If you’ve been following along on instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been away in Alberta/BC for a week driving all over the place. I wanted to share all of the things I did and my recommendations! I also listed out all of my “general” tips at the bottom!
We took an early morning flight from Toronto to Calgary and set off on a drive and hike right away. I saw someone post a photo of this hot spring with a gorgeous view, and I knew I needed to find it. After much googling, I was able to find it! It seems like people are hush hush about this spot and things like this in general because they are worried about tourists ruining it. I can definitely see where they are coming from, so don’t make me regret this! It was a very long hard hike so I also doubt that anyone will go looking for it unless they are really into hiking!
The hiking trail is called Mist Mountain and we walked 4 km on the wrong trail to begin with, which was incredibly frustrating! Though, if you follow the All Trails map exactly as marked, you should be fine. Also, the hot spring is off the trail once you go over the first pass, you’ll see orange rock to the left. That’s all I am going to give away. This entire hike was around 10 km and definitely tiring with lots of scree! Also, note there is no phone service in this area, and the whole road down to the start of the trail. Definitely download the offline google maps to your phone. This is also the case for many spots around Banff and Lake Louise!
Camp Moose Trail
The first night we stayed at the cutest “camping” site, which was more like glamping because of the bed frame, mattress, duvet, super cozy tent, wood burning hot tub, hot shower, warm cooked breakfast! Camp Moose Trail is located in Golden, B.C, about an hour from Lake Louise. That may seem far, but one thing I learned quickly about the Banff and Lake Louise are is that everything is far and requires driving! I booked this on Air BnB and it was such an amazing experience. Our host Michael and his dog Winston were amazing, Michael had the hot tub warm for our arrival with twinkling lights overhead and candles. He also made us oatmeal apple pancakes for breakfast and tea. We loved it so much and hope we can go back to visit again some day!
The second day we drove up to the Columbia Icefields, which is very far! It is in Jasper and was definitely a gorgeous drive. If you can, I’d recommend staying there for the night – due to our plans, we couldn’t do that, but since it is a few hours drive, it is worth the stay over. We didn’t book anything in advance, so the only thing we did was the sky walk, which was stunning. We had to pay to do this, but we were able to easily book it when we arrived at the centre. Also, looking back, I am glad we didn’t do the icefield adventure, it didn’t really look that exciting. Plus, you can walk over to the base of the glacier. There is a river at the base so you can’t touch it. I also learned quite a bit about the icefields when I was there. A restaurant is in the discovery centre, which we were hoping to eat at, but sadly the power went out and we couldn’t! If you only have a few days in Banff/Lake Louise, I think I would maybe skip this, just because it is a far drive!
On the way back, we stopped at Peyto Lake, which was absolutely stunning! There was a short walk up a paved hill to the lookout. Totally worth it. We did not have to pay to park or enter, which is the case for most places in the area.
Whitewater Lodge, Golden
That night we stayed at the Whitewater Lodge in Golden. It was such a cute little lodge named for the whitewater rafting business that is also located on the property. We had a really cute room, and the common areas were also so sweet. I think it must have been updated recently. There was also a hot tub overlooking the area with mountains in the background. In the morning, there was also a really cute breakfast room with a nice breakfast and communal seating.
That day we drove to Kelowna to visit with family! It was a gorgeous drive and only 4 hours from Golden. We were finding that the weather in the Banff area was very cold, 15-20C but in Kelowna it was around 30C, possibly hotter. I had it in my mind that Kelowna was very lush and green, but it was the opposite! Very dry and hot!
Hotel Eldorado, Kelowna
We stayed at the Hotel Eldorado, next to Okanagan Lake. It was a beautiful beautiful hotel. The rooms were a little small because it is quite an old hotel. I believe it is like a resort style, with many different amenities. It would be an amazing place to stay for an entire week – if you have kids they also have a cute kids water park style area. We had lunch by the lake at the hotel before taking a quick swim! I was also so tempted to rent a boat and go out on the lake. I was so jealous of all of the people launching their boats and going for a drive. I bet it would be a beautiful place for a sunset cruise.
Mission Hill Winery
We enjoyed dinner at Mission Hill Winery. It is a stunning winery that overlooks Kelowna, the lake and the mountains in the background. The building is also very unique and beautiful as well. I also loved that the restaurant was Earth to Table style, with 90% of the ingredients (I think) sourced from the Okanagan/BC region.
We only stayed in Kelowna for the one night and turned around the next day to head back to the Banff area.
