I’ve always felt cheated by this trip due to the fact that I only saw the inside of a hotel, the inside of a canoe, and the inside of a freezing cold lake…but my ohhhh my was it a pretty lake indeed. Even through all the lights, cameras, action and nerves, I knew I’d make plans to come back to this exact spot without my cast members.
I set off a few days ago on a solo trip to explore what to do in Banff National Park. I’ve traveled the world plenty of times by myself, but it’s always been for a client and tied to work. This time around, I was able to do what I wanted and when I wanted…all in the name of F R E E D O M. If you’re looking for a great solo adventure spot, Banff and beyond is just what you need. Allow me to explain…
I flew into Calgary and rented a car. The people at Avis were good salesmen and saw me coming. Because I didn’t check the GPS box when booking online, the GPS was more expensive at the counter. For just $4/day more, I could get a fancy pantsy BWM with built-in GPS. #SoldToMe
I had asked many of my readers and followers about what to do in the area and so many mentioned the adorable town of Canmore. To you guys, I say thank you! I loved this cute little town and immediately started here since it was a bit closer to Calgary than Banff. If you don’t stay here, it’s a good idea to at least think about buying any type of grocery items here because Canmore tends to be more inexpensive than Banff.
I stopped to eat lunch at The Iron Goat before driving to the trailhead of my first hike. I changed from airport attire to hiking attire in the car (oops) and started on my first hike of the trip to Grassi Lakes.
Distance: 2 mile loop with a difficult and easy side. Note: Do the difficult side. It’s not that difficult and offers much better views than the easy side that has a ton of coverage and vegetation. I actually did the hard side on the way up and the easy side on the way down since it makes a loop 🙂
Elevation: 761 feet
Skill level: Easy and for all types of hikers
Final Thoughts: This was a great hike to start out with on my first day in Banff. I found it to be pretty easy yet stunning all the way up to the lakes – but definitely take the “difficult” side and go on a sunny day so the sunlight reflects the beautiful blue hues of the lakes.
After the hike I drove the 20 minutes to Banff, checked into the Juniper Hotel and made my way to Park Distillery for dinner. This place was magical and so was its rotisserie chicken, even though I was told to get the poutine. Sorry guys, but I just couldn’t stomach fries, cheese and gravy at that time. I can only be so Canadian in one day 🙂
I woke up at 7:30 and knew I had to go back to Canmore. Ha Ling Peak hike was calling my name. First of all, this wasn’t an inconvenience in the slightest since 1) it’s only a 20 minute drive and 2) that drive is sooo beautiful. As I was turning into Canmore, Tim Hortons stood out like a baby in a bar at midnight. I hadn’t had breakfast and their maple donut went in my mouth and into my belly faster than you could swipe my credit card for another. Oh well, Ha Ling Peak was up next and part of me thought it wasn’t going to be quite as easy as Grassi Lakes. I needed some necessary fuel!
Ha Ling Peak
Distance: 3.6 miles
Elevation: 2,588 feet
Skill level: Moderate to Difficult, started around 9:45am and ended around 2:30pm
Final Thoughts: This hike was a bitch, but an amazingly beautiful bitch at the same time. It’s basically nature’s stairmaster and steep AF, enclosed by forest until about the last quarter of the hike when you’re much more exposed. The view at the end is a 360 degree view of Canmore and the Canadian rockies. Bring bear spray or find really nice Brits who have bear spray 😉 You can find it in various places around Banff for about $30.
The town of Canmore has plenty of great places to eat, but carbs were calling to me and Rocky Mountain Bagel Company won that day. I then drove back to my hotel in Banff to record my podcast with Reality Steve, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, you should. It’s super honest, raw and Bachelor filled with a side of travel and surgery. It’s almost two hours long, so cuddle up with a beverage or make it a work commute activity 🙂
One of my favorite things about Canada in the summer is that it doesn’t get dark until about 10pm. After my podcast, I then ventured to Surprise Corner in search of this Banff Springs hotel view, then on to Two Jack Lake followed by Minnewanka Lake at sunset. I even caught this gorg pic of bride and groom getting their photos taken. #CoupleGoalsAF
By the time I even thought about dinner, I was crazy tired and couldn’t bare sitting down anywhere for a long drawn out evening. Don’t judge me, but I passed Subway, made a u-turn, got it to-go, and ate it in the bath before passing out for the evening. Zzzzzzz.
I fully realize the sun rises around 5:30am in Banff around this time of year, but I couldn’t be bothered to capture sunrise on my personal vacation. This entire trip was completely unsponsored, and I was doing exactly what I wanted when I wanted (which didn’t entail an alarm clock).
