Category Archives: Itineraries

Moraine Lake – A Lake Louise must-see

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake is a definite must-see for anyone traveling in the Lake Louise vicinity. The lakeshore is only 12.5 km/7.5 mi away from Lake Louise, and offers a chance to see one of the largest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, a beautiful glacial lake, a huge glacier, and one of the best places to view grizzly bears in Banff National Park.

This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge, which is open from June to early October.

This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge, which is open from June to early October.

The Moraine Lake Lodge is a good place to start for directions, food, gifts, and information about hikes here. It’s also a good place to check up on grizzly activity in the area.

Moraine Lake is well known for the multitude of grizzlies that inhabit the surrounding valley. For this reason, the park may require you to hike in groups of six, and may occasionally close off trails completely.

Tim Johnson, who has lived in the Canadian Rockies for the last 12 years and works in the local tourism industry, highly recommends the area.

“To me, Moraine Lake is the lesser known sister of Lake Louise,” he says. “It’s a little more off the beaten path.”

Moraine Lake is still popular among hikers, but, Johnson says, “In terms of scenery, a lot of locals like it because it’s got this wild and rustic feeling.”

From the lodge, you can access several hiking trails. My personal favorite way to see Moraine Lake is via the Rock Pile interpretive trail. Here you’ll find some of the very best views in the Lake Louise area.
John E. Marriott, a professional photographer and former Parks Canada naturalist who lives in the area notes that, “Moraine Lake is one of the premier photography destinations in the Canadian Rockies.”

The Rockpile trail is a one of the reasons Moraine Lake is so photogenic. The trail is short, with little gain in elevation, and yet rewards you with one of the most beautiful views in the park.

Start exploring Moraine Lake from the Moraine Lake Lodge.

Start exploring Moraine Lake from the Moraine Lake Lodge.

From the top of Rockpile, you’ll see the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the ten glacier-cut peaks that surround Moraine Lake. This includes Mt. Temple, the third highest peak in Banff National Park, at 3549 m / 11,636 ft. Many have found the view of Moraine Lake from Rockpile inspiring.

In 1969 and 1979 it was used on the back of the Canadian $20 bill, hence the view here has been nicknamed “The $20 view.” It was also used in a series of popular advertisements, and is one of the main photos being used for Google’s new cellphone software.

Besides the grizzlies, look for the golden-mantled ground squirrel (fat with stripes), the chipmunk (stripes with pointy nose), the pika (notable for its loud, chew-toy-like squeaking) and the marmot (a ground squirrel on steroids).

If you’re not quite ready to leave Moraine Lake after the hike to Rockpile, Johnson recommends renting a canoe from the lodge as a peaceful way of exploring parts of the lake inaccessible via trail.

The $20 view.

The $20 view.

You can also catch a number of trails from the lodge, including a short hike along the right bank of the lake and another to Consolation Lakes.

A number of longer hikes also begin at Moraine Lake, including spectacular Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass, which is the highest elevation trail in the Banff National Park, and Eiffel Lake.

Both Johnson and Marriott recommend taking the Larch Valley trail in the fall. It’s a short hike, and during the fall, when the needles on the larches turn a bright gold, the views are stunning.

Round out Your Train Itinerary

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sepiatrainEnjoy a meal at the Lake Louise Station Restaurant. The restaurant is housed in the second Lake Louise train station, an original 1908 log building that is atmospheric and charming. The walls are decorated in historic photos that are worth a close look. You can also dine in two historic train cars located behind the station: the Delamere and the Killarney (one time the private car of Lord Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific).

From the Station Restaurant, take a short walk up the Tramline Trail to a large clearing and expansive view of the Bow Valley. The current CPR line will be visible below. The Lake Louise Tramline, a narrow-gauge railway, connected the station to the Chateau on the shore of Lake Louise from 1912 to 1930. Today the abandoned grade is a walking, cycling and cross-country skiing path.

Take the #1A Bow Valley Parkway for 5 minutes towards banff and stop at the Outlet Creek parking area. From the road here, you are looking down on Morant’s Curve, a lovely bend in the railway line that CPR photographer Nicholas Morant used to his advantage. This vantage point makes it possible to get more of the train into the picture, and the bend adds a dramatic element to the composition.

Take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) west in the direction of Yoho National Park and the town of Field. 10 minutes from Lake Louise the highway crosses the Great Divide and the British Columbia/Alberta border. From here the road follows the original railway grade as it begins to descend “the Big Hill.” In the space of six kilometres (3 3/4 miles), the road will drop 300 metres (almost 1000 feet). Past Wapta Lake, on the left, is a pullout to view an old bridge left over from the original line.