We went to Lake Moraine, which I realized after, we were very lucky to be able to drive up to. It seems like most people have to take a bus up to Lake Moraine. We went around 3:30/3:45pm, when the road up was open, but when we drove past earlier, it was closed. We were really lucky! It was a gorgeous place to visit!
This night we stayed at the Georgetown Inn, Canmore. It was a cute inn with an english style pub below, which was perfect. They also leave sugar cookies in your room when you arrive! We also stayed here another night on the trip!
This was such a beautiful surprise of a place to visit. There are more details on the Banff site. You don’t need to pay to visit and there was a lot more walking than expected. I think I walked around 6-7km here alone! It is all paved, and a steady climb a lot of the way. There were beautiful waterfalls and cliffs all around. Definitely a beautiful spot to visit. There is also a gift shop with an old fashion style milkshake/soft serve ice cream shop inside!
Lake Agnes Tea House
The next day we drove up to Lake Louise. We were staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise that night, so we decided to park in the hotel parking. Though, there is other visitor parking in the area.
We did the hike up to Lake Agnes Tea house and it was surprisingly a harder hike than we expected. About 3.5-4km up to Lake Agnes, and all uphill. Considering it was pretty busy, I would have expected it was a little easier! When we finally got up to the top we realized that we didn’t have any cash on us and because it has no electricity, they don’t take card!! So, if you go remember CASH ONLY!!
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House
We did not make it to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house due to the rainy weather, but it was on our list! I think this would also been an amazing hike in the Lake Louise area. There is also a hike that goes past both Lake Agnes tea house and Plain of Six glaciers tea house! I would imagine this one is cash only as well! The hike is also quite a bit longer than the Lake Agnes hike.
When I was little, we had this plastic placemat at the cottage and it was an aerial shot of Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the beautiful blue lake behind. I always dreamed of visiting there one day, so, on my first trip out west, I decided I would treat myself to my childhood dream and stay. We also booked afternoon tea at the Lakeview Lounge. Tea was in a gorgeous restaurant, and we arrived early and asked for a window seat, and sat at the bar until it was ready. This worked out really well! The tea was nice and they were able to make a vegetarian tea for us, as many of the sandwiches had meat/fish in them. After tea we walked around the lake, and checked into the hotel. We had a really pretty room with a mountain view.
For dinner we ate at the Apline Social, which was a nice laid back restaurant in the hotel, and I had a really pretty view out to the lake. It sadly rained all night, but we still went outside to walk along the lake a little and the fire that the hotel has every evening outside. There was also thunder and lightening, which is an incredible experience when you are in the mountains because the sounds bounce and echo. The next morning we were supposed to take a sunrise canoe on Lake Louise, but we woke up at 5:45am to head out to the lake but we got a call that it was cancelled because of the rain. Slightly crushing because we had amazing weather all week, but I will go back and do it some time!
Our last real day in the mountains was raining, so we drove to Banff. There are free parking lots nearby and we walked into the centre of the town where the shops are. We walked around the shops, they were mostly typical tourist shops and shops we would see in malls in Toronto like Lululemon, Gap, Patagonia etc. After we drove to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel and had a tea and something to eat. I think I am glad I made the decision to book the high tea at the Lake Louise hotel versus the Banff Springs hotel. The hotel was really cool and old like a castle, but I think the gorgeous decor and ambiance in Lake Louise was nicer in my opinion, with a better view!
Banff Gondola and Sky Bistro
I booked the Sky Bistro in advance, as well as the Banff Gondola in advance and it was an amazing experience. Even though it was a rainy, cloudy day, Sulphur Mountain was high enough that there was still a great view. We had a reservation at 5:45, but I recommend booking 5:00 (first seating) if you want a window seat! We went up in the gondola about 45 minutes before the reservation. There is a look out area up there and a “boardwalk” to walk around with a lot to see. After dinner we walked around the learning centre area, there were lots of different areas. Plus, there was an outdoor area with a fire, and heating lamps. I bet on a clear night it would be amazing to sit out there, but it was still rainy. *There is also a deal through the Banff Gondola website for a package deal for dinner and gondola ride*
Things to know
If you are planning on staying or parking in Banff National Park you have to pay per car to visit the park, it is around $18 a day. If you are just driving through, you don’t need to pay and can drive to the right, and avoid the little payment booths/houses.
Expect to drive a lot! Like I said before, everything is spread out!
Book restaurants like Sky Bistro and Afternoon tea in advance because they were full.
Most places are free to visit!
Carry cash if you are hiking.
Carry Bear spray when hiking! Read about and respect wildlife before visiting.
Download google offline maps on the app! There were so many times we had no phone service and couldn’t load our maps!