Summer Road Trip to Banff National Park
In the winter of 2017, a friend and I road tripped through Banff National Park on a whim. We explored frozen waterfalls, skated over frozen Lake Louise, went on a few slippery hikes, and drank a lot of hot coffee in the town of Banff. Although it was an incredible place to go, there were definitely some drawbacks to going in the winter. Most of the top Banff spots were inaccessible, weather was unpredictable, and DANG was it cold. So we made a pact that we’d return to Banff in the summer months and that’s exactly what we did.
Six months later we were on the road up to Banff National Park once again! As an added bonus, a third friend joined us for this time around. With the familiarity given by our first trip, we new exactly the places we wanted to see in the summer months. Warm weather put a whole knew approach to the trip and transformed Banff National Park into an entirely new place to experience. In this post, I’m going to share our two night, three day itinerary to Banff National Park and where we went during the summer.
Before I begin, I will say that Banff is quite endless. Unfortunately, we were only able to escape to Banff for two nights. One could explore the park for an entire summer and hardly scratch the surface. If you’re making a short trip and want some ideas for places to go and things to do, this post is for you. So without further ado, this is the recap of our Banff summer road trip.
After driving through two wildfires, nearly driving the car off the highway due to an unexpected roadway situation, and six hours worth of road trip adventures, we arrived in Banff National Park on a smoky August afternoon. Still a bit stunned from our near death experience on the highway, we decided to beeline to the famous Peyto Lake for our first road trip stop.
First stop: Peyto Lake. Located at the north end of Banff National Park and at the entrance of Jasper National Park, Peyto Lake is the furthest point we went north on this trip. Because we had driven so far by the time we entered the park, we thought we’d full send and continue up to this popular look out point.
Peyto Lake is simply spectacular. It’s well-known for its turquoise coloring and shape that resembles a wolf (see it?) Although it looks secluded in these photos, it’s a popular place for tourists to visit and was very busy with people; we were lucky to have a five minute gap where everyone had cleared for us to take these pics. There are several trails spawning from the parking lot that lead to greater hikes throughout the area. The lookout point for the lake is only a ten minute walk from the parking area and can be walked by people of all fitness levels.
The drive from Peyto Lake to the town of Banff is full of mesmerizing glacier views, glacial lakes, forests, wildlife, and endless roadway stops. Although it can be done in an hour and a half, expect it to take longer with all of the amazing views and stops to take in.
After driving through the Ice fields Parkway, we arrived to our hotel in the town of Banff. For our trip, we stayed at the Banff Aspen Lodge for two nights. This is a great hotel in downtown Banff that is walking distance from all the main restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We ate and partied downtown that night and relaxed in our hotel jacuzzi.
The next morning, we were off on more adventures…
Okay, so we had kind of a late start to the day due the previous night’s bar festivities. Eventually though, we rallied and decided to go on a hike.
Feeling a bit queasy at times didn’t stop us from a full-send, straight-up climb on the East End of Rundle. Located twenty minutes from Banff is the town of Canmore, which is a delightful town where a lot of my Canadian friends live. This is another great community with one of the best hikes we’ve ever experience.
East End of Rundle is an epic uphill climb that summits a peak with 360 views. Note: this is not a hike for the average person. It will require stamina and peak climbing safety awareness in order to do this climb. For hikers looking for something easier, the first half is very doable by most and still offers incredible views. If you’re like us, though, you’ll have to climb the very top before you leave.
For having to choose one hike in the entire park, we were beyond happy with this choice. This hike offers amazing views of the Canadian Rockies, has peaceful meadows throughout to relax in, and makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Ugh, saying those words takes me back to that moment. I’m full of nostalgia just thinking about it! We 10/10 recommend this hike if you’re looking for one in the area. If you make it to the top, you will find our note in this container that is filled with contents of hikers who have also summited. (Please message me a pic if you find and read my note inside!)
That night we visited my friend in Canmore where we had a lovely evening admiring the mountains in view.
The next morning, our 5:00 alarm sounded and we sprung right out of bed. Why were we up so early? We had a plan for something epic.
Moraine Lake is perhaps the most iconic spot in all of Banff National Park and debatably Canada in itself. The road leading to this incredible place is only open in the summer, so we knew this destination was a must on our itinerary this trip. When deciding on when to visit this famous lake, we unanimously agreed that we had to visit it at sunrise.
If you think there won’t be a lot of people at Moraine Lake at sunrise just because it’s early, you’re wrong. We pulled up to Moraine Lake shocked by how crowded it was already. Apparently it’s a big thing to see the first sun rays hit those famous mountain peaks. And yes, that was awesome to see, but we had something more planned for the morning…
So we drive up to the parking area at about 6:30 am. Not sure when exactly, but the sun hadn’t risen just yet. For your information, only until about 7:00am can you safely drive up to the main parking lot. After a certain hour, the road is blocked and it only allows shuttles and tour buses to pass through. We didn’t know this but luckily got there early enough to drive to the lake ourselves. Driving up to the lake we soon discovered that the parking lot was packed full and that there were cars lined up down the road. So we need to find parking, the sun is rising soon, and we’re running late. We make a plan that my two friends will go park the car and run back after dropping me and a giant inflatable swan off at the lake.