I woke up around 8am, scrolled social media for a bit as you do, ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant which was delicious, packed up, did some work and then set off around 11am to see what the Upper Hot Springs and the Banff Gondola were all about. If I’m being honest, the hot springs are just a glorified pool, and I’d probably opt for the hike up Sulphur Mountain instead of paying $62 CAD at the regular rate for the gondola ride up Sulphur.
After meandering around for the morning, I drove the 30 minutes to hike Johnston Canyon.
Distance: .68 miles to Lower Falls or 3 miles round trip to Upper Falls and back. Note that you can also hike up 3 more miles to the Ink Pots
Elevation: 1,279 to Upper Falls
Skill level: Great for all skill levels
With over one million visitors per year, Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Banff. I set out on the hike with one goal in mind: to find the secret cave. As I ventured off the walking path towards what I thought was the cave and the sound of a waterfall, I found a group of people at the water’s edge. They asked if I was looking for the secret cave too, I said yes, and they asked if I wanted to join their expedition group. After 10 more minutes of searching, we went off course and to our surprise, we found this cave at last! We were a group of Americans and Canadians in complete awe of this place. We cheers’d as we celebrated with beers and hung out for another 45 minutes before parting ways. This is why I love solo travel, because to be honest, I’m only solo for so long.
How to find the secret cave: I can’t help too entirely much because there is no clear path. About 20 minutes after the lower falls on the upper falls trail, keep looking for paths to your right that may take you down the the water bank. It’s hard to spot but look closely at every clearing you can and have this image in mind as it’s right off the trail leading to the water:
Final thoughts: This was more of a walking path than any kind of hike, but it’s great for people of all skill levels and ages. There were lots of kids and families here, and there were less and less people as the lower falls continued into the upper falls and onto the Ink Pots.
I grabbed lunch at the cafe on the trail (can’t miss it) – don’t forget your wallet in the car like I did or you’ll have to do some extra walking for food.
Afterwards, I drove another 30 minutes to Lake Louise. I checked into Paradise Lodge & Bungalows (cute and generously sized wood cabins) and got dressed to witness what I’d come for – a second viewing of the lake! Sadly, it started pouring as I was about to walk out the door, so I spent the evening getting some work done and eating dinner at Deer Lodge before exploring the next morning.
Today was the day! I was so nervous that the bad weather would persist, but thankfully the sun came in and out and allowed the turquoise colors of the lake to shine. Don’t be surprised when you see tourists in abundance here as Louise brings in the crowds from all over the world. I think I heard Spanish, Portuguese, German and French all in the span of 5 minutes. I spent hours meandering, reminiscing, and remembering my first experience here with The Bachelor. I walked over to these canoes and remembered how Chris Harrison told us how we were all going to paddle out to the other side of the lake in the canoes and that there was an open seat in Sean’s canoe. He asked who wanted it and my entire body jolted forward to be next to him. I should’ve known we weren’t going to work out when our conversation wasn’t exactly fluid on the way to the other side. Oh well, wuddyagonnado?
It was lunch time and I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to go roam the massive halls of the Fairmont Lake Louise, and when I did, Chateau Deli caught my eye. Head here if you want a quick fix before exploring for the afternoon.
Lake Agnes Hike
Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation: 1,794 feet
Skill level: Moderate
Note that there was a fair amount of snow and ice when I hiked on June 1st. There was also an avalanche warning, however that didn’t stop many hikers from partaking in the hike. The trail was very much still open even with the warning sign.
Final thoughts: This hike came HIGHLY recommended from everyone, probably the most recommended hike in Banff or Canmore. I may have enjoyed Ha Ling Peak a little more than this one just because I found it a bit more diverse and challenging, all with a cooler view at the top. The tea house definitely adds unique character here though, so be sure to bring cash so you can enjoy some tea or hot chocolate! Afterwards, many people go on to hike the Little or Big Beehive trails, although it was covered in snow when I was in Banff. Next time 😉
At around 4pm, I headed to a place that again came so highly recommended from my followers – Emerald Lake. It’s situated in Yoho National Park about 30 minutes away from Lake Louise via car. I found the lake to be so peaceful since I went towards the end of the day with no crowds, however mosquitoes were in abundance so bring lots of bug spray!
I woke up early to go see Moraine Lake on my last morning. I knew I couldn’t leave without snapping a few photos here, and I was glad I arrived before 9am since that’s around the time that large crowds descended upon the area. I needed to go pack up my stuff at the hotel and head to the airport. Departure is such sweet sorrow, but I know I’ll be back – I didn’t have enough days to see the Icefield Parkway and Jasper National Park, so Alberta round 3 is up next!
I’ll be posting more about solo trips and how to take photos when you travel solo soon! Stay tuned 🙂