The Do and Don’t listing is something that I have always enjoyed watching on travel specials and am throwing my hand into the style with great feature! While some of these features are often in the style of “you must do this” and “you might as well miss that,” this version is formatted in a different way and in no way tell you not to do something major, as my misfortune might be someone else’s highlight. Instead, the “Do” will feature a specific place or thing to do in the destination that are great sites and experiences, and the “Don’t” will spotlight things to keep in mind during that activity that are not well known and publicized when planning the trip.
This entry into the Do and Don’t feature is on one of the most beautiful national parks in Canada: Banff! As the first national park in the country’s history, Banff is also one of the most popular year round. But due to the location and climate, some special considerations should be made depending on the time of year you visit!
Do – Visit in Non-Peak Season for Less of a Crowd
Don’t – Expect to Do Much Hiking
The off-season in Banff is anytime outside of the warm weather period between June and September. Visiting in the winter time may be too cold for most, but early spring from April to late May is a great time to take in all the sites without nearly any of the crowd that the summer months receive in full blast! It may not be so obvious to most, however, but Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and most all of the trails (and some of the roads such as the one going to Moraine Lake!) will still be frozen until early June due to the locations high elevation and chilled temperatures.
The employees of the major resorts around Lake Louise actually take internal betting pools on when the lake will be entirely thawed out, and usually occurs within the first week of June. Some trails at lower elevations (easier hikes) are free and clear for amazing hiking while some of the more elaborate trails are fully closed or require equipment such as specialty designed snow hiking books rented out by most hostels to be safely navigated.
Do – The Sulphur Mountain Trail Hike in the Summer
Don’t – Forget to Try and Get a Free Gondola Ride Down.
Sulphur Mountain is one of the most popular hiking trails to do in Banff during the summer (and was closed in May when I visited due to ice on the trails). Regardless of when you visit, a gondola is available for those who want to go to the top of the mountain when the trails are not open or are unable to make the several hour climb on their own.
Popular rumor suggests that the employees at the gondola do not check tickets on the return trip down, implying that those who hike up can take the one way trip down for free. Although the sign does specify that tickets are available for a one way trip down, they did not check when I was there. However, this could also be due to the fact that no one in their right mind would be climbing the icy trail in May. Still, it might be worth checking out when you go!
Do – Stay a night or more in Lake Louise
Don’t – Expect much in the form of a “town” like Banff
The area around Lake Louise is an incredibly beautiful spot about 90 minutes north of Banff town. Famous spots like the towns namesake and nearby Moraine Lake (once featured on the Canadian currency) are perfect visitation spots to hike or just take in the beauty of nature. Those who want to stay longer to explore it all, which we highly recommend, should be advised that the town of Lake Louise is not comparable to Banff and only really has a few premium hotels, a hostel, a couple gas stations, and restaurants in the hotels/hostels. Once you are done hiking for the day, there really isn’t much to do, so be sure to make friends at your hotel!
Do – Travel to the Northern parts of the park, and Jasper
Don’t – Expect to Get It Cheaply Without Your Own Car
As we mentioned previously, Banff is one huge national park and those who only visit the city of Banff and even Lake Louise are only seeing a small portion of everything that is available for exploring. Even more impressive is that the natural beauty continues on even after the end of the park as Jasper National Park is quite literally right next door and is of nearly equal size as Banff.
Unfortunately for its size, the only way to get around the park is through long haul transportation, and renting a car would be the best way to go see the sites on your own. There is a great bus system that you can use to get around the park and go on day trips to beautiful sites, however everything is on a guided tour aspect and incredibly inflated relative to the value they provide. Renting a car would not only be cheaper but allow freedom and access to spots not on the major tour networks.
Do – Stop at the Columbia Ice Fields
Don’t – Feel Obligated to Go Up Them
The Columbia Ice Fields is a great geographical presence at the Northern edge of Banff National Park. Even from Lake Louise, which is about an hour and a half outside of Banff, the ice fields are another hour and a half to two hours north and a solid day trip. Once at the Ice Fields you can have lunch at a tourist station and enjoy a view from a distance or go up one of the many specialty designed ice rovers and actually get near the ice fields.
We say near because the spot that is available for walking on and viewing from the tourist center is only a very tiny fraction of the entire ice field which is entirely out of visible range unless you rent expensive equipment and go on a dangerous trek or fly above via a helicopter. While the novelty of actually standing on top a glacier is thrilling and would be enjoyable to most, the cost of doing it may be a deterrent for some. With that being said, I had a fantastic time on my expensive tour from Lake Louise, but the price might not be worth it to some.
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