The Beauty in Banff
Let's start by declaring my adoration for the gorgeous country of Canada. My very first adult trip alone was to Vancouver, British Columbia (post coming soon). I thought I was in love with the country before ever stepping foot there, but once I did, I realized my true passion for it.
I promptly booked another trip the following year (and the year after that) to Calgary, Alberta for a hiking excursion in Banff National Park. Colorado has always been my home away from home, because the mountains are ingrained in my soul, but Banff's scenery astounded me. Every where you look is another breathtaking view. I felt I had no choice but to write my first travel blog about the beauty in Banff.
If you find yourself looking for an unforgettable location you might not think Calgary first, but put it on your radar if it's not already there. Once you make your way to Banff, I have a few tips on the must-see lakes in this little province (and one more in BC).
First up is my favorite, Moraine Lake. This stunner is the most incredible shade of blue you've ever seen in nature. You know when people say the pictures don't do it justice? That's Moraine Lake. Once you get to this gem, make sure to take the short hike up from the parking lot for the most amazing views. I do not recommend playing American Ninja Warrior over the logs to rock climb up as I attempted. Chances are you will fall through said logs into the icy cold water and really bruise up your legs... just a suggestion! When you find your way to the top, this is the view that awaits:
These are completely unfiltered and unedited. That glacier-fed water is just waiting for you to feast you eyes upon it! There is a lodge here, but book way in advance. (This will be a common theme if you want to stay on any of the lakes in this post.) Moraine a very popular lake, so beware the parking lot as well. If there is a line of cars when you arrive, I say it's well worth the wait! Moraine is my number one must see in Banff.
Up next is the very serene, and very famous, Lake Louise. The turquoise waters are captivating in person. There's a lot to love about this little area in the Valley of Ten Peaks. Not only beautiful scenery, but overlooking the lake is the stunning Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. No matter what time of year you visit, there will be something amazing to do here.
Summer brings perfect temperatures for a hike to the Plain of Six Pines Tea House. (Fair warning: Weather in the mountains is unpredictable so always be prepared for a rain shower.) This hike is no walk in the park as some might say. It's about 11 kilometers round trip (almost 7 miles) with some steep elevation in the final switchbacks up to the top. Be prepared to take a few breaks on the way up. If you're not used to the elevation, it can certainly take it out of you. Once you get to the top, you're greeted by the very quaint Tea House. They have no running water or electricity here, so come ready with cash. (They do accept USD at 1:1 exchange in a pinch.) The staff are friendly and more happy to tell you about how they helicopter in the non-perishable supplies at the beginning of each season and how they bring the rest in by horseback or carry it in themselves weekly. The prices aren't cheap, but given the work required to make this place operate, you can't complain too much!
The hike up to the Tea House is an accomplishment in itself with plenty of little treats along the way including plenty of wildlife on a quieter day. Plan for anywhere from 4-6 hours of hiking for this trip. Gorgeous views and little waterfalls make the effort well worth your while.
And finally is a what I believe a fairly hidden gem just over the Alberta/British Colombia border in Yoho National Park. Lake O'Hara is very, very secluded. There is a bus that runs only twice a day to limit the impact on the environment. As you can imagine, tickets for this bus sell out quickly. If you miss out on the bus, you're hiking it by foot like we did. You can purchase first come, first served one-way tickets for the bus ride back down once you're at the top. Well worth the $10 to avoid the hike back down!
When we started out on this adventure to Lake O'Hara, we had no idea what we would find at the end, so it was just cross your fingers and hope it's worth it. The hike is no joke. It's 11 kilometers one way and all uphill. Much to our delight, the hike undoubtedly paid off. There are very few people here (by design) and the lodging is demure. Small cabins line the edge of this beautiful lake which I was told are booked out about a year or so in advance. Seven Veils Falls across the lake was another unexpected surprise. The Circuit hike around Lake O'Hara was only a couple miles around without much elevation change. The view from the Falls is seriously gorgeous, so I recommend making that circuit at the very least. Given our late start and the very long hike up, we were too tired and ran out of time to explore the other various trails leading to other small lakes in the area. Honestly, Lake O'Hara's views and the distinct quietness of the environment was all I needed to justify the crazy hike up.
There are so many pockets just like these tucked away in the mountains of Banff National Park. Every day leads to a new adventure. But so far, these three lakes are the ones I make sure to recommend. Each year I go back, my goal is to dig up a few more to share. Until then, happy hiking!