A little backstory: just before departing Montana for this trip, we loaded up our car with food from our local supermarket. Scanning the store shelves for appropriate snacks to pack, something caught my eye. I see a huge for-sale sign that reads: “50% off Giant Inflatable Swan.” I notice there is only one swan left on the shelf. Then I notice an advertisement on the box that says “take a photo with this swan, tag Swimline Official in your post, and we’ll send you a $10 check in the mail!” I think, wow, it only costs $10, I could take this to Banff with us, snag a photo of it with a beautiful backdrop, post it, and maybe get reimbursed for the purchase. Regardless, who doesn’t wan’t a giant swan for future pool and beach parties?
Next thing you know, we split the cost three ways and pack JaSwan Derulo with us in the car en route to Banff. Better yet, with the intention of floating on him on Moraine Lake at sunrise.
So back to the last morning in Banff. We pull up to the lake, I get out of the car, and I start tug-a-waring a giant swan that’s so large I have to hastily deflate part of it to get it out. I’m ticked because blowing him up that much already was painstaking and I just had to undo some of the progress. It lands on the pavement, my friends drive away, and I’m left awkwardly alone with this watercraft.
I’m comfortable in my own skin most of the time and really don’t care what people think, but I definitely felt the eyes looking at me from all around at this moment. One woman walked passed and gave me the ultimate “what the hell is this tourist going to do to disturb the peace” look.
But I think, we’ve come so far with this thing. This giant swan we saw on sale during the first stop of our trip has travelled all around Banff with us. I just spent thirty minutes in the backseat of the car blowing him up at 5:30 am…I had to do what I had to do.
I sit there and continue to blow him up. My head is spinning dizzy. I slept for three, maybe four hours the night before? I’m at this dream destination, everyone’s gawking at me, this is a once in a lifetime moment, I don’t know what’s going on. Fifteen minutes later and my friends are back from the car. They’re panting from running because they were forced to park so far away. I feel a bit more relaxed now that we’re all in this together.
Moraine Lake has a beautiful rocky cliff that offers plenty of sitting spots for people to enjoy the view. We all lift the half-inflated swan off the ground and start carrying him across the rocky edge. Eventually, we found a nice nook along the lake that was hidden from view of everyone else. Finding that spot didn’t come without almost photobombing a few professional photographers first. It was just like: “whoops, almost just ruined your time-lapse that you’ve been making all morning of the sunrise because a couple of kids carried a giant swan into frame, sorry.”
I’m from Montana, and in recent years there has been pandemonium about a small creature known as the zebra muscle infecting our lakes. Traveling watercrafts have been carrying these un-indigenous creatures from lake to lake, filling them with zebra muscles that destroy the existing ecosystems. As a result of this recent catastrophe, lakes across the Northwest are starting to prohibit foreign watercraft from entering its waters without thorough zebra-muscle inspection. Banff National Park is especially strict about this rule in an attempt to preserve the park’s iconic lakes. And it didn’t occur to me until we got right to the water’s edge that what we were doing was totally illegal.
But we had come so far. We were here now. The view, by the way, was amazing and it was right in front of us. If anything, we would plea our case that we opened the swan in the car the day before and it had never been in any body of water before. It would be impossible for our swan to have zebra muscles. Therefore I ditched that afterthought and took Ja-Swan Derulo for his first swim.
We all blow up different parts of Ja-Swan at once. My friend, Coral, is inflating the rest of the head, my other friend, Holly, is on the wing, and I’m finishing its body. People who are cozied up on the rocky cliff enjoying the tranquil morning are suddenly hearing the sound of three kids inflating an inflatable. Couples having intimacy are accompanied by our uncanny ambiance.
One last breath and finally, he’s all ready to go. We put Ja-Swan into the bright blue water. Its time for one of us to take him for a ride. It’s freezing cold in the morning and we volunteer Coral to go first. She strips down to her swimsuit and hops onto the bird.
I snapped a couple of shots of her floating just off the shore of the lake. And then it happens. The sun rises and starts to hit the peaks of the mountains in view. It was breathtaking to witness.
Holly goes next and enjoys a short and freezing morning float. Then I go last. It was surreal. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before nor will do again. The fact that people were starting to notice me because I was drifting too far from shore didn’t even phase me because the moment was so amazing. The fact that my body was going into the first phase of hypothermia didn’t phase me because the moment was so amazing. Everything, so so amazing.
And that’s our story of swan rise at Moraine Lake. It was totally aweswan and definitely swan for the books. Some might shake their heads at us for doing this here, but…. you only live once, right?
After a nice breakfast sitting along the waters of Moraine Lake, we departed back to Montana. Floating on this giant swan was an unforgettable moment in itself, but his legacy will live on. I posted the images on Instagram and received the most engagement of any post I’ve ever shared. Better yet, Swimline official saw it, loved it, and a few days later I received a check in the mail for $10 to pay back the swan. You could say that the experience as a whole was, well, priceless.
If you want to see the video version of this blog post, I encourage you to check out this intagram vlog I made from the trip:
Thank you for reading my post on our summer road trip to Banff National Park. We are so excited to travel here again in the future and for much longer next time. I encourage you to like this post and stay updated with my latest posts by following on social media. If you are interested in reading about our winter road trip through Banff, click here.
YouTube- Jeff Hyer