We decided to go to Banff the week before the Civic Day long weekend (which usually lands on the first Monday of August) to avoid summer crowds.
We flew into Calgary on a morning flight from Toronto Pearson to spend a long weekend (5 nights) in Banff. Once we landed in Calgary, we collected our rental car from Avis, which was the least expensive. Tip: book your car as far in advance as possible, as it’s very expensive. You can potentially save some money by renting from places near the airport, rather than at the airport, so that’s worth looking into as well.
Note: This is the first blog in a series about my trip to Banff, Alberta. More blogs about Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, the Icefields Parkway, trails and more, coming soon!
Tip: Get Your Groceries First
Before we made our way to Banff, we did a grocery shop at an en-route store called Save on Food. We figured that even though we’d never been to Banff before, we just assumed that the grocery options would be limited. Banff has an IGA grocery store, but it’s not very big and was incredibly busy when we popped in one day. So if you’re staying there for a couple of days, do your groceries before you get to Banff.
We bought supplies like bananas, granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, bottles of water, cans of coffee, chocolate, sweets, and crisps/chips – basically snack food that we could eat on the go.
Mount Norquay Lookout, Banff Town
Once we finished our food shop, we drove to Banff, but from my calculations, we would get there a lot earlier than before we could check in. So the plan was to head straight to Mount Norquay lookout. This is near the entrance to Banff town; you go up a narrow, winding mountain road (prepare for your ears to pop). But once you get there, there is an awesome lookout, and you can see the entire town. There’s a little trail that you can do if you want, or you can remain at the lookout, which is what we did. It was a nice way to get our bearings of Banff and the size of it.
We then headed down to Banff town, as I wanted to ensure we had bear spray for the trip. Some people think it’s not worth it, but I just wanted to have that peace of mind with the bear spray in case we had any encounters. We rented the bear spray from SnowTips on Bear Street (!). And it was about $33 for the rental for five days. Obviously, they will charge you the full price if you don’t return it!
Once we picked up our bear spray, it was finally time to check-in. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Siding 29 Lodge. We weren’t in the busiest of areas, but we were still surrounded by many other hotels with restaurants and bars, which was fine. Banff is a small and very walkable town.
The hotel was fine. It had a nice balcony, but it was really expensive. It cost more than our rent in Toronto! I don’t know if it was just a time of year or if Banff is usually that expensive?
Once we checked in and freshened up, we went for dinner. Note: this wasn’t a trip for food, so I’m going to go into too much detail, but we went to Chili’s, which was mediocre at best.
Sunset at Vermilion Lakes
After dinner, we drove down to Vermillion Lakes for sunset. The main lookout, when you Google it, is actually on a Trans Canada – I wouldn’t recommend going there as there are lookouts right next to the lake. There’s a side road you take as you exit/enter Banff town, and it brings you right onto the lakefront, where there are benches and mini docks that you can go out on. There were a few people and families there also waiting for the sunset, which was nice – we knew we had chosen a good spot.
Something that we didn’t do that we should have done is put on bug spray before we get there; there’s a huge number of black flies and horse flies there in the summer. I was bitten badly but didn’t realize it until the next day.
Vermilion Lakes is beautiful. At sunset, the sun lights up the mountains as it goes down; it is gorgeous! And if you’re staying in Banff town, it’s literally a 10-minute drive and so worth it for sunset (or sunrise!).
Wrapping Up on Banff Day 1
After Vermilion Lakes, we began to wind down for the night as we were going to be up early the next day to visit Moraine Lake and Lake Louise!
Have you been to Vermilion Lakes? I definitely recommend visiting at sunset to experience the amazing colours on the mountains