The Perfect Week in Banff and Jasper National Parks

With enough backcountry hiking and long trails to keep you busy for years on end, whittling a summer trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks down to a week takes some discipline. But even if you have to cut out the challenging 27-mile Skyline Trail, you’ll have enough time to float rivers, hike a wide selection of shorter trails, strap on crampons and wander out onto the Columbia Icefield, and dip your feet into the chilly waters of Lake Louise. And drive around Lake Minnewanka, raft part of the Athabasca River, and bag your first peak in the Canadian Rockies. Along the way, you’ll eat fondue, drink beers at Jasper Brewing, and melt into a giant cinnamon bun (or two). And the accomodations? Pure luxury. Seriously.

Improvement District No. 9, Alberta, Canada
The three-and-a-half-mile journey from Sentinel Pass to Larch Valley is the kind of hike you’ll dream about years after returning home. Intrepid visitors leave from the Moraine Lake Lodge area, at an altitude of 6,190 feet, then climb a series of well-maintained switchbacks through a forest of Englemann spruce and alpine fir trees before hitting the spectacular views of the Valley of the 10 Peaks. The trail continues up through an alpine meadow, ultimately reaching the rocky heights of Sentinel Pass, the low point between Mount Temple and Pinnacle Mountain, at about 8,560 feet. One caveat: The last mile of the climb ascends through a talus slope and boulders, so only those comfortable with heights should do the pass.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Nestled at the base of the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake boasts turquoise waters that change color throughout the day as sunlight refracts off the minuscule particles of glacier-ground rock suspended within. Though it has a B-list rating compared to Lake Louise’s A-list status, this spot is arguably the more spectacular of the two. It’s located a little less than nine miles from the hamlet of Lake Louise. When you arrive, you can hike up to the Rockpile (clearly visible at the front of the lake) for the best vantage point, or spend a day exploring one of the neighboring valleys. Be forewarned: The parking lot often fills up by 10 a.m., so go early.
Athabasca Glacier, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada
The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest masses of ice south of the Arctic Circle, an otherworldly expanse straddling the Continental Divide. You can get on the ice in two ways: Take the Brewster tour company’s Ice Explorer snow coach (a massive four-wheel-drive vehicle), or climb the toe of the glacier with Athabasca Glacier Icewalks, a company specializing in half-day and full-day strolls toward the perfect photo op. The trek over the ice is easy enough for most families to do, and the sensation of gliding on top of a glacier borders on the spiritual. Get lucky, and your guide will let you check out a glacier crevasse up close.
Highway 93 North, Alberta, Canada
This five-kilometer (3.1-mile) hike starts at Bow Lake, directly in front of the legendary, red-roofed Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. The turquoise waters and historic stone-and-log structure make for great photo ops before you even get on the trail. Then, the path winds around the lake before climbing across a series of moraines left behind as the Bow Glacier has receded—the lunar terrain will make you feel like you’ve landed on the moon! The trail eventually ends at the Bow Glacier Falls, dropping vertically from the rock face towering above. With only a 155-meter (510-feet) elevation gain, this hike offers an amazing payoff for little effort, though footing can be challenging on rocky sections with some loose rock.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
When you enter Banff National Park, you are immediately struck by its vastness. In the winter, the mountains tower above with their snow-covered peaks and the snowy pines go on like an endless, seemingly impenetrable sea. During my visit to Lake Louise, we were lucky enough to have waist-deep powder, which meant one of the only ways to explore the park was by snowshoe. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers day and night snowshoe tours from its lakeside cabin, which is stocked with a variety of styles of old-school wooden snowshoes. Our group opted for modern versions since we wanted to hike up steep trails into the park. Our guide Mike set the pace, pointing out animal tracks of hare and squirrel along the way. Most people stroll around the lake in snowshoes but hiking up the mountain, cutting through the deep powder proved to be quite a workout. A little over an hour into our hike, we reached a clearing and Mike let us wind our own way down through the trees, gliding downhill in the powder. He even urged us to “huck” off jumps and land in the pillowy powder below. Throughout our two hours we didn’t see another person. I love snowboarding on the big mountains, but there’s something special about being alone in the middle of the park on a blue sky, powder day.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
The section of Alberta Provincial Highway 1A that runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise is known as the Bow Valley Parkway. Developed as a scenic drive by Parks Canada, the road has a series of marked stops along the way with interpretive signage that provides meaning and context for points of interest; highlights include Johnston Canyon, Moose Meadows, the Castle Mountain Cliffs, and Morant’s Curve. The 51-kilometer (32-mile) drive only takes an hour, but the pull-offs—and the leisurely speed limit—make it a great day trip from Banff. Committed cyclists can tackle the ride from Banff to Lake Louise in a day, and while it is tempting to make a loop of it using the Trans-Canada, the latter is so busy that it’s best to stay on the Parkway for both trips, there and back.
