Our first trip to Alberta, Canada was truly magical. We plan on returning with friends and family for many years to come!
Traveling to Canada
We started our journey by flying out of DFW in Dallas, TX. American Airlines offers a direct flight from DFW to Calgary, Alberta that only takes 3.5 hours. We chose this flight because it was the most convenient for our family. Customs and immigration going into Canada from the US is super easy as long as you have a current passport.
I always recommend each person, including children, to carry on a backpack. Backpacks are easy to tote around the airport, and you can easily pack activities, passports, phones, tablets, etc. in them for the plane.
One more tip I have before you fly out of the country is to call your phone provider. If you plan on using your phone while on the trip, most providers have an automatic default that will turn your cellular service off when you leave the country, but that can be easily handled with a quick phone call before you leave.
First stop, Banff, Alberta
After collecting our bags and rental car from the airport, we headed out on the short road trip from Calgary to the town of Banff, Alberta. The trip from the airport to Banff was about 1 and a half hours on highway 1. Once you hit the Rockies, the drive is so beautiful. I think my eyes were wide open the whole time, as I was in awe of how beautiful it was! Be sure and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the sides of the road.
When we arrived in Banff we didn’t have an agenda, we only knew we wanted to walk around and find somewhere to eat lunch. The town was so charming, I recommend finding a parking spot and walking around. We stopped for coffee at Starbucks, and next door is an adorable, and super fragrant popcorn shop, Mary’s Popcorn. If you are a popcorn lover, like myself, I suggest grabbing a bag to go. This came in handy as a snack during the week while on the road. While walking around on the main street, Banff Ave, I highly recommend making your way down to the Bow River to take in some beautiful views.
After our walk, we walked back to the main street in town to find a restaurant. We settled on Athena Pizza, mainly for the second story outdoor seating. The food was great and they had a lot of options for kids.
After lunch, we jumped in the car for a short drive to Bow Falls. It’s a tiny waterfall right outside of town. The falls area has great views and photo opportunities. You will also get a view of the famous Banff Springs Hotel along the way!
Bow Falls, Banff, Alberta
We then got on the road to head to Lake Louise. Had I known we would love Banff so much, we would have stayed there and booked some activities around town. I recommend booking at least one night there, maybe two.
Next stop, Lake Louise
When we put Lake Louise in our GPS it told us to take highway 1 the whole way there from Banff. I noticed there was a side road that followed the major highway, so we took that in hopes of being able to spot wildlife. The road we took was Highway 1A, and you can follow that from outside of Banff all the way up to Lake Louise. We were lucky enough to spot a small grizzly and a bull elk along the way!
When we got to Lake Louise we immediately went to check into our hotel, as it was right on the lake and I couldn’t wait to see it. Lake Louise is where I suggest splurging on your hotel accommodations if you can. The Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise is the only hotel on the lake. If you plan on spending much time there and enjoying the many activities, its much nicer if you are staying in the hotel that’s within walking distance of everything. You will also have access to the lake early in the morning and late in the evening, when the tourist who aren’t staying at the hotel have gone. We stayed three nights, but when we go back we will probably book only 1-2 nights.
My recommendations while in Lake Louise at the Fairmont are.
- Lunch or dinner at Lakeview Lounge.
- Sunrise canoe tour at the boathouse.
- Ask the concierge for a trail map and take advantage of some of the great hiking trails. (We did a hike to Mirror Lake.)
- Dinner at Lago Italian Kitchen.
- Grab a hot tea or some hot chocolate and enjoy the evening at the outdoor fire pits overlooking the lake.
Sunrise Canoe Tour at Lake Louise
Half day hike to Mirror lake from Lake Louise
You can book any of these things through the very helpful concierge desk at the hotel.
While staying in Lake Louise, we did the activities at the hotel, as well as a few others outside of the hotel. Moraine Lake is just a short drive from the hotel, and is a must. I recommend going early in the morning or late in the evening, as the parking lot fills up very quickly. This is another great hiking and photo opportunity. There is a hotel and restaurant on the lake, so there are bathrooms and dining available.
Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Alberta
We also made the longer drive through Yoho National Park one day on our way to an ATV tour in Golden, BC. It was a little over an hour drive, with beautiful scenic views. We booked our tour through the concierge at the hotel. This was a super fun outdoor activity that gave us a break from hiking, and is kid approved! They provide all the gear that you will need.
On our way back from Golden, BC to Lake Louise, we took the random exit to Emerald Lake because we were curious. DO NOT SKIP OUT ON THIS ONE. Emerald Lake is magnificent, and they have a great little walk around the edges of the lake that will give you the opportunity to stretch your legs and take in the beauty.
Emerald Lake, British Columbia
Last stop, Jasper National Park
I read during my research for the trip, that the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is one of the most scenic drives in North America. I can confirm that statement to be true. Be sure and have your camera handy on the drive, as there are so many great spots to pull over and enjoy the views. You may even spot a bear or elk!
Not far into your drive you will see an exit for Peyto Lake. This is another, DO NOT MISS detour! You will have to park in the parking lot and hike up to the overlook. The hike isn’t super easy because it climbs so quickly, but it isn’t far. Our 6 year old was able to do it with no problems. This view was so unique and the photo opportunities are endless!
The only other actual stop we made on the way was at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. You can park and walk right up to both of these. If you have time, both are great, but I suggest stopping at at least one.
Sunwapta Falls, Alberta
Athabasca Falls, Alberta
When we made it into the town of Jasper we immediately went to lunch at this really fun upstairs restaurant with great views from the patio, Earls Kitchen and Bar. I recommend grabbing a sangria from there, if you are into that sort of thing!
While in Jasper we stayed at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The location and the grounds were beautiful. It was pretty pricey, and the suite we had was just ok for the amount of money we paid to stay there. I would recommend shopping around for hotels in Jasper if you aren’t wanting to splurge there. We did, however, take full advantage of the campfire smores in the evenings that were out on the main lawn!
Jasper is a great place to see wildlife. Every evening we drove around on some of the side roads out of town to see what we could spot. The last evening we were there we did a Wildlife Tour, that was completely worth the money. We were able to spot so much. The only thing I would do differently next time is to book the wildlife tour for the first evening, so you will know all of the great spots to drive around on your own the other evenings.
Evening wildlife tour.
The last morning of the trip we got up early to make the 5 hour drive from Jasper back to Calgary to catch our flight. The drive takes you back through Jasper and Banff parks so you will get one last chance to take in all the views that Alberta has to offer.
All in all, our trip was amazing. The day after we got home, we immediately started talking about going back next summer. If your kids are old enough to travel in the car and go on short hikes, I highly recommend a family vacation there. If not, it would make for very romantic couples trip with lots of quality time together!
xo- The Davis Family