After seeing instagram photos of Banff by friends and bloggers, I was determined to visit Banff National Park and witness the winter wonderland in person. I chose to visit in March to have the winter experience without freezing my toes off. On the drive into the park, I was like a child pressed up against the car window. I couldn’t get enough of the snowcapped mountains and towering evergreen trees along the route. What made me really fall in love with Banff was the frozen falls at Johnston Canyon. I loved visiting in winter but I can’t wait to visit again in the summer to get a different side of this experience.
JINYA Ramen Bar
Before heading to Banff, my boyfriend and I decided to grab a late lunch in Calgary. My boyfriend was craving ramen (if you’ve read my other posts, you know we love ramen) so we gave this ramen chain a try. Like all of our meals, we went a bit overboard ordering takoyaki (octopus balls), 2 ramen (spicy tonkatsu for me and spicy miso for him), and a side of curry & salad. Everything was tasty but I wouldn’t rank this ramen spot in my top 3. The best part about the ramen was the pork chashu that melted in my mouth. I actually liked the curry more than the ramen! With the fast service and friendly faces, it’s worth swinging by if you’re in the area.
We took the gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain to capture the view before sunset. With prepaid tickets in hand (56 CAD/person) and no queues, we were whisked to the top of the mountain in no time. There is a 4-level visitor center at the summit with the top level being an open observation deck. The view of the surrounding mountains, frozen rivers and lakes, and town of Banff was breathtaking. It was very cold but it was an opportunity to bond with other visitors under the heat lamps.
There is also a level of restaurants and a level of interactive exhibits. We also braved the cold to take a stroll along the Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak. It was a short walk to another viewpoint. When the sun went down, there was an astronomy club hosting star gazing at the observation deck. We spent 3 hours here before we dragged ourselves back to the gondola and away from this amazing view.
This cajun restaurant was well-rated and appeared on several recommendation lists. I ordered the Shrimp and Lobster Étouffée but the dish was more like a jambalaya than an an étouffée. My boyfriend ordered the Crazy Cajun burger and that ended up being a great choice. Each dish had wonderful cajun flavors but next time, I won’t be ordering the étouffée.
Banff Entrance Sign
I knew I needed a picture with the sign as soon as I saw it! We parked on the side of the street and hopped out to join the other tourists. The sign is on the right side of the road as you enter the town of Banff.
This was a great spot for brunch! There was no wait when we arrived at 11:30am on a Saturday. I ordered the Chorizo Benny and damn, it was good! The amount of chorizo was perfect and the hollandaise sauce was delicious. I was even full after just half a benny.
Johnston Canyon Hiking Area
Before heading to the falls, I did some research and found this page to be extremely helpful. We headed to the lower falls first and the path there was very well maintained. We stopped along the way to admire the beauty around us. There was a line to go through the cave to see the lower falls because the viewing platform is quite small (fits up to 8 people). It was impressive to see the water flow down behind the clear parts of the frozen fall.
Next, we headed for the upper falls. The walk there was much more challenging with steeper inclines and icy paths. I would recommend getting ice cleats to make the walk easier. There was a section that was pure ice and most people (including us) had to find a way around it, while people with cleats walked right on through. Once you get to the upper falls, you can see ice climbers! The railed path doesn’t allow you to get very close to the frozen falls (which makes sense because it’s usually not snow underneath but flowing water). We decided to hop the railing and climb down to get closer to the falls. It wasn’t the recommend avenue but the close up view of the falls was worth it (not to mention the great pictures)! Afterwards, we went to the viewing platform above the upper falls. This was also a great way to see the frozen falls in detail. We ended up spending 3.5 hours at Johnston Canyon because we couldn’t stop admiring the beauty around us.
Eddie Burger and Bar
This was my favorite place to eat at Banff! I recommend eating here before the dinner rush or you can expect a long wait. We arrived around 5pm and waited 15 minutes for a table. I ordered the Eddie Mac burger and had poutine, onion rings, and truffle fries for the table. It was all delicious! Out of the 3 sides, the poutine is a must order. The food was so good, I came back the next night to grab onion rings to go.
I just adore downtown Banff! How can you not when there’s mountains all around? You can shop at stores like Roots and Helly Hansen. If you’re craving something sweet, you can grab ice cream at COWS (try cownadian maple flavor!) or a fried dough pastry from BeaverTails. There are also plenty of souvenir shops. On top of all this, there is free parking!
Kingmik Dog Sled Tours
Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. My friend recommended the Great Divide Tour with Kingmik. Megan, who also happens to be the owner, was our sled driver. She was very knowledgeable about her dogs and seemed to really care for them (which is important to me because I don’t support animal mistreatment). Six dogs pulled our sled of 3 adults and I was so impressed by their strength and speed. The only thing I found concerning was that the dogs were barking a lot but Megan assured us that it’s because the dogs were really looking forward to their run. And sure enough, as soon as the dogs started running, they were extremely silent and focused. Even when we took breaks for their sake, they would want to race off.
