When I first moved to Seattle, I started following a ton of Pacific Northwest-based photographers on instagram. While obviously most of their photos were of places like Olympic National Park and the Oregon Coast, there were also some amazing pictures of places outside of the PNW. And the one place that it seemed like everyone loved more than any other was Alberta, Canada. I must’ve spent hours looking at photographs of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, the Icefields Parkway, and more, and visiting Alberta—particularly Banff National Park—rose higher and higher on my bucket list.
A few weeks ago, Steve and I made the trip happen. We rented a car, made the 9-ish hour drive from Vancouver, and spent four nights camping in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Day One was mostly taken up by the drive out. We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls (near Harrison, about an hour and a half from Vancouver), and took the short hike up to see the waterfalls. After another stop later on in Kamloops for lunch, we continued on the rest of the way and reached our campsite at Tunnel Mountain Village 1 around 10pm local time. We were too tired to do much more than set up our tent and go to bed, but that was okay because we knew we had big days ahead of us.
Day Two we didn’t get up as early as I would have liked, so it was already quite crowded at Lake Louise by the time we reached it. We got lucky and found a parking space in the main lot just as another car was leaving. After taking a look at the lake and being amazed at the blueness of the water, caused by glaciers grinding rock into a fine “flour” that floats in the lakes below, we began the ~14km hike up around the lake to get a better look at the Victoria Glacier.
Though we were quite tired from the hike, we got back in the car and continued on another 20 minutes to Moraine Lake. We had no plans to miss it, but if you go to Banff and find yourself thinking “a lake is a lake,” don’t. The water of Moraine was even bluer than that of Louise, and a short climb up a nearby rock pile led to an incredible view of the mountains around it.
Satisfied and exhausted, we headed back to our campsite. Steve had gotten a camp stove earlier this year that we’d yet to try out, so we cooked up some soup and then had a campfire (with roasted marshmallows, of course).
On Day Three we got up super early because we had reservations for 8:45am. Not at breakfast, but on the Kicking Horse River to go whitewater rafting. We went with Wild Water Adventures (highly recommended!) on the Whitewater Exciter, which involved about an hour and a half of Class II to IV rapids. Don’t worry, they cover you head to toe in wetsuits and neoprene to keep you (semi-)warm.
In the afternoon, we decided to check out the town of Banff. Unfortunately, it rained, but it gave us the excuse to spend plenty of time at the Banff Ave. Brewing Co., a craft brewery downtown with delicious food and a pretty great selection of beers. At night, it was campfire time once again, and yes, we roasted more marshmallows.
Day Four was our final day in Banff, so we wanted to see as much as we could. We began with Johnston Canyon. Although it was far more crowded and felt more touristy than even Lake Louise, waterfalls are my favorite natural formation and this little hike had seven of them feeding into the river that carved through the rocks.
Then we made our way up north until we reached the start of the Icefields Parkway. Called one of the most scenic drives in the world, it was easy to see why. Every few kilometers we would pull over to the side of the road to take a closer look at a beautiful lake, an amazing glacier. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to drive all the way up to Jasper National Park for a few days. But instead we went only as far as Peyto Lake, which was in itself, a sight to see.
It was just beginning to rain as we began to drive south again, but we had one more lake to visit. We drove back into British Columbia, back through Yoho National Park, and after a quick detour to see the Natural Bridge, made it to Emerald Lake. Because of the rain, we didn’t take the 5km path around the lake, but its waters were just as striking and turquoise as the we could’ve wished to see.
On Day Five, we packed up our tent and began the long, long drive back to Vancouver. We stopped in Kelowna for lunch and to briefly meet one of Steve’s friends who had moved there in the spring, and we returned to Vancouver around 10 that night. It was a truly unforgettable trip, and I think the beauty of Banff can best be summed up like this: one of my favourite photos from the trip isn’t one I took at a scenic look out or tourist spot. It’s one I took when we were simply stopped on the side of the road, because every bit of Banff was just that picturesque.