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Summer vacation suggestions for Banff/Lake Louise

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

We are headed to Banff/LL for a week in August. We booked a townhouse in Canmore. I was wondering what are some good day hikes, drives (like the Icefields Parkway), restaurants, ski area lift rides. It will be and my wife and our 5th grader. We do enjoy hiking at ski areas. Should we buy some bear spray? Anything we should avoid? We are so excited to visit.


post #2 of 9

I was just in Banff this past week, you'll have a great time. Hikes we did:


Moraine Lake – hike to Larch Valley / Sentinel Pass


Lake Louise, Plain of 6 glaciers


Helen Lake hike Dolomite Pass


Sunshine Meadows at Sunshine Village


I would recommend all 4 - each was about 4-5 hrs total (although we move pretty fast, so might take longer). Also, we were leaving Banff each morning by 7am to get to the hikes before the crowds. We had no issues this early (usually on trail by 8am), but on the way down they start to get somewhat crowded, passing groups going up every few minutes. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise parking lots will get packed and you will probably have to park at the overflow lots if you're not there early.


We did have bearspray, as did most others. When we did Helen Lake we were the only ones on the trail and we saw fresh bear droppings, so the bears are there. We would have turned back if we didnt have it.


I'd recommend white water rafting on the kicking horse river in BC. Its a bit of a drive, but we did the rafting in the AM, then stopped at Sunshine Meadows on the way back.

post #3 of 9

Those are all good hikes and a lot more are possible - parks office is best source for current trail conditions maps bear warning and advice. No end of trail information in book form  "Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies" is a good first timers resource 

bear spray is almost a must if your setting off on your own on but on busy hikes like those around Lake Louise -lake agnes the beehives and plain of six glaciers etc it is very unlikely to be needed.  Some trails set minimun group sizes set as bears usually avoid large groups  


Try summiting a Rocky. Sitting on top of Rundel or any other peak will always be memorable There are routes up to most peaks which you will find easier than your first impression, again check with parks for the needed info And hikes like Paget Peak on the continental divide or Parker Ridge adjacent the Columbia Icefield also offer great views with minimal effort.


if you have extra time Yoho just west of Lake Louise is worth a visit. The Iceline trail in Yoho valley is one of the more popular hikes almost all of it above treeline. Lake Ohar requires making a bus reservations for access but it might be the most spectacular spot in the region    

post #4 of 9
For lunch or if cooking at home, go to Valbella in Canmore... their ham sandwiches and landjaeger are delish. Summit cafe (also Canmore) is great for breakfast.
post #5 of 9

This place for dinner. It is not all about pizza and spaghetti.   ticinorestaurant.com

One of the better meals I have eaten anywhere.


Have a very good time!

post #6 of 9

I'd encourage you to get to Yoho, too--scenery just as good as the Lake Louise area but you escape the mobs. Iceline Trail is a great hike; if you don't feel like a "real" hike, Takakkaw Falls is a short walk to a very big waterfall. Be sure to drive all the way up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. It will be a long day from Canmore, but worth it. There are lots of pullouts with short trails.


If you want to do any real hiking I'd highly recommend the book Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies. 


post #7 of 9

I run an outdoor club (Meetup based) in Calgary. It's an under 40 group, and it serves as a bit of a social club as well. 


But needless to say, I play in the nearby mountains a lot. Almost every day that I am not working....


I ski in the winter, and peak-bag in the summer. 


The advice given so far is great! Yoho and the Icefields Parkway are the best parts of the Rockies close to Banff and Lake Louise. 

Helen Lake, Wilcox Pass, and Parker Ridge are beautiful, accessible hikes off the Parkway. Helen Lake is closer to Lake Louise, while Wilcox and Parker are closer to the Jasper end. 

If you are a strong hiker, I would strongly recommend hiking to Cirque Peak from Helen Lake. The summit is really easy to attain, with minimal exposure. Just a bit of loose scree to deal with. The views from the top are breathtaking. See the Panorama below:




If you are comfortable scrambling on 3rd class terrain, Mount Wilcox is a natural extension to Wilcox Pass. The ascent is non-technical, but beyond simple hiking though, and a fall could be serious. Still, the views for the effort are incredible. 


From an early November ascent:




Lake Louise is stunning, but really busy. Arrive at 7 (or earlier) to beat the crowds. Plus, everything looks good in the morning light. Mount Fairview is one of the easier summits in the region, and it more than lives up to his name. It's propably a touch easier than cirque. Mostly hiking, but off-trail on looser, steeper terrain. Here is a shot of my girlfriend on the summit in early June. 




If you want to stick to a maintained trail, Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass are great. There is a group size restriction of 4 or more and everyone needs bearspray, but you can usually team up with someone at the trail head.


For ski resorts, I would recommend Sunshine for hiking, You get up really high, and the meadows there are beautiful. Norquay has a via feratta that is really popluar, but a bit expensive. If you can hike something like Fairview, skip the Lake Louise ski resort (though Skoki is worth it for backpacking and day hikes)






Try to get to Lake O Hara if you can. There are some walk on spots available if reservations are booked (probably will be). I have only heard good things about Ice-line.



