Monday, July 23, 2018

Oh, Canada + 6 Things to Do While You're There

Matt and I recently spent 4 days in Banff and Lake Louise, Canada, and all we can say about everything we saw there is WOW.

The mountains, the lakes, the glaciers, the sunrise and sunsets, the highways (the highways! hah!)... everywhere we went, we saw another incredible view.

If you keep up with us on Instagram, you saw and read about some of our favorite parts from the trip, but I figured some detail was due on the logistics of getting out there, where to stay, and how to map out your days. 

So let's get to it!

Where to Stay:

I honestly believe you can't go wrong no matter your budget if you're staying inside Banff or Lake Louise. We chose to stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise because: 

1- Hello, backdrop. Easily the most beautiful hotel location we have ever stayed.
2- It is 1.5 hours (of beautiful driving) to downtown Banff, and about 10-15 minutes from Icefields Parkway, where most of the hikes and view points we visited are located. (More on that below.)
3- Fairmont Lake Louise has been on our bucket list ever since Jillian Harris took her bachelors there on season 5 of The Bachelorette. Somehow, that was 9 years ago already. But alas, we went!
4- Matt was gifted this trip from a Canadian client of his, and they offered to pay for us to stay there.

#4 is pretty important because the Fairmont is not cheap, but it we were doing it all again and paying with our own money, we would still stay here for at least one night. Being able to wake up early and hike the trails around the hotel before they were crowded was a major bonus, as was being able to skip the lines for canoeing on Lake Louise, as Fairmont guests go right to the front. AND, it's minutes from Lake Moraine, which is where we watched the sunrise and sunset one day- absolutely beautiful.

We stayed at the Fairmont all four nights, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to divide your stay between there and downtown Banff. Fairmont Banff Springs overlooks the whole downtown with a beautiful backdrop, but there are SO many cute hotels at all different price ranges right there in downtown, so I really don't think you have to pay more to stay at the Fairmont in Banff unless you just love the fancier hotel experience. No judgement here. ;)

What airport to fly into:

We flew into Calgary Airport, which is 1.5 hours to downtown Banff and 2hr 15min to Fairmont Lake Louise. There are no direct flights from Atlanta, so we had a 2 hour flight to Toronto, and then a 4 hour flight to Calgary. We wanted to maximize our first travel day, so we left Atlanta at 7:25am EST and arrived in Calgary at 1:15pm MST.

What to do:

1- Take the gondola to dinner at Sky Bistro

We did this our first day. So we landed in Calgary at 1:15, drove 1.5 hours to Banff, walked around downtown, and then hopped on the Goldola at 6:00 and ate at 7:30. The views from the top of the gondola and outside the restaurant were so beautiful! Such a fun way to start our trip.

$65pp for Gondola/dinner package and worth it. Reserve here.

Set your gondola reservation at least one hour before your dinner reservation to give yourself time to take in the views from the top. Request a seat by the windows and wait past your reservation if necessary to get a window seat (Nicely of course- don't be those annoying entitled people!) ;) because how often will you get this dinner view?! 

2- Take a helicopter ride

Taking a helicopter ride through Alpine Helicopter Tours was easily the coolest thing we have ever done. Seeing the glaciers up close and viewing the crystal blue waters from the sky was unbelievable. A once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure!

3- Hike!
If you're not a hiker, hike anyway. hah! But for real. I'm convinced that these views and hiking paths and potential for spotting wildlife would make even a non-hiker love hiking. 

The sun rises around 5:45am and sets around 10pm everyday in the summer, so there is SO much you can fit into a day if you value adventure over sleep like we did. Plus, you have such an advantage if you plan your days early and get to the most popular hikes before everyone else. The views from an uncrowded mountain are even more incredible. 

And I don't know about you, but waking up on vacation when you know you have a fun day ahead of you is so much easier than getting yourself out of bed at home! 

Here are some views from the trails we hiked:

Plain of the 6 Glaciers Trail (behind Fairmont Lake Louise):

Marvel Pass:

Peyto Lake:

Parker Ridge Trail:

Wilcox Pass:

Athabasca Falls:

Behind Peyto Lake:

4- Drive Icefields Parkway
This is a 200km stretch of highway that has the most beautiful views and hiking trails.  National Geographic called it "The drive of a lifetime." Even if you didn't stop to hike, make sure you drive down part of this beautiful stretch of highway!

5- Take a Canoe Ride on Lake Louise

6- Eat
When you're in Banff, I feel like you want a combination of inexpensive, quick bites so that you're not wasting your day eating, and more expensive, delicious restaurants, that may or may not be overpriced because of a beautiful view. Here's how I feel about the latter: Give me a view and I'll give you more money. I just think less about the cost of a meal when I'm looking at this:

That's Lake Louise behind us with snow-capped mountains behind it. Money feels so arbitrary when this is your dining view. Hah!

Now on the flip side:
We lived on PB & Banana Sandwiches, Larabars and apples on our Icefields Parkway hiking day. Taking a 1-2 hour break to find a restaurant and eat lunch was not nearly as exciting as eating a sandwich while climbing this mountain:

So with that in mind, the two places I would spend more money for eating are Sky Bistro Restaurant in Banff and the Fairview Restaurant in Lake Louise. Ask for a window seat as Sky Bistro, and sit outside at the Fairview. (But buy a bottle of wine while grocery shopping and enjoy a glass in your room, because the drink menu at the Fairview was CRAY, and the corking fee was more than I've ever spent on a bottle of wine- hah!)

For more casual, quick, and still delicious meals, try:
Eddie Burger Bar in downtown Banff
Bear Street Tavern in downtown Banff for delicious pizza and apps
Bill Peyto's Cafe for breakfast, lunch or dinner
Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen for delicious to-go breakfast and lunch sandwiches

Matt and I are not ones to travel to the same place twice, but we already want to go back with our kids when they're a little older ( 3, 2, and 1 felt a little young for this trip- ha!) That being said, we could have definitely taken our kids with us and catered our days to more age-appropriate adventures. We likely wouldn't start with the sunrise and end with the sunset everyday, or fit in quite as many hikes, but there is plenty to do and see with kids! 

If you have any questions about our trip or planning a trip for yourself, I'm happy to answer them. Just leave a comment below or email me at:



  1. Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I can't get over how beautiful this place is! I showed my husband most of your Instagram stories from the trip and have decided that we absolutely NEED to go here.

  3. Thank you for sharing! Definitely a bucket list place! Random question what are your go to week day fast dinners? Need some ideas now that school is back. Thanks!