After being home from this trip for a month now, I am FINALLY sitting down to write about our most recent vacation to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Life has been pretty crazy since we got back (you’ll know why if you keep reading 😉 ), but I always like writing about the places we travel to in case anyone needs some inspiration. For my post on last year’s trip to Alaska, click here!
Speaking of Alaska, I would not have known that Banff existed if we never went on that trip. The day that we took the gondola up to the top of Mount Alyeska, I was talking a local guy who was skiing for the day. I mentioned something about how I had never been to the west coast of the United States, and how I had never actually ever seen big mountains before. He said to me, “if you think this is pretty, you should go to Banff next”. When we got home from that trip I looked up Banff, and decided pretty much right away that that’s where I wanted our next big trip to be. Luckily, Tim was on board so we planned it, along with two of his friends, Josh and Dave!
Unfortunately, after taking 5.5 weeks off for my surgery this year, I didn’t have a ton of PTO time to work with for this trip. We decided on June – that gave me more time to earn at least 3 days. [side note: I have to accrue my PTO, and I was required to use whatever I had accrued first before my medical leave kicked in. I ended up using 3.75 days during my surgery]. We ended up booking a Wednesday – Sunday trip which we figured would give us enough time to see all the highlights of Banff.
We quickly realized once we arrived that we should have planned for AT LEAST a week….lesson learned!! We managed to fit about a week’s worth of stuff into 4 days (we PACKED our days), but we definitely came home pretty tired and sore! First and foremost, this was going to be a hiking trip. There were a bunch of hikes I wanted to do, and I had planned to do two a day (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), but after day one I realized that was aggressive. So we stuck to one hike per day.
Day 1: Wednesday, June 19
We flew into Calgary early Wednesday morning – we arrived around 11am local time. We picked up our car at the airport and set out to explore the city of Calgary and have lunch. We weren’t really impressed with Calgary. We ended up heading out to Banff right after lunch, instead of sticking around to explore for a few hours like we originally planned. Banff is about an hour’s drive from Calgary. It was a pretty drive, especially as we started to get into the mountains. For those who don’t know, Banff is in the Canadian Rockies!
We stopped in the town of Canmore before getting to Banff. It was the cutest little town, backdropped by giant mountains. We stopped at a coffee shop, went into some stores, and picked up the required bear spray that we’d need to hike with ($40 and we never once used it!) We had some time to kill before we could check into our hotel, and Canmore was an awesome place to do it!
We were staying at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, right in Banff National Park. Downtown Banff was 5 minutes away which was awesome. The view from the hotel was incredible!
That night, Tim and the boys had planned to golf at Fairmont Banff Springs, a famous, scenic golf course. Their original tee time was 7pm, but since we had arrived earlier than anticipated, they moved it up to 5:30pm. I tagged along and rode in the cart as they golfed. The course was really pretty! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great (read: freezing), but luckily it was only 9 holes and only took them about an hour. After that, we explored the area around the golf course for a little bit. There’s a massive, gorgeous hotel there, lots of hiking trails, and a waterfall! Towards the end of their game the sun started peeking out and it was fully sunny by the time we left. We went into town for a late dinner, then back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep for the next day.
Day 2: Thursday, June 20
Moraine Lake was #1 on my list of must-sees. We had been told to plan to get there early, because once the parking lot is full, it closes (and it wasn’t very big). We woke up early to cloudy, rainy weather. We decided to drive out to Lake Louise anyways and see as much as we could [note: Lake Louise is a town/hamlet within Banff National Park, where most of the picturesque hikes and attractions are located. There is also an actual Lake Louise in the town of Lake Louise. It’s a little confusing].
Lake Louise was about 25-30 min away from where we were staying. We were upset about the weather, but it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the parking lot wasn’t full when we arrived around 9am (all the guidebooks said to plan to be there by 7:30 or you wouldn’t get a spot). We ended up doing a short hike that overlooked the lake and let me tell you – it was incredible. I had been dreaming of seeing this ever since I found out the Banff existed. It is even more beautiful in person, even with an overcast, cloudy day! The lake really is that blue, by the way. It’s not photoshop!! We hiked over to some rocks to take pictures and admire the view. If you follow me on instagram, you know what happened next – Tim proposed!! In the most beautiful place I have ever been, or seen. It was perfect. I’ll put the full engagement story at the end of this post, so keep reading if you want to hear it! 😉
After the proposal and we hiked back down to the shoreline, we did a little bit of the Moraine Lake Shorepath hike around the lake. It was starting to snow a little (flurries), so we decided to head out at that point.
