Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park, established in 1885 as
Rocky Mountains Park. Located in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, Banff
encompasses 6,641 square kilometers (2,564 sq mi) of mountainous terrain, with
many glaciers and ice fields, dense coniferous forest, and alpine landscapes.
Banff National Park is famous for its vibrant lakes, majestic mountains and easy
access to outdoor activities of all kinds. Rocky Mountain peaks, glacial
lakes, and adventure come together in Banff National Park. Banff has been
a year-round destination since 1960's when park accommodations were winterized.
Getting there ...
We had an early morning flight from San Francisco to Vancouver, and then
Vancouver to Calgary. However, the Vancouver to Calgary flight was delayed
for 2.5 hours because of extreme cold weather condition in Canada.
Although it was freezing cold (below -30C), the driving condition from Calgary
to Banff was not bad at all. It was already 6PM when we checked in
to our cabin at the Castle Mountain
Chalets. It turned out the heater in our cabin was not working well
(no warm air) and it's cold even we put on our layers of clothes. The
hotel staff came to help us make a fire in the fireplace, and we learned how to
keep it burning for most of the night until we ran out of woods.
Day 2 (1/14) ...
I drove to Vermilion Lake for sunrise. It was not in a
very good lighting condition for sunrise at the lake (no cloud in the sky),
so I turned back to drive to Castle Mountain Junction and had a very nice
early morning photo session. However it was extremely cold (my
car showed -38.5C = -37.3F) and my hands and fingers were starting to
hurt when I took off my mittens (still had my inner gloves on) to take some
- Extreme Cold Morning
It was so cold that the hot water steam froze
instantly when we threw a cup of hot water into the air. It was really
fun but we had to come back to the room to warm up after a few rounds.
- Johnston Canyon
Nestled within the awe inspiring landscapes of Banff
National Park, Johnston Canyon offers an exciting hiking adventure for all
ability levels. The well-maintained trail winds through lush evergreen
forests, with suspended catwalks guiding hikers to the lower and upper
falls. With the cold weather, our noses and
eyelashes were covered by
frost a few minutes after hiking on the trail. We decided to
turned back at the lower falls and did not go on to the upper falls so we
could go back to our car sooner to get warm.
My original plan was to take
Banff Gondola to the Sulphur Mountain summit for the views and to have a
lunch. We also considered to go to the Upper Hot Springs for a
soothing soak in the hot, mineral-rich water. However, when we drove
up to the Banff Gondola, we found it was
closed due to the extreme weather
Our backup plan was to go back to Banff
town center to have a lunch and walked around to do some grocery shopping.
- Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka ("Water of the Spirits" in Nakoda) is
a glacial lake in the eastern area of Banff National Park, about five
kilometers (3.1 miles) northeast of the Banff townsite. The lake is 21 km
(13 mi) long and 142 m (466 ft) deep, making it the 2nd longest lake in the
mountain parks of the Canadian Rockies. Many lakes in Banff were
completely frozen in winter. Walking on the frozen lakes gave you a
different perspective and sensation.
- Two Jack Lake
Just a five-minute drive away from Lake Minnewanka and
15-minute from the Banff town center, Two Jack Lake is a picturesque emerald
green lake (in summer) in Banff National Park. Across the lake,
the iconic summit of Mount Rundle rises serenely above it all. It was
covered by a layer of fresh snow on top of its frozen water. Just a
few minutes of walk from the shore, you could break your own trails without
anyone's footprints around you.
- Vermilion Lakes
The Vermilion Lakes are a series of three lakes
located immediately west of Banff. The iconic Mount Rundle that
looms over the town of Banff is the best background for the lake views.
I ran down to the lake shore to take a few last-minutes sunset shots to
conclude our first full day in Banff.
When we went back to our cabin, we were told to switch to
another cabin (same
deluxe one-bedroom chalet) because of our heater problem. I really
appreciated their effort to make our stay comfortable (and warm).
Day 3 (1/15) ...
I convinced Woanyu to go with me to the Bow River at the
Castle Mountain Junction this morning since it's only 3-minute drive from
our chalet. It's another fantastic (and cold) morning!
- Bow Valley Parkway
We checked out of our room at ~ 9:30AM, and
started to drive north along the Bow Valley Parkway and stopped at a few
nice viewpoints (including the famous Morant's Curve) along the way.
