Places that are the most “Instagrammable” are that way for a reason: because they are breathtaking in real life and draw admirers. We traveled to Banff in late September to see the striking turquoise colors of Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. It was our one-year-old’s first international vacation and our longest trip with him to date. This is a great trip to do if you’re traveling with a little one – there is plenty to do and you can move around on your own schedule. Also, September is a great time of year to visit the area because the weather has cooled off. There’s a lot of see in Banff and we barely scratched the surface, but if you only have a few days, we thought our itinerary worked perfectly!
Our first stop when arriving in Calgary was to pick up a hiking backpack that we rented for the trip from Little Traveler. Cheryl could not have been easier to work with in advance and was so sweet. However, the backpack we received definitely wasn’t the one pictured on the website and did not have a sun/storm hood which would have been helpful with the snow we experienced. I don’t think it was the most comfortable model (for baby and for dad) and certainly is not one that we would purchase ourselves. If you rent from the company, it might be worth asking specific questions about the model before you rent gear.
After picking up the backpack, we drove from Calgary to Dead Man’s Flat to spend the night at Yamnuska Suites in Dead Man’s Flat. Our room was very comfortable and the location is convenient to the town of Canmore. However, the hotel has no front desk and no keys since guests enter their room by a code that is supposed to be sent in advance. There is no way to reach any staff members without calling internationally. We hadn’t received a code (and didn’t know we should have) and hadn’t paid for an international plan so ended up having to eat international charges to call the office to find out the code to get into our room. It wasn’t a huge deal, but would have been nice to know in advance.
Once we got settled in our room, we drove to Canmore for dinner at Blake. The restaurant felt brand-new and everything we ordered was delicious. We shared a selection of plates including pork dumplings, meatballs, and cacio e pepe ramen. The great thing about traveling with a one-year-old is they can eat what you eat so you don’t have to pack much food. We always had emergency snacks on hand, but he had fun trying new foods during our vacation!
We spent our first morning in Canada near the town of Banff. We stopped at the Visitor Center to get information on local hikes and to use the bathrooms. The Visitor Center has great public bathrooms if you’re in need while in town! We decided to hike the Tunnel Mountain Trail to its 5500 foot peak, which rewards hikers with fantastic views of Banff and Rundle Mountain. The trail is about 2.7 miles and a 2 hr return. I’ve read it can get crowded during the high season, but it wasn’t very busy for us.
We worked up an appetite from the hike and stopped for lunch at Eddie’s Burger Bar in downtown Banff. Eddie’s is a casual restaurant with unique burgers. I recommend the Rocky Mountain (elk) Burger with a side of poutine. For dessert, walk down the street to get a half Triple Trip (chocolate, peanut butter, and Reese’s Pieces) and half Bananarama (nutella and banana) Beaver Tail, a Canadian donut dessert that I need more often in my life (hint to Beaver Tails – come to Florida!).
After lunch, we browsed some of the downtown shops and picked up some new gear for our trip at Smartwool. I can’t seem to get enough of that store – their items are warm but light and most importantly, not itchy!
On our way out of town, we drove to the Bow Falls Viewpoint and the Noroquay Viewpoint. Both are quick stops that are not far out of the way. They are definitely worth the detour. At Noroquay, we happened upon a large herd of bighorn sheep in the middle of the road. It was so cool because I’ve only seen bighorn sheep from far away when they are high up in the mountains!
We drove farther into Banff National Park to see Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. We found that by late afternoon, the heavy crowds had dissipated and we were able to easily find parking and walk along the lakes without thousands of people around. It’s worth noting, however, that we visited in late September in the shoulder season, so it was less busy than it would be in peak season.
After we left the lakes, we checked into our hotel for the next few days- the Lake Louise Inn. The Lake Louise Inn was a great place to stay for a few days. The rooms were comfortable, there are amenities like a pool and laundry facilities, and there are a few restaurants available on property. The resort also offers board games, outdoor games, and complimentary bike and snowshoe rentals seasonally. While at the resort, we ate sandwiches at the Explorer’s Lounge and had pizza at the Timberwolf pizza cafe. We also got boxed lunches from the small market attached to Legends.
On our second day in the park, we drove part of the Icefields Parkway before doing two hikes at Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. It was very snowy that day so visibility was low, especially as we gained altitude. Because of the conditions, we decided to stay near the lakes where it was a bit warmer and not as snowy.
Our first hike was to the Lake Agnes Tea House from Lake Louise. I highly recommend this 4.4 mile round-trip hike. Although Lake Louise is obscured for much of the hike, it appears bright turquoise when you can see it through the trees. Along the trail, you’ll see the beautiful Mirror Lake, which was made even more magical by the fresh snowfall. The hike ends with a steep staircase up to the teahouse. The teahouse was quite crowded when we arrived but we managed to get a table outside. We ordered alpine meadows berry tea and chamomile tea and shared some biscuits.
Next, we drove to Lake Moraine to hike up the rock pile. The views of the lake and forest are fantastic. It’s a very short walk and we got some beautiful pictures of our family.
On our third day, we drove part of the Icefields Parkway again, this time with sunshine. We stopped at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, and Hector Lake for photos. We tried to hike at Peyto Lake, but the trail was extremely icy from the snow the day before so we didn’t make it far before turning around.
Instead we did part of the hike to Bow Glacier Falls. There is a great little cafe and gift shop at the trailhead if you need snacks or souvenirs.
We ended our trip with a quick stop in Yoho National Park to see Emerald Lake, which was as green as advertised by the name! To get there, you actually cross into British Columbia, so now we can check another Canadian province off of our list.
That’s it for our time in Banff! After a quick stop to see the famous hoodoos on our way back through Banff, we flew off to Seattle for the next portion of our vacation. While going through customs and immigration (preclearance) at the Calgary airport, we got our global entry cards. Although we had received emails about being able to get it done in Calgary, we did have a bit of difficulty convincing the staff this was something that could be done. Finally we spoke with a U.S. Customs Officer who was familiar with what we were talking about and he took care of it for us. All’s well that ends well!
Thanks for reading. Check back soon to hear about our time in Seattle and Olympic National Park!
Where to Stay
Lake Louise Inn, 210 Village Rd, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0
Yamnuska Suites, 250-300 2 Ave, Bighorn No. 8, AB
Where to Eat
Blake, 810 Bow Valley Trail, Canmore, AB T1W 1N6
Eddie’s Burger Bar, 137 Banff Ave #6, Banff, AB T1L 1B7
Beaver Tails, 120 Banff Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1E7