avoid eating here.
It’s a classic case of overpriced cafeteria style quality and portions. No focus or attempt at making quality or gourmet. It’s there for tourists. It’s the bare minimum and is passable. And there are no alternative and there are busloads of tourists, so no incentive to change or improve.
On the flipside, the best food naturally was in Banff town.
Banff town offered the most choices with different cuisines and options. The best place we ate at was Indian Curry House. We went there twice and ate it almost every day of our trip. The second time we went, we ordered enough for 6 people and thus had leftovers. But the leftovers were great! So if you get a chance I would recommend trying that place out!
There was also a farmer’s market on Wednesday that had a good selection of local fruit and vegetables. I would recommend stopping there if you happen to be in town.
On our last day, we ended up getting poutine first thing in the morning on our way to Calgary. La Belle Patate is located in Canmore. It was pretty busy first thing on a Sunday morning, surprisingly. The fries were thick and crisp, meat was well flavored and overall it was savory without being overly salty. A solid choice for our last meal there.
I think the window for good weather is relatively short mid-July through early-September. So next time I come back (and I cant wait) would be in the Summer. I think I will also plan on doing one of the longer trails as a backpack as well. I’m sure there is some epic backcountry I haven’t seen yet.
NOTE – If you are planning to visit the Jasper National Park or Banff National Park areas, note that for the remainder of 2016 and all of 2017 there are no admission fees!! See this Travel and Leisure article!