For those who can’t be bothered to read the “stories” bit, I’m explaining my route and writing a “suggestions” at the top of this post, I hope it’s helpful:
I went from Calgary > Lake Louise > Jasper > Banff > Calgary; but you can start in Calgary and finish in Jasper Airport as well (or the other way round. However, I will say that driving the Icefields Parkway twice (both ways) was super worth it.
– if you can, rent a car. Honestly, the money is worth it. It will allow you to go on further away treks and will allow you to stop wherever you want when you do the Icefields Parkway
– drive through the Icefields parkway. That’s it. That’s the advice
– visiting during low/ shoulder season might mean you can’t do everything you want, but it allows you to see the area without the crowds. And it’s cheaper!
– the weekends will always be busy. Book the hostels in advance for those days
– go to the visitor centres and ask about the trails , the area and the bears 😅 honestly, do ask.
– get yourself some nasal spray. Trust me on this one. The air is so so dry that I’ve had nose bleeds every day and the same has been happening with other people.
– prepare for snow, prepare for rain, prepare for sunny days. The rockies put on a show for me during the 9 days I was there and it was everything I could have hoped for
Louise the Lazy, Jasper the Gem, Banff the Busy
No time will ever be enough here, or in a lot of other places on this earth. Just going to start by saying that.
Knowing full well it’s low season, which means ski closing weekend and a lot of iced lakes and closed trails, I still had the best time.
I booked these 9 days as a way to try to disconnect before continuing my travels during the next 6months, and it was definitely the right thing to do.
From not doing my Electronic Travel Authorisation (and sitting on the floor of Heathrow airport for 30min trying to do that) and renting an automatic car when I can not drive one (and having to get taught how to drive as I’m renting the car…. ) there’s been a bit of everything happening to me already lol
Oh and bears. Which I completely disregarded as something I had to worry about lol. I did have to worry about them!
Anyway, continue to read below for some more details (and a few other adventures)
Louise, the Lazy (3 nights)
- Hostel: HI Louise
- Really cute hostel with an awesome restaurant downstairs. Really big self-service kitchen and good location. Rooms were good, but a bit small.
- Coffee place: Trailhead Cafe
- Omg what a place! Great coffee, great food, the nicest people! Thank you!
I wanted to stop in Lake Louise to begin with as I knew I’d be suffering from jet lag… (didn’t expect it to last for the majority of my 9 days at the rockies, oh well). Louise is a lazy village. Not to say there’s nothing to do, but there’s definitely very little during the low season. The lake is amazing (even if frozen) and the trails are beautiful. I stayed for 3 nights which was more than enough for me (I arrived at 7pm on the first day).
Thank you to Anna and Ivona for some of the travelling tips and for the chats at the end of the day in our dorm. It was really lovely meeting you and getting to know a little bit more about your journey for the next year. I’m sure we’ll meet again somewhere in South America
Jasper, the Gem (3 nights)
- Hostel: HI Jasper
- Amazing hostel, really big and with a lot of indoor and outdoor open space. When you first arrive it seems like it’s a bit far away from town and in an industrial area, but it’s actually really close to town and the rooms are fantastic. All the facilities are excellent, highly recommend
- Coffee place: Andromeda
- Went there on my last full day in Jasper and really regret not going sooner. Coffee and cakes are to die for.
Jasper was the first place in Canada to steal a little bit of my heart. The town is super cute and the trails are just breathtaking. I stayed for 3 nights but could have easily stayed for another 2. With a car you get to drive to some of the further away lakes and do some of the walks a bit further from the city centre, and you will not regret it
Thank you Ina for being an absolute legend and helping me figure out some of the trails I should do in Jasper. Also, thank you for taking me to Andromeda for the best coffee I had in Jasper.
Banff, the Busy (2 nights, 3 days)
- Hostel: HI Banff
- Nice Hostel with a ‘rustic’ / cabin feel to it. It’s nice but you can see it’s a bit old (which I don’t mind whatsoever). Location is on the way up the mountain and not in the city centre, which I also like.
- Coffee place: Evelyn’s Coffee Bar
- This was a recommendation from the receptionist at the hostel and it didn’t disappoint. Coffee was amazing and staff was super nice, deffo recommend.
- Food Place: Nourish Bistro
- I very rarely go out to eat, but Nourish had a full vegetarian and vegan menu and I just couldn’t not go. I ended up spending more money than a backpacker should, but I really recommend it.
I spent 2 nights in Banff and was able to do a few walks and visit a few sites, but just like in Lake Louise and Jasper, I could have spent more time in there for sure. Doing my time there I went down to Bow River and then went up Tunnel Mountain which ended up being a really good day of hiking with Liz (my new friend from Banff). Before leaving Banff we stopped at Lake Minnewanka and two Jake Lake and omg, what a show stopper.
Thank you to Julie and Marc-Olivier for the company during my last night in Banff. It was lovely to chat for a few hours and hear about your own adventures, even though I did the majority of the talking (sorry!)
Thank you to Liz for making my time in Banff a lot better and filled with activities. Liz is an 18 year old German girl, who I met in Canada, but was born in Lisbon (Portugal), where their parents got inspiration for her name. A lot of my work as freelancer involves supporting young people, and it was incredible to be with Liz for these two days, hear about their hopes and dreams for the next few years, going to university, a wish to travel more etc. To Liz: “you’ll be able to do it. Whatever you set your mind to, you’ll be able to do it. The undergraduate degree, the postgrad, the research, the exchanges, the travelling. The fact that you’ve had the courage to come to Canada on your own for a period of time at the age of 18, and the way you’ve been able to meet people, ask for advice, listen and also suggest different things to do, just shows that you’ve got it all in you to accomplish whatever you feel you’d like to. It was an honour to share the moments we did together”
Driving the Icefields Parkway
If you start in Calgary, you’ll reach Banff first, then Lake Louise and further north you’ve got Jasper. To get to Jasper you have to drive through the Icefields Parkway which is, arguably, one of the most scenic routes to be driven. You can do it in 3 or 4 hours, but it took me 7. And I made sure to do it twice…. It’s that beautiful!
To anyone coming to the Rockies I would say this is as part of the journey as visiting the the towns themselves and it should not be missed.
I have left the rockies feeling like it’s a place I want to come back in the summer to really see the (unfrozen) lakes, but I can not fully put into words how beautiful this place is. I loved that I went in low season, I loved not having to deal with crowds and I loved that I actually met a lot of Canadians and not just travellers.