When we made our plans to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks along our route to Alaska, we weren’t really thinking about timing – as in, what the weather was going to be like there. More so, how many of the gorgeous emerald green and blue lakes were going to be thawed by time we got there? Despite our worry, we’ve come up with 8 legit reasons in this post on why this timing is great for visiting these parks.
Watch the video below to see why we loved our time in Banff and Jasper National Parks!
I’m not going to lie, it was extremely disappointing to arrive at Lake Louise – the gem of Banff, renowned for its magical beauty – and see it almost completely frozen and covered in white snow. We also heard that pretty much all the hikes that had been recommended to us were still closed. Those that were technically “open” had high probabilities of avalanches. Perfect.
But as we were standing there, taking our obligatory photos (though far fewer since the water wasn’t glowing teal), something amazing happened. A peal of thunder came echoing across the lake, and as we looked for the sound we saw a mass of snow crashing down from the side of one of the mountains, making this tremendous racket. It looked like a white waterfall!
Reason #1 – Avalanches
After the first one, we thought “Hey, we were pretty lucky to see that!” and “We wouldn’t have seen an avalanche if it wasn’t still all snowy.” We started to make the hike along the lake figuring we’d go as far as we could before it was closed. Part way along the lake another thunderous crash – another avalanche! Then a little while later, another! Each one was as mesmerizing and humbling as the last. While they look small when they are a long way away, when you compare them to familiar things, like a tree, you realizing that this huge mass of snow is falling hundreds of feet through the air and down the mountain. It really was pretty cool! You can watch the avalanche footage in our Go North Episode 5!
Reason #2 – Lack of Crowds
As we walked, we realized just how sparse the crowd was. While we had initially been surprised by how many people were here to see frozen Lake Louise, it soon dawned on us that had Lake Louise actually been in its glory that the place would be absolutely crawling with people – all trying to get their selfie or group picture at the waters edge. The hike along the edge of the lake was very wide and well-trod, hinting at the massive stream of people that frequent the hike. We suddenly felt very happy that we weren’t being surrounded, and practically had the place to ourselves!
Reason #3 – Snowcapped
The snow itself changes the whole experience. The mountains all around would look different. I personally love when mountains have that snow-topped look, and while I don’t they would be any less grand without it, it really adds a drama and dimension to the mountains.
The glaciers along the Icefields Parkway were immense and hiking the Athabasca Glacier seemed all the more fitting!
Reason #4 – No Need for Reservations
We ate out at this excellent restaurant with no wait time and no reservation needed. (If you’re looking for killer plant-based cuisine, go to the Nourish Café! Highly recommend the Vegan poutine!)
We also walked up to Tunnel Mountain campground one afternoon without a reservation and got a 2-night stay without a problem.
Reason #5 – Skiing
Snow and snow caps means that you might squeeze in a ski trip before the season is done! The beauty of this is that it could be a lovely 70 degree F/20 degree C day, but after a gondola ride to the top of the mountain you can have a marvelous ski or snowboard adventure!
We did just this – we caught the last week of the season at Banff Sunshine that rocked our world! We had never alpine-skied before and it was incredible.
Reason #6 – Free Gondola Down Sulphur Mountain
But you have to hike up it first! If you hike up before MAY 17, or after 7PM a hiker can ride the gondola down for free. After MAY 17 and before 7PM it costs money to ride it back down – half the price of general admission to the Banff Gondola. To ride the Sulphur Mountain Gondola up and down, check their website for prices. We did the hike up – all 20+ switchbacks and 744m/2440ft gain over about 3.5 miles – and the view at the top of the valley was great! We were very happy to ride the gondola down – both to savor the view and to save our legs!
Reason #7 – Hot Springs are Better!
While hot springs are great ANY time, there is something wonderful about soaking in a hot spring on a chilly day, staring at some snow-capped mountains. The Upper Hot Springs were a wonderful way to rejuvenate our bodies after the Sulphur Mountain climb. Admission is only $8.30CANand you can rent suits and towels there if you happen to forget yours at home.
Reason #8 – Lack of Crowds
I know this was already mentioned, but it is worth mentioning again. We’ve heard the horror stories of how incredibly busy Banff and Jasper National Parks get in the summer, and we were on drives and hikes that we could imagine being packed like Yellowstone. We could stop at any turn off, we were one of a handful of cars in huge parking lots (you know they are that size for a reason), and we’d only cross paths with a handful of people on hikes. The Johnston Canyon hike was one notable instance – the parking lot was HUGE and it was us and one other car when we did this amazing hike to the WATERFALL. This one was so cool – it had a cave that opened up to a natural viewing platform right by the waterfall! Tom and I had it all to ourselves.
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