With the leaves turning, temperatures cooling and the crowds dispersing, Fall is arguably the best time of year to hit the hiking trails before the deep freeze of a full on Canadian winter arrives. There is no more spectacular place to appreciate “WonderFall” hiking than in Banff National Park. Here are my 5 best day hikes and top tips to help you make the most of the last few weeks of the hiking season before the snow settles!
To read more, please check out https://blog.liveoutthere.com/out-there/top-5-fall-hikes-banff-national-park/
The May long weekend getaway is a Canadian Institution, when holiday deprived Canucks load up their vehicles with as much stuff as possible and hit the road.
However, anyone who has lived in the Lower Mainland on Canada’s West Coast for at least one summer knows that the key to an enjoyable extended weekend break is long term planning! If you to wait to the week before, the campsites are full, the ferry reservation spots are gone and the hotel front desk can only provide a sympathetic ear rather than a room. Don’t be caught with your proverbial pants down – click here to find out my favourite 5 long weekend getaways to help you plan ahead!
Old Man Winter has a bad rep for delivering endless months of bitter cold, icy roads and countless hours of back breaking snow shoveling. However hidden behind these sinister acts, the old man is an artistic genius who has the power to create wintry magic and wonder with just the merest hint of an arctic outflow.
Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park is a fantastic example of winter’s creativity at work. Situated just a 40 minute drive along the scenic Highway 1A from Banff the canyon makes for a relatively easy winter half day hike.
The Hike (5.2 km return, 135m elevation gain)
Starting from the car park you head over the small Johnston Creek bridge past the Johnston Canyon Resort and into the forest. With glimpses of the surrounding snow-clad peaks the trail follows the canyon below to the Lower Falls 1 km away.
The best view of the Lower Falls can be seen by ducking your head and taking a quick trip through the natural cave to a cosy viewing platform!
The trail then involves a few switchbacks before you reach a breathtaking raised iron catwalk set deep in the canyon. Mind your head on the overhanging rocks!
With snaps safely secured head towards Johnston Canyon’s Mona Lisa – the Upper Falls. While views are great from the platform, you can demonstrate your climbing skills and head down onto the snow to get a closer look at the mini icebergs in the plunge pool. You may be competing for space though with ice climbers as this is a popular climbing spot!
- Bring ice cleats as the hike can be very icy! Our Yaktraxs worked well, while snowshoes are another option.
- Wrap up warm -the canyon is cold as it gets very little direct sunlight and remember cold airs sinks!
- Arrive early to get a parking spot as the hike can get pretty busy. If you don’t have your own vehicle Discover Banff Tours offers an “Icewalk” package with Banff hotel pick up and drop off.
Hopefully you will leave Johnston Canyon knowing that despite his dark acts Old Man Winter knows how to create a gallery for all to enjoy.
Having skied various hills in BC and Alberta for the past 5 years, we decided that for the 2015/16 winter season we were going to change up our mountain activities. Inspired by watching mountaineering movies at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and armed with new packs and an unlimited supply of hand warmers we decided we were ready to explore the Canadian Rockies backcountry!
However, with limited avalanche training or experience of the true Canadian winter wilderness, we knew that our first tentative backcountry steps would need to be taken carefully into terrain where the relative risks were low. We did our research and found that the Sundance Lodge in Banff National Park would make for a great first trip given the limited avalanche dangers on the route in.
Getting to Sundance Lodge
There are two starting points to get to the Lodge – either from Banff Trail Riders Stables (16km one way) or from Healy Creek car park (10km). We chose Healy Creek as we had hiked the Sundance Canyon Trail along the banks of the River Bow in the Summer – nothing to do with it being shorter!
We chose snowshoes as the main means of transport for our trip; the tortoise of winter travel methods – slow, steady and safe for unknown routes! Other viable options include cross country skiing with tracks set for the classic technique. Given that the route is packed snow thanks to skidoos ferrying supplies to the Lodge daily, another popular approach is using fat bikes that can be hired from Soul in Banff.
We took about 3.5 hours on snowshoes going at a leisurely pace to reach the Lodge, while those on skis / fat bikes beat us to the best fireside seats at the lodge, taking somewhere been 1.5 and 2 hours.
Starting from Healy Creek Trailhead at the base of the Sunshine Village Access Road, the route starts with a 2.5km flat trek to the junction with Brewster Creek Trail. This initial part of the trail opens up in a couple of sections to provide some great views along the the Bow Valley.
