There is a place in Canada that looks otherworldly, I’m sure you’ve seen it on Instagram. An influencer is perfectly posed in a canoe, on water as flat and clear as glass, with mountains in the background and cool blue skies. She probably doesn’t have a hair out of place, her outfit doesn’t have an ounce of dirt on it, and her hat is completely secured on her head.
We’ve all seen this photo and we have all wanted to go. And so, I did. [To be fair, I’ve been wanting to go since before I saw it on Instagram, but that’s neither here nor there.]
We did our research, we booked our hotel, secured our flights and our shuttle and off we went.
1. July is peak season in Banff. It is supposed to be their "summer" and it is the time of year when most tourists are in the park. Keep this in mind when booking your trip, that with peak season comes peak prices. It was almost impossible to find a direct flight so we had a 12 hour travel day in an odd order, but we got there eventually and it didn’t break the bank. Also keep in mind that you can't fly in to Alberta. You have to fly into Calgary and then take a 2 hour shuttle trip into Banff National Park to where you are staying. You will have to book your shuttle in advance of your arrival date because you need to have a reservation. I would recommend using the Brewster Express.
2. You don’t need to stay in the fanciest hotel. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even want to if you really knew how far away they were from everything. The Fairmount Banff Springs is about a 15 minute, uphill walk from downtown Banff, or you can wait to take the shuttle up there. The Fairmount Chateau at lake Louise is over an hour shuttle ride outside of downtown Banff. Of course, you’d be staying on lake Louise so what more do you need. The Banff Ptarmigan Inn is the perfect spot to stay. It’s reasonably priced, in the heart of Downtown Banff, located right next to Good Earth Coffee house and right across from a shuttle hub stop (more about the shuttle later). The Banff Ptarmigan Inn gives you that at home feel when you’ve come back cold and tired from a long day of hiking. That’s all you really need when you’re thousands of miles from home.
Again, I will say that peak season comes with peak prices and not a lot of hospitality options. Before we found the Banff Ptarmigan Inn the most reasonably priced option was an RV parked in the RV area of the park that someone was renting out as an AirBnB. Consider that your warning to book quickly and early.
3. The girls you see on Instagram all done up look great, but they must have a lot of confidence because literally nobody else looks like that. I mean there is a little bit of everything but most people are in hiking apparel and its not exactly what you would call "mountain chic". It’s fine and great to want to look your best, but just as you dress for the season, not the weather, I’d recommend you dress for the location and not your Instagram feed.
4. There are 17 hours of daylight in Banff. The sun rises at about 5 AM and sets around 9:40PM. Be prepared to eat at odd hours of the day and drink a lot of coffee or tea.
5. Pack a rain coat. And probably a winter coat. But you also might want to pack shorts, tank tops, and short sleeve shirts.
6. Take a lot of photos, but also make sure to appreciate the beauty of the world through your own eyes and not solely through your phone screen.
7. Be prepared for bears, moose, and mountain lions. Going to the mountains is like going into the ocean. You are a guest in their home, and the wildlife is always home. Respect that and respect them.
8. That being said, don't hike alone. Actually, most of the trails are recommended that you are with a group of 4 or more. And other trails its mandatory that you are with a group of 4 or more, or you will be fined. The trails near downtown Banff are easy and welcoming for all hiking levels, but the further you get into the National Park, continue with caution. Someone once told me, when I was at the peak in the Smokey Mountains, that "this is the safest you will ever be." And I believed that, and still do, because at the top, a lot of things can’t get to you. But it’s good to keep in mind that the mountain lions can see you, you just cant see them.
9. Public Transportation is a must. Banff utilizes a transport system called Roam. When we first chose this location for our adventure we assumed that everything would be in walking distance, but we were wrong. We had to utilize the Roam shuttle almost every day. It is free and easy to use especially because when booking at the Banff Ptarmigan Inn they provide you with your own bus pass for the entirety of your stay.
10. As with all trips, do your research so you know what you are getting yourself into but also go in with an open mind. Not all trips go as according to plan.