Five stunning banff-and-area sights in 24 hours: one night’s stay — and a game plan — are all you need to soak in the most stunning sights, as Lindsey Ward found with her family.
Day 1, 5 p.m. Banff Gondola
dinner time is the best time to hit up the banff gondola if you want to beat the crowds. and it’s not like you’ll starve; the newly renovated complex at the top of sulphur mountain has both a casual café and a licensed bistro. our boys, 5 and 3, loved comparing their little paws to a grizzly bear’s at the new interpretive centre. after that, we took an additional one-kilometre boardwalk (consisting of endless, albeit kid-friendly, staircases) to the old stomping grounds of park meteorologist norman sanson, who climbed sulphur every week for 30 years to check the weather and, presumably, take in the jawdropping views of the banff town site and its six surrounding mountain ranges.
Tip: pre-purchase tickets online so you can bypass the box office lineup. bonus: Kids five and under ride free.
Day 2, 7 a.m. Moraine Lake
as soon as we reached the top of moraine lake’s aptly named rockpile trail, we discovered the view that was worth the 5 a.m. wake-up time: ten snow-capped mountains towering over a glacial lake in a startlingly bold shade of turquoise. this Valley of the ten peaks image is the same one they used on the back of the 1969 and 1979 Canadian $20 bills. Why so early, though? despite being one of Canada’s most popular natural gems, moraine lake (a 40-minute drive from banff ) has a small parking lot. once the lot and surrounding roadways are full, around 7:30 a.m., the park barricades the access road. during the summer, your chances of being one of the lucky few to get waved through between then and 7 p.m. are slim. so plan accordingly.
Tip: the tim Hortons in banff opens at 6 a.m.
Bonus: admission is free, and moraine’s rockpile and lakeshore trails are short, easy hikes that allow the whole fam to bask in the view.
10:30 a.m. Lake Louise
you can’t return from banff national park without a photo of lake louise. that’s like going to paris and not seeing the eiffel tower. there’s something so enchanting about the worldfamous lake (about 30 minutes from banff ). the sight of the glistening turquoise water nestled beneath the high peaks surrounding the Victoria glacier, all overlooked by the palatial Fairmont Chateau lake louise brings the world to a standstill. We failed to get a spot in the parking lot (peak hours are 9 a.m.7 p.m.), but scored a makeshift space off the trans-Canada Highway and hiked a hilly path that runs parallel to the road.
Tip: ditch the selfie stick for a photo taken by a fellow tourist. bonus: again, no admission fees, so you might be willing to splurge on a $105-per-hour canoe ride.
1 p.m. Takakkaw Falls
once you’re in lake louise, you might as well travel an extra 40 minutes into b.C.’s yoho national park to see takakkaw Falls. you won’t regret it — unless you’re driving a motor home, in which case you should avoid the narrow road to the falls, which includes a switchback. but it’s worth every hairpin. takakkaw (tak-ah-kaw, meaning “it is magnificent” in Cree) Falls plunge from a height of 380 metres, but are surprisingly accessible. it wasn’t as busy there, and we were able to get a spot in the parking lot midday, mid-august. a short, well-maintained trail got us right to the base of the falls (next time, we’ll bring a raincoat). and my brave husband and older son even climbed partway up the mountain for a closer look.
Tip: the avalanche-prone road is closed from october-June. bonus: guess what? it’s free!
4 p.m. Castle Mountain/ town of Banff
While it’s not a tourist attraction per se, you can’t help but oogle Castle mountain as you head down Highway 1 between lake louise and banff. especially late in the day, when the sun casts an apricot glow over its distinctive peaks. Castle mountain is located near the remains of a 19th-century mining settlement and a First World War prison camp — and it’s also close to the banff townsite, which was a good thing for us at the time, since we were famished.
Tip: barpa bill’s hearty barpa burger (loved by locals for its tzatziki topping), battered fish and homecut fries for the kids hit the spot.
Bonus: Cookies and cream-topped pastry and gelato from beavertails gave us our final rush of the day.
Riding the Banff Gondola is eight minutes of heaven. Below left, Lake Louise is a Canadian Rockies must-see. Below right, go off the beaten path to (literally) soak in Takakkaw Falls.