Travel: Hiking through Banff National Park

Crystal blue lakes, sheer glacial faces, lush evergreen valley floors, and powerful roaring waterfalls. Falling into a glacial lake, swinging on a hammock, canoeing towards glaciers, a million mosquito bites. These are only some of the memories from our trip to Banff National Park. Most of all, I will never forget the thunderclap sound a glacier makes, as avalanches of snow tumble off the cliffs. The main reason I wanted to go to Banff was because I wanted to see what was left of the glaciers before our deleterious effects on the environment and contributions to global warming result in nothing left to be seen. What we found was way more than could be seen in the meager few days that we were there. Obsessed with seeing the most beautiful parts of the world since trekking through the Routeburn Track in our New Zealand honeymoon, Banff did not disappoint! This was probably the most exhausting three days that we have ever done, but the views were so worth it. My photos cannot do this place justice, and I definitely wish I had more time to go on even more hikes. At least that’s incentive to come back!

For the curious:

Hikes that we did included:

  • Johnston Canyon
  • Plain of 6 Glaciers
  • Lake Agnes Trail
  • Johnson Lake
  • Fenland Trail
  • Ink Pots

How we did the hikes:

Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls and on to the Ink Pots – This is a very easy hike leading up to the lower and then upper falls. There is a designated path that is well-traversed, so be ready for crowds especially in the summer time. Viewing the falls did result in a few lines, but to be fair, we started the hikes mid-afternoon, which is pretty late in the summer-time. After the Upper Falls, there is a 0.6km trail that leads to the beginning of the Ink Pots, which is a moderate trek. I would really recommend for people to continue on, because the Ink Pots are a sight to see. Plus, it ends in a beautiful valley that is right next to the river, surrounded by looming mountains. The entire trip is approximately 6km one way.

Lake Moraine – We did no hikes in Lake Moraine. We headed here before 7:30am and barely made the cut off before they closed the road down. I would suggest getting there even earlier, maybe by 6am in the summer time, in order to get a spot in the parking lot. We had to park 2 miles away from the lake and walk to the car and back, which was fine. Once the road is closed, it will remain closed for the rest of the day. We bee-lined straight for the canoes and got one of the last canoes in the first batch going out to the lake. It was a hefty fee (about USD $90) but it was so worth it to glide on the glacial waters and eat croissants on the boat. After the canoeing, we attempted to climb the boulders to get a view of the lake but didn’t get far before once of us fell into the freezing glacial waters! After that, we decided hiking was not in the cards for the day, especially after a grueling 10 miles yesterday. We hung a hammock up lakeside in a secluded area, took off wet boots and socks and laid them out to dry on the sun, and took naps and a two hour break at the hammock. Socks and shoes still wet, and a couple mosquito bites later, we called it a day and hiked back up to the car.

Lake Louise – We did a loop, starting with the Plain of 6 Glaciers and returning via Lake Agnes. I would recommend doing it this way, since the Lake Agnes trail has a very steep climb for the majority of the trail. The Plain of 6 Glaciers is a very mellow flat walk for the first 2 km along the lake, beautiful for the morning. We started at 7am, which was great because by the time we got to the Plain of 6 Glaciers tea house, it was not yet crowded and we easily got a seat. Breakfast entailed tea and chocolate cake and biscuits (yes it was amazing!) before we continued on to the glaciers. Afterwards, it was downhill until we took the connecting trail to Lake Agnes. A slight uphill climb that afforded amazing views of Lake Louise and the hotel was worth it. You will also have the option of going to the Lake Agnes teahouse on the way down, but we just continued to journey on, eating peanut butter sandwiches as we took the steep descent to the lake.  

Hikes on my bucket list, for next time:

  • Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass
  • O’Hara Circuit Trail
  • Healy Pass
  • Bourgeu Lake/Harvey Pass
  • Parker Ridge Trail

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