My college roommate and friend moved to Edmonton, Canada after she graduated from dental school, which gave me the chance to go and visit her neck of the woods. Banff, the city, is about 4 hours from Edmonton, so she met me up in Calgary instead. Calgary is only 1.5 hours away from Banff, and has a large international airport, making it a good place to start. Here is a copy of my itinerary that I built for our weekend:
So, I was a little ambitious with my itinerary, and we didn't get to see as much as I had hoped. The fact that there was a snow storm didn't help with the limited time we had, but it was beautiful seeing the fresh snow and it was also nice not having to fight crowds. We went in mid-October, and I did not expect it to be so cold and snowy already. Unfortunately I went the weekend several trails were closed off, so I didn't get to visit some popular ones like Lake Morraine.
As I live in San Diego, I don't have winter clothes ready for the cold and snow. Thankfully my friend let me borrow her jacket and snow/ski pants, and we stopped by a local shop and picked up snowshoes (which were pretty cheap to rent per day). We drove up to our first spot, Lake Louise.
There were plenty of open parking spots at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. As soon as you see Lake Louise, it is immediately breathtaking. We walked alongside the Fairview Lookout Trail and viewed the lake and the mountains from a different angle. We veered off to the Lake Agnes Tea House trail which immediately made me realize how tough it'd be to hike in the snow. We were sliding quite a bit in the chunks of ice, and the slippery snow made it hard to gain any traction while going uphill. But we slowly made our way up the trail! The higher up we went, the bluer the water appeared. Soon enough, the Fairmont looked small compared to the lake.
We hiked on through the snow and lost sight of Lake Louise, but we did get other cool foresty views instead.
We got to Mirror Lake, which was completely frozen over. When we reached Mirror Lake, we knew that we were close to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Mirror Lake was very pretty despite being frozen. I was very happy I rented snow shoes at this point.
After Mirror Lake, we got to the top where Lake Agnes Tea House sits, but sadly it was closed for the season! I was hoping it would be open because I was freezing and ready for a break, but I suppose it had closed just a few days before. It does look like it'd be a cool spot to hang out after a hike though. Lake Agnes was frozen as well. The view from the top was pretty, but we were too cold to stop and take many more pics.
Making our way down from Lake Agnes was extremely difficult because it was soo icy and slippery. But we made it down and carried on to our next destination. (My friend had packed snacks in the car, there are not many options beyond the Fairmont Chateau up there). We drove to Yoho National Park to visit Emerald Lake, which was actually closed off because someone was having a private event. We still walked around the lake and took in the views.
We stayed at Banff Aspen Lodge for the evening where we finally got to relax after a long day of exploring. We got a pretty large corner room and after showering off, we walked into Banff to explore some local food spots. There are a lot of great restaurant choices, but we chose Park Distillery - which I'm sure you can guess is.. a distillery. It's also a restaurant. The cocktails and food were all great and affordable, I definitely recommend it!
The next morning we decided to visit Peyto Lake, an hour away from Banff. I had wanted to visit a few other spots along the way, but we didn't wake up early enough and my flight was leaving that afternoon from Calgary, so we were on limited time. We grabbed free breakfast at the Banff Aspen Lodge (which had a huge buffet selection!) and drove off to Peyto Lake.
When we got to Peyto Lake, we had no trouble finding parking, once again. It was colder that day, so I borrowed my friend's ski pants and we headed up the trail. There were not many people on the trail, in fact, we didn't see a single person for a while. The snow was fresh so we sunk into the floor every time we walked.
When we got to Peyto Lake, it started snowing. It was freezing but really beautiful! There were no other people at this viewpoint of the lake, and we had no idea what was under the snow, but we took our chances to take some pictures.. that didn't turn out the best due to the snow.
Despite the foggy quality, we enjoyed the peacefulness of being the only ones there for a while. I've read that Peyto Lake is even more blue in the summertime.
After Peyto Lake, we drove back to Banff, dropped off our snow shoes and then my friend dropped me off to the airport. I was headed to a conference in San Francisco! I wish I had more time to visit Banff and the surrounding areas, but I was happy with what we accomplished over 1.5 days. I plan to return in the summertime and see Lake Morraine and the rest of Banff + Jasper National Park!
By the way, my friend introduced me to the best chips ever - Guacachip! Seriously life changing during our drive.