Trip overview: We stayed in Canmore, Alberta for several days and visited Banff National Park and the surrounding area. We did two hikes totaling ~13 miles and played disc golf at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Highlights include amazing glaciers and peaks, blue lakes, and a great disc golf course. We completed this trip in September of 2016.
Permits and reservations: we stayed in a AirBnB in Canmore and did not need to make any camping or backcountry reservations. If you want to go backpacking in Banff you do need a backcountry permit, which can be reserved up to 3 months in advance by phone or in person (details can be found here). There is a $12 reservation fee and a $10 per night person backcountry camping fee. Normally you must also pay a fee to enter Banff National Park, but entry is free in 2017 as part of the 150th year anniversary for Canadian National Parks.
If you want to camp in Banff, there are a wide variety of campgrounds and campsites in the park. You can reserves online or by phone (1-877-RESERVE (737-3783)). The fees vary by site but are typically around $20.
If you are driving into the park and just doing day hikes, as we did, you only need worry about the park entry fee (free in 2017). Beyond that, you just park in a legal parking and can head off on your hike.
Transportation: we ended up renting a car at the Calgary airport and driving to Canmore and Banff. This option was easy and gave us a lot of flexibility. If you want to avoid renting a car, there is a $10 one-way shuttle from the Calgary airport to either Canmore or Banff. Once you are in the park, there are a number of options to get around including taxis and buses. Renting a car is a nice option though because it provides the opportunity to drive along the Icefields Parkway at your own pace.
Supplies: If you are doing a lot of hiking, it is wise to invest in some bear spray to protect yourself in case you come across a grizzly bear. Banff is known to be the home of many bears, and they can sometime be aggressive. A good bug repellent is also nice to have because the mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance in the Rockies. Finally, a rain jacket is good to have since it occasionally will storm in the mountains during summer days.
Here are some suggested hiking clothes and gear:
- a lightweight hiking rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Jacket)
- fast drying synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- a quick drying long sleeve hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge L/S Shirt)
- wool outer socks (People Socks Moreno 4-pack)
- thin blister preventing base socks (WrightSock double layer Coolmesh)
- quick drying synthetic boxer briefs (ExOfficio Give-N-Go)
- light bandana for sun protection (Levi’s printed bandana)
- mesh back trucker hat (Patagonia LoPro Trucker Hat)
- adjustable fabric belt (Bison designs belt)
- Gore-tex hiking shoes (adidas Outdoor Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex Shoe)
- 3 liter hydration bladder (Camelbak Antidote Reservoir)
- small backpack (Osprey Daylite Daypack)
Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail: 9.7 miles; +/- 3,400 feet
We starting this day off by driving from Canmore to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The drive was quite easy and provides some great views of the Rockies along Alberta’s Highway 1. The drive takes just about an hour and along the way you will pass through the main entrance of Banff National Park where you will buy your entrance permit.
The parking lot at Lake Louise was full by the time we got there, so we had to park on the side of Lake Louise Drive near the intersection with Hwy 1A. There was a hiking trail that went parallel to Lake Louise Drive, so the walk up to the lake was not bad.
Upon walking up to the edge of Lake Louise, you are immediately met with an expansive view of the turquoise lake. The view is great and the colors are amazing. We enjoyed these views and then set off on the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike. Renting canoes seems like a lot of fun but it was a little too pricey for us and we were in a bit of a hurry because bad weather was coming in.
To reach the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, you first follow the path the leads along the edge of Lake Louise. The path starts near the Fairmont Chateau hotel and follows the edge of Lake Louise for roughly 2 miles. Eventually you reach the end of the lake and start a ~2 mile climb along the trail up to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. From the Tea House, you can hike a bit more to the end of the trail and get the best views of the glaciers. We then took the same trail back to our car.
Note that it was intermittently raining while we hiked the trail, so there were some gaps in my photo album. I have used photos from other sources to fill in the gaps (hence why the sky changes from blue to cloudy and back).
Overall this was a great trail. The views of Lake Louise and of the glaciers are fantastic. There are picnic tables at the Tea House, so this makes a great place to have a snack.
Grassi Lake Trail: 2.7 miles; +/- 1,100 feet; Grassi Lake Trailhead
On this day we did a short hike just outside of Canmore. The Grassi Lake Trail starts at the parking lot alongside the Rundle Forebay on Ken Richie Way. The trail was quite short, but provides some nice views of the colorful Grassi Lakes.
This trail was short and sweet. The Grassi Lakes are great for photos because they are super colorful. However, we mainly chose to hike this trail because of its proximity to the disc golf course at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Canmore Disc Golf: 18 holes; 6,500 feet long; fair amount of elevation change
After the hike to Grassi Lakes, we drove over to the Canmore Nordic Centre to play disc golf. The drive was easy and only took 5 minutes.
The course gets great reviews and we all thought it exceeded our expectations. The views surrounding the course are amazing. There are mountains on either side of the course and they provide a great backdrop. The course itself was challenging and had a good amount of variety.
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