611 Patricia Street, Box 398, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Rafting down the Athabasca River is a great way to take in Jasper’s tranquil scenery—with the occasional face full of cold water to remind you to keep your eyes wide open! This river’s rapids are just Class II in places, offering a float that’s well-suited for families. Outfitters provide wet suits, bootees, and splash jackets, which means you’ll be able to tough it out despite the water’s frigid temperatures. For those craving a bit more excitement, longer trips down the Sunwapta River hit rapids of Class III and higher, and usually run three times a day. Check out the Jasper’s Whitewater Rafting company or Jasper Raft Tours for details.
Improvement District No. 9, AB T0L, Canada
Tunnel Mountain’s trailhead is located right in downtown Banff, so you’ll probably be able to set out on this hike directly from your hotel! This relatively easy trek allows you to conquer your first peak in the Canadian Rockies by climbing just 300 meters (950 feet) over 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles). The well-maintained path switchbacks gently through a forested area before reaching a rocky, open alpine slope. Gaining the rounded summit offers spectacular views of the north ridge of Mount Rundle, downtown Banff, and a panoramic stretch of the Bow Valley. The hike should take two to three hours up and back. (Notice any tunnels along the path that may account for the name? Nope. A railroad tunnel was proposed but never built, but the moniker stuck anyway.)
Banff, Alberta, Canada
Built to commemorate Parks Canada’s 125th anniversary, this bike path connects Banff to the neighboring town of Canmore. The trail follows the Rundle Range down the Bow Valley, so scenery appears around each bend. This paved 26.8-kilometer (16.6-mile) trail is one of the few places within the park where cyclists do not have to share a roadway with vehicles. For this reason, it is popular with families—though you will see plenty of spandex-clad bikers using it as well. With an elevation difference of about 90 meters (295 feet) between the two towns, the gradient is gentle (the ride from Banff to Canmore has a downhill trend). If riding the mostly uphill portion back doesn’t appeal to you, taking public transit with your bike back to Banff is possible by hopping on a Roam bus. Just remember, each bus can only take on six bikes at most—and it is a pretty popular route.
Lake Minnewanka Trail, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Including the travel time to get to the road from the Banff town center, the drive along the Lake Minnewanka Loop takes only about an hour, but the numerous stops and viewpoints along the way make this 24-kilometer (15-mile) side trip worth embarking on. Pull off at Two Jack Lake and the road’s namesake, Lake Minnewanka, the largest body of water in Banff National Park. Views of Cascade Mountain along the way are spectacular, and wildlife sightings are common. Keen cyclists comfortable with traffic can also tackle the Lake Minnewanka Loop for a perfect, easy afternoon ride.
191 Sundance Road, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Originating at Bow Lake, nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) up the Icefields Parkway from the town of Banff, the Bow River runs down the valley all the way to Calgary. Most journeys into the Canadian Rockies follow the Bow River upstream; it’s what gave early explorers access to the area, so seeing the landscape from its turquoise waters is a fantastic way to embrace and understand the original treks into the mountains. Many rafting companies offer guided trips down different portions of the river, most of which take the form of a cruisy float. For details, check out outfitters like Rocky Mountain Raft Tours. If you are comfortable paddling on your own, canoe, kayak and stand-up-paddleboard rentals are available in downtown Banff, right by the river at the Banff Canoe Club.
405 Spray Ave, Banff, AB T1L 1J4, Canada
Set in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Banff National Park, the year-round Fairmont Banff Springs was the brainchild of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. On arrival at Banff, the tourism visionary made the canny observation, “Since we can’t export the scenery, we’ll have to import the tourists;” thus, he set about building a string of great railway hotels across Canada. The original wooden hotel that opened here in 1888 burned down in 1926, but was replaced two years later with the grander castle-meets-baronial-Scottish-hall structure that exists today. The public lobby spaces are vast, and there are countless nooks to curl up in with a book where guests will remain undisturbed. With its signature stone walls, turrets, and winding staircases, Van Horne’s gambit paid off: The Fairmont Banff Springs feels for all the world like an elegant and ancient castle, albeit one with all the modern conveniences.

Rooms in the main building come with quirky period details such as chandeliers and crown moldings, while those in the Stanley Thompson Wing (the old staff quarters) are more spacious and a solid bet for families—who will also enjoy the kids’ club packed with activities such as campouts, science projects, and arts and crafts. The hotel also has 11 different restaurants, cafés, and bars, with the choices so diverse—from sushi, fondue, and Italian to Canadian steakhouse and southern U.S. barbecue—that guests are issued a food guide upon check-in to help them make the most of the hotel’s offerings. Of course, there are also a wide array of activities to help round out your time between meals, from skiing and rounds on the resort’s 27-hole championship golf course to downtime in the expansive Willow Stream Spa, which features indoor and outdoor whirlpools, a European-style mineral pool, and 23 rooms for therapeutic treatments.