For the first 25 years of the railway’s existence, runaway trains were a real concern. Eventually the CPR dealt with the Big Hill by building two spiral tunnels. A few more minutes down the road is a pullout for the Lower Spiral Tunnel on your right. Exhibits tell the story of the early years and of the construction of these engineering marvels.

The Upper Spiral Tunnel can be seen from a well-marked viewpoint 5 minutes up the Yoho Valley Road. At the bottom of the Big Hill, turn right onto this road.

As you return to the Trans-Canada, turn into the Kicking Horse Campground and follow the road to the back end of it. On your right is the trailhead for the Walk in the Past Trail. Pamphlets that outline six stops of interest should be available at the kiosk. The trail is 1.2 km (3/4 mi) long with about 100 m (300 ft) of elevation gain. At the end are the remains of a narrow-gauge locomotive that was used to haul away rubble during the construction of the spiral tunnels.

As the Yoho Valley Road rejoins the highway, stop for a moment to admire the small railway tunnels cut into the steep sides of Mt. Stephen and the bulldozer work that allows the line to pass through the runout zone of an avalanche path. The other thing that CPR workers must worry about are the several jokulhlaups that threatens from above. Jokulhlaup is Norwegian for “glacier flood.” A lake that forms underneath a hanging glacier above sometimes discharges, creating debris flows that inundate the tracks below.

Drive about ½ kilometre along the highway and pull off again. On the side of Mt. Stephen, the rails pass through a large opening in the trees. In the winter of 1998, a large train lost control on the Big Hill and wrecked itself here, piling up dozens of cars and spilling tons of grain. It was impossible to fully clean up. Spilled grain can attract wildlife and put them at risk of being killed, so CP Rail erected electric fencing around this site.

By now you must be hungry again, so it’s time to pull into the town of Field. The town is mostly populated by people who work for the railway and for Parks Canada. Field got its start as Mount Stephen House, one of the many hotels that CP built along the line. It first functioned as a dining stop so that dining cars would not have to be hauled up the Big Hill, but quickly evolved into a hotel that catered to tourists that the CPR attracted to the mountains. It stood from 1886 to 1953 on the current site of the CPR bunkhouse — your destination for lunch or dinner!

Turn off the highway and come into town, cross the river and then cross the tracks. Take the first right turn and make your way down to a beige building. Park and go in the front door — tourists are welcome, despite the lack of sign. The diner-style cafe inside is where the railway guys eat their meals and chat. Consider asking them about the big train wreck mentioned above.

If you prefer, there is also the Siding General Store and Cafe in downtown Field.

Depending on your schedule, you could continue to drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway, following the line as it heads to Vancouver. The scenery is lovely and the rail line comes into view every once in awhile.

trainReturn to the Era of Travel by Rail:

Simply the most spectacular train trip in the world.

The Rocky Mountaineer travels during the daylight hours through the rugged Rocky Mountains.

For more information.
Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Round out your Kootenay Itinerary

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Olive Lake, just past the Sinclair Pass Viewpoint, is a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic and fishwatch. The cool forest that surrounds the lake is a treat on a hot summer day.

Enjoy the scenery and relax in the Radium Hot Springs. Two pools, one hot for soaking and one warm for swimming, will keep all members of the family happy. Forgot your trunks? No problem, towels and suits are available for rent.

Just beyond the park boundary lies one of the biggest and most important wetlands in Canada – the Columbia Wetlands. Ask locals for walking suggestions or take a tour with a float trip company. Eagles, osprey, waterfowl and other birds are sure to be seen.

For those looking to challenge themselves in the mountains, Kootenay has a handful of classic full day hikes. We recommend the Kindersley/Sinclair Loop for midsummer wildflowers, Floe Lake for dramatic beauty, and, Stanley Glacier for a taste of fire and ice.

Gateway to the Desert

At the south end of Kootenay, the road travels through Sinclair Canyon, a feat of highway engineering.

Between narrow red canyon walls, the road actually travels on top of the Sinclair River. Once you have passed through the narrowest part, the wide open Columbia Valley awaits. Only an hour’s drive away from glaciers, you will find cactus on the warm and dry valley floor.

There are a number of short trails that allow you to explore more of the Sinclair Canyon on foot. The smell of sun-warmed juniper bushes wafts on the air, and when you descend to the stream, tall western red cedar trees whisk you away from desert-like conditions to the rainforest of the British Columbia coast.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Train Buff’s Itinerary

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sepiatrainWhen the Canadian Pacific Railway was built across our young country, the Rocky Mountains were the first large barrier to be crossed on the way to the west coast. The difficulties posed by the Great Divide (10 minutes from Lake Louise), the tall peaks and narrow passes of the Columbia Mountains, as well as the Fraser Canyon, taxed the creative genius of railway engineers — who produced some amazing solutions.

