November 15, 2019

Beautiful Banff

It’s been a little over two months since my trip up to Banff with my sisters Mel & Rachel – which was the first proper vacation my sisters and I have taken where it was just the three of us. I’ll admit that I’d always admired Banff as the most famous photos of the place include beautiful natural scenery, but it never was a personal top priority for a travel destination. After this trip, I’ve wholeheartedly changed my tune because it’s one of the few places in the world that gives me a wonderful, magical, inspiring feeling and I would happily go back for another visit. Even though this post is coming belatedly, I decided I still wanted to share about the trip – both for my benefit when I look back at this year and for the benefit of others who might want to visit Banff themselves. 

[As a special note, anything I particularly loved during our trip is marked with a heart – it’s something I’d personally recommend taking the time to do if you’re planning to go to Ireland. I’m happy to answer any more questions if you’ve got them, so feel free to leave a comment or reach out via email or DM on Twitter or Instagram!] 

Banff Travel Tip #1: Always check the weather forecast. It is constantly changing in Banff (seriously, a day could go from sunny to rainy and back again without warning), and it also varies depending on which area you’re in. 
  • Tim Hortons – I was told prior to my trip that I had to get an iced capp when I visited. I’m glad I listened because I really enjoyed the drink, along with the TimBits and the sandwich we got for our drive from the airport in Calgary up to Banff. 
  • Melissa’s Missteak – We picked this as our first lunch spot for two reasons: we wanted comfort food and the name. It was a pleasure to warm up indoors, as the restaurant has a cozy cabin feel (though it was a bit dim for my liking). We decided to share the New York strip and the Chorizo Benny (which were both delicious and perfectly satisfied our hunger after traveling all morning into the early afternoon), accompanied by pots of tea to warm our insides. 
  • Bow Falls Viewpoint – This spot was our first taste of the natural views Banff has to offer! We enjoyed it despite the fog and the rain, as it really felt like we had arrived in the place we’d all been eager to get to. Observing the flowing river, dark trees and mountain silhouettes and walking along the pebbled riverside path for a little while was lovely. 
  • Lake Louise – We arrived while the sky was still dark so we could park close to the lakeside. The sunrise view would have been incredible if it hadn’t been a gray morning, but we did get to see it in full color when we arrived post-hike. (A fair warning – plenty of photographers and videographers gather to capture the sunrise so you’ll be hard-pressed to get a spot if you arrive later.) 

Banff Travel Tip #2: Pack smart. Since the weather is unpredictable, it’s best to have layers that are easy to adjust during the day to prevent you from overheating or freezing. It’s also recommended to have shoes that will be comfortable after lots of walking, as well as waterproof. 
  • Lake Agnes Trail (including Mirror Lake) – I never ever thought I’d say this, but I really loved this hike! It’s a clear path that tackles the mountainous area near Lake Louise, marked with signs and populated with other hikers, so you never feel too isolated. There are a few highlight spots to see along the way, including Mirror Lake, as well as a couple of inclines to tackle. I’m not a seasoned hiker, but I didn’t think the path was overly difficult to walk at all. (Side note - wearing hiking boots or sneakers with proper tread is highly recommended, as the path can be slippery with mud.) 
  • Lake Agnes Teahouse – I can honestly say that this was one of my favorite meals of the entire trip! It’s simple fare that satisfies the hunger patrons will feel after their hike up. While we didn’t get to see the lake too clearly because of the weather, we still enjoyed ourselves. Apart from having some of their local tea, we shared a tuna salad sandwich on their homemade oatmeal brown bread, chowder, chocolate cake and tea biscuits with jam. (Two things to remember: 1) seating space indoors and outdoors is limited and 2) this is a cash only spot.) 
  • Lake Louise Station Restaurant – After hiking back down the trail, we were hungry again and wanted to find a lunch spot nearby. Intrigued by the notion of a restaurant in a train station, we decided on this place. The actual restaurant also has a cozy cabin ambience albeit with additional fancy touches. We ordered the Station Beef Stew (two thumbs up), Station Mac and Cheese (nothing special, but comfort food) and Rocky Mountain poutine with duck (I do love poutine). 
  • Peyto Lake Viewpoint and Bow Summit – It was raining when we visited, but that didn’t diminish the experience of this view. It was so cool to the incredibly vivid colors of this lake, particularly against the backdrop of dark mountains and trees; it was a lot like seeing a postcard in real life! 
  • Bow Lake – Once of the best things about visiting Banff is being inspired to detour to stop at different spots while you’re on the road. We pulled over to walk the path lakeside on a whim, and it was lovely! The skies went from overcast to bright during our time there, and the ground was a bit slippery with the wet and the mud, but we had a lovely time contemplating all the views and stretching our legs. 

