Believe us when we say, Banff and Jasper national parks are some of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen on Earth. Due to the sheer size of the parks, it also makes for a great road trip destination.
Upon first hearing about Banff from my friend, it has always been at the top of my bucket list destinations. The opportunity presented itself towards the end of my time in the US when M and I were planning for a trip just for the both of us.
Banff and Jasper national parks are 2 national parks located in the province of Alberta in western Canada. The 2 parks are connected to each other via the Icefield Parkway, one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
The parks are most commonly accessible from Edmonton to the north and Calgary from the South. Jasper as compared to Banff is less touristy and less commercialised.
For this itinerary, we’ll be driving into the parks from Edmonton (north) and driving out from Calgary (south).
Drive from Edmonton to Jasper National Park
This drive from the city into the mountains will take you about 4 hours. The initial parts of the drive are quite boring.
Along the way, you stop by some Walmarts to stock up on snacks and gas. Halfway through the journey, the snow-capped mountains slowly come into view and the drive becomes more enjoyable.
Take the Skytram to the Whistler Summit
When in the parks, you’d ideally want to seek a high vantage point with a panoramic view of the entire mountain range.
This leaves most people with 2 choices, either the Jasper Skytram or the Banff Gondola. We eventually chose the Jasper Skytram as we heard that the Banff Gondola is more crowded and the views are less amazing.
We were also initially very ambitious and wanted to tackle the Indian Ridge hiking route which has its start point at the top of the Skytram. That would have taken us 4-6 hours and we were not ready for it.
From the Upper Stations of the Skytram, it is a 1.4km hike to the Whistlers Mountain Summit. We highly recommend everyone to do this 30 minutes hike as it’s moderately easy and the views at the summit are very beautiful.
Please check this page for the opening hours of the Skytram as they differ according to the seasons and is usually closed during winter.
Time: ~2 hours
This is the commercial centre of Jasper National Parks and where most of the shops in the Parks are at. If you’re camping, this is where you can get your suppliers. (Though we wouldn’t recommend it as they are more expensive than outside the park) There are also many accommodation options available in the town.
Maligne Lake is located within Jasper Park but is slightly out of the way from Jasper Town. It is a 50 minutes drive (48km) from Jasper town and along the drive, you’ll be greeted with amazing views of the park.
Probably what’s most famous about Maligne Lake is the spirit island, first made famous by a photograph taken by Stephen Gale which hung on Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
If you like to visit Spirit Island, you have to book a slot on the Maligne Lake Cruise. It’s impossible to drive to Spirit Island from the visitor centre as the entire area is off the grid.
We heard that tickets have to be bought in advance as it’s a very popular activity. You can find more information here.
Alternatively, you can consider renting a kayak, canoe or rowboat. It is quite a far kayak and sufficient planning will be needed. We recommend reading this blog if you’re planning to do that.
This is a 230 km highway that links Jasper National Park to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. This was one of the most beautiful highways that we’ve ever driven on and definitely makes for the highlight of the road trip.
Along the drive, you can see snow-capped mountains lying on both sides of the road. It was very difficult for us to complete the drive as we constantly stopped and took photos.
We will recommend giving yourself 5 hours to complete this drive to fully enjoy the scenery.
Sunrise corner viewpoint
From Banff town, take a short drive up to Sunrise corner viewpoint where you’ll be treated with an incredible view of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.
The Fairmont Banff Springs was originally opened in 1888 and was meant as a way to grow Banff into a tourist destination in Canada.
The Canadian Pacific Railway which connects Vancouver to Toronto runs through the National Park. In a bid to have more passengers stopover in the area, the Railway company decided to build the hotel here.
This is the iconic lake that makes Banff so popular. When you’re planning a road trip to Banff, this is definitely a location that you cannot miss. Its turquoise water was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
However, due to its popularity, it is really crowded also. There were many people and tour groups there when we were visiting, making finding the right photo-taking opportunity almost impossible.
We will recommend coming early to avoid the crowd and the midday sun if you’re visiting during summer.
There are Kayak rental booths near the lake and you can rent them to paddle in the lake. When we were there, we did not rent one as there were too many people and we thought that the views were best from the shore. If you’re interested, you can find more information about kayaking here.
Moraine Lake is another popular lake in Banff but located in a slightly more secluded area. There are fewer people here as compared to Lake Louis and if you had to choose only one, we’d recommend this.
There’s a huge rock formation which a short hike to reach the top. From the top, you’ll get an incredible view of the lake, surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains. We very much prefer Moraine Lake as compared to Lake Louise.
Drive from Banff to Calgary
The drive back from Banff to Calgary is more urban as compared to the drive from Edmonton into Jasper. Once you exit the park, you’ll be greeted with modern comforts such as Tim Hortons and Safeway.
If you’re looking for more travel ideas or inspiration, you can check out our guide to Kyoto here! We really like the city when we visited and think that you’ll like it too.