Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada is an absolute must-see for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. The vibrant turquoise waters, towering mountains, and endless forests filled with wildlife are the main draws here that attract not only Canadians but visitors from around the world.
Visiting Banff National Park
Like many other major attractions, Banff National Park has tour operators and some public transportation. However, if you really want to take in the Banff attractions and scenery, driving is the way to go. So whether you plan on driving up from somewhere else in Canada or the USA, or rent a car from Calgary airport, here are five reasons why you should plan a road trip through Banff.
1. Skip the Crowds at the Main Attractions
Getting up early for the main attractions including Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and the Banff Gondola not only allow you to skip the crowds, but are also some of the best times for lighting when it comes to photography.
The Banff Gondola isn’t too far from downtown Banff (a 10-minute drive), however Banff to Lake Louise is between 45 minutes to an hour, and Moraine Lake is another twenty minutes past that. The lakes open at sunrise, so drivers will want to be there between 7 am and 8 am to get parking spots and take photos before the tour buses arrive.
The Banff Gondola opens at 8 am in the summer so your best bet is to get there early (8 am – 8:30 am were quiet during my visit) to avoid waiting in line for the gondola, and skip the crowds at the top. Just make sure to book your Banff Gondola ticket in advance.
2. Save some Money by Staying Outside of Banff Town
Hotels in Banff town proper can get pretty pricey, but if you rent a car or have your own vehicle, there’s no need to stay right in the city centre. Stay a bit outside and drive in when you want or need to help cut down on accommodation costs. Having your own vehicle can also be helpful during high tourist season when accommodation books up really quickly. If everything in Banff is booked up, you can stay in the nearby Canmore, which is only a 25-minute drive away.
3. Get Off the Beaten Track
If you were to say ‘Banff’ to anybody, the first thing they picture is probably Lake Louise, followed by Moraine Lake. While both of these lakes are stunning and absolutely worth a visit, they aren’t the only beautiful lakes in Banff National Park. Doing a road trip through Banff allows you to visit several, quieter lakes in the area such as Lake Minnewanka, Bow Lake, the Emerald Lakes, Waterfowl Lakes, and even the Vermillion Lakes which are just minutes outside of Banff town and offer beautiful sunrise and sunset viewing.
The same goes for gondolas. Banff Gondola is the best known as it is right in the city centre, but there are three other options all offering equally amazing views with significantly smaller crowds. For Banff alternatives, head to the Mt Norquay chairlift. When visiting Lake Louise, take the trip to the nearby Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola. Or, for gorgeous views over the Rocky Mountains try the Banff Sunshine Sightseeing Gondola.
4. More Hiking Opportunities
One of the highlights of visiting Banff National Park are all the beautiful hikes that are available in the area. From smaller one hour hikes to multi-day treks, there is something for everyone. Without a car, you are limited to routes by Banff town or Lake Louise, but for those who are doing a road trip through Banff; there are so many more options. Try Johnston Canyon, the trails around Peyto Lake, or Sundance Canyon to name a few.
5. Take in Banff’s Scenery
Perhaps the best reason to take any road trip is for the scenery and the ability to stop along the way to enjoy and take it in. There is no better place to do this than Banff National Park. The Rocky Mountains, scattered lakes, and forests make for some incredible scenery, and there are lots of photo opportunities. Be sure to take a drive up the Icefields Parkway. It is one of the most beautiful drives in Canada, where you can expect to see more lakes and mountains along with waterfalls and glaciers.
Another must is to get off the highway and rely on some of the smaller roads instead. While it may be slower, this is one of your best chances to see some of Banff’s famous wildlife. While moose and bears may not be as common as some people think, there are plenty of elk and deer to be seen when taking the roads less travelled.
Banff National Park is absolutely stunning and should be on every nature lover’s bucket list. However, to really get the most out of your Banff vacation, the best way to see this Canadian gem is to do it by car. You won’t regret a road trip through Banff.