- Bow Lake
Bow Lake is a small lake in Banff National Park along the
Icefields Parkway that is popular to visit year round. Bow Lake
sits at an elevation of 1920 meters and spends most of the year locked away
in ice. This makes it a popular spot for winter activities like snowshoeing
and cross-country skiing. With the dramatic rock wall face of Crowfoot
Mountain, hanging glaciers, and the vivid blue in summer, Bow Lake is one of
the most popular stops for photographers in Banff National Park.
- Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is one of the most famous lakes in Banff
National Park. It’s a turquoise blue glacier-fed lake and another popular
stop on the famous Icefields Parkway. The Peyto Lake viewpoint is easily
accessible even in the winter months. The weather had changed quickly
when we got to the Peyto Lake. The blue sky was gone and it was
overcast with decreasing visibility.
My original plan was to continue driving north to the
Abraham Lake to see the ice bubbles. Since the cloud had been moving in
from the north, we decided to turn around to head back south to Lake Louise.
- Icefields Parkway
We had a quick lunch break at a turnout along the
Icefields Parkway with best views of the Crowfoot Glacier.
- Lake Louise Ski Resort
Although we are not skiers, we could still buy the sightseeing gondola
tickets to go up to the slope for the panoramic views of surrounding
mountains. We also bought the tickets for snow tubing. I think
it is a fun winter activity for both adults and kids.
- Fairmont Chateau Lake
It's time to go to Lake Louise to check in our hotel for the
next 2 days, Fairmont
Chateau Lake Louise. Originally created as a rail chalet in 1890,
the hotel was gradually developed at the turn of the 20th century by the
Canadian Pacific Railway. Enveloped by soaring mountain peaks,
the majestic Victoria Glacier and a glistening emerald lake, the iconic
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise resort is surrounded by some of the most
breathtaking scenery in the Banff National Park.
- Dinner at
We had a nice dinner with Swiss fondue at Walliser Stube
Restaurant in the Chateau Lake Louise. We really enjoyed the dining
experience and the food/wine (3-Cheese fondue, Wiener Schnitzel and Alberta
Rainbow Trout, génoise with ice cream and chocolate fondue).
Day 4 (1/16) ...
Emerald Lake, Yoho
We drove to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park in the
morning. It's about 40-minutes (40km) smooth drive although it began
to snow on the way. Emerald Lake, enclosed by mountains of the
President Range, is the largest lake in Yoho National Park. Although
we could not see the surrounding mountains due to the poor visibility in
snow, it's still a very picturesque lake with a nice cabin (a restaurant) on
the lakeshore. We walked around the bridge and the lakeshore for about
half an hour. When we got back to our car, it was already
covered by a layer of
- Traditional Snowshoe Experience
We signed up a free winter activity
"Traditional Snowshoe Experience" provided by the hotel in the afternoon.
We were given a brief description of traditional snowshoes before strapping
on a pair and heading out to discover winter's enchantment. We took a short
wander along the edge of the lake and then walked to the center of the lake
for fantastic photo opportunities. We were breaking our own trails on the
fresh snow and we were far from anyone else. This short self-guided
adventure offers a unique and picturesque winter experience.
Day 5 (1/17) ...
- Bavarian Curling
We signed up another free winter activity "Bavarian
Curling" this morning . It turned out we were the only guests so we
had the whole court just for us. The guide (the same guide Harrison
from yesterday) provided a brief introduction to the sport and guided us
through the rules of the game (very similar to Bocce Ball). I think we
were quite talented in Bavarian Curling and we had a great time in playing
this new winter sport.
- Sleigh Ride
After a quick sandwich lunch, we checked out of our room
before noon, and prepared for the last activity in Banff:
sleigh ride at 1PM. I booked a private
2-seater ride for
an even more "romantic" experience. Taking a sleigh ride along
the edge of frozen Lake Louise will make you feel as though you have stepped
into a fairytale. Sit cozy under a warm blanket and allow the sleigh to
glide you swiftly and silently through a magical winter wonderland. At
the end of the Lake Louise, there was an impressive ice falls with some ice
climbers. There was no better way to end our stay in Lake Louise and
Going Home ...
We left Lake Louise at about 2:15PM and drove back to Calgary for our evening
flight at 7PM. At about 3PM, we got a text message saying our flight will
be delayed. 30 minutes later we got another message saying our flight was
canceled ! When we got to the Calgary Airport to return our rental car,
another message came and told us that we were rebooked to a new flight at 7AM
tomorrow. Just like our last trip to Canada (Churchill
Polar Bear) in 2022, we needed to stay one extra day due to the weather
condition. The new flight actually had one benefit: we could
enjoy the beauty of pre-dawn Canadian Rockies from the air :-)
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