Black bears, turquoise lakes, and stunning views from 7,500 feet high!
This was supposed to be the highlight of the trip. We had tickets booked to visit all three of:
Mother Nature decided to be kind to us. We got one of the best weathers of the whole trip.
Let’s start with the beautiful lakes — Louise and Moraine.
Louise & Moraine Lakes
The quintessential photo of Banff you see is one taken at either Lake Louise or Lake Moraine. The turquoise water, the towering mountains with snow-covered tops — nature doesn’t get better than this.
But first, the most important question is, how do you get there?!
Getting to the Lakes
Both lakes are around 45 minutes from downtown Banff. They are 15 minutes apart.
There are a couple of ways you can get there:
- Drive in your rental car
- Public Transit
- Lake Louise Shuttle
Which option do you pick? It’s a no-brainer. Go with option 3.
Driving yourself might look convenient, but finding parking in Lake Louise is an absolute nightmare. People park and camp starting at almost midnight.
Even worse, starting in 2023, you cannot drive to Lake Moraine anymore. The road is closed. The only way to get there is using the Lake Louise Shuttle or some other public transportation.
Save yourself some trouble, and take the Lake Louise Shuttle like we did.
We were lucky enough to find some seats in the shuttle the night before.
Without wasting any time, right after waking up, we jumped into our rental car and did the 45-minute drive to Lake Louise. Instead of going to the lakes, we went to the designed spot called “Park and Ride”.
There are hundreds of free parking spots there. So much better than the limited parking availability at the lakes.
Having parked, we took the shuttle bus to Lake Louise. With the shuttle tickets, we got the following:
- Ride from “Park and Ride” to either of the lake (20 minutes)
- Unlimited free transfers between the two lakes — Louise and Moraine (15 minutes)
- Ride from either of the lakes back to “Park and Ride” (20 minutes)
I loved the setup! It’s so convenient. We didn’t have to worry about parking once in the 5 hours we spent at both lakes.
Just be prepared and carry enough water, some snacks, and, of course, your bear spray!
If you are anything like me, the first time you look at Lake Louise, your heart will skip a beat. It’s beautiful!
No photo, no YouTube video, and not even the photos you will see in this blog post, will do the lake any justice.
When we reached the lake, the sky was just starting to clear up. That got us all excited!
We walked around the lake, took a few hundred photos, and then turned towards the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s a beautiful, albeit very expensive, hotel, right beside the lake.
You can’t stay any closer if you are willing to shell out the big bucks for a night here.
Next, we had to pick:
- Do we want to hike? If so, which one?
- Just chill by the lake
- Go to Lake Moraine
After giving it some thought, we decided to do the Lake Agnes Trail hike.
Lake Agnes Trail & Tea House
It’s a 4.6-mile trail with an elevation gain of 1,427 feet.
It didn’t sound too bad until we got started and I realized how a combination of bad cardio strength, flat feet, and the wrong shoes can make a hike go so badly.
Looking back though, the views were absolutely worth the difficult hike.
At the top of the hike is a beautiful tea house — Lake Agnes Tea House.
Along the way, you will find some beautiful viewpoints:
- Mirror Lake
- Lake Agnes
- The Beehive
After an hour-long hike, we were exhausted and absolutely famished. The moment we got a glimpse of the final staircase, we just made a run for the tea house.
We got ourselves a nice seat on the patio and enjoyed some awesome food freshly made with local ingredients:
- Their famous tea
- Tuna sandwich
- Soup of the day
The hike down was surprisingly easy. You keep going downhill for 40 minutes or so, before you are greeted, yet again, by the beauty of Lake Louise.
We walked around a little more and then took the transfer shuttle to Lake Moraine.
Whereas Lake Louise was surrounded by mountains on all sides, Lake Moraine gives you a much more expansive view.
It was less crowded and seemed somewhat more peaceful to me.
The water seemed more blue than turquoise, but regardless, it was just as beautiful.
Similar to Lake Louise, we walked around and took some photos at the lake.
