What better place to spend a weekend than in Banff, Alberta, Canada? Is two days enough time to see the Canadian Rocky Mountains, especially when taking the Sky to Sea Highway road trip from Vancouver? It was literally heaven on earth and two days just wasn’t enough time! So the answer is NO, but since two days was all that I had, I was determined to experience as much as I could in that short, amount of time.
In order to utilize the little time that I had and to see as much as I could of this this part of Canada, I arranged a 12 hour tour with Brewster Sightseeing Tours. I arranged this tour through the conceirge at the Rimrock Resort prior to my arrival. The price was reasonable and I was guaranteed to experience the best that Banff and the Canadian Rocky Mountains had to offer. If you only have two days in Banff, Alberta, I highly recommend taking a tour in order to see all of the main attractions.
Day 1 in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
The first morning in the Rockies, make sure you are up bright and early and ready to hit the road by 7:00 a.m. Brewster will pick you up at the front door of your hotel (I stayed at the Rimrock Resort and it was perfect!) and will then take you to their headquarters where you will meet up with other travelers taking the tour.
First stop was Lake Louise, which was magical! It was late May and the lake was still partially frozen, but with the green water peeking through the snow on the lake, the view was absolutely spectacular. This will likely be the first stop on your Rocky Mountain tour in order to avoid the mass influx of tourists which frequent Lake Louise. This will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Rocky Mountains.
There are several trails at Lake Louise, but on this tour you unfortunately won’t have time to explore any of the trails. If you visit Lake Louise on your own, be sure to check them out. A word of caution if you visit on your own, parking is very limited and fills up fast, so get there bright and early. If you arrive later in the day, you will have to park a couple of miles down the road and take a bus to the Lake.
We then made our way towards the Icefield Parkway. This was by far one of the most magnificent drives I have ever taken, and in fact, the Icefield Parkway is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and I can certainly see why! There were mountains, lakes and glaciers as far as the eye could see. The beauty of of the surrounding mountains and lakes was indescribable. Throughout the drive, the guides explained the various mountain elevations we were driving through, as well as the vegetation that grows (or doesn’t grow) at each elevation. It will not be unusual to see wildlife roaming freely along the highway or by the lakes and mountains. For me, this was the best part of the drive. I just had to see at least one bear, and I was lucky enough to spot 4 bears throughout the tour.
CAUTION: Under no circumstances approach a bear. Always keep your distance!
JUST ONE TIP: If you drive the Icefield Parkway on your own, fill up on gas before you start as there are no gas stations along the way.
We made a pit stop at Bow Lake for a photo-op and to take in its beauty. I had never seen anything as beautiful as the reflection of the snow covered mountains reflecting on the green waters of the lake (Take a look at the picture. There are no words needed).
While the guides were setting up coffee, there was a loud rumbling noise coming from across the lake. Yup, it was an avalanche! It was a pretty cool thing to see! Winter was late leaving and a large number of the trails had not been opened up to the public yet for fear of avalanches. If you are an avid hiker like I am, make sure you visit in the summer months to ensure that you are able to get out on the trails. The trails are numerous and it would take a lifetime to climb them all, but always pay attention to the warnings!
It’s now time for lunch! The tour included a buffet lunch at the Visitor’s Center. The restaurant is open for all tourists, but it is busy and expensive. If the weather permits, I would highly recommend taking a picnic, as there are many spots to rest along the Icefield Parkway which allow you to take in the views. Be aware of the bears, they are out and about!
After a nice lunch, we did the Columbia Icefield Adventure. We boarded our “bus” for a quick and very bumpy, steep ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier. I would not recommend that you miss this adventure! They say that the glacier is receding approximately 5 meters per year, so get out on it and experience it while you can.
It is STRONGLY recommended not to walk on the Athabasca Glacier on your own as there have been many deaths. Take a tour or go with a guide, besides a guide will be knowledgeable and provide you with the history and information regarding the glacier.
Last but not least, was a visit to the Glacier Skywalk. This is the spot to go in order to take in the many mountains, lakes and glaciers, all from this awe-inspiring glass bottom observation platform which hangs 918 feet above the Sunwapta Valley. It took more than a little bit of courage to get me out on this platform, but I’m sure glad that I overcame my fear and went out on it. This attraction can also be experienced without going on a tour.
