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Craggy mountain peaks, lush forests, turquoise lakes, and majestic glaciers—these are just a few of the natural wonders that make Banff National Park a bucket-list-worthy destination. Every year Canada’s oldest national park attracts millions of visitors looking to take in its majestic beauty and explore its sights. And while Banff National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, those looking for a pampering vacation with plenty of luxury amenities will not be disappointed either.
Read on for a handy breakdown of everything you need to know to organize a luxury trip of a lifetime to this natural gem nestled at the heart of the Canadian Rockies.
Getting to and Around Banff National Park
So, where is Banff National Park? Located on the western border of Alberta with British Columbia, the park spans 2,564 square miles of unspoiled beauty and wilderness. The most convenient and fast way to get there from the U.S. is to fly to Calgary International Airport and then drive for a little over an hour (or 78 miles).
But if you’d like to arrive in Banff in a truly memorable way, start your journey in Vancouver with the Rocky Mountaineer. This Canadian rail company operates luxury glass-domed trains with world-class service onboard. Its First Passage to the West two-day route will take you through picturesque mountain passes, dramatic canyons, and postcard-worthy lake views before arriving in Banff.
Before you start exploring the park on your own, it’s a good idea to pack an actual physical Banff National Park map—it will have the most updated information on everything from hiking trails to available shuttle services. You can pick up one in most hotels as well as the park’s Visitors Center.
And speaking of shuttle services, ROAM Transit operates buses and shuttles in and between the towns of Banff and Canmore as well as around the Lake Louise area. It is a convenient way to reach the major attractions in the park if you’re not planning on renting a car.
Banff National Park Hotels
Banff National Park offers plenty of accommodation options for every type of traveler. From individual family-style chalets to luxury hotels with world-class amenities, you won’t have to search long to find a property that matches your preferences.
Fairmont operates the two most luxurious mountain resorts in the area—the 5-star Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the legendary Fairmont Banff Springs.
If you’d like to wake up to stunning views of Lake Louise, then head to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The resort, located on the lake’s eastern shore, dates back to 1890 when it opened as a single-story log cabin. Because of its perfect location, it quickly gained international popularity, and the hotel was expanded in 1911 to its current look. Since then, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise has welcomed many royals and celebrities. The resort’s spa is the perfect place to unwind after a long hike while the elegant Fairmont Bar & Restaurant treats its guests to craft cocktails and seasonal gourmet cuisine.
Fairmont Banff Springs, also known as the “Castle in the Rockies” for its distinct architecture, is a sprawling resort with 757 rooms and suites. The property is also home to a world-class golf course, a spa, and an aquatic center.
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Banff National Park Camping
With over 15 campgrounds, Banff National Park is a heaven for campers. While most of them are open from May until October, there are also a couple that welcome outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
Before you start packing, though, make sure you have all the permits required to camp in Banff National Park. These include a National Park Entry Pass and a camping permit. If roasting S’mores and fishing is in your plans, you will also need fire and fishing permits.
Don’t have a tent? Head to Two Jack Lakeside Campground, just outside of the town of Banff, or Tunnel Mountain Village II campground, where Parks Canada has installed dozens of “oTENTiks.” These unique accommodations are a cross between an A-frame cabin and a tent that require zero set-up and feature lighting, heating, a spacious living room area, three beds, and a deck.
Exploring Lake Louise While in Banff
The undisputed crown jewel of Banff National Park is the stunning Lake Louise. The nearby Victoria glacier feeds its emerald green waters, and together, the two natural wonders are quite an awe-inspiring view. In the summer, renting a canoe from the Lake Louise Boathouse is a must. And in the winter, when the area is blanketed by snow, sit down for a cup of hot chocolate at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and simply enjoy the spectacular view. If the lake is frozen, use the opportunity to show off your skating skills.
Hit the hiking trails to enjoy the wilderness and even more magnificent views of the area. One of the most popular routes is the Lake Agnes Trail—a 4.6-mile moderate trail that ends at Lake Agnes Tea House. On the way there, stop to appreciate the crystal clear waters of Mirror Lake. Together with Lake Louise, they are known as the “Lakes in the Clouds.”
Lake Louise Lakefront Trail is another scenic and family-friendly option. It’s an easy 2.8-mile walk along the western lakeshore that offers beautiful vistas and leads to the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.
Guide to All Four Seasons in Banff
While summer is the most popular time of the year to visit Banff National Park, this breathtaking corner of the world is certainly a destination that can be enjoyed year-round.
With 1,000-miles worth of maintained trails, hiking is one of the best ways to explore this part of the Rocky Mountains from July until mid-September. For those hungry for magnificent views, Lake Louise Summer Gondola is a must. It leads to a sightseeing deck with panoramic vistas of the area.
Don’t forget to visit the other turquoise-water lakes in the park that are just as beautiful as Lake Louise—Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Lake Minnewanka.
Exploring the Icefields Parkway that connects Lake Louise with Jasper National Park is a great day-long activity that will allow you to get closer to sights such as Athabasca and Crowfoot glaciers and the picture-perfect Herbert lake.
In the winter, try ice climbing, dog sledding, and skiing. The park is home to three resorts—Banff Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Resort, and Mt. Norquay—that offer ski and snowboard experiences for beginners and pros alike. Want to explore the mountains without the crowds? Heli-skiing is the way to go.