Adventure Canada North America Travel

Exploring Banff & Jasper National Parks in Canada

dog at lake louise with kayak rentals

First came the snow, then the rain, and more snow mixed with hail for good measure. But when the clouds parted to reveal endless snowcapped mountain ranges gleaming in the fresh sunbeams, I forgave the weather for being fickle.

sunset mountain reflection on moraine lake in banff national park
Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

As Cagney and I made our way North, chasing the picturesque Canadian wilderness that was frequenting my thoughts, the weather took a bizarre turn. I quickly drove through Glacier National Park on the U.S./ Canadian border due to the unusual mix of fire and snow that had spread across the forest, and had to bypass Waterton National Park due to closures for the same reason.

Just as I was getting discouraged, I caught wind that Canada made their National Parks free to visitors for 2017, in celebration of their 150th birthday. So with a newfound sense of accomplishment, I did my best to take advantage of this unexpected perk.

girl and dog sitting at fairview lookout at lake louise in banff national park
Fairview Lookout at Lake Louise in Banff National Park

This meant, I splurged on paying for campgrounds in Canada, which I justified to myself because I was saving on park entrance fees. It was also nice to be able to hook up Casper the Van to electricity, and have a hot shower- or just a shower for that matter! #vanlife

Visiting Banff and Jasper National Parks

sunset at Lake Louise in Banff National Park
Lake Louise in Banff National Park

For five days, Cagney and I lost track of time and let ourselves be guided by the whims of the Canadian Rockies. We hiked to countless glaciers and subsequent glacial lakes, spotted caribou, black bears, and elk, and quite frankly- we fell in love with Canada.

They say that love is accepting one’s flaws and even growing to appreciate them as much as their assets. Well, despite enduring the bitter cold tail-end of Canadian summer, the Rockies showed me a new kind of love. One bathed in crystal clear water that shares reflections of rocky mountain slopes peeking through the clouds.

Bow Lake in Icefields Parkway Area
Bow Lake in Icefields Parkway Area

After traveling with Cagney for a few weeks in U.S. National Parks, it was a nice change of pace that Parks Canada, in addition to being dog-friendly, had well-labeled road systems. They literally have road signs that warn you: “important intersection coming up.” How they rank their importance, I don’t know, but they always seemed to apply to my turn-offs. Thanks Canada.

There are no shortage of beautiful things to see in the connecting Banff and Jasper parks, both by foot and throughout the epic drives that give the word “scenic” a new meaning. But if you’re looking to skip to the extra good stuff, here are some suggestions.

Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park
Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Banff and Jasper National Park Highlights:

  • Lake Louise
  • Moraine Lake
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Peyto Lake
  • Bow Lake
  • Scenic Drive through Icefields Parkway (between Banff and Jasper)
  • Plain of Six Glaciers Hike- 10.6km roundtrip
  • Bow Glacier Falls Hike- 9.2km roundtrip
  • Toe of the “Athabasca Glacier” Hike (Icefields Parkway)- 3.6km roundtrip
  • The towns of Banff & Jasper (they’re adorable)
Toe of the Athabasca Glacier hike in Icefields Parkway
Athabasca Glacier in Icefields Parkway (Jasper National Park)

Each lake listed above represents a different shade of blue, but they all look like glass flaunting their neighboring trees and snow-covered peaks across their surface. It’s worth walking around each lake to get different views, and glimpses of alternating reflections.

Peyto Lake in Jasper National Park
Peyto Lake in Icefields Parkway (Banff National Park)

I also highly recommend the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike, both because it ends in a quaint, high mountain tea house (bring Canadian Cash to avoid card fees), and because it takes you to impressive glaciers wedged between striking peaks.

girl standing at point of six glaciers in banff national park
Point of Six Glaciers Hike (Banff National Park)

As far as where to park a camper van… I chose to camp in the national parks vs finding free campgrounds outside in the National Forests, because the parks are rather large, and the amount of time and money you would waste on gas, seemed to outweigh the cost of forking up some money for the convenience of camping inside with campground hookups.

Don’t forget to stop into the surprisingly big town of Banff, and the smaller Northern town of Jasper to get a dose of Canadian charm.

Recommended Campgrounds:

  • Lake Louise (Banff) – $26 USD/night (hot showers, electricity, firewood included)
  • Wapiti Campground (Jasper) – $22 USD/night (hot showers, electricity, firewood included)
  • Whistler Campground (Jasper) – $22 USD/night (hot showers, electricity, firewood included)

Things to note while traveling through the parks:

  • There is no cell service throughout the hour-long scenic drive of Icefields Parkway
  • The weather changes drastically throughout the day, so pack for every possible scenario
  • Get yourself a can of bear spray, and bring it everywhere with you
  • Drive slow and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in the trees!
  • DOGS ARE ALLOWED ON ALL TRAILS! 🙂

point of six glacier hikepeyto lake reflection in icefields parkway

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall.

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