There is a rich railway legacy in the immediate vicinity of Lake Louise. To appreciate it fully, you’ll need to bone up on the history end of things. Two suggestions: first, get one of the many books on the subject (like Graeme Pole’s The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill) and second, stop at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre for a copy of “The Kicking Horse Chronicle,” a newspaper style pamphlet that outlines railway construction on the Big Hill.

trainReturn to the Era of Travel by Rail:

Simply the most spectacular train trip in the world.

The Rocky Mountaineer travels during the daylight hours through the rugged Rocky Mountains.

For more information.

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Cool Kootenay

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From Lake Louise, another good option is a day trip into Kootenay National Park. You can take the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) east or the #1A Bow Valley Parkway in the direction of banff and, half way there, take the exit for Highway #93 South to Radium Hot Springs. Kootenay is an intense variety of landscapes in a small amount of space. You can experience a lot in the course of one day — the life and beauty of a burned forest, the cool, fragrant breezes of a canyon, the intense colour of vermilion rocks, and, the burning heat of the desert (well, almost!).

The Vermillion Pass Burn

As you begin to climb up Highway #93S, the road takes you past the 1968 Vermillion Pass Burn. It may seem like a desolate landscape, but look again. It has it’s own beauty and it is some of the best wildlife habitat around. Moose love the tender ends of bushes that grow well when they get lots of sunlight. And bears love the berries the bushes produce too. Hummingbirds are attracted to a host of blooming flowers. Finally, the burn is good habitat for the rarely-seen lynx, who like to hunt snowshoe hares along the edge of it. To best experience the life in a young forest, stop at the Arnica Lake/Twin Lakes trailhead and take a walk as far as you feel comfortable, or, stop at the short Fireweed Trail to learn more about fire’s role in renewing the landscape.

Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots

There are two more short trails that make enjoyable walks. Marble Canyon is a narrow, deep canyon and the trail takes you along its edge, while bridges allow you to get good views of the interior. Also check out the trail to the Ochre Beds and Paint Pots. Colourful sediments the flow from the runoff of cold springs were mined here for use in paint.

Mt. Wardle Mineral Lick

Kootenay National Park’s official symbol is the mountain goat. Close to 300 of these sure-footed creatures inhabit the park, and one of the best places to see them is at a natural mineral lick by the side of the highway (watch for the sign). During May and June, dozens of goats will descend from their steep haunts to lick the dirt. Mixed in with the soil are essential minerals like calcium, especially important for nannies who have recently given birth.

Wide Valleys mean Wildlife

A good portion of your trip is in the bottom of a low elevation valley, the Kootenay Valley. Unlike the high mountain peaks, winter is easier and summer is more bountiful in the grassy meadows and open forests of the montane life zone. You might see black bears, coyotes, moose, elk and deer. Drive carefully, particularly at dusk.

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Rockwalls and Waterfalls

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The boundary of Yoho National Park is only 10 minutes away and all of this impressive park is within striking distance for day trips from Lake Louise. Yoho’s theme is “Rockwalls and Waterfalls.”

After leaving Lake Louise, the road descends quickly, but the mountains don’t get any shorter! Mt. Stephen looms overhead as the road finally levels out near the town of Field.

Falling water can often be seen on the sheer cliffs that surround you, but the grandmother of Yoho’s waterfalls is Takakkaw Falls. Found at the end of the Yoho Valley Road (40 minutes from Lake Louise), this impressive cascade is one of the highest named waterfalls in Canada. Again, we suggest going early or late to get the best light and a peaceful experience. You can walk right up to the base of the falls and feel the cool spray on your face. The falls originate as the meltwater of a glacier above and out of sight.

Note: Takakkaw Falls is not accessible from mid-October to early June. The road is not plowed.

Emerald Lake

The other major destination in Yoho is Emerald Lake (40 minutes from Lake Louise). The high peaks of the great divide capture the weather we receive from the Pacific Ocean. The clouds get hung up on the summits and moisture plummets down the steep mountain sides. Where the topography concentrates this water, you can find small patches of coastal rainforest — with western red cedar trees and devil’s club (look for the large plant with thorns and maple-like leaves). The west side of Emerald lake is one of these spots.

