Canada: Where cattle guards are called “Texas Gates,” one and two-dollar coins are referred to as loonies and toonies, and rest stops along the highway might as well be provincial parks because of their ridiculously beautiful views. At least that’s how British Columbia rolls.
I had high expectations for Banff Lake Louise, as I had heard only good things about its beauty, but even with those high expectations, I was blown away. That John Denver was certainly NOT full of shit. Those Canadian Rockies are the most jagged, hostile peaks I’ve ever seen. Topped with glaciers, dotted with alpine lakes, and reaching farther than the eye can see, they certainly demand the reputation they carry.
The decision to take the trip was rather spontaneous, as we had a wedding to attend in Seattle and four days to get there. This became our “Why not?” trip, and WOW, so happy about that decision.
The entire Banff Lake Louise area is one that needs to be seen, not simply spoken or written about. Do yourself a favor and put it on your bucket list right now, and then continue reading, there are some amazing photos ahead, and I’m going to “write” this post with them.
Since we live in Montana, we road-tripped up to Banff, entering British Columbia and following the Kootenay Rockies where we saw this (yes, it really exists):
A nice welcome to Canada, but that was just the beginning.
We stayed at a campground (Tunnel Mountain Village I) in Banff, which is an adorable little town at the base of this crazy mountain:
That’s Mount Rundle, and when the nearly full moon came out from behind it and completely surprised us, this happened:
We spent just two nights in Banff so we had only one full day, which we packed full of eye candy. Our first stop was Lake Louise:
What most people won’t tell you about Lake Louise is that even though it’s beautiful, its main shore is PACKED with tourists.
PACKED. No me gusta. We took a few photos, trying to avoid as many tourists as possible:
And because we like to be goofballs:
I know it’s not a perfect standing bow, but that rock was not flat so at least I didn’t fall in!
After enjoying some photos at the water, it was time for a hike! If you have just one day to hike in this area, I think what we did was a “MUST DO!” We started by hiking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, which is just to the right of that big rock face on the right, atop a beautiful waterfall, at the edge of a beautiful mountain lake:
That is Lake Agnes, and yes, it’s so beautiful and serene, but just remember that you won’t be there alone:
You’ll be there with 9 million of your best friends!
If you are lucky enough to find a seat in the tea house (which focuses on table service), definitely try some tea with jam and bread, otherwise known as a teapot and biscuits. We found a table inside next to a window, and this stop turned out to be the perfect warm-up on a chilly day with a beautiful view of the valley below.
The break was welcomed, but the best was yet to come. There is a hike out of the Lake Agnes Tea House called Little Beehive. DO IT.
It’s only a mile or so up to a lookout point that honestly was nothing compared to this secret spot we found on the way up, where we spent a loooooooong time taking it all in.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@travelingjackie) and Facebook went crazy over this photo of me in this special spot:
What you couldn’t see was this:
As I said in my social media post “I will remember this moment forever. Not just the incredible view of the famous Lake Louise, but looking back at the massive, majestic, alp-like peaks behind it, watching a piece of the glacier break off before my eyes and create a thundering echo through the valley, and having the unbelievable panorama spread before me alone. In silence. Incredible.”
The piece of the glacier broke off from the second peak from the right along the shelf. This was one of those moments…
By the way that lake you see in front of me is where the tea house is and the waterfall drops off from the edge.
We made this spot our own for quite some time until a couple from Spain came along and traded us some photos (and I got to speak Spanish with them!)
Nate and I have this thing with high-fives in super sweet places:
We played some more before we left this incredible place. This next one is titled “Find Nate!”:
Do you see him?
After I took that photo, I turned to go meet Nate and he yelled at me to stop and strike a pose. I thought it would be a rather boring picture, but instead, it’s rather terrifying to think that that is me, on the edge of a CLIFF:
I am terrified of heights, which makes this picture probably impossible to get had I known where I was.
As much as we loved what we had seen on this hike, we also wanted to get to Moraine Lake before the day was over and the clouds rolling in actually did anything, so reluctantly, but completely filled, we left our special spot.
Moraine Lake is 10K down the road from Lake Louise, and we got there just in time to take a walk and some photos before it started to sprinkle.
It only rained briefly, and Banff was dry by the time we got back (it’s about 30 minutes from the Lake Louise area). Rather than fight the crowds and the crazy prices of downtown Banff, we grabbed some chicken and side salads from the grocery store and had a picnic dinner at Vermillion Lakes, the wetland area right next to Banff:
Another moonrise over Mount Rundle was just the icing on the cake for an incredible day.
We had heard the weather might not be so great on our last morning, so we saved a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs for last:
And then it started snowing.
We left Banff and headed west to Penticton, driving through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen, and that’s just Beautiful British Columbia for you. There are so many beautiful mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, streams, and even wildlife that you almost feel out of place. Especially when the roads look like this:
Yep, enlarge it if you need to, that’s a glacier field and a massive cascade. How about this one:
On the other side of this rock, this piece of the road turns into a bridge towering over a canyon.
I didn’t think a three-day, two-night trip would make such an impression on me, but wow.
We got to stay in Penticton with a friend I met traveling in Guatemala in 2007 (love that) and as we crossed back over the border, I put my collection of maps away which I was honestly sad to do.
We started our trip on the pink road into Canada on the right, made the entire loop up and around, and ended crossing back over at Osoyoos, the green part on the left. What really blew my mind was how close it was to home. We DROVE there. In our own car with all of our camping gear.
I definitely don’t take enough advantage of living so close to BC. Or the rest of Canada for that matter. Here is another country, with their own customs, foods, money, accents, and culture just to the north of us, with the Rockies farther than the eye can see.
I want to explore. I want to feel like I’m abroad (as if in Europe) like I did the whole time we were north of the border, without having to pay hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket.
My family is planning a ski trip to Banff in March, and I already can’t wait to go back. It will be a whole new adventure in a different season.
I wanted to share this post with you so that you will GO see for yourself the beauty that is just over the border. And when you ask me how I liked Banff Lake Louise and I’m speechless, now you will know why.
Explore more of Canada:
- Quebec Guide: Things to Do, Where to Stay, and How to Find the Best Poutine!
- Sleep Under the Canadian Stars: Yurt Glamping in Quebec
- Toronto City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers