Last weekend, we flew up to Calgary, Alberta to spend the weekend with my family in Banff.
My family had planned this big epic camping trip, and we just couldn’t bear to miss out on the fun. Tyler (understandably) didn’t want to take anymore work off after taking so much for the Europe trip, so we flew up just for a long weekend.
It was a whirlwind weekend, but I’m so glad we went. Banff is stunningly beautiful. My parents had taken us when we were kids, and I have been obsessed with the idea of taking Tyler back to Lake Louise and Lake Moraine ever since we got married. I was SO excited.
We stayed two nights at the MTN House hotel in Canmore and two nights in a tent that my dad brought along for us in my family’s campsite in Banff.
Four days is most certainly not enough time in Banff. There is simply too much to explore, and that’s not even taking Jasper National Park into consideration which is just two hours north of Banff. You could spend weeks in the region and not even scratch the surface. Nevertheless, I think we made pretty good use of our time and managed to hit the “all stars.”
One crazy thing about our time in Banff was that the air quality was horrible a couple of the days we were there. On Friday, we had almost no visibility to the mountains around us. It was disappointing, but fortunately things started to clear up on Saturday afternoon. I guess this happens every summer in the area–fires in Northern Canada causing poor air quality–but this year was, apparently, especially bad.
Overall, though, I can’t overstate how beautiful the area is. It’s definitely a bucket list destination with shockingly gorgeous views everywhere you turn. There are countless hikes, bike rides, and walks to do, and we found the infrastructure very organized and streamlined.
In this guide, I am going to share our recommendation for where to stay in Banff with kids and a list of our favorite things that we did while we were there.
We stayed at the brand new MTN House in Canmore for our first two nights in the area. Canmore’s location couldn’t be more convenient: it’s a 1:15 drive from the Calgary airport and just 20 minutes from the entrance to Banff National Park and the town of Banff.
MTN House is Basecamp’s newest property in the area, and the branding was elite. The whole property had that ultra-chic, second-home mountain vibe. I was obsessed with every detail.
My favorite part of the hotel was the lobby which felt like a cozy, luxurious living room with this massive marble fireplace and leather chairs. I could have snuggled up on one of the couches with a book and a glass of wine for hours. Each afternoon, they had complimentary appetizers and snacks set out, and then in the mornings, there was this cute little coffee and pastry set up.
The staff at MTN House was welcoming, attentive, and, best of all, available by text which was so nice with having the kids with us. Everyone was so sweet to us and the girls.
The hotel has e-bikes available to rent (I recommend taking these up the bike trail to the national park for sweeping views of the Rockies). There is also a complimentary shuttle service that guests can leverage to get around the town of Canmore.
MTN House’s onsite spa and hot tub are scheduled to be open by the summer of 2024, and the restaurant is scheduled to open this coming September. We ordered room service from the chef who is opening the restaurant and everything was SO GOOD.
MTN House provides the perfect base for exploring Banff. In our case, it was a great way to regroup and collect ourselves before joining my family at the campground. I can’t recommend this property enough.
Side note: we didn’t get to explore much of Canmore, but our favorite coffee of the trip was from Blondie’s which is just a five minute drive from the hotel.
This was a great little hike. The Johnston Canyon trailhead is a 30 minute drive from the town of Banff. The free parking lot at the entrance fills up in the morning, but we were able to grab a spot at the lodge next door for $15 a day when we arrived at 10am. Otherwise, you can park along the road but expect to walk if you’re coming later in the day.
The trail is beautiful. It runs right along the edge of the river until you get to the lower falls lookout point. The trail itself is beautifully designed and felt very safe despite curving over the water at some points. This was a fairly easy hike, pretty much flat. My girls made it almost the entire way there, and then we carried them on and off on the way back but that was mostly due to the trail getting overcrowded and us trying to make it through the congested areas quickly.
When we arrived at the lookout point (this took us about 45 minutes but would have been way quicker had we not had the girls with us), there was a MASSIVE line to get a picture at the front. We would have had to wait for an hour! Instead of going down to the lower falls lookout point, we took the stairs up just a little ways on the left (this is the trail that goes up to the upper falls) and were able to catch a nice view of the falls without waiting in the line.
The rest of the family went all the way up to the upper falls which they said was really nice.
I definitely think the key here is to arrive early–ideally around 8am. By the time we hit the trail at 10am it was quite congested, growing more and more crowded by the minute. I would have loved to experience this walk without the bustle of crowds around me and it would have made having girls with us even easier.
The town of Banff is a destination in and of itself. The town is gorgeous, immaculately maintained with wooden flower beds and trees, streets lined with shops and fun restaurants. There are a couple of blocks that are closed to cars which makes walking around even more enjoyable.
Our favorite part of the town was the Central Park which is nestled right next to the river. There is a beautiful playground, complete with a big climbing boulder, of course, lots of grassy space for kids to run, and this iconic gazebo topped with the Canadian flag. Don’t miss the bridge next to the gazebo for a stunning view of the river and surrounding mountains.
There is also a huge, clean bathroom at this park. The parking lot right next to this park is paid, but there is also a free parking lot at the train station which is about a 7 minute walk from the heart of downtown Banff.
The best meal we had in Banff BY FAR was just a little drive outside of downtown. My dad found this little hole in the wall called Bare Bistro. The owner was the sous chef over at the Fairmont for years before he and his wife decided to start their own place. They have all of these amazing baked goods and a limited but INSANE breakfast menu. We loved it, and my parents went back multiple times that same week. Just trust me on this one.
I’ve had daydreams about Lake Louise and Moraine Lake ever since I first saw them as an eight-year-old, so suffice it to say my expectations were high. And although the air quality was not necessarily crystal clear, it was much, much better than the previous days so we were really thankful for that.
These two lakes are astounding, worth every ounce of effort and every hour/day of travel to get up to Alberta.
You’ll need to plan out your visits to these lakes in advance. Parking spots are limited even at the shuttle lot across the freeway. So, make sure to purchase your shuttle reservation way ahead of time. My dad did this for our whole family months ago, thank goodness).
You can and should hit both lakes in one day. There are shuttles between the two and back down to the shuttle lot from both as well.
We started our day off at Lake Louise. When we arrived, there was a huge crowd jonesing for pictures at the front of the lake. We followed the trail along the right hand side of the lake, though, and within a few minutes the crowd had dissipated. The trail along the lake was lovely–it was completely flat and honestly not very crowded at all.
All of the cousins had such a good time on this walk which was so special. They collected flowers, tossed rocks in the lakes, squealed at squirrels, etc. It was idyllic.
We took a break for lunch and then hopped on the shuttle up to Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake was just as staggering as I remembered, with the brightest, deepest teal water you can imagine. We didn’t spend a ton of time in Moraine Lake but it was well worth the trip up.
If you have the time, take the path that goes up to the top of the rock scramble (but not actually scrambling up the front) for a gorgeous view.
There are tons of spots to rent bikes, e-bikes, and trailers for littles in town, and I think this is such a fabulous way to experience the area. We took the trail through the park and across the river. We made a stop at Bow Falls which was really cool and then down and around the golf course.
This was a bad air day. So I feel like we only experienced a fraction of the views that this trail would have provided. I definitely recommend this trail though. We even encountered a herd of elk that crossed the path right in front of us! Kind of scary but very cool, lol!
It’s a pre-weekend pick me up: just a little note with links to the latest blog posts, what I’m reading lately, and products I’m obsessed with. Think of it as a friend dropping off a surprise latte in the morning--you know?