Kananaskis Country is a bit of a hidden gem (from an international perpective). The spray lakes road is rough, but it has great scenery. Chester Lake is a good beginner's Level hike there. Kananaskis Lakes and Highwood Pass (highest paved road in Canada) on Highway 40 is worth a look too. Ptarmigan Cirque is a nice short hike in that region.



Tourist stores in Banff. Lots of junk at a high price.

The glacier skywalk. Cool platform, but you get the same view for free if you hike for 10 minutes near Tangle Falls. Wilcox Pass is a better view IMO.

Lake Louise/Moraine Lake parking lots and shoreline late morning/early afternoon on the weekend. 



Eddie Burger in Banff has great burgers, but it is small.

Summit Cafe in Canmore is my girlfriend's favorite breakfast stop in the mountains. Laggan's in Lake Louise is her favorite bakery (I don't like their coffee though)

Rocky Mountain Bagel Company is good for...Bagels. I like the place...

Goucho's in Canmore is a popular Brazilian BBQ place. Pretty pricey, but you get a lot of meat.

Cheap eats at Peyto's in the Hostel at Lake Louise (seriously). Expensive eats at the Post Hotel.The Post Hotel Pub is worth a stop too.

I haven't been to Truffel Pigs in Field (Yoho), but have heard great reviews.


If you are beer drinker, Banff Ave Brewing Company (Banff) and The Grizzly Paw (Canmore) are worth looking into. I find their beers to be a bit hit of miss (prefer Grizzly Paws) and the food is overpriced, but I am curious enough to stop by and try their seasonals.



One last tip: Gas can be very expensive in the Mountains. Canmore Gas prices have been really high lately, and they are often significantly cheaper 15 minues east at Dead Man's flats (15 cents a litre this week). Banff and Lake Louise tend to be a bit pricier than Canmore. The gas station at Saskatchewan Crossing is ridiculously expensive. Twice as expensive as Calgary. Foord/treats there are also super pricey. Stock up at Lake Louise. For pop/chips/etc. the Petro Canada at Lake Louise will be cheaper than their grocery store. Grocery stores in Banff and Canmore have fair prices though.



The breakeven for park passes is 7 days. 7 days or more, get an annual pass.

post #8 of 9

Thx for all of the advice!  I'm headed up to Banff and Golden at the end of August with the family.  Serendipity that I ran into this thread. Knew there is a reason I should be surfing on epic ski in July.  

post #9 of 9

I think the advice here is great so far - I definitely second exploring the Icefields hikes, especially Helen Lake, Cirque Peak, Wilcox Pass, Parker Ridge...

Lake Louise in August is so crazy, I might go so far as to say to avoid the area entirely on weekends and plan on very very early on the weekdays. We have a 10 and 12 year old and spend much of our time in the mountains. Depending on how adventurous your 5th grader is, you might want to try some of the hikes above but avoid others (for example, I wouldn't suggest Rundle for a 5th grader, lots of exposure, long day, carrying lots of water in summer, scree and rough slog = very unhappy kid). Our kids are pretty adventurous and are pretty good hikers, and I can definitely recommend some of the hikes/activities below. The overview for Banff/Lake Louise has been pretty comprehensive, so I'll stick to the Canmore area, and recommend some things with kids in mind. 

- if you're staying in Canmore, and your kid wants to bag a peak, your best bet is Ha Ling Peak, about 600m elevation gain and better early in the morning or late in the afternoon/early evening if it's a hot day. Super fun - our kids love it and feel like superstars on top; 

- even though it is a very easy hike, our kids never get tired of Grassi Lakes in Canmore - it's a short walk up to 2 beautiful pot lakes and there are caves to play in and walls to climb. Seriously it never gets old. 

- I would definitely recommend renting bikes one day and taking the bus to Banff, and biking back to Canmore along the Legacy Trail. One way it is about 25-30 kms and totally doable for a kid. In fact, it's really easy. From Banff to Canmore it is mostly downhill too, and it's superfun with a packed lunch and picnic at Valleyview picnic area (awesome views). The kids love doing this. It's a nice way to break up hiking days, and a different way to see the Bow Valley. 

- Canmore also has an amazing recreation centre. When we stay in Canmore, we'll always spend half a day at their incredible climbing wall. 

- If Banff and Lake Louise are proving to be really busy, think about going to Kananaskis Country, just south of Canmore. Some of our kids' favourite hikes include Ptarmigan Cirque, Chester Lake and they love canoeing on the Kananaskis Lakes. 


Things to keep in mind: 

-Definitely take bear spray with you everywhere, even if hiking on trails in Canmore. There have been many bear sightings even in town this season. Don't be fooled into leaving your bear spray at home, and don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the numbers. 

-Bring more water than you think you'll need on hikes - many people forget about how dry it is in Alberta, and I generally find I drink more here than other places. For an easy hike, at least 1 l per person, more for more strenuous hikes. 

-I also second to check the trail reports with either the visitors centres or on the online trail reporst for Banff, Yoho and KCountry. They will have updated bear sightings and any other info you might need. 


enjoy your trip - and enjoy Canmore! I love it there...


If you have some adult time - I definitely recommend Tapas Restaurant, and if you don't our kids LOVE the Ice Cream School bus on Main Street!

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