Day 2 in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
As I always do, I kept one day open to explore and wander wherever my heart desired. It was also the day before a long 10 hour drive back to the airport, so I made sure to leave some rest time before my drive back.
After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I hopped the free shuttle which took me from my hotel right into the center of Banff. I spent a couple of hours browsing the shops and marveling at the mountains surrounding the town. There
are numerous small boutique shops, restaurants, novelty stores and winter clothing stores, which would keep you busy for hours if you are a shopper, which I’m not. I eventually found a quaint little restaurant (I can’t remember the name), on one of the side streets and I spent the next hour eating and chatting with the extremely friendly staff. I know, those of you who know me might be a little surprised to hear that I was chatting with the staff. lol.
After an awesome lunch and some friendly chatter, I hopped back on the free bus and headed back to my hotel. At the last minute, I decided not to get off at my stop and instead continue on to the Banff Gondola which takes you up Sulphur Mountain. I am so glad that I didn’t miss this attraction!!!! There were no lineups and I hopped on as soon as I arrived. The ride up was more than a little frightening at first, given that I am terrified of heights, but the beauty surrounding me made it well worth my while. The gondola ends part way up the mountain at the visitor’s center, which has restrooms, restaurants and coffee shops, as well as an interpretive center. Not a chance was I going to stop there. I continued to hike my way up to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, where I was able to see 6 mountain ranges and Bow Valley from 7,486 feet above sea level. The view was magnificent!
As the old saying goes….all good things must come to an end. My two days in the Rocky Mountains was coming to an end….time to rest up for the ten hour drive back to Vancouver. My Rocky Road Trippin Adventure took a total of six days including the drive from and back to Vancouver. If you aren’t into long roadtrips, then I recommend that you fly into Calgary, which is approximately a one hour drive to Banff. If you plan on exploring the Rocky Mountains on your own, I recommend renting a car. If you intend on taking tours, then contact Brewster Express as they also have shuttle services from and to the Calgary airport.
I will definitely be back to the Canadian Rocky Mountains! Two days exploring the Rocky Mountains isn’t near enough time, but if you follow the same itinerary that I did, it will allow you enough time to see the major attractions.
The Best Time to Visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are beautiful at any time of the year and you will find plenty of activities whether visiting in the Summer or Winter. It all depends what your interests are and what you want to do.
During the Summer months, June through August, you can expect the weather to range between 14 degrees Celsius to 18 degrees Celsius during the day, and can dip as low as 0 degrees Celsius in the evening. The range in temperature makes it difficult to know what clothing to pack and it is recommended that in addition to the usual Summer attire, you bring some warmer clothing such as hoodies, jacket, and even gloves.
For the nature lover and hiking addict, visiting Banff National Park during the Summer months would be the ideal time and visiting during this period would also guarantee that the trails would be open for hiking. I must caution you though that visiting the Canadian Rockies during this time of the year is EXTREMELY busy, so if it is peace and quiet that you are seeking, the Summer months is not the ideal time to visit.
Banff National Park during the Winter months are magical and if you love to ski, this is the place you want to visit. Even if you aren’t a skier, there are still many winter activities for the entire family, including dog sledding, ice skating on Lake Louise, horse drawn sleigh rides, snow shoeing, and the Ice Magic Festival which is held the second and third week of January each year.
If heading to the Rocky Mountains during the Winter months, you can expect temperatures to drop as low as -14 degrees celsius so bundle up. Dressing for the Winter in the Rocky Mountains is very much like dressing for Alaska.
If you plan to drive through the Rocky Mountains during the Winter months be prepared, the road conditions are quite treacherous. Before heading out, check the weather conditions and take all necessary precautions.
If you want to avoid the crowds, visiting the Canadian Rocky Mountains during the off-season between April and June, and September and November, is the best time to avoid a deluge of tourists. You will also find the cost of lodging to be less expensive, BUT you will also find that many of the trails are closed due to the potential of an avalanche.
The off-season is the perfect time to visit if you are seeking rest, relaxation, scenery, and possibly the odd bear or two.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position to visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains, be prepared….it is expensive…..but worth every single penny! I will be going back, but next time I will go for two weeks. Have you been to Banff, Alberta in the Canadian Rocky Mountains?
ENJOY THE MOUNTAINS 🙂
PIN TO VISIT THE BEAUTIFUL CANADIAN ROCKY MOUNTAINS!