A few weeks ago, my partner, Tavis, and I travelled to Banff National Park for my friend Mikaela’s wedding. We spent an incredible three days exploring the turquoise-tinted lakes, tree-covered mountains and town of Banff.
Once upon a time, Mikaela and I travelled to Europe together. We worked at a festival in Scotland and lived with her aunt in Horsham, England. If you know me, you know that was an extremely difficult time of my life. Nine years later, I was ecstatic to celebrate her marriage to an awesome dude.
Tavis had never been to Banff, so it was a great opportunity for me to show off Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. It also just happened to land on the weekend of our three-year anniversary—so we took Friday to Sunday for a getaway to the mountains.
Flair Airlines now offers budget flights from Vancouver. For a roundtrip flight to Calgary, I paid $150 total. (The flight itself was only half the cost; Flair charges for carry-on bags and seat selection—even water isn’t free on the plane.)
I had replenished enough of my Aeroplan points since my trip to Europe last May to book a car rental with Budget. I’ve heard it’s more worthwhile to save your points for flights, but we wanted a car rental and didn’t want to cough up $300+.
Getting the car was a bit of a mission. Car rental services, like used cars salesmen, always want to upgrade you. At first, we were told our car wasn’t available; after we refused to pay for an upgrade or wait, it magically appeared in the garage. Finally, we had a Toyota Corolla and a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Banff in front of us.
We left Calgary and drove along a construction-laden highway to Banff. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a herd of caribou, led by a massive buck so regal I thought he was a statue.
We stayed at a quaint AirBnb for our first night. Located in town near the Bow River, it appeared to be an old house converted into lodging. The room wasn’t huge or modern, but it was fine for us. In the morning, we enjoyed a free breakfast of fruit, yogurt, boiled eggs, sausage and bacon.
I took my coffee to-go because we wanted to get to Lake Louise before the parking lot filled up. On summer weekends, this can be as early as 3 a.m. We rolled into the upper lot at 9:10 a.m., grabbing one of the last available spots and paying $12.25 to park for the entire day.
Lake Louise is stunning. Even though I’ve seen it before, when I caught a glimpse of the milky-blue turquoise water framed by glacier-topped mountains, I gasped. We walked onto the paved pathway that stretches across the shoreline to take pictures.
But the lake wasn’t our main destination. Nope, we were going farther—hiking a 3.5-kilometre trail with 400 metres of elevation gain to the Lake Agnes Tea House.
When I was 20 years old, I thought I might spend a summer working at the Tea House. Seasonal employees live in the Tea House, hiking in and out every few days to replenish supplies and take time off. There’s no electricity or running water.
At the time, I was working at Pioneer Ranch Camps in Rocky Mountain House. I attempted to trek to the Tea House in late May, only to be turned around by avalanches and dangerous post-holing through deep snow that covered the trail.
Ten years later, I was excited to finally make it to the Tea House.
The mountain-top café did not disappoint. After a relatively difficult climb through forested switchbacks, we arrived at deep, teal-tinted Lake Agnes. Mountains sharply rose behind the glacial lake. The log cabin, restored in 1981, was a welcome respite from sparse drops of rain. We ordered a soup and sandwich to share, sipped our tea and hot chocolate, and enjoyed the rustic ambience.
Later that day, we drove a small section of the Icefields Parkway. It was exciting to be on the most beautiful highway in Canada. Mountains housing thick glaciers on their roofs were visible from the road. Our destination was Peyto Lake.
Wolves are my favourite animal, so Peyto Lake was a must-see for me. If you didn’t know, the majestic, true-blue water—spotted with teal from shadows of the shifting clouds—is shaped like a wolf’s head.
This parking lot was significantly emptier, and parking was free. The path to Peyto Lake is paved, but it was surprisingly steep. After our morning hike, our legs burned while trekking the short distance to the viewing platform. But it was so worth it.
Happily full of stunning views, we retreated to the rental car and made a spontaneous decision to head to Banff Hot Springs. We couldn’t check into our next accommodation yet and our dinner reservations weren’t for another two hours, so we had some time to soak away our hiking aches and pains.
Banff Hot Springs steam with naturally heated water, but the ‘springs’ is more of a generic outdoor pool. Ledges line the side where you can sit and relax, but kids still splash around. It started raining harder while we sat in the mineral bath, obscuring our view of the mountain, but thinning out the crowd considerably. For only $8 each, it was a worthy pit-stop.
Dinner that night was a special treat: we dined at Banff’s oldest steakhouse. We each ordered an 18-ounce steak, cooked to perfection. It was divine (and very expensive).
The next day, we woke up ready to explore Banff. I drank a delicious latte and ate a warm chocolate croissant from a local café for breakfast. We shopped on Banff Ave, purchasing matching sweaters, before returning to the hotel to get ready for the wedding.
Mikaela and Mackenzie’s wedding ceremony was beautiful. Behind the circular arch, we could see slate-grey mountains. The sky was blue, though the blowing wind was chilly. After the ceremony, we danced, drank, ate and celebrated the newlyweds in a beautiful ski lodge. Congratulations, Mik and Mac!
On our last day, we really wanted to see Moraine Lake. A friend told us about a shuttle to book in advance. Luckily, we found an open spot at noon.
We parked in the Lake Louise Ski Resort parking lot, and I was hit with fond memories of a ski trip with my dad. The shuttle was easy to locate, and uncomplicated to get on. We paid about $8 each for the roundtrip transportation.
It’s impossible to describe the surrealness of Moraine Lake. There’s a good reason the parking lot is almost always full. It’s known as the jewel of the Rockies.
The best view of Moraine Lake is up a rocky staircase close to the car park. This is called the Rockpile Trail, and it only takes five to ten minutes to ascend. From there, the unreal Gatorade-blue hues of the lake were intensified, and the striking mountains in the back came to life. We watched as bright red canoes floated through the calm water. We considered renting one, but our jaws dropped when we saw the price: $130 for an hour.
Back at the parking lot, we said our final goodbyes to Banff and left for the Calgary airport. All in all, it was an incredible three-day vacation to one of the prettiest parts of Canada.
Have you been to Banff?