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April 16, 2020

Two Day Guide to Banff in September

Moraine Lake in Banff Canada Guide with Annie Miller

BANFF NATIONAL PARK IN SEPTEMBER.

Banff lives up to the hype. And you should go there.

We decided to finally cross Banff off the Bucket List back in September of 2019 when I had a conference in Victoria BC. You can read about our two week road trip here.

This is not a guide to the best hikes, because the hikes we planned on doing were closed due to the season and bear activity. We could have done Big Beehive from Lake Louise but not at the time of day we went (you’ll see shortly). Peyto Lake Lookout was closed for the season, and Plain of Six Glaciers was requiring groups of at least four people + bear spray due to frequent bear crossings on the trail. Soooo, this is your “lazy” guide to Banff I suppose. Even without hiking, Banff is more than worth your time.

Accommodation: Rundlestone Hotel

Food: Tooloulous for breakfast, Good Earth Coffee House for a solid latte, Ramen Arashi for ramen and Eddie’s Burger Bar for a decent burger. We didn’t eat at any of the steak houses because we weren’t in town in the evenings.

Visit Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is the most photographed lake in the world. After seeing it in person, I understand why. We suggest avoiding all of the tips you hear about visiting the park at the ass crack of dawn, and wait until 5-6pm. All of the tourists will be heading back into town for dinner, and you’ll have the lake nearly to yourself. This was the BEST choice we could have made.

It’s about a 35 minute drive from the town of Banff. These photos were taken around 5:30-5:45pm in late September.

There is a small “hike” if you can even call it that as you enter Lake Moraine from the parking lot. You’ll see the trail and stairs to the left. That’s where you can get the views you see in photos two and three. After we snapped the higher vantage point photos, we headed down the waters edge where you can walk the shoreline or rent canoes. We had no desire to rent a canoe, but every intention of using them for an iconic photo opp. Can you please just imagine Nate and myself in a canoe on this lake? Nearly 400lbs attempting to NOT tip over? Fat chance. Literally.

If you so desire to get a trendy AF photo on the water for the gram, know that you can. The canoe rental station is very clearly marked. You can’t miss it.

We walked around the shoreline for a bit, and then headed to Bow Lake (you’ll see).

Annie Miller visiting Moraine Lake in Banff Canada Guide
Annie Miller enjoying views at Moraine Lake in Banff Canada
Moraine Lake in Banff Canada Guide with Annie Miller
Annie Miller visiting Moraine Lake and canoe dock in Banff Canada Guide

Lake Louise

On our second evening in Banff we followed suit and waited until 5-6pm to head to Lake Louise. There were even less people at Lake Louise due to a road closure on the way in. #winning.

There is a picturesque little shack to the left as you enter the lake. Keep walking to the right until you reach THE ROCK. We saw several potential rocks along the walkway…but I was in search of THE ROCK. The insta-freaking-grammable rock. You know it when you see it (photo three). Nathanael nailed the framing of these photos.

In fact that’s what I loved about Lake Louise. I was most excited for Moraine Lake. It was the iconic image of Moraine Lake that first made me want to visit Banff. But the symmetry and calmness of Lake Louise stole my heart. It was so tranquil. My suggestion? Go to Banff, visit both lakes, and decide for yourself which lake takes the cake.

Early in the season you can do a number of hikes that begin at Lake Louise. If you plan to hike from Lake Louise, I’d hike EARLY, and then get enjoy the lake with less humans in the evening.

Annie Miller visiting Lake Louise in late September in Banff Canada
Iconic photo of Lake Louise in late September in Banff Guide
Annie Miller on "the rock" at Lake Louise in Banff Travel Guide
Annie Miller with beautiful waters at Lake Louise

The River Walk

Since we spent our evenings at Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, we took one of our days to walk along the river trail. You can enter it from many areas of Banff. But we started near the entrance to the actual town and walked for roughly 45 minutes before turning back towards our car.

I would definitely cross at the bridge you see below, and walk until you get a view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (seen in last photo). We walked further along the river until we reached views of some legit rapids; and then turned back due to a light sprinkle transitioning into constant rain fall.

This is a super easy, mostly flat walk. Most humans could complete this. And it was a great way to get outside and see more of Banff this time of year.

Views along the river walk in Banff Canada Guide with Annie Miller
Annie Miller on the bridge on the River Walk
Bridge on the riverwalk in Banff Canada by Annie Miller
Fairmont Banff Hotel views on the riverwalk
More views from the riverwalk in Banff Canada Guide with Annie Miller

Drove to Bow Lake

After Moraine Lake, we decided to drive an additional 30-45 minutes to see a less popular lake. Our hotel receptionist told us that this is where he takes his family when they come to visit. There were NO OTHER HUMANS AROUND. It was great. We were definitely losing day light but it was worth it!