The time in the sled was just the right amount of time. It was extremely cold even with a sleeping bag and many layers of clothes (so definitely make sure to bundle up, especially hands and feet!). On the tour, you get an amazing backdrop of mountains, tall trees all around, and glittering snow on the ground. You can even “drive the sled” but this really just meant standing in the back instead of sitting in the sled. Even though I provided no assistance, standing provided a different (and better) view of the nature around me. Overall, it was a magical experience!
TIP: Kingmik will send instructions to the staging area, but you can just plug Kingmik Dog Sled Tours into Google Maps for easy directions.
Bill Peyto’s Cafe
There aren’t as many places to eat in Lake Louise. This cafe located in a hostel was known for being affordable and delicious. We ordered the daily soup, poutine, and Angry Peyto burger. The food was decent but not a recommended place in my book.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
I went skiing for the first time earlier this year in Tahoe and I really enjoyed it. However, due to my weak knees, I was unable to ski this time around which is such a shame because the slopes looked incredible here. We came instead to go tubing! However, after watching a few families slide down, we realized it wasn’t adventurous enough for us. We expected something more thrilling. Luckily, we parked on the street and didn’t end up paying for parking.
Lake Louise surpassed my expectations! The lake was frozen with a thick layer of snow on top. The surrounding mountains and trees served as the perfect winter backdrop for the lake. We walked across the frozen lake and ended up at the foot of another frozen waterfall. We even saw an avalanche on one of the distant mountains. It was a very peaceful place to be.
TIP: If it’s sunny, make sure to bring sunglasses or else the snow can be quite blinding.
Ice Skating at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
At the back of this luxury hotel, you can ice skate on Lake Louise! We rented skates from the hotel for 13 CAD/2 hours. At the age of 26, I still can’t ice skate and though my boyfriend has tried to teach me every time we go, I can never seem to get it and end up clutching onto his hands the whole time. Also behind the hotel, there were ice sculptures remaining from the Ice Magic Festival. The big hit was definitely the ice castle!
Someone at the airport recommended this ramen spot to us (his exact words were the small ramen shop next to the McDonald’s). In addition to ramen, they also had udon, curry, and other Japanese dishes. I ordered the Kakiage Udon with Kitsune and it was so delicious! It was so good and affordable – we came back here again the next day before heading out of Banff. Keep in mind that there is limited seating so it may be hard to eat here during peak hours.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
When I was researching things to do in Banff, I did not add this to the list because some reviews said it was just a warm pool. However, my boyfriend wanted to give it a try and I’m so happy we did. For me, it was more of a big jacuzzi. The water was so hot that I found myself hopping out several times to cool down. I found the best temperature at the shallow area where you can lay down completely. We went on a Sunday night and even though there were a lot of visitors, it wasn’t overcrowded or too loud. It was a great way to soak sore muscles post hiking.
TIP: I was confused as to whether or not to bring my rented towel outside to the deck. As an FYI, there is a shelf outside where you can place your towels.
Top Tourist Spots: Johnston Canyon Hiking Area, Lake Louise, and Downtown Banff
For Next Time: Lake Minnewanka and Skiing at Lake Louise Ski Resort
Must Eat Snack: Poutine from Eddie Burger and Bar
What to Skip: Bill Peyto’s Cafe
The Other Necessities
We stayed at Coast Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre. It was a nice, clean, and affordable hotel with all the amenities we needed (even a hot tub). It was a 30 minute drive from downtown Banff which isn’t bad when you get breathtaking views along the way. While we enjoyed our stay, we plan on staying somewhere in downtown Banff next time.
We rented a car from Routes Calgary. When you arrive at YYC (Calgary International Airport), you have to call Routes for the shuttle to the rental office. The instructions say there’s a free phone by the shuttle pick up location, but there isn’t. Instead, you should use the phone at the airport information desk for free. We called Routes and they said the shuttle would arrive in 10 minutes, it didn’t. It took about 30-40 minutes before the shuttle arrived. It wasn’t a great first impression. However, we were able to get a brand new Jeep to drive around Banff and despite reading reviews about outrageous charges upon return, we returned the car without any issues. Next time around, we will be choosing a rental company located at the airport instead to avoid shuttle issues.
We flew with Air Canada from SJC to YYC with a layover in Vancouver. Good thing we had sufficient time during the Vancouver layover because we had to go through customs. Make sure to get a yellow pass when you land so you can go into the “expedited” customs process. Along with customs, we also had to go through security again before boarding our next flight.
Upon departing Canada, we flew out of YYC. With our Priority Pass, we relaxed at Aspire Lounge. They had a poor food selection but if you like alcohol, you’ll find hard liquor on tap ready for you to choose from.
We used our Priority Pass again in Seattle at Alaska Air Lounge. This lounge also had a limited selection of food. We mainly ate chicken noodle soup and chips with salsa. It wasn’t sufficient to fill up our tummies as dinner but it was free so we can’t complain too much. Since my boyfriend and I visit so many lounges with our Priority Pass, I will make sure to write a post dedicated to just that for your reference.