Interpretive signs along the lakeshore trail help you understand the wet and dry sides of the lake. You can’t help but notice the difference in the plants, the streams and the atmosphere. In early spring (late may and June), Emerald Lake is the first place to look for wildflowers. As the snow melts away, the shore becomes a riot of bright yellow glacier lilies. Hot pink calypso orchids are not far behind.

From the lakeshore you can find out more about the world-famous Burgess Shale. An interpretive exhibit tells the story of these unique and rare fossils, and, a telescope zooms in on the quarry where scientists study and excavate them each summer. You can visit this quarry and the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Bed with guided hikes from the Burgess Shale Research Foundation. Access is otherwise restricted.

In winter, Emerald is still beautiful and a fun place to take a walk, cross-country ski or snowshoe.

Food is available at Emerald Lake Lodge. Canoes, skis and snowshoes are available from Emerald Sports. Horseback rides available from Emerald Stables (250-343-6000).

Yoho is also full of train-related history. Check out our other itinerary for train buffs.

Get to the Burgess Shale

Visiting either of the Burgess Shale sites requires a full-day, strenuous hike. But it’s worth it! The thin band of shale is one of only two places in the world where the soft parts of creatures have been fully preserved in rock, in exquisite detail. Better yet, these fantastic animals date from very early in the evolution of life on the planet, making them a valuable scientific find.

Of course, access to the sites is restricted, so you must go with a guided group. Contact the Burgess Shale Research Foundation at 800-343-3006 or contact us.

Lake Louise
The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Icefields Parkway

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Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

In winter on a crystal clear day, or in summer when the sun is high in the sky, there is no sight more breathtaking than the mountains and glaciers of the Icefields Parkway (#93 North). From Lake Louise, it is only a five minute drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) to the turnoff for jasper via this scenic route.

If you have any option at all, try to make this trip on a clear day, but sometimes cloudy days will still provide views of the tops of the mountains. Hanging glaciers adorn many of the peaks and, every once in a while, glaciers that spill from the icefields beyond come into view. Anytime you see thick white or blue, you are looking at a glacial ice.

In the course of a day trip from Lake Louise, you should be able to make it to the Columbia Icefield area and back again, which is the most scenic part of the parkway. Allow for 1½ hours of driving time each way, and add on for stops and winter driving conditions. For a trip all the way to jasper, budget three hours of driving time under good conditions.

The Lake Louise Visitor Centre (next to the Samson Mall) has an invaluable free pamphlet called “The Icefields Parkway” that outlines in detail the viewpoints and trailheads along the way. For even more information, with notes about history and nature included, pick up a copy of Brian Patton’s “Parkways of the Canadian Rockies: and Interpretive Guide to the Roads in the Mountain Parks.”

A River of Ice

snocoachThe highlight of the parkway is, of course, the Athabasca Glacier which comes tumbling off the Columbia Icefield directly towards the road. Nowhere else in the Rockies is it possible to get a view that encompasses more ice.

The Icefield Visitor Centre has excellent exhibits that help you explore the exotic world of perpetual cold.

For a first-hand experience, you have the option of driving out to the parking lot at the glacier’s toe (we do not recommend walking on the ice for safety reasons), of taking a snowcoach ride (many departures daily), or, of participating in an Icewalk with a licensed mountain guide (one departure daily). Bring extra clothes as it is often cooler near the icefield (hmmm… no surprise, eh!!)

goldsealClick the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Lake Louise: The Hiking Capital of Canada


© Lake Louise with the Chateau in foreground

© Lake Louise with the Chateau in foreground

Everyone’s immediate goal is to get to the world famous view at the lakeshore. But why not build in some anticipation? You’ll only be a virgin once, so timing is crucial! To make this moment the best it can be, you must avoid the lakeshore from 10 am to 4 pm (in summer), when the crowds are at their peak.

We recommend spending time doing other things first, like getting to your accommodation, settling in and checking out the immediate surroundings. To fill in your itinerary for day one, check the list of ways to “Round out Your Lake Louise Itinerary” below. One anticipation-building option is to pick up a copy of Jon Whyte’s “Lake Louise: A Diamond in the Wilderness” for a colourful foretaste of Lake Louise’s history and delights (Woodruff & Blum, Lake Louise Shopping Mall or Mountain Lights, Lake Louise Chateau).

Then, as the day is drawing to a close, maybe even after dinner in summer, drive up to the Lake Louise parking lots and quietly make your way to the main viewpoint. If you enjoy a bit of exercise and are staying in the village, it is very pleasant to walk up the Louise Creek trail (45 min), or, to x-country ski or bike up the Tramline trail (25 min), letting the experience unfold a more leisurely pace. Your mind will relax and be ready to take in the peace (and even awe) that evening in the mountains can offer.