A glance at our watch had us shocked — we already spent 5 hours at these lakes! We had our Banff Gondola reservation at 5 PM, just 2 hours from then.
We looked at the nearby map and figured that we would get the best views from the Rockpile Trail. It’s a very easy hike. It took us about 25 minutes.
You can get some stunning views of the lake from the top of the rocks. It’s worth the hike.
After spending around an hour more in Lake Moraine, we took the transfer shuttle back to Park and Ride. From there, we did our 45-minute drive to downtown Banff, before another 10-minute drive to Banff Gondola.
Banff Gondola & Sulphur Mountains
From the bottom of the mountain to the top, it’s an 8-minute Gondola ride.
That is just enough time for you to absorb the beautiful views, without getting spooked if you are afraid of heights.
When at the top, you are 2,281 meters above sea level or 7,486 feet.
Outside taking photos and appreciating the massive towering mountains around you, there’s not too much to do. There’s one hike that everyone does — the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station hike.
It’s an easy 20-minute hike through fully paved roads. You get the most expansive views of the mountain from the top of the station.
We hiked back to where the Gondola ride back down would start.
There were a few restaurants, and we seriously considered trying out one of them, only to be turned away by the exorbitant pricing.
To our surprise, there’s also a cafe, Sky Bistro, where I had my best-in-life-so-far Caramel Macchiato.
After enjoying the drink, and taking in the views, we made our Gondola ride down and reached downtown Banff just before it started getting dark.
Cinnamon Black Bear!
The next part of the trip was the most surprising.
By the time we reached Banff, we were exhausted. We had done 3 hikes, drove 2 hours, and had very little food to fuel all that.
The next day we were driving up to Jasper very early in the morning, so we knew this was our last chance to check out Banff on the trip. That’s why we decided to continue towards our final stop of the day — Mount Norquay Lookout.
First Bear Sighting
For the first time on this trip, we were driving through some serious mountain roads.
It was also getting darker, which didn’t make the drive any more straightforward.
I was totally focused on driving and not falling off the cliff when the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of something moving to the right of my car. In a split second, I looked at my rear-view mirror to make sure there was no car behind me and came screeching to a halt.
Then, I pulled my car to the side of the road, and observed, with absolute astonishment, what was happening only a few meters from my car.
It was a beautiful Cinnamon Black Bear, which I initially mistook for a Grizzly, just chilling by the side of the road, munching on some leaves. A few minutes later, it crossed the road, in front of my own eyes.
An apex predator being so close to you — it never happened to me before. I will forever treasure that memory.
Don’t worry, this wasn’t the only bear encounter of the trip.
We saw 5 more, including a black bear even closer to our car, and a Grizzly family! More on that coming in the next few blog posts.
Mount Norquay Lookout
Ecstatic and still in disbelief, we kept driving a few more minutes, before we reached the Mount Norquay Lookout point.
It wasn’t anything too spectacular. Although, it does give you a nice view of downtown Banff from the top.
Dinner at “The Eddie Burger + Bar”
Tired, and absolutely famished, we reached our hotel in downtown Banff at around 9 PM.
I was too lazy to find a restaurant for dinner, so I just searched on Yelp and went to the nearest one with the highest rating. And boy was that a good decision!
We went to The Eddie Burger + Bar and were greeted with some of the best burgers we have ever had. The poutine was really good too.
Wrap-up and Day 3 Teasers
After the delicious dinner, we struggled our way back to the hotel.
It was one of my most tiring, yet rewarding, day of the year.
But, there was so much more to come in this trip, starting with the next day’s drive to Jasper.
The 8-hour drive through the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper, without any mobile network and just a marked map, was one of the most fun experiences ever.
Throughout the drive, we stopped at an astonishing 23 different viewpoints, each one more beautiful than the previous one. We also did some small hikes and some wildlife sightings, before being greeted by one of the most beautiful cozy mountain towns I have ever been to — Jasper.
Oh yeah, we also saw a Grizzly Bear family, but more on that in the next blog post where I flesh out day 3 of our trip.
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