Banff Travel Tip #3: Rent a car. There are so many different places to visit in Banff and the surrounding areas. Because the distances between them are rather large, it’s highly recommended to have your own vehicle. It’ll also allow you to control your schedule and store extra stuff (clothes and snacks, etc). The only difficulty would be in finding convenient parking spots, but with enough patience, that task is surmountable. 
  • COWS – Would it really be a trip that involved me and Rachel if we didn’t have ice cream somewhere? There was a rather long line for this place, but it was worth the wait for sure. I had a scoop of PEI Strawberry and PEI Apple Crisp on a cone, and I’m still thinking about it now. (Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, I was inspired to pick up the fruity flavors because of PEI. Because PEI makes me think of Anne of Green Gables.) 
  • Beaver Tails – I was also instructed to try a beaver tail at least once while we were in Canada, so Mel snagged us one that had Nutella and banana. It was tasty and perfect for sharing, but nothing too special, in my humble opinion as someone who likes dessert. 
  • Vermilion Lakes – We all love sunsets (and sunrises), so we looked for a place where we could watch it. We went to this lake two times for the sunset (joined by a decent amount of other people), once on an overcast day and once on a sunny day. Both were beautiful experiences, but there was a more stunning array of distinctive colors in the sky on the sunnier day. 
  • Horseshoe Canyon (along Bow River) – If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know I’m adventurous but not necessarily when it comes to active adventures like, let’s say, whitewater rafting. Mel convinced me to accompany her for this experience, and I’m so glad she did! We booked with Chinook Rafting, who were very professional, personable and excellent at keeping everyone comfortable with rafting and its particulars. Equipment (wetsuits, jackets, helmets, boots) was provided, and I can report that they keep the body warm while the water splashes you during your rafting experience and if you decide to make the cliff jump. It was seriously so much fun, and I would do it again! 

Banff Travel Tip #4: Get a Banff National Park pass online if you’ve rented a car. This is a requirement for your visit and must be present in your vehicle. Mel got hers online beforehand, which meant we didn’t have to wait in a long car line to grab it as we entered the national park and just sped on through. 
  • Park Distillery – For our last sit-down meal of the trip, we ended up here and it was a winner! The interior is inviting with its light woods and open areas to eat, and you can go on a tour of the actual distillery should you so wish. We ordered the Park Burger, the Blu Dog (which I truly enjoyed) and the Tagliatelle, and I can highly recommend paying a visit to this spot if you’re ever in Banff. 
  • Emerald Lake – This wasn’t originally on our agenda, but we ended up visiting on a whim – and it was one of the best parts of the trip. The lake and its surroundings are incredibly beautiful, painted in vivid colors that really stood out with the bright sunshine and blue skies of the afternoon we went. We ended up renting a canoe and rowing out into the lake for an hour or so, which turned out to be a lot of fun! 
  • Moraine Lake – This was probably the place we were all greatly anticipating seeing in person during this trip, and we were not disappointed. We arrived before the sunrise and managed to clamber up onto the Rockpile (yes, there were mild shenanigans involving balancing across fallen logs that I couldn’t do particularly well, and I recommend being very careful if you make your own way up there versus taking the actual path that exists… which we didn’t discover till after we’d climbed) that is on one side of the lake just in time to see the sun peek over the peaks. We ended up renting a canoe yet again, and it was another magical experience because everywhere we looked, we were surrounded by incredible natural views. (A thing to note: You need to leave very early if you want to get a parking spot right by this lake because the actual parking lot is small. You do have the option of parking farther away and riding a shuttle to the lake, but that means you’re at the mercy of the shuttle schedule.) 
  • Johnston Canyon Trail – Determined to make the most of our last day, even if it wasn’t a full one), we walked this trail until we got to the first waterfall (which is the smaller one). This was a fun trail experience, as it involves constructed walkways, rock formations and lovely views of the river along the way. 

I probably sound like a broken record since I kept waxing poetic in this post about how incredible the natural views were, how vivid the colors and how lovely the experience. But, to be frank, that’s precisely how I felt about many of the places we visited on this trip. And, honestly, visiting Banff was a wonderful experience, a surprise as I’d had no expectations going into it except having a good time with my sisters – which, in the end, was the best part of this entire vacation. I loved Banff, I loved spending so much time with two of the people who know me best in the world and I definitely want to go back for another visit one day.

Check out the video Rachel made to chronicle our trip!


  1. The views from your Ireland trip are breathtaking! I loved seeing all of the photos as you posted them on instagram, but it's even better to see them rounded up here!


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