Next, we wanted to check out Lake Minnewanka, which was back in Banff near our hotel. We decided to have a picnic lunch there. The weather was improving, and the sun was coming out, so it turned out to be a great spot to relax for the early afternoon. We walked around the lake and went down to the docks, where we sat on the famous Banff Red Chairs!
After lunch at Lake Minnewanka, we decided to do our first “major” hike of the trip, Tunnel Mountain, which overlooks the town of Banff. I had read that this was a fairly easy hike, with most people saying that they made it to the top in 20-30 minutes. We figured it would be a good warm-up hike for the one we wanted to do the next day. Well….I would not call this hike “easy”, but it was short. Short and VERY STEEP. I think it took us about an hour to get to the top (more red chairs!), and probably 30 min to get down. I am glad we did it though – the views were great and it was a good way to warm-up for more hiking!
That night we had dinner in downtown again, at a cute burger place called The Eddie Burger Bar, where we learned that Banff is famous for a drink called the Trashcan. It’s basically a long island iced tea with a can of Red Bull turned upside down in it. I did not get one, but Josh and Dave did!
Day 3: Friday, June 21
We were up bright an early again to drive back out to Lake Louise. We were planning to hike the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, which started at Lake Louise, so we wanted to make sure we’d get a parking spot near the lake. We did end up getting a spot, which was perfect. Lake Louise was another beautiful blue lake. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise hotel overlooks the lake and is huge and gorgeous.
In order to get to the trailhead for Six Glaciers, we had to start on the Lake Louise Shoreline trail, which brought us around the edge of the lake. It was so pretty, and was the best day we had had so far, weather-wise. So we took the shoreline trail until reaching a junction for a bunch of other trails, where we picked up Plain of Six Glaciers. I had read that this was the most scenic hike in Banff, and it did NOT disappoint. It was challenging, but not overly hard (I expect the altitude had something to do with the difficulty I was having), and the views were incredible. It was fairly crowded, although we started early and on our way down the crowds going up were definitely bigger. There’s a tea house near the top, which we stopped at to eat our lunches, before continuing to the actual end of the trail, the lookout point. This was the best hike I have ever done – it was truly incredible. The boys were upset that we didn’t see any bears but I was relieved about that!!
We contemplated doing the Lake Agnes hike after, since we could pick it up at the bottom near where we picked up Six Glaciers, but we were all pretty tired. Instead, we decided to do the Lake Louise Ski Area gondola ride up to the top of the ski mountain. The gondola promised bear sightings, so we were hopeful. Spoiler alert: we saw no bears whatsoever. But, the ride was cool and the views were awesome. There’s a restaurant up at the top, so we hung out there for awhile, having a drink and taking in the view. It was raining on and off all afternoon, but luckily we got sunshine while we were up there. The whole ski area itself was very cute, and I know that Tim would love to ski there someday!
That night was our last night in Banff, so we decided to go out to a nicer dinner. We ended up at an Italian place called Meatball, which was pretty good and had gluten-free pasta and meatballs! Actually, every place we ate at in Banff was very gluten-free friendly, which was a relief. After dinner, we popped into some shops and ended up going to a few bars in the area to explore the Banff nightlife. Every view from downtown is pretty, so it was cool to have a drink and look out to mountains.
Day 4: Saturday, June 22
We checked out of our hotel Saturday morning. We had planned to do the Lake Agnes hike today, however we were a little slow getting out in the morning and by the time we got to the parking lot, it was full. Our only option at that point was to take a shuttle bus from the overflow lot over a mile away. No one wanted to do that, so we decided to skip that hike. I was bummed, because I was excited about that one, but it’s on the list for next time! Instead, we decided to drive the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper National Park. This is a gorgeous, scenic drive from Banff to Jasper that has tons of lakes and hiking areas that you can pull off and explore. I had two lakes on my “must-see” list: Bow and Peyto. We knew we wouldn’t be driving all the way to Jasper (it’s about 2.5 hours away from where we were), but we figured we’d drive for awhile and just explore. We stopped at Bow Lake first, which was beautiful.
Next was Peyto Lake, just a few more minutes down the road. This was probably my favorite lake of the entire trip after Moraine. The water was SO BLUE (probably because it was finally sunny!) and the skies were clear so we could see mountains for miles. We hiked down a little bit to the viewpoint and it was so pretty.
