If there is any place that truly sums up the dream picture of Canada, it is Banff. This place is stunning any time of year and is really popular for a reason. We headed into the rocky mountains in both the Spring and the Summer and found that both were a good time of year to visit. In early May the ski season has wrapped up, the weather has improved, the snow has started to melt, and the towns in the Rockies are significantly less busy (read cheaper as well). In the Summer the weather is hot and all the lakes are a spectacular blue, however it is a pretty busy time to visit. The drive along the Icefields Parkway into Banff is spectacular and is a must do. Mountains tower all around you and the many lakes you stop at are an impossible blue.
A popular stop to make as you first enter Banff National Park is at Lake Louise. In the Spring we expected the ice to have melted already but we were wrong, the whole lake was still frozen and the surrounding mountains completely white. It was very beautiful and fun to walk out onto the lake. In the Summer the shore line is flocked with hundreds of people, however the ice is fully melted and the vista in front of you is beautiful.
Once we arrived in Banff we immediately fell in love with the town. It’s very pretty with some gorgeous mountains making up the backdrop. The town itself is small and quaint and has many different bars and restaurants to explore. We enjoyed simply just walking around the town and visiting Banff Ave Brewing Company for some good beers.
There are a lot of hikes to do around the area, however a lot of them are still covered in too much snow in the Spring. So in the Spring we opted to visit Sundance Canyon as we hoped the low elevation would mean less snow and ice. This was partially true, we were able to walk a good hunk of the track before finding our footwear inappropriate. Nevertheless, it is absolutely stunning with clear, bright blue lakes and stark white mountains. I highly recommend it if you’re in the area.
While visiting in the Summer we were a bit pressed for time so opted for the short (2.5km return) Johnston Canyon hike. It is a pleasant walk, however, can get pretty busy so go really early in the morning.
Taking a drive around the outskirts of Banff is also a great way to see the area. There are many viewpoints to pull off at in order to stare down valleys and ogle at the most beautiful sights you have ever seen. There are endless spots and roads to explore and I wish we had an extra day to simply just drive around.
A particularly good drive to do in Banff is along the Bow Valley Highway which runs parallel to the main highway up to Lake Louise. We were told this was a good place to spot wildlife and we managed to see both Bighorn Sheep and Elk!
While in Banff a visit to the famous Banff Upper Hot Springs is pretty fun. It offers spectacular views of Mount Rundle while you soak and relax your evening away. It also only costs NZ$10 so it is a really cheap activity to do while you are in town.
In the Summer it is definitely worth going for a swim in one of the many lakes near Banff. We visited both Lake Minnewanka and Lake Johnson. We thought Lake Johnson was better for swimming.
A neat side-trip while in Banff is to visit Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park (only a couple of hours away). It is a beautiful lake and significantly less busy than Lake Louise. You can also do a big hike around the lake while you’re there.
We only had two nights in Banff due to work restrictions but we felt that it was enough time to give us a good taste of the Canadian Rockies. Going in the Spring really cuts down costs – unless you want to prioritise skiing of course! In the Spring we stayed at motels which were pretty reasonably priced, however there is a great hostel in the town which looked fun. In the Summer we camped at the Two Jack Main Campground which I highly recommend and is really cheap. Food and drinks can be about expensive as you want it to be, but there are a lot of cheap options around if you’re on a budget. Activity wise, the hiking is free and the hot springs are cheap so you don’t have to spend much on that. Excluding accommodation and transport, we spent about NZ$90 (US$60) for two people per day.