The hard works starts at the junction of Healy Creek and Brewster Creek trails, with a 2km continuous elevation gain of around 175m through the trees. We stopped for a few “rest photos.”
The trail then flattens out, and the winter sunshine starts to hit the route. Anywhere along here is a great time to stop for lunch.
The trail then drops into Brewster Creek, which suffered a lot of damage during the 2013 floods creating a large washout area over which 2 bridges have been built.
With a final 20 minute push, you round the corner to the sight of a warm cozy lodge with smoke bellowing from the chimney against the magnificent backdrop of the Sundance Range.
Our friendly host Steve, greeted us at the door with the welcoming offer of freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate / ice cold beer.
Room selection was on a first come first serve basis. Luckily for us (last to arrive), the 10 rooms in the lodge were only occupied by 3 other groups so we had a good selection of inviting rooms to choose from.
With feet warmed by the fire, a bottle of red purchased and acquaintances made with other guests, we headed to the dinner table for a culinary treat. A creamy mushroom soup, was followed by braised beef finished off with a Lodge made lemon meringue pie. The food was delicious, which was not a surprise when we learned Steve, a gregarious local character, has spent many years working as an executive chief in Canada and the US, and this was now his retirement gig!
The combination of board games, a good book and conversation with the other guests made for an enjoyable evening around the fire, which heats the whole Lodge.
Although the bedrooms had no heating the super thick down duvets kept us very warm in our comfortable beds, while strategically placed lanterns provided assistance to find the washrooms on the bottom level.
For those feeling brave enough to venture out at sunset, the light offers some gorgeous photos of the forest. Given that the Lodge is 16km from the nearest town, the stars on a clear night are also a sight to behold. (nighttime photo credit: @travelswithjonny)
Breakfast was served around 9am – the pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs and the best sausages we have tasted during our 5+ years in Canada, set us up well for the return journey!
- There is no phone signal at the Lodge (or wifi) – the only communication with the outside world is via CV radio (for emergencies only).
- Bring spare camera batteries as there is no way to charge them, and you will take lots of photos!
- The winter hours are short, with the sun disappearing around 5pm during December, so make sure you give yourself enough to get to the Lodge before you are in need of a headlamp!
- Only carry what you need – food and water for the trek in, a toothbrush and some Lodge clothes! A tasty lunch is provided for the journey out!
- Remember to turn the lights off to conserve power as the Lodge is powered by solar power!
- You need a Parks Canada pass for your parked car
- Bring layers and hand/toe warmers as the journey in during winter can be a bit chilly!
Sundance Lodge was a fantastic location for our first backcountry foray combining a moderately challenging trek with the comforts of a comfy warm bed and tasty home cooked food!
It’s not hard to take a good photograph when visiting Banff – simply look upwards, point and shoot. However, without too much effort you can turn some good holiday snaps into great ones. All you need is a set of car keys (and a car) or if the temperature allows, a bike.
1. Vermilion Lakes
The entrance to Vermilion Lakes is situated just by the Mt Norquay road junction with Highway 1. The 4.3 km road winds along the shoreline of the 3 shallow Vermilion Lakes against an unspoiled Canadian Rockies backdrop. Sunrise or sunset both make a magical time to visit in any season.
A top tip for those looking for that elusive reflective shot of Mt Rundle in winter is to drive to the 2nd lake and find the permanently open stretch of water just by the road.
2. Mt Norquay Access Road
If you want to get a bird’s eye view of Banff without having to climb up 3000m or pay to go up the Sulphur Mountain Gondola, there is a great viewpoint off the Mt Norquay road. From the Highway 1 junction it is about a 10 minute drive up a series of switchbacks (we recommend winter tyres between November and April) until you reach the lookout, which offers spectacular views of Banff below and the surrounding mountain vistas!
3. Lake Minnewanka
A must see for any Banff visitor, Lake Minnewanka is a 15 minute drive north east out of town – just follow the signs! During the summer months Brewster offer guided boat tours, while winter offers the chance to walk across the vast frozen lake, just wrap up warm as the wind can pick up!
4. Two Jack Lake
Neighboring Lake Minnewanka is Two Jack Lake, which offers phenomenal shots in any season. Top tip is to park up and head left along the lake shoreline at sunset to get shots of the red glow over Rundle and Cascade mountains!