1 Old Lodge Rd, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada
Opened in 1915 as Tent City—a string of luxury canvas tents along Lac Beauvert, with vistas of Whistlers Peak and Pyramid Mountain—the iconic Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge was possibly North America’s first “glamping” site. The destination proved wildly popular, and in 1922 a main lodge was opened, as well as a series of luxury log cabins spread across 700 acres in the heart of Jasper National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Bristling with Douglas firs and pine trees, the property sees herds of elk nibbling the grass, chipmunks scurrying through the trees, and even the occasional bear. The 442 rooming options—all of which were renovated between 2015 and 2017—include cozy spots in the main building, fireplace-equipped Junior Suites, and bring-the-whole-family Signature Cabins, all with views across the lake or the forest and mountains. The newly introduced Estate Cabins, located near the golf course, feature a private gated entrance for a more residential feel. Classic lodge-style interior design is the order of the day in the cabins, with wood beams and a combination of earthy and granite tones, while rooms and suites are clean-lined and decked out in fresh white bedding and light wood accents.

Play a few rounds on the Stanley Thompson-designed 18-hole golf course—regularly voted among the best in Canada—enjoy scenic walks and mountain hikes, or take advantage of the 10-room spa, which includes a sauna, steam room, and panoramic relaxation lounge. The restaurants celebrate regional flavors and fresh local produce, thanks to partnerships with local farms; don’t miss a sunset drink at The Emerald Lounge & Patio, which overlooks the lake, Whistler’s Range, and the east face of Mount Edith Cavell. Thanks to the picture-perfect views and the family-friendly accommodations, the Lodge is also a popular venue for destination weddings.
200 Pipestone Rd, Lake Louise, AB T0L 1E0, Canada
The Post Hotel & Spa is set in the heart of the pristine Banff National Park, surrounded by the Canadian Rocky Mountains and overlooking Lake Louise. The original log-walled lodge—opened in 1942 as the Lake Louise Ski Lodge—has stone fireplaces and a cheery red alpine roof, and the numerous add-ons, extensions, and renovations over the years have preserved and accentuated this rustic design. This is further enhanced by the hotel’s interior color palette of burgundy and neutrals, and set off by luxurious touches such as overstuffed couches and Egyptian-cotton sheets. The accommodations include intimate cabins for two and a 3,000-square-foot mountain chalet ideal for groups and families. Just minutes away from one of Canada’s largest ski areas and blessed with an abundance of perfect powder each season, the Post Hotel & Spa is popular with skiers and boarders from across North America; in summer it attracts outdoor enthusiasts keen to explore the myriad treasures of the national park. It has been a Relais & Châteaux property since 1990.
203 Caribou Street, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Step through Magpie & Stump’s swinging doors, and you’ll hear the sound of peanut shells crunching beneath your feet. The rowdy pub’s saloon decor is an interesting choice, considering its menu is all Tex-Mex: Think spicy pork tacos, nacho plates big enough to feed a football team, and gooey-hot queso. With daily especiales running Sundays through Thursdays, you can stuff yourself silly at this local favorite and still have plenty of money left over for drinks with friends. Try the Bulldog, a lime margarita served with an upside-down Corona.
608-B Patricia Street, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Coco’s Cafe in Jasper is a shrine to everything that’s wonderful about the first meal of the day. Java snobs will love the Phil & Sebastian Coffee, and health-conscious guests are always impressed with its locally sourced, organic ingredients. The all-day breakfast menu features a wonder wheel of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, but omnivores need not worry: There are delicious Montreal smoked meats available here, too. The restaurant is probably best known for Coco’s Breakfast Wrap, a curry-infused treat with plenty of fuel for a big day spent hiking in the mountains. If you plan to enjoy a lazy morning repast, arrive early or be prepared to wait in line with the locals.
211 Bear St, Banff, AB T1L 1A1, Canada
With tasty specials available most days throughout the off-season months, the Bear Street Tavern has a loyal clientele of locals year-round, giving it a genuinely homey and down-to-earth ambience. The menu, however, consists of more than just regular pub fare. Try the gourmet pizzas, thin-crust pies served with chili-infused oil and honey—a combination so magical it will convert even the pickiest of eaters. The Wheeler Hut pizza, with wild mushrooms, pesto, and truffle oil, is also a favorite. On sunny days, snag a seat on the patio and be prepared to stay longer than you intended.
