Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Are you planning to visit Banff? I would definitely recommend you to go between July-September since that's when all the snow melted and the lakes become blue.
FIRST THING FIRST
Download Google offline map! You will need it since signal gets cut off in many areas.
BEST WAY TO MOVE AROUND
Car or bus?
If you plan to visit Alberta or Banff National Park, I highly recommend renting a car. Not only if will save you so much time, it will also save you so much money in many ways! The busses here don't reach everywhere, and they are generally expensive. Round trip tickets to Banff would cost you as least 50-100$. There is a new express line for 10$ one way, but it's not available all the time, and of course you would still have to figure out how to get around once you're in Banff National Park. Keep in mind, most places (except the most popular places like Banff Town, Moraine Lake and Lake Louise) can't be reach by bus so you will end up spending more money trying to figure out how to move from one place to another.
Where to rent the car?
Anywhere that is outside of the airport! If you book outside of the airport, you will save as least 50% of the rental rate (around 35 CAD/day) , and the rental company will offer free shuttle from and to the airport anyway so you don't have to spend any extra money. Simply give the car rental company a call a day before, or after you arrived to the airport, they will come and pick you up.
WHERE TO STAY?
If you haven't heard, Banff, Jasper National Park and generally anywhere in Alberta get extremely busy since the lakes are only nice and blue for briefly 3 months. Most hotels get booked months in advance and are extremely expensive. A 3 star hotel would cost around 200$/night, and still everything is usually sold out by June.
My advice is to book a hotel in Canmore! It's very close to Banff (around 30 minutes drive) and is usually less expensive and less busy.
If you don't mind driving, I would recommend renting an Airbnb place in Calgary and drive up to Banff everyday (sounds a little crazy isn't it?!). Rooms in Calgary range from 20-50$, and so you can see a huge difference already. Calgary is an hour drive from Canmore, 1.5 hour drive to Banff, 2 hours drive to Lake Louise. If you stay in Banff town, generally you would still need to drive as least 30 minutes to different attractions. By staying in Calgary, you actually will save a lot of money in accommodations, though it's a little tiring.
You can also camp but you will need to book a campsite in advance as it's also very busy. The site to book a campsite is https://reserve.albertaparks.ca/
WHERE TO GO?
Alberta is huge, and there are so many hikes, views and lakes. But here are my favourites:
- BANFF NATIONAL PARK
1. Moraine Lake
Hands down, the most beautiful lake in Alberta in my opinion (and is also the most crowded place). Even at sunrise, this place is packed. If you want to enjoy this place to the fullest without having to wake up early, come after 10:00pm around sunset time and it will get a lot quieter since most people already headed back.
2. Lake Louise
Lake Louise is actually right next to Moraine Lake (just around 5 minutes drive) so I would recommend visiting both places while you're there.
3. Banff Gondola + Hot Spring
Banff Gondola, though a little expensive (64 CAD), is definitely worth visiting! When you get up to the top, the view is incredible and there's a trail up there which leads to amazing views and a little house. Come down and enjoy Banff Upper Hot Spring that is just right next to the Gondola.
4. Banff Town Centre
This is probably one of the prettiest town in Canada, they say. If you do visit Banff town, don't forget to drop by Bow Falls. It's only a minute away from Banff town and totally worth a visit!
5. Johnston Canyon
Super easy and fun hike! I only went up top once 10 years ago. After that I've decided to only hike to the upper falls as I thought the view up there is enough for me.
6. Bow Lake
This lake is on the left side of the main road to Peyto Lake. It's huge, and the water is very blue! Enjoy a little walk around Bow Lake and you can find many good angles to take pictures there.
7. Peyto Lake
Hands down, one of the prettiest lakes in Alberta. This picture was taken during a gloomy day and honestly, no picture does any justice to the beauty of this place. You just really need to see it for yourself!
8. Cave and Basin
I visited this place in the winter time and part of it was closed, but the main cave and basin were very beautiful. Admission to this place is 4 CAD.
10. The Beehive Hike
The most worthy hike in my opinion, if you hike at a steady space, it won't take any more than 2.5 hours round trip to the Little Beehive lookout. You will find so many pretty places there, including the mirror lake, lake Agnes tea house, the waterfall and Little Bee Hive view point. I personally haven't done the Big Beehive, but it's on my list!
11. Emerald Lake
This place is quite crowded, but it's understandable. There is a trail to walk around the lake and it's very relaxing. Come before 9:00am if you want to find parking!
12. Lake Minnewanka
Loved the vibes of this lake and the most unique thing about it is that you can take a ferry around the lake. Book online in advance for a cheaper price, and the last boat departs at 6:00pm!
13. Helen Lake
This place is totally beyond words! just can't recommend this trail enough. The hike to Helen lake is around 2-3 hours (one way), and you can continue further to Dolomite Pass view point which is around 30 minutes pass Helen Lake. This place is definitely a gem of Alberta!
14. Grassi Lakes
Grassi Lakes trail is a quick and easy hike (around 30 minutes up). This place is usually not crowded and you will see one lake at the start of the trail, and 2 lakes at the end of the trail. The lakes here are insanely blue and crystal clear. This is one of my most favourite places where I visit very often throughout the year.
15. Crescent Falls
These 2 waterfalls are around 3 hours drive from Calgary or 1.5 hours drive from Banff. The drive to this Banff was spectacular and so as the place itself. After you arrive at the parking lot, walk toward your left and you can climb down to the waterfalls. The trail is very steep, but very short so make sure you wear good hiking shoes.
16. Horseshoe Canyon
I'm surprised that this place is not so popular in Alberta. I've visited a few times to this place this summer and I've only seen a couple of people at the Canyon. The view is very unique and I love how you can see a different view of Alberta. There's no admission fees and if you visit during the end of July, you'll see endless canola fields on your way to Horseshoe Canyon. You can also take a quick helicopter tour at the Canyon for 55$/person.
17. Drumheller Suspension Bridge
Another gem I found this summer! This place is only 5 minutes before the Hoodoos Trail in Drumheller (1.5 hour away from Alberta). The admission is free and I love the view there.
18. Hoodoos Trail
Definitely can't miss this place while you are in Drumheller. This place is a lot smaller than I imagined, but still very unique and different from the rest of Alberta.
I will be updating my list from time to time, but if you have any questions, please drop a comment below!