Guide to Banff and Jasper National Parks

Aug 23, 2018 | Depot Locations, Escapades, Resources

By Emily Butterfield

If you’ve been eyeing the turquoise lakes and snow-capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, it’s time to stop daydreaming and plan your visit. A road trip through Banff and Jasper National Parks offers endless beauty, a variety of outdoor adventures and convenient camping options. You can even spot wildlife, raft the glacier-fed rivers and relax in hot springs. These parks are popular though in the summer months, so you’ll want to be mindful of these tips to ensure you’re Rocky Mountain adventure goes smoothly.

Finding a camping spot

Banff and Jasper National Parks have a mix of reservable and first-come, first-served campgrounds. The reservable sites often fill months in advance, but cancellations can happen a few days or weeks before your trip, so keep checking! You can also check with the campgrounds to see if they have any no-show spots available each day. There are many privately-owned RV parks, campgrounds and hostels near the parks as well. Waterfowl Lakes Campground, along the Icefields Parkway, is a great spot to camp outside the busy Lake Louise area and you’ll have easy access to fishing or paddling on the lakes. The Tunnel Mountain Village campgrounds in Banff are convenient and reservable but offer little privacy.

Visiting Moraine Lake and Lake Louise

These glacier-fed, vibrant blue lakes are gorgeous, making them VERY popular with summer visitors. There is limited parking at both lakes, so you’ll want to arrive early morning or late evening for your best chance at getting a spot and avoiding peak visitor times. Access to Moraine Lake road and parking is controlled from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. in the summer months, meaning you can’t access the parking lot unless there is a spot available. Shuttle service is available to both lakes from the Lake Louise overflow parking lot. Looking for more adventure? Enjoy a cup of tea at the Lake Agnes or Plain of Six Glaciers tea houses above Lake Louise, via hiking trails near the lake. Canoe rentals are also available at the lakes.

Take a few days to drive the Icefields Parkway

This 144-mile parkway lives up to the hype of being one of the most beautiful drives in North America. Stretching south from Jasper National Park to Lake Louise, it’s worth taking a few days to experience this area of Canada. Don’t miss Athabasca Falls, a walk out to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier and time to relax near one of the gorgeous glacier-fed lakes. There are numerous hiking opportunities in the area, including short walks to viewpoints. A visit to the Peyto Lake overlook is a must see. Consider walking a short, paved path (which turns into a dirt trail) past the popular wooden balcony viewpoint to a rock outcropping with fewer crowds- you’ll be able to see where the Peyto Glacier feeds the lake.

Take a gondola ride for a high-alpine view

If you are looking for an easy way to get a birds-eye view of the majestic Rocky Mountains, consider taking a gondola ride. The Jasper Skytram reaches Whistlers Mountain after a seven-minute ride and 3,300 feet of elevation gain. Enjoy the expansive 360-degree views from the upper station or take a short, steep hike to the top of Whistlers Mountain. There are also several gondolas in the Banff/Lake Louise areas. Just a short drive from the town of Banff is the Banff Sightseeing Gondola that takes you on an eight-minute ride up to 7,468 feet on Sulphur Mountain. If you’re looking for a stunning day hike in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, take the Banff Sunshine Village Gondola and Standish quad chairlift to the Sunshine Meadows hiking trails.

Getting to the parks

Pick up your Escape Campervan at the Vancouver or Seattle depot and head northeast to the parks. There are several routes you can take, depending on which park you visit first. You can also stop to visit Kootenay and Yoho National Parks in the Rockies. But whichever route you choose, take your time to enjoy the rushing rivers, towering forests and picture-perfect vistas along the way. The jaw-dropping views will help to pass the drive time!

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