Lake Louise: The Hiking Capital of Canada

Lake Louise has many nicknames: the Hiking Capital of Canada, the Skiing Capital of Canada, the Romance Capital of Canada (tied with Niagara Falls), the Diamond in the Wilderness, the Jewel in the Heart of the Canadian Rockies. Finally, we’re also the Highest Community in Canada at 5,020 ft (1530 m).

Hiking is fabulous here because you already start very high in elevation. It doesn’t take long to break out to views. There are over 200 km of trails in the immediate Lake Louise area and many more nearby. And we’ve got something for everyone — from trails flat as a board to trails that take you to the summits.

goldseal

Click the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

The Other Lake – Moraine Lake
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Moraine Lake – Don’t miss our “other” lake


© Moraine Lake  - This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge which is open from June - early Oct.

© Moraine Lake - This classic mountain scene is the setting for Moraine Lake Lodge which is open from June - early Oct.

The next stop in the immediate Lake Louise vicinity is our other fabulous lake, Moraine Lake (open in summer only). Moraine can be extremely busy by noon, so it is important to get an early start on the day. Enjoy a hearty breakfast, then head out (say, before 9:30 am) to the shore of Moraine Lake where adventures large and small await.

Do take the Rockpile interpretive trail. The very best views of the lake and surrounding Valley of the Ten Peaks can be had from the top of this, yes… pile of rocks. It is short, with only a little elevation to conquer. Look for the golden-mantled ground squirrel (fat with stripes), the chipmunk (stripes with pointy nose), the pika (a unique high mountain rabbit relative) and the marmot (a ground squirrel on steroids… occasionally sighted). Food and gifts are available at Moraine Lake Lodge. On your right, above the lodge, is Mt. Temple, the third highest peak in banff National Park (3549 m / 11, 636 ft).

There is a short walk along the right bank of the lake and a short hike to Consolation Lakes that are both a great way to extend your visit to Moraine Lake. As well, a number of longer hikes begin at Moraine Lake including spectacular Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass and Eiffel Lake. There may, however, be a bear closure or warning on these trails….

You are in Bear Country:

The Moraine Lake area has been home over the last couple of years to a young, male grizzly bear.

Don’t worry!

Right at the lakeshore your chances of seeing this bear are quite small, but it is an awe-inspiring (and humbling) experience to know that the park is still home to this powerful creature.

Find out more about the grizzly by taking in a Parks Canada interpretive show about bears at the Lake Louise Campground Theatre (schedule available at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre) or by buying one of the many books available.

goldseal

Click the logo for short side trips and stops on this tour.

Lake Louise
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski

Round out your Icefields Parkway tour


Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

Peyto Lake © Just one of the side trips recommended by the editors along the Icefields Parkway

Stop at the interpretive signs.

Many of the viewpoints have displays that explain more about the area.

Stretch your legs at one of the short trails along the way. Not only does Bow Summit offer one of the most famous views in the Rockies (Peyto Lake), but also a short interpretive trail that meanders through high elevation meadows. In early summer, this is the only way to see alpine wildflowers without a serious hike. Mistaya Canyon is a 10-minute walk through forest to a stretch of deeply eroded canyon that features potholes worn into the rock. The beginning of the Glacier Lake trail allows you to poke around on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River.

Have an ice cream and stare in amazement at the postcard selection at The Crossing Resort’s gift shop.

Look for wildlife along the way. On a good day in May and June (while there is still a lot of snow high on the mountains), you can often spot every large mammal that the Rockies has to offer — right next to the road. During the rest of the summer, your chances are still good to see animals, especially early and late in the day. Drive carefully. A number of good, pocket-sized books are available about the mammals of the Canadian Rockies.

In winter, be sure to have a full tank of gas, food and water when you take this trip. All services are closed.

THE Picnic

Pack a delicious lunch to eat outdoors.
The parkway is the wildest part of banff National Park and features nature at its most intense and beautiful. You’ll be in a car for much of the trip and what better way to experience this place than to eat while fully immersed in it.

There are picnic areas at Herbert Lake, Bow Lake, Saskatchewan River Crossing, and below Mt. Coleman. Or, bring a blanket and find a quiet and secluded spot by driving into a campground or stopping at a trailhead where you can walk a short distance away.

Lake Louise
The Icefields Parkway Tour
WaterFalls and RockWalls Tour (Yoho)
Hot Springs (Kootenay)
For Train Buffs

Stuff to do for those that don’t hike or ski