Have you ever traveled to a new place whose natural beauty captivated your soul? Wow, that was my impression after visiting Canada’s national parks with my girlfriend Irma in July 2019. The idea for the trip came from our love of nature and (wait for it)… social media! Don’t believe me? Just do an image search for Banff, Jasper, or Yoho National Park. After drooling over so many breathtaking images, we felt we had to see those places with our own eyes. Spoiler alert: it was totally worth it!
- 1 night in Calgary, the closest airport to all three national parks.
- 3 nights in Jasper, the closest town to Jasper National Park.
- 2 nights in Lake Louise, in between Banff and Yoho National Parks.
- 4 nights in Banff, the closest town to Banff National Park.
Canada welcomed us upon arrival at Calgary International Airport, the closest airport to Banff National Park. We spent an evening in Calgary, a cosmopolitan city in the province of Alberta, to rest from our flight and explore a few cool shops and local markets. As it turned out, Calgary has an up-and-coming food scene, so if you have an extra day to spend, we recommend checking it out!
Jasper National Park
After a good night sleep in Calgary, we were ready to start our road trip the next morning. We will forever remember the five-hour drive to the town of Jasper, making several stops along the way to take in every new breathtaking view on the scenic Icefields Parkway. We stopped at Bow Lake to have our first glance of the gorgeous water color, encountered our first wildlife sighting with a herd of mountain goats feeding nearby, admired towering glaciers in the distance, and gasped at a beautiful rainbow formed in the mist of the Athabasca Falls. Everyone should drive the Icefields Parkway, it’s one of the most beautiful drives you’ll ever see.
The alpine town of Jasper was our base to explore Jasper National Park, the largest park in the Canadian Rockies and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our first day here, we spontaneously decided to go canoeing on Beauvert Lake after breakfast, joining a flock of duckies on the water as we paddled along them in the most serene setting you can imagine. The reflecting clouds on the lake made for a magical experience for us that morning.
In the afternoon, we ventured to Maligne Lake for a leisure hike. Jasper is home to a wide variety of wildlife, and it showed as we had to bring our vehicle to a full stop on Maligne Lake Road to give way to a moose crossing the pavement. During our hike along the lake, we were accompanied by a pair of curious deers and witnessed a couple’s proposal on the water’s edge. Love was in the air.
The following day, we decided to do a day trip to the Columbia Icefield to take a closer look at the Athabasca Glacier, since glaciers are a unique attraction in the region. Little did we know that our journey there along Icefields Parkway would be more interesting than the actual destination, since we stopped multiple times on the edge of the road to watch a bear and her two cubs roam freely for wild berries. Bear cubs are the cutest things! It feels like they just want to be cuddled but you should really appreciate them from far away. Safety first, not only for you but for the animals too.
Having enjoyed Jasper National Park, our next itinerary stop was to spend a couple of nights at Lake Louise, a place that my girlfriend had been wanting to visit all her life. We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, overlooking the lake itself. It was so romantic to watch the sunrise from our window and appreciate the stillness of the place before and after the large masses of tourists descended on the lake to snap photos from every angle.
During the day, we went on a 4-hour group hike all the way up to Lake Agnes, what a workout! Our talkative hiking guide kept us laughing as he cheerfully explained the history of the place, including heartwarming stories such as the newly-mamma bear who returned with her cubs to the same cliff where she once used to play with her own mother. The view from the trail up high is spectacular, but if you’re looking for an easier hike, we suggest walking along the flat trail that borders Lake Louise, stopping at its farthest end to listen to the sounds of nature and watch chipmunks run around. Very romantic. On the way back to the hotel, you may run into a wedding ceremony like we did, with the gorgeous Victoria Glacier in the background. Hmmm, witnessing proposals and weddings on the same trip, we wondered what the universe was saying 🙂
Banff National Park
For the last few days of our trip, we relocated to Banff, a resort town in the province of Alberta, located within Banff National Park (Canada’s oldest national park established in 1885). The town of Banff felt cozy, with its main avenue filled with boutique shops and restaurants amongst chateau-style hotels. Fun fact: the town streets are named after wild animals! Let’s meet for coffee on the corner of Moose and Grizzly?? LOL.
With Banff as our new base, we first ventured to Johnston Canyon shortly after sunrise to get some exercise hiking through trails and bridges on the way to waterfalls and spring pools. In the afternoon, we drove to Lake Minnewanka hoping to try a day cruise when our plans suddenly changed after spotting a herd of bighorn sheep running across the parking lot! We decided to follow the herd as they slowly made their way south along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. Three hours flew by photographing these beautiful animals with the gorgeous lake in the background. They were so striking and interesting to watch from the safety of our vehicle, especially as the leader of the group set the pace for everyone else to continue moving or stopping to eat along the side of the road.
Throughout the trip we learned that lake colors are unique every year, and this year the most talked about color was the electric blue of Moraine Lake. We were immediately sold and determined to see it with our own eyes. Problem was that parking is very limited at that lake and typically fills up before sunrise, which was a bit too early given our driving distance. Instead, we managed to get there through public transportation, and even though it took a long time to finally arrive, we could not believe our eyes. OMG, the color was spectacular. To enjoy the view properly, you need to hike a short but steep trail to the top of a rock pile, and then just stay there to take it all in. We stayed for a long time and took many pictures. This is what we came to see. All those lake pictures you see on the internet are real indeed!
Yoho National Park
With two days left in our trip, I mentioned to Irma that I left the most exciting adventure for last… a whitewater rafting excursion along the Kicking Horse river in Yoho National Park! Still learning to be open to new adventures, she decides to come along even though deep inside she’s terrified of what could go wrong. Thankfully, we both had a lot of fun. Sure, the water was super cold, and the spins and turns in the water were sometimes terrifying, but we finished with a big smile on our faces having enjoyed the experience like a kid would. Many thanks to our high-energy boat guide from Wild Water Adventures for such a good time.
While in Yoho National Park, we made a quick visit to Takakkaw Falls, the second tallest waterfall in Canada after Niagara Falls. An easy hike on a mostly flat trail takes you all the way to the base of the fall for a very up-and-personal experience, great for some impressive photos. Finally, with a few hours left to spare, we drove to nearby Emerald Lake, which turned out to be our favorite lake, not only because of its namesake color but also because it felt less touristy. We enjoyed canoeing on the lake and walking through a wildflower field created by an avalanche earlier in the season.