When you visit the Canadian Rockies, you can be sure that you won’t be leaving without admiring a plethora of spectacular scenery. For those of you heading to the beautiful alpine town of Banff, a day trip to Lake Louise will certainly capture your attention. Why not maximize this trip by enjoying an epic drive from Banff to Lake Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway, as opposed to taking the standard highway route that many follow?
Whether you are enjoying the spectacular drive from Jasper to Banff National Park along the Icefields Parkway or simply relaxing and enjoying some of the best things to do in Jasper (or Banff), it’s fair to say that beauty awaits everywhere you look. The drive from Banff to Lake Louise is certainly no different, in fact, I would suggest that the inherent beauty along this route is such that this should be on everyone’s radar before heading to this part of Canada.
From hiking trails to wildlife spotting, the relatively short Bow Valley Parkway is an incredible stretch that we immediately fell in love with. As we share our experiences along this route, we hope that you will add this drive to your itinerary. After reading many of our recent posts from our Canada trip, you will note that this area is well-suited to epic road trips…in other words, a perfect environment for us to enjoy a typical weekend getaway!
Let’s take a look at what makes the Bow Valley Parkway such a breathtaking scenic route.
Drive from Banff to Lake Louise
If you are planning on enjoying a day trip to Lake Louise and some of the other gorgeous attractions in the area such as Moraine Lake, you essentially have two routes that you can follow.
- Trans-Canada Highway 1 – The quickest route and easiest if you are solely interested in reaching Lake Louise to explore the region. Click here to open Google maps to see this route.
- Bow Valley Parkway – The route we are going to highlight in this post runs parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway but offers a scenic and more leisurely experience. Click here to open Google maps to see this route.
Regardless of which route you take, it’s approximately 57km (35 miles) between Banff and Lake Louise. Both of these locations play an integral role in the overall reputation of the Canadian Rockies as a spectacular destination, with good reason!
Iconic panoramic scenes that are ideally suited to postcards, hiking trails that will challenge the most adventurous folks out there and an unlimited number of opportunities to see a myriad of wildlife, make Banff and Lake Louise the ideal locations to visit.
Bow Valley Parkway
We have all seen blog post titles that use words similar to what we are promoting here. This route will “blow your mind”…you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another attempt at creating clickbait but we can assure you, this drive is INCREDIBLE and we hope that our pictures and experiences along this route will literally blow your mind and convince you to visit in the not too distant future.
What exactly makes the drive from Banff to Lake Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway so spectacular? Aside from the stunning scenery, visitors on this drive have the opportunity to explore some of the most amazing hiking trails throughout Banff National Park.
We will share our experience at Johnston Canyon later, but this is just one example of many hikes you can stumble across as you venture into the unknown and uncover a wealth of natural beauty.
Another of the iconic landmarks along this route is Castle Mountain, located mid-way along the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise.
Formerly known as Mount Eisenhower after the American President, there is a gorgeous spot along the Parkway to enjoy incredible views from the pull-off known as “Castle Cliffs.”
One of the most popular day hikes throughout Banff National Park is Johnston Canyon, located 25km northwest of Banff and easily accessible from the Bow Valley Parkway.
Approaching the entrance to this attraction, you will immediately notice the popularity of this spot but that will likely just intrigue you to explore further. Trust us when we say, it’s well worth the effort of scrambling through a number of tourists along the hike!
Visitors have a choice to make when they start their journey on the hiking trail. Two distinctive waterfalls are the iconic attractions on this trail, the Lower and Upper Falls. Which set of falls you choose to hike to will solely be dependent on how much time you want to spend at Johnston Canyon or perhaps how much hiking you are willing to do.
The Lower Falls are undoubtedly the easiest option and are only 1.1km from the start of the trail. The majority of the trail is relatively easy with a combination of slightly rugged terrain and catwalks affixed to the side of the rocks making this an interesting and popular choice for those wishing to admire the magnificent sight of the Lower Falls.
Throughout the short hike, you encounter a number of spots that offer gorgeous views of the canyon. Keep your eyes peeled because you never quite know what wildlife you will spot in the gorge or surrounding area.
Even in the heart of summer, we caught a glimpse of certain shaded areas that still had ice frozen to the side of the rocks.
I can certainly see why this is a popular spot for ice climbers in the heart of winter.
As I mentioned, it’s worth the effort of hiking to the Lower Falls because the final view is gorgeous.
There are a couple of spots that you have to experience. Before crossing the bridge, you can enjoy a view of the falls in front of you. Cross the bridge and clamber under the cave for an “up close and personal” view of the Lower Falls.
I want to add a caveat here before you head inside the cave (BTW, for the claustrophobic folks out there, the cave is only a few paces before you emerge on the other side – it’s more like a tunnel actually!) with the following statement…
BEWARE…YOU WILL GET WET!!
Yes, it’s true…if you choose to wander through the cave, you will get pretty wet especially if you choose to stay there for a prolonged length of time. But it’s definitely worth it and in the middle of summer, it’s a great way to cool off before continuing your hike to the Upper Falls.
We thoroughly enjoyed the journey to the Lower Falls and after “cooling” off, we had a decision to make – did we want to continue to Upper Falls or head back down and continue the journey along the Bow Valley Parkway and visit Lake Louise? We opted for the latter option and decided to leave the Upper Falls for a return visit to Johnston Canyon.
The Upper Falls are located a further 1.6km (2.7km from the start of the trail) from the Lower Falls. The journey will take you through a trail that meanders away from the river and through lodgepole pine, spruce, and Douglas Fir.
For the really adventurous hikers, why not make Johnston Canyon a full day trip experience and head another 3.2km to the Inkpots? These are a gorgeous blend of blue and jade green springs, while the bottom of these pools is composed of quicksand.
Who would have thought that a curve in the road could be such an iconic location? As you slowly make your way along the Bow Valley Parkway appreciating the beauty around you, it’s inevitable that you will arrive at a point that may alone blow your mind!
Morant’s Curve offers some of the most scenic landscapes throughout this part of the Canadian Rockies. After pulling over in the parking area, you will be left speechless as you peer over the edge and catch a glimpse of the railway line below you and as your eyes glance upwards, the sight of the Bow Valley and the awe-inspiring mountain range in the background will capture your imagination.
If you are an avid train enthusiast, this is definitely a perfect spot to capture a gorgeous picture of the train passing through the Rockies. In fact, it’s no surprise to hear that this is one of the popular locations for train photographers to capture this iconic shot.
Canada, in particular the area throughout the Canadian Rockies, is blessed with having a number of amazing scenic drives. Regardless of where you are staying, you can be sure that a gorgeous drive (short and long) is waiting for you to stumble across. We enjoyed a variety of these during our recent visit and the Bow Valley Parkway was definitely one of our favorites in terms of scenery and action-packed adventure.
If you are considering the drive from Banff to Lake Louise, consider the slightly longer option and head along the Bow Valley Parkway rather than Highway 1.
Decide whether you have time to explore all of Johnston Canyon or if you would prefer to just hike the shorter trail to the Lower Falls as we did. It’s one of those attractions that you will likely want to return to, so don’t think that you have to accomplish everything on your first visit.
Be prepared to slow down or stop at any given time because you never quite know what wildlife will be wandering along the side of the road or even an impromptu encounter with something directly in front of you. Either way, it’s an experience of a lifetime and as the title of this posts goes, it will likely “blow your mind!”