If you added a fresh pineapple spear and little umbrella to Moraine Lake, it would look like a Blue Hawaiian cocktail. Mesmerizing and otherworldly. No wonder an estimated six million people will visit Banff National Park this year. More about that later.
Banff and Yoho national parks are adjacent to each other, with Banff on the east side of the Continental Divide in Alberta and Yoho on the west side in British Columbia. Predictably, we ran out of time before we exhausted the possibilities, but here are some favorite photos.
Banff National Park
At more than 2,500 square miles, Banff was Canada’s first (established in 1885) and is currently its most visited national park. Lake Louise, shown below, is perhaps the most iconic and definitely the most popular sight in Banff.
We stayed long enough to walk to the end of the lake but didn’t do any other hiking. Our next destination was the Lake Louise Ski Area for a gondola ride and lunch at the top.
After a fantastic day in Lake Louise, we decided to try for a visit to Moraine Lake the next day. Not easy, as the parking lot fills up by 5 a.m., after which time private autos are turned away. The shuttle bus operated by the park service is the next alternative, but securing a spot requires an hours long wait time. I’m happy to report that we were successful with option #3, which was to track down Tom’s private shuttle service that we learned about on Trip Advisor. Highly recommended and well worth the price!
Just one photo says it all. Absolutely magical! And not nearly as crowded as Lake Louise due to limited access.
From Moraine Lake, we hiked to Consolation Lakes – about four miles out and back with a gentle gain in elevation. An easy trek except navigating a field of giant boulders at the very end to get to the water. Very nice, with only a handful of other people on the trail.
Yoho National Park
One-fifth the size of Banff with only 700,000 visitors per year, Yoho National Park offers comparable beauty and a less frenetic experience, although popular sights were definitely busy.
Our first hike in Yoho, on a chilly and cloudy day, was to Sherbrooke Lake – just over three miles total with an easy 800 foot elevation gain. Another colorful lake!
Later in the day, we visited Takkaka Falls, which involved a lovely drive to get close, plus about 45 minutes to walk around the various paths. The falls have a total height of 1,224 feet, with one drop of 833 feet. The second tallest waterfall in Canada, it’s loud and wet and pretty darn cool.
We got an early start the next morning, with a quick stop at Natural Bridge. It’s an impressive formation in the Kicking Horse River caused by water erosion of the rocks over time. Worth a short visit – photos don’t capture the power generated by the rushing water.
One of the premier attractions in Yoho is Emerald Lake and its 3-mile circumnavigation trail. We got there early enough to snag a spot in the parking lot, but when we left, cars were parked alongside the road for at least a kilometer. Lovely lake and an enjoyable hike along the lakeshore.
Too Many Visitors
The number of visitors to the Lake Louise area in Banff National Park exceeds the town’s carrying capacity during peak season. We (unknowingly) planned our visit over a long holiday weekend in August. According to the locals, it was so busy that cars wanting to enter the village were diverted from the highway onto a side road for approximately three hours before being allowed to proceed. Probably not how they intended to spend their holiday.
“Every year the number of visitors [to the Canadian Rockies] increases while local, provincial, and federal tourism agencies continue to spend millions of dollars to attract more and more visitors. The Rockies are one of Canada’s most iconic destinations, but while more and more and more people flock to the same 2% of the park, the paved corridors, the local landscape becomes overwhelmed with oceans of people, cars, and an endless stream of rental RVs.” (Source: https://www.mountainnaturepodcast.com/081-overtourism-in-canadas-mountain-national-parks/)
The Lake Louise area is a compelling example of overtourism, a concept that is gaining traction worldwide as popular destinations (and the people who live there) are overwhelmed with hordes of visitors (like us). Shuttles have helped to ease traffic congestion in Lake Louise, but the locals told us that the wait times for buses can be as long as 2-3 hours. It’s clear that more work is needed to find a sustainable solution that may involve limits on the number of daily visitors.
In the meantime, we figured out how make it work for us, mostly by staying about 15 minutes outside of Lake Louise, just over Kicking Horse Pass into British Columbia. We chose the Great Divide Lodge because it was more budget-friendly than any of the Lake Louise options. It could use some TLC, but the staff were friendly, and the unexpected bonus was the free (and mostly empty) shuttle bus to and from Lake Louise. Plus we had a great view!
That’s it for our highlights from Banff and Yoho national parks. The next leg of Road Trip 2019 takes us on the Icefields Parkway to Jasper.