We decided to head back towards Banff at this point, and see if we could do a hike in Banff instead of one of the Lake Louise hikes. Saturdays are clearly the busiest days, because all the lots we tried to get into were full! We ended up choosing to do Johnston Canyon, which is a shorter hike up to two waterfalls. It was pretty steep in some places but overall fairly easy compared to what we had already done. This was probably a good thing though – all of us were feeling pretty sore by that point! The waterfalls were pretty, but this hike was so crowded. Like, single-file line moving 2mph crowded. But, I’m glad we did it and got to see something a little different!
After this hike we began the trip back to Calgary, where we were staying the night before our flights home Sunday morning. We stopped in Canmore again, for lunch, and ate outside on the patio of Half Hitch Brewing Company. I actually loved Canmore, and if we go back, I might actually want to stay there rather than in Banff. All the shops and restaurants were so cute!
We ended up checking into our hotel in Calgary and resting for a bit before going to a late dinner – we were near the airport so we really didn’t explore the city that much, but we were all fine with that. We went to bed early, since we had to be up early to catch our flights home.
All in all, it was a truly incredible and memorable trip! Banff is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. I feel like we just scratched the surface, and we definitely need to go back to explore more and do more hikes that we missed out on! The trip was made even more special by Tim’s proposal. I’m still on cloud nine!
Everything we did is tagged throughout the article, in case you decide to go to Banff and are looking for things to do! I’m always happy to answer any questions as well, and I could not recommend this trip more. If you’re thinking about going, just do it. You won’t regret it!
Our Engagement Story
As promised, here’s our engagement story. I guess if you made it this far into this article, you deserve it! Tim and I are celebrating 5 years together this October, so marriage has definitely been on my mind. When we planned this trip, I secretly hoped it would be THE trip. But Tim is a pretty private person, and with his friends coming along, I had a feeling it wouldn’t happen. In fact, he did a great job of convincing me it wouldn’t happen for that exact reason: he didn’t want to do it in front of his friends. I remained hopeful, though not too hopeful because I didn’t want to feel let-down when it didn’t happen.
A lot of people say that they notice their partner acting weird a few days leading up to the engagement. I did not notice anything different or off about Tim. He was acting completely normally. When we got to the viewpoint overlooking Moraine Lake, I was too enthralled with the view and taking pictures to notice anything he or anyone else was doing. We took a few pictures together, then as I started to walk away to get my phone back from Josh, Tim said “wait…one more picture”. THIS is the moment I knew something was up, because Tim hates taking pictures! I turned to look at him as he was pulling the ring out of his pocket. I think I said “omg omg omg what is happening” like 50 times as he got down on one knee. At this point I was already crying and in complete and utter disbelief. He asked me to marry him with the most gorgeous pear-shaped diamond – exactly what I wanted. Of course I said yes right away, but we were standing on some pretty uneven rocks so I wouldn’t let him take the ring out of the box until we were on flat ground. We walked down off the rocks and then he put the ring on me. It was perfect – aside from being a little too big! Once we snapped some pics with it on, we put it safely back in the box for the remainder of the trip since it needed to be resized. I didn’t want to lose it!! Josh and Dave were snapping pictures the whole time, and I am so thankful that they were there to capture it. Little did I know that they knew, and planned it with Tim to get the perfect shots! I will cherish these memories and these pictures for the rest of my life.
The shock you see in the photos is real. Like I said, I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen! I mean, of course I had HOPED it would, but I never expected it, especially on our very first day! I found out after that Tim almost didn’t even bring the ring that day because the weather wasn’t great, but I’m so glad he did because we never made it back to Moraine Lake. He said he wanted the proposal to happen there, and I’m so happy it did. It was picture-perfect, and even though it was overcast, the view is still gorgeous! And he did SUCH a good job with the ring. He picked it out himself, based on pictures I had sent and what I had talked about wanting. Snyder Jewelers in Weymouth has been so amazing – we took the ring back to have it resized and they did it within one day!
And now the fun part begins! We already have our date, church, venue, and DJ (like I said, we’ve been busy!!) and I can’t wait to spend the next year planning our day together. I cannot think of a better or more beautiful place to have the next chapter of our lives begin, and I am so grateful to Tim (and my parents, Josh, and Dave) for keeping this secret from me, because I will remember that feeling forever. We’re getting married!!