Exploring Banff National Park

Hi! I'm Madison, Director of Growth for My Freed Life. Every year my best friend Brooke Allison and I take a trip to some place new, that we draw out of a hat on the last day of our trip. We've been to places in the United States like Nappa and Santa Fe and across the globe to Greece and Ireland. This year we traveled to Banff, a place that has always been on my bucket list. I hope this post inspires you to book the plane ticket and start living your bucket list today!

Banff National Park, located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, has always been a bucket list trip for my Enneagram 7 adventure-loving soul. From its stunning mountain landscapes to its crystal-clear lakes, Banff is one of those places that no matter where you point your camera, it's going to be beautiful. Here are some of my tips for an adventure-packed trip you will never forget. 

Download the ArriveCAN App
One of the first steps to ensure a smooth travel experience to Canada is to download the ArriveCAN app. This app allows you to fill out your customs and immigration forms ahead of time, saving you long lines at the airport. 

Plan Your US Customs Clearance
When flying back to the United States from Canada, you'll clear US Customs at the Canadian airport. This process can take some time, so it's crucial to give yourself at least two hours before your flight's departure. 

Stay in Calgary
While staying in Banff is convenient, it can also be quite expensive, especially during peak seasons. For a more budget-friendly option, consider staying in Calgary, which is about an hour's drive from Banff. Calgary offers a variety of accommodation options to suit all budgets, from budget hotels to cozy Airbnb rentals. Plus, you'll get to explore another vibrant Canadian city. 

Rent a Car through Turo
To explore Banff at your own pace, consider renting a car. Traditional car rentals can be pricey, so we opted to use Turo, a car-sharing platform. With a Turo rental, you can choose the perfect vehicle for your trip, whether you need a rugged SUV for mountain adventures or a compact car for city driving. You can find car options with drop off at the airport for easy pick up & drop off, unlimited miles, and even a car seat if you bring the family. 


Must-See Sights and Activities in Banff  

Explore the Iconic Lake Louise
No trip to Banff is complete without visiting Lake Louise. Known for its stunning turquoise waters and majestic mountain backdrop, Lake Louise is a perfect spot for photography, canoeing, and hiking. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds and capture the lake at its most serene. The lake was just starting to thaw in mid-May, so if you want the “blue lake” experience, opt for June or later. 

Drive the Icefields Parkway
Considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, the Icefields Parkway stretches from Banff to Jasper National Park. Along the way, you'll encounter stunning glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Be sure to stop at viewpoints like Peyto Lake and Athabasca Falls for unforgettable photo opportunities. Depending on the time of year, the upper lakes may still be frozen. If you are wanting to hike in winter, I suggest renting shoe spikes from Bactrax. This drive took all day, so plan to pack a sandwich and spend the day exploring. 

Banff Gondola
The Banff Gondola is an eight-minute ride to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, with breathtaking views of Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Bring your camera! At the top you can explore the interpretive center with a film of the area, dine with a beautiful scenic backdrop, and walk the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk. I suggest booking this ahead of time as it is one of Banffs most popular attractions. If you get there and the weather isn't ideal, they made it very easy to change your day/time to accommodate the weather. Clear skies = better views!

Radventures Wildlife Evening Tour 
Bear, Elk, and Sheep– Oh My! This was a wonderful way to see some of the most beautiful places in Banff while keeping our eyes out for wildlife. We stopped at the Bow waterfall, Lake Minnewanka, and some beautiful overlooks. Great for kids/ families, as it was a small group of 12 or less. 


Must-Eat Spots in Banff

Hello Sunshine
Hello Sunshine is a vibrant and trendy spot known for its Japanese-inspired cuisine and lively atmosphere. Whether you're in the mood for sushi, ramen, or creative cocktails, Hello Sunshine offers a menu that's both diverse and delectable. The stylish decor and friendly service make it a great place to unwind after a day of exploring the Rockies. Beware, merch is cute and you may want to buy a hat!

Bear Street Tavern
For a cozy and casual dining experience, head to Bear Street Tavern. Famous for its wood-fired pizzas and hearty pub fare, this local favorite is perfect for a laid-back meal. Don't miss their The Godfather Pizza  (add chili oil & honey), you will thank me later. 

High Tea at the Fairmont
With options at both the downtown and the Lake Louise locations, take the time for a slow-down afternoon with the finest teas, homemade pastries and sandwiches. This was recommended to me and ended up being one of my favorite things we did while we were there. With incredible views of the mountains, you will feel like royalty! Book this well in advance by calling the hotel. Reservations are very limited. 

Banff Poutine
You can't visit Canada without trying poutine, the country's national dish, and Banff Poutine is the place to do it. Located conveniently in downtown Banff, this eatery serves up classic poutine—crispy fries topped with rich gravy and cheese curds—as well as creative variations that add a unique twist to this beloved comfort food. It's a small place so don't plan for a dine-in experience. 


Additional Tips for a Smooth Trip

  • Pack Appropriately: Weather in the Rockies can be unpredictable, so pack layers and be prepared for varying conditions. Comfortable hiking boots and a waterproof jacket are essential.
  • Book Activities in Advance: Popular activities like guided hikes, canoe rentals, and gondola rides can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. Booking in advance ensures you won't miss out.
  • Stop by the Visitor Center: A great place in downtown Banff to get information on what's going on in the park and what may be open or closed due to weather.  


Visiting Banff National Park is an unforgettable experience, offering a perfect blend of adventure and tranquility. By following these travel tips, you'll be well-prepared to make unforgettable memories and leave with a camera full of pictures. 


Happy travels!



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