Northwest Road Trip: 2 Nights in Banff National Park, Alberta

Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies, is one of my all-time favorite travel destinations. As a teen, my family lived in southeast Alaska, and we would take a fairly length road trip nearly every summer to visit relatives in Colorado, and would stop in Banff along the way. A bit of an unusual childhood, but I have very fond memories of our family vacations!

Looking back in time, when thinking about where to take our young children on a long road trip, it was easy to suggest Banff. Jeremy had never been there and was interested in trying it. To his delight, he loved it! In fact, we took another road trip there two years later. This post covers our first trip to Banff with a 2-year old and a 3-year old.

Getting to Banff National Park

While we chose to go to Banff National Park as part of a very long road trip, there are easier ways to get there. Most people choose to fly into Calgary, Alberta, rent a car, and then drive about 1.5 hours to Banff.

Banff is also a 9-10 hour drive from Vancouver – possible as part of a road trip, but on the ambitious side for a single day (e.g. we stopped in Revelstoke). Keep in mind that speed limits aren’t super high in Canada and more strictly enforced. Also, there aren’t a many gas stations between towns in Western Canada, so don’t let your fuel tank get too low.

Or if you are slightly crazy, like us (and have kids who like looking out of windows), you can do a gigantic loop that includes Vancouver in British Columbia, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

Banff Day 1: Arrival and Lake Louise

For various reasons, we spent the night in Revelstoke after Vancouver but before getting to Banff. We had a somewhat longer drive than expected – slowdowns due to wild fires, but we still managed to make it to Banff National Park. Fortunately the smoke from the fires was mostly contained to the British Columbia forests, so by the time we got to Banff mountains, it was barely noticeable.

Lake Louise

We decided to start our time in this wonderful National Park with a hike/walk at Lake Louise.

If you want a splurge, a stay at the famous Fairmont Château Lake Louis could be a lot of fun (see the hotel in the pictures below), but this was more than we wanted to budget on this trip.

As a child, I loved the campgrounds in Banff and would highly recommend this option if you are the camping type. There are also less expensive hotels and lodges inside the park, but you do need to make sure you book far enough ahead of time. Since we only planned this a few weeks in advance and didn’t want to bring all of our camping gear on our road trip, it was a hotel outside the park for us. We really liked Canmore!

As we walked around the lake, the boys loved finding stones to throw into the water.

And Jeremy and I enjoyed the stroll.

What a lovely introduction to Banff National Park! I would highly recommend either doing this walk or a nearby Lake Moraine walk (the lake is smaller and has bluer water) to get acquainted with this beautiful part of the world!

Town of Banff

From here, we headed into the town of Banff, wandered through the lovely ski-style village, and found some dinner. The town is quite small, but the shops are fairly interesting. If you are looking for a Canadian souvenir, this is a fun place to go shopping!

Getting Settled in Canmore

Due to time constraints, we had planned to spend two nights, but if you have the time, I would definitely recommend staying longer. And if you stay longer, consider also adding Jasper National Park to your itinerary.

After dinner, we made our way to our hotel in Canmore, just outside the park limits. If you are looking for a budget hotel, this is a good town with easy access to Banff National Park. Plus, if you are willing to spend a little more than a typical budget hotel, a few of the hotels may even have a water slide for your kids – or maybe even for you! Our hotel had a 3 story water slide that the boys thoroughly enjoyed. At the time it was called Ramada Inn & Suites, but I’m pretty sure it is now called Canmore Inn & Suites.

Day 2: Exploring Banff National Park

With a full day in Banff, we decided to see what we could see, but looking ahead to a bunch 1 night stops, we also didn’t want to push ourselves too hard. In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast, followed by a walk around Johnson Lake, and then went back to the hotel for lunch and naps. We then went back to the town of Banff, did a hike by the Bow Falls, and enjoyed dinner in town. Since the boys wanted to go on the waterslide again, we made sure to get back to the hotel in time for them to have a little fun!

Johnson Lake

We were feeling a little sick of driving and were trying to stay somewhat close to Canmore, so we decided to try a walk around Johnson Lake. Great choice! It was easy enough for the boys to do without the stroller and pretty enough for me and Jeremy.

One thing that we have trained our children to do from a young age is to be able to walk. If you want to travel with kids, it is much more pleasant for everyone if they will walk when it is time to walk.

Of course, we will carry them or let them sit down and play for a bit if they are really struggling, but if you never allow them to struggle, they will never become stronger walkers.

Sometimes letting them carry small stones around is really helpful.

And a bag of m&m’s or trail mix that includes chocolate chips or something else that your kid loves never hurts. “You can have an m&m as soon as we get around that next corner!”

Town of Banff and Waterfall Hike

After lunch and naps, we went back into the town of Banff.

One of the best things about this town is its proximity to nature. We decided to walk along the river path to Bow Falls.

Super fun!

We managed to make it back to Banff two years later, but now it has been a while since we were there. I really want to take the boys back now that they are older so that they can form memories that will stick with them and inspire them to eventually take their own kids to this amazing National Park!

We got a pizza dinner in town, then took the boys back to the hotel for swimming and the waterslide.

What a delightful, if short, time in Banff National Park!

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