The water color was more vibrant than shown in these photos. It was getting pretty dark by this point. But if it was lighter or sunny outside, you’d be able to see the deeper blues and greens that this lake had to offer. Don’t expect it to line up with Moraine or Louise though.

Note: For two weeks in September, it’s “Larch Season” in Banff when all the Larch trees turn yellow/orange. That’s what you see in the fourth photo down around the base of the mountain. I am sure the Larch Trail was probably pretty epic this time of year.

Bow Lake in Canada with Annie Miller
Annie Miller at Bow Lake in Banff Canada Guide
Roadside views en route to Bow Lake in Banff
Evening light hitting the mountains in Banff Canada Guide
Bow Lake during Larch Season by Annie Miller

Rawson Lake + Sarrail Ridge Hike in Canmore

Banff was a section of a larger, two week road trip. So after two full days in Banff, we headed towards Calgary.

Since we really DID want to do a hike or two in Banff and didn’t get a chance to, we opted to find a hike in Canmore, on our way from Banff to Calgary. Enter – Rawson Lake + Sarrail Ridge. In theory, we would get panoramic views of several lakes and mountain peaks at the top…but that requires actually reaching the ridge. Which did not happen.

The Millers were just two weeks late in the season. In fact, the day after we left Banff, they got their first major snowfall of the season. The first two weeks of September would have been golden. The last two weeks…not so much.

Although we didn’t reach the ridge, Rawson Lake was still worth it.

There weren’t many people on the trail – it was hailing sideways most of the time, or pouring rain. Please don’t be fooled by these photos. I snapped these shots in short pockets of time when the weather took a breath. If you followed my Instagram stories at the time, you know THE TRUTH.

The trail was up and down through the the woods right up until we reached Rawson Lake. WHICH IS GORGEOUS and comes out of nowhere (third photo).

You can stop here, at the lake; or continue to the left, along the water’s edge. This section was medium sized, loose rocks. You follow the shoreline towards the mountain and then up the trail towards Sarrail Ridge (you can see the ridge in fourth photo – right side). As we trekked up the 45-50 degree incline which was now mud and rock…we called it quits. We essentially slid down the trail after speaking with the ONE WOMAN who made it to the top.

She informed us that she was the first and only person who had made it to the ridge. She also had hiking poles and YakTrax (spikes you attach to your shoes). That made us feel a little better about our failed attempt at reaching the ridge. We were ill equipped for hiking in or around Banff this late in the season. Although she also said it was way too windy at the top and the views were non-existent due to the weather conditions. So perhaps we didn’t miss much.

Hiking Sarrail Ridge in Banff Canada Guide with Annie Miller
Muddy hiking in Sarrail Ridge in Banff
Rawson Lake on a cloudy day on Canada Road trip
Sarrail Ridge Muddy Hike in Banff Canada
In the photo on the right, you can see the top of the ridge between the two groups of trees…There was no way.
Breathtaking view of Rawson Lake in Banff Canada Guide
Annie Miller hiking Sarrail Ridge Trail at Rawson Lake

Miscellaneous

We didn’t do the gondala/cable car ride but I TOTALLY suggest doing this if a lot of the hikes are closed, or if you have more than two days in Banff. You get panoramic views, and I believe there is also a set of platforms that provide a bit of a walk/hike at the top. Like I said, we haven’t done it. It is expensive, but likely worth it.

If you are hiking in Banff, be prepared:

  • Suncreen
  • Bear spray (buy this before you reach Banff – it will be much cheaper)
  • Water
  • A whistle
  • Layers
  • Proper footwear – trail runners or hiking boots. If later in the season, YakTrax are a GREAT and safe addition.
  • Snacks – we packed a small lunch and ate at Rawson Lake. Just make sure you bring a bag for your trash as there aren’t trash bins on the trail.
  • Check local updates for trail closures, requirements and information

Getting to Banff

  • Fly in and out of Calgary and rent a car (driving really is the best way to experience all that the Canadian Rockies have to offer).
  • Drive from wherever you are

JUST GET THERE. Go to Banff, take in all her glory. Hike your heart out if you want. Or drive to the lakes, get out take pictures, and ride the gondola. There’s something for everyone. And it’s freaking sweet.

Heading to Banff? Or planning for the future? Pin this post for later!

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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