There is so much I could write about Banff and its surrounding area. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Canada, in fact, its one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, deciding when to go can be difficult, summer is great for hiking and winter is great for winter sports, but visiting during these times can be expensive. Matt and I visited during April, which is known as shoulder season. Below I’ve listed a few things to consider when visiting the Rocky Mountains and deciding when is best to visit.
The Rocky Mountains are beautiful any time of year. But the weather does change the view. You have to decide whether you want to see a winter wonderland covered in snow and glittering ice or whether you want to see the breath-taking turquoise coloured lakes. When we visited in April, for example, Lake Louise was still completely frozen, which is beautiful in itself but it would have been great to see it in the summer.
As the lake is at higher elevation it takes much longer to thaw, apparently the best time to visit is Late June- October. So, if you have the dream of taking an insta-worthy picture of yourself canoeing across a vibrant blue lake consider going in the summer. A week later in Jasper we were able to see the gorgeous Annette Lake half frozen and caught a glimpse of the wonderful colours.
One of the main reasons people visit Banff is for its winter sports facilities. It has some of the worlds best slopes for skiing and snowboard enthusiasts. If this is why you want to escape to the mountains then the best time to go is December through to March when the snow is at its best. However, sometimes the season can extend longer into April. Snowshoeing, ice-skating and sleigh-rides are also available for the non-skiers and also tend to run until April. Unfortunately for us Matt had a badly bruised and swollen ankle when we visited so we stuck to light hiking and scenic drives.
My favourite activity is hiking, it is a fantastic way to see the great outdoors, keeps you healthy and you feel accomplished at the end of a great hike. The best times for hiking are Mid-May to November if you want a clear trail. But, you do have share the trails with wildlife, so have the bear spray at the ready.
We found if you are prepared winter hiking can be lots of fun. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing during the winter months. A good base layer and winter jacket can go a long way to making your hike enjoyable. It can be icy during shoulder season as the snow starts to melt so pop on some ice-cleats. I wish I’d known this before hiking Johnston Canyon as I slipped a few times, but you live and learn!
Banff hosts many amazing scenic drives. As Matt’s ankle got worse throughout our stay being able to cruise around provided a great alternative to hiking. However, there can be some road restrictions throughout the year.
Moraine Lake Road is closed from early to mid-October until Mid to late May
The Icefields Parkway is open for winter but can be closed due to heavy snowfall or avalanches that take several days to clear.
Bow Valley Parkway is closed March 1st to June 25th between 8pm until 8am not only by car but also by bicycle or foot. This is to try and protect the wild species such as cougars, wolves and grizzly bears that frequent the area during this time.
So, whilst we missed out on Moraine Lake Road we did manage to drive along the gorgeous Icefield Parkway. Always make sure you check travel conditions when driving during the more wintery months as conditions change very quickly and its best to be prepared.
It was along these drives that we saw some amazing wildlife. We got stopped for a good ten minutes on Mount Norquay as some mountain goats strolled across the road.
This is one of the top reasons to visit during shoulder season. Wildlife is starting to wake up during this time so being able to see young bears and moose is quite likely. We didn’t see a bear until BC but did catch a very quick glimpse of a moose and young calf along Vermillion Lakes. Throughout the summer wildlife continues to inhabit the area so be careful on the trails. We saw Bald Eagles, goats, mountain sheep, elk, deer and many different species of birds.
We visited our local tourist information centre to check out which trails were safe and which ones had high bear activity. They also have information on how to deal with wildlife when you do see it on foot. You must respect their home but also be safe out there, so be prepared.
As one of the worlds most beautiful places it can get expensive to visit. To try and keep costs low, we attempted camping. This was a rookie mistake during April as it was still super cold! We spent one-night shivering in ten layers of clothes, sleeping bags and blankets. When morning came we packed up and headed into town to warm up and book a room. You must have the right equipment to camp during the colder months, even better have a nice warm camper van. Luckily, we were able to get a refund on our remaining nights camping and put it towards a reasonably priced hotel downtown.
If you do want to camp, go during the summer and remember to book well in advance as it books up quickly. The Parks Canada website is great for booking and is easy to use. If going to a hotel during peak season be prepared to pay, so get saving. Alternatively, go for a hostel or Air BnB.
Thanks for joining me on my A-Z Travels again, next week will be C for Camping Canadian Style!