5. Johnson Lake
On the same road as Two Jack Lake, but a little more hidden down a 3km paved access lane is Johnson Lake. The circular lake walk offers the opportunity to capture the Banff ‘skyline’ from a variety of angles!
The mysteriously named Hoodoos can be found by heading up the Tunnel Mountain road and pulling into the car park opposite the camp site. While the elevated views of the Bow River are great, a scramble down to the pointed rock formations is well worth it!
7. Bow River
You don’t need to leave the Banff Town site to find some great shots. Simply join the river walk that starts near the railway crossing and follow this for an hour so down to Bow Falls, crossing the river at either the foot or road bridge.
8. Sundance Canyon Trail and Marsh Loop
For those feeling a little more adventurous the Sundance Canyon Trail and Marsh Loop offer the chance to walk by the river west of Banff. Park at the Cave and Basin (free) and follow the signs. The clearness of the Bow River makes for some absorbing reflective shots!
9. Surprise Corner
Many don’t realize that you need to cross the Bow River to get the best shot of the famous Banff Springs Hotel. Follow the road signposted to the Banff Centre until you reach Surprise Corner, and can look down on the majestic castle in the mountains!
For those who are not interested in leaving the comforts of downtown, then the easiest shot of all is on the town’s only road bridge across the Bow River. Wait for a gap in the traffic, and once safe simply shoot the iconic image of Mt Cascade overshadowing Banff Avenue!
Happy Banff snapping!
The best places are always the ones that only the locals know about. Those secret spots that allow you to connect with a location at your own pace without a crowded tour bus in sight!
Johnson Lake is one of those local’s spots that is just a 15 minute drive from Downtown Banff. Tucked away down a 3km paved access road, Johnson Lake is often overlooked by its more accessible neighbours – Two Jacks Lake and Lake Minnewanka.
Beyond its 360 degree mountain vistas, Johnson Lake is popular amongst the locals for the diversity of outdoor activities it supports in all seasons!
Winter Snowshoeing & Skating
When the snow settles, the 2.5km circular walk around the lake makes for some ideal snowshoeing.
With a relatively gentle gradient and minimal elevation gain the terrain is family friendly, while the views of Mt Cascade and Mt Rundle are spectacular!
If skating is more your thing, the frozen lake offers some excellent free ice skating! Just check out how thick the ice is first though!
When the snow melts the circular trial makes for an excellent and easy short hike. You can even bring your dog (must be kept on a lead). Note mountain biking is prohibited.
You can show your true local’s knowledge by hunting for the Hermit of Inglismaldieè’s Lodge. Billy Carver built the cabin in 1910, living as a recluse for 27 years! There are no signs so it is a true treasure hunt! Hint: it’s on the south side of the lake!
Of all the lakes in Banff National Park, Johnson is the warmest for swimming, and our favourite “sport” of floating. However, be warned that even the locals turn up in their hundreds on a warm summer’s day so best to arrive early or ride your bike!
The summer also makes for some epic sunsets!
The changing colors of the trees make Johnson Lake an idyllic time to visit with your kayak, canoe or paddleboard in Fall!
Whatever the season, join the locals and plan a trip to Johnson Lake to capture a taste of Banff National Park!
There are two ways to get from Lake Louise Village to Lake Louise itself in winter – the fast way in a car or the better way on snowshoes!
With 30cm of fresh snow on the ground we chose the scenic Louise Creek route (no 14) as that sounded way more fun!
Starting at the Lake Louise Village car park we headed under the railway bridge and across the Bow River Bridge.
The start of the 2.8 km trail (one way) is on your left immediately after the bridge. Within a few meters the road is left behind and a Winter Wonderland awaits!
After a few hundred meters you meet the first of many Louise Creek crossings.
The trail then starts its 200m elevation, which when breaking trail in 30cm of fresh powder is certainly a great workout! Remember snacks!!
However, there are always good spots to take a rest and just capture the magic of a snowy day in the Canadian Rockies!.
Eventually the trail flattens as you reach an intersection with the Tramline cross country skill trail (no 3).
Then it’s time to find a cosy lunch spot by the creek! On a cold day nothing is better than warm soup!!
The trail gradually makes its way up to Lake Louise, a crown jewel in the Canadian Rockies.
The fun part is heading back downhill on your newly-made trail finding new spots you missed on the way up!
Best to be quick though as the sun goes down earlier in winter!