Exploring Banff National Park
A few weeks ago I hit the road with a girlfriend - destination: Banff. Since moving to the West Coast four years ago, I've been itching to explore Alberta, and the time had finally come! We packed up our camping essentials and hiking gear, and made our way North. From Bend, Oregon, Banff National Park is almost a 14 hour drive, so we decided to split the drive up into two days. Looking at a map, Fairmont Hot Springs stood out to me - it was directly on our route and was home to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. We arrived late in the evening, had a bite to eat and soaked in their pool-size outdoor hot tub.
The following day we arrived in Lake Louise Village - now here a few basic geographical things that I didn't quite put together until arriving: The town of Banff is about 45 minutes from Lake Louise Village. Lake Louise Village is about a 7 minute drive to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. In general, Lake Louise Village is your best starting base - it's closer to the popular destinations as well as lesser known trailheads and Yoho National Park. A tricky thing you may run into with Lake Louise Village is accommodations.
There are a few campsites in/near Lake Louise Village, but these need to be booked far in advance. When I was searching for accommodations, I couldn't find any Airbnbs in the Village, but there are quite a few hotels.
We started the trip at Peyto Lake. If you walk past the viewpoint and walk down to a dirt landing, you'll have the place all to yourself.
For our first night in the area we stayed at the Mountaineer Lodge, which is located right in Lake Louise Village. The rooms were large, fully remodeled and clean, and breakfast was complimentary the following morning. 'Pro Tip': Everyday as we would come into Lake Louise Village we would pull into the hotel parking lot and use their wifi to do last minute hike research and answer emails.
Our first full day in the area, we hiked out to Chephren Lake. The trailhead is located at the Waterfowl Lake Campground, a 30 minutes drive from Lake Louise Village. The hike was short, about 5 miles roundtrip - the majority of the trail was covered in roots, but was mostly flat. During our hike out, we saw 0 people, as we arrived at the lake we were greeted by a handful of hikers resting beside the lake. We then enjoyed sunset at Moraine Lake. 'Pro Tip #2': A local told us to arrive at Moraine Lake and/or Lake Louise before 7A and after 7P to avoid crowds and find parking in the parking lots. If you don't go in this window, you may have to drive 10 miles outside of town, park at overflow parking and wait for a shuttle to bring you to the lakes.
We spent the following few nights at the Tunnel Mountain Campground, just a short distance from the town of Banff. The camp sites were clean, they had a security truck driving around periodically, and shared showers and bathrooms in each zone.
We woke up the next morning to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake. Driving from the town of Banff, with sunrise at 6:45, meant an especially early rise time of 5:15A. Again, this was my hesitation about staying in the town of Banff when you want to enjoy sunrises and sunsets at busy sites.
During the day we hiked up to Lake Agnes Tea House, the trail begins at Lake Louise. Follow the paved path to the right of Lake Louise and as you approach the heavily forested area, you'll follow the upper dirt path and signs for the Lake Agnes Tea House. We began the hike around 10A and there were already hoards of people on the trail and at the Tea House when we finally arrived. We relaxed for a minute, took in the view and continued on to the Big Bee Hive. The steep hike up to the Big Bee Hive was all switchbacks, complete with a great view of Lake Agnes. The crowds really thin out on more difficult hikes like this one. The view from the top was incredible! From certain vantage points you can see Mirror Lake and Lake Louise almost side-by-side. Starting from Lake Louise, up to Big Bee Hive and back down is about 9 miles roundtrip.
The following afternoon we ventured over to Yoho National Park to walk around Natural Bridges and visit Emerald Lake. We brought our own kayaks to paddle around the lake, saving ourselves $60 in canoe rentals. This was probably one of our favorite adventures. The color of Emerald Lake is unlike anything I've ever seen, it's opaque, radiant emerald green is simply breathtaking. We stayed around to watch the sunset on the lake, and the crowds dispersed.
Our final night in the park, we decided to splurge a bit and stay walking distance to Lake Louise at the charming Deer Lodge. This old hotel has a great view of the mountains, tasty food, a rooftop hot tub and beautiful rooms. The next morning I woke up, bundled up, and walked the two minute walk to Lake Louise.
On our way home to Bend, we took a slight detour and headed to Joseph, Oregon, near the Wallowas. We checked into our Airbnb, at The Jennings Hotel, and settled into the communal kitchen and dining room for a late night snack. In 2014, Greg Hennes purchased the hotel, a once derelict apartment building, a landmark structure in the town of Joseph, Oregon since 1910. After years of renovations, help from supporters on Kickstarter and local artists, this hotel is bringing life to and promoting a sense of community in the quaint town of Joseph. The craftsmanship and style stole my heart immediately.
- Try to stay as close to Lake Louise Village as you can
- Get to Lake Louise and/or Moraine Lake before 7A or after 7P
- Visit The Jennings Hotel if you're in Joseph, Oregon!