We actually started our first day discovering Banff National Park and Yoho National Park by driving from our hotel in Calgary to Lake Louise which was about a 2 hour drive. We would be staying in the town of Canmore for two nights but figured the hotel may not have rooms already available so early in the morning. Plus, I had read that the Lake Louise and Morraine Lake parking lots fill up quite quickly so it is best to get there as early as possible.
Also, keep in mind, these are national parks and there are entrance fees. Since we already went to Waterton Lakes National Parks and were going to multiple parks in the Banff area, my mother had already purchased a group/family annual Discovery Pass ahead of time to hang on our vehicle.
It was a bit of a gloomy day with on and off rain. A friend of mine had told me to try to arrive at Lake Louise before 9 am so we would not have to park to far. I think we got there right around that time but because of the bad weather we were still able to park right by Lake Louise. Morraine Lake’s parking lot was also open when we first arrived but by the time we finished at Lake Louise, they were already full.
Because these two lakes are so popular, there are a lot of shuttles that go between the two lakes, Lake Louise Village and the Lake Louise Park & Ride Lot. You can find more information about the shuttles here.
One of the highlights of Lake Louise is the impressive Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It is quite a beautiful hotel especially with the lake in its backdrop. Of course room rates here are very high although if you have the American Express Platinum card, you could use their Fine Hotels & Resorts pages to get some additional benefits. A cheaper option to enjoy the hotel is to consider their Afternoon Tea that is served between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm. We were there quite early so the dining area facing the lake was not open yet. What we did do was walk around along the lake so we could get some pictures of the hotel from afar. It was not too busy when we first got to Lake Louise but increasingly more people were arriving and also the sun began to shine towards the end of our time there which was even more beautiful.
We originally considered taking the shuttle from Lake Louise to Morraine Lake but I realized the shuttle only goes in one direction and to return to our car, we would have to switch shuttles at either the Park & Ride or the Village on the return. We decided to try our luck with the Morraine Lake parking lot since it had been open earlier but we discovered it was full and they had already blocked off access.
Instead we decided to head over to Yoho National Park where my mother’s friend had highly recommended we visit Emerald Lake. Yoho National Park borders Banff National Park on its west side but is located within British Columbia whereas Banff is located in Alberta.
Emerald Lake is one of the main highlights of Yoho but unfortunately when we got there, after about a 45 minute drive, it started to rain fairly steadily. We still forged on and started a trail along the lake but we were getting way too wet and ended up turning back around. We also could not find the short trail we were looking for that was supposed to bring us to a waterfall. The one lucky thing going for us is that we managed to park fairly close to the lake, just outside of the parking lot which was full. Otherwise, many people were parking alongside the road to the parking area and trekking over.
After leaving Emerald Lake, we stopped by the Natural Bridge which is around the entrance to the turnoff for Emerald Lake from the main highway. Probably because of the rain, the water current was VERY strong here.
Originally, we had intended to stop by Takakkaw Falls which is also in Yoho, however the road up to the falls is steep with tight switchbacks and decided it would be pretty tough to drive on a rainy day. (We ended up stopping by the next day.)
Instead, since we had not eaten anything but the snacks we had brought with us, we decide to start heading back and stop and explore the town of Banff while getting something to eat. The drive was about an hour.
The town of Banff is a very interesting little town with a lot more to do than I had expected. There was a lot of people in town when we got there, likely because of the rainy weather more people stayed in town. There is a lot of street parking and some lots. We ended up parking on the street further from most of the action and walking in. The first thing we did was look for a place to eat a late lunch. Before this trip, I had looked up a few places and I decided to try Earls Kitchen + Bar which is located around the middle of town.
We were seated around 2:30 pm and discovered they had happy hour daily from 3 – 6 pm and many of the regular menu items were on the happy hour menu but a few dollars cheaper so we decided to wait to order. It was not that busy when we were first seated but as it got closer to happy hour, more people were arriving. About 10 minutes before 3 pm, our waitress said she would be happy to put in our drink order (we chose items not on the happy hour menu) and to take down our happy hour order which she would put in immediately after it turned 3.
My parents ordered two non-alcoholic drinks, one a calamansi-based drink and the other a yuzu lemonade drink. I ordered an alcoholic calamansi paloma that I really loved as it was very refreshing and the calamansi gave it an extra hit of acid. I was surprised at all the calamansi items though since I had only seen it before at Filipino places.
For food we ordered a dynamite (sushi) roll to share. I ordered a hot chicken sandwich, my father a burger and my mother a salmon rice bowl. Everything was delicious and I was too invested in eating that I did not take any photos. Portions were normal sized which was nice since sometimes the happy hour specials are a smaller-sized version.
After dinner, we walked around the town a bit, did some souvenir shopping and even ran into a small outdoors market selling food items and special goods. The market was near the Bow River and we decided to walk along the trail by the river and cross over to Bow Falls. In hindsight, we could have just driven over as there is a parking lot by the falls and there is some stair-climbing on the path.
After reaching Bow Falls and taking some photos, we retraced our steps back into town and then walked back to our car so we could drive to Canmore to check-in to our hotel. Canmore is another small town that is a little more spread out and more quiet than Banff. It’s about 30 minutes east of Banff so it is a little further from the national park. We made reservations at the Holiday Inn Canmore which is actually opposite the highway from the town and therefore more secluded but since it’s right by the highway, it makes it even easier to go to and from the park.
We ended up not going out for dinner since we had lunch so late and it was a good amount of food. Also, we were going to try to head out earlier to drive up to Morraine Lake so it was better to turn in early.
This post is part of a series:
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day One
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day Two
- Glacier National Park, Montana & Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada: Day Three
- Calgary, Alberta
- Banff National Park, Alberta and Yoho National Park, British Columbia: Day One
- Banff National Park, Alberta and Yoho National Park, British Columbia: Day Two
- Kootenay National Park, British Columbia
- Last Day in Montana