203 Village Road, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Reasonably priced food is somewhat hard to come by in the upscale hamlet of Lake Louise, which is why Bill Peyto’s Café is such a find. Located in the HI Lake Louise Alpine Centre hostel and within walking distance of the Samson Mall, Peyto’s has a sizable dining room and an outdoor patio that’s perfect for relaxing on warm, sunny days. The menu is almost as vast as a classic Greek diner’s, including everything from a Thai stir-fry to a traditional poutine, but its dishes are executed flawlessly. (If you’re looking for standard pub fare, you can choose from plenty of burger options.) Servings are generous and cheap, meaning you’ll want to arrive early to lock down a table—especially in the summer.
110, 211 Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Vegetarians and veggie lovers alike can sometimes get overlooked in Alberta, a region prized for its beef. Enter Nourish Bistro! This farm-to-table restaurant is the place to go if you’re craving a little more green in your diet. The staff prides itself on using organic, seasonal ingredients, but it’s the creative combos of sweet and savory that really impress diners. The ravioli with lavender-infused cream sauce will blow your mind, and even the sides are special, like the Blazed Carrots with maple, garlic smoke, and heather flower, or the Love Buttons, beets with a hemp-herb-citrus sauce. Nourish also features a great selection of organic wines, spirits, and microbrews that are hard to find anywhere else in Banff. Note: Many dishes are extra-large, as they are meant to be shared family style.
207 Banff Ave, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Dining at the Grizzly House is an experience. As soon as you walk in, it’s obvious the place hasn’t changed much since it first opened decades ago. The interior is dark, and the wood-paneled wall is lined with taxidermy trophies. But the novelty of cooking at your own table makes up for it all. The food ranges from decadently simple—cheese, oil, and chocolate fondues—to exotic, like rattlesnake or alligator meat. The only thing more novel than preparing your own food is the rumors of the restaurant’s history as a swingers’ joint. Whether the stories are urban legend or not is hard to say, but telephones at each table that allow you to call any diner in the room seem to suggest there’s some truth to the gossip.
211 Bear Street # 213, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Best known by locals for its stunning views of the Canadian Rockies (nab a seat by the giant windows to make other diners jealous!), the Bison’s best-kept secret is its addictive dinner and Sunday brunch menus. Chefs Liz and Kirk are geniuses at creating special dishes that show off the region’s bounty, like bison carpaccio, venison striploin with maple parsnip purée, and a bison breakfast sandwich with bison sausage, fried egg, and foie gras butter. Ask the servers for help pairing the perfect regional beer or national wine with your order—they know their stuff.
Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada
An overnight stay at Tonquin Valley Adventures’ lodge is perhaps the best way to experience the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies. (It’s a well-earned one, too: The lodge lies almost 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles, from the nearest road!) To get there, hike the Tonquin Valley backcountry from Edith Cavell Road to the path alongside Astoria River before reaching the Ramparts Mountains. The setting is surreal, as the lodge has a series of cabins with unforgettable views. A short walk leads guests to the edge of Amethyst Lake, where canoes, kayaks, and rowboats await to take you on your next adventure.
624 Connaught Dr, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada
Opened in 2005, the Jasper Brewing Company was the first brewpub within a Canadian national park. It is now a local’s staple hangout. Seven different beers—like the Rockhopper IPA and Honey Bear Ale—are brewed on location, so make sure to order a brewery tour along with a fresh pint. The food menu is pub fare with a special flare to help bring out the flavors of the beer. The brewpub, open daily from 11:30am to 1:00am, is child-friendly, too, as the venue is divided into two, with both a restaurant and pub. Beer from $5.50. Contact 1-780-852-4111.
AB-93, Alberta, Canada
The Icefield Parkway isn’t just a highway linking Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta. It’s a 230-km road trip through the Canadian Rockies, past a series of emerald-green alpine lakes fed by nearby glaciers. The entire route connects Jasper and Banff national parks and traverses the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage site. Heading south from Jasper, the first must-see landmark is Athabasca Falls. After that, the sights come one after the other, like the Endless Chain, Sunwapta Falls, the Athabasca Glacier, Waterfowl Lake, and Bow Summit. That’s just the tip of the Icefield, though, as there are hundreds of breathtaking sights. The drive can take as little as three hours; however, it can also last for days. Throughout the summer there are a number of resorts along the route, along with a half-dozen campgrounds. The road is open throughout the winter, but there are no open services.
108 Banff Avenue, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Cruising down Banff Avenue, you eventually stop looking in shop windows as the strip’s souvenir stores all begin to blur together. At the far end of town, however, is a locally owned womens-wear boutique that is worth a visit. Cabin 108 carries trendy, reasonably priced clothing, shoes, and accessories, many of which are Canadian-designed. If you are on the hunt for a unique souvenir, check out the jewelry selection here: Pieces are often mountain-inspired or animal-themed, and you won’t find anything similar anywhere else in town.
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