Each time I cross the pedestrian bridge in Banff, I’m struck by the intense, ever-changing beauty of this mountain town. Standing halfway on the bridge that crosses the Bow River, I always take a moment to pause. With the thundering rush of water beneath me, I can see the spray of Bow Falls in the distance and Mt. Rundle rising above. Turning full circle, I get a perfect view of Cascade Mountain, the Massive Range, and Sulphur Mountain. With no cars to contend with, the only noises are the odd bell from a bike passing by or a friendly “hello” from a fellow walker.
There are many ways to experience a place and, while walking is just one of them, it provides a traveller with the rare opportunity to take a slower pace, observe the surroundings more closely, mingle with the locals (sometimes that means wildlife, too – enjoy from a safe distance!), and get some exercise.
Both the town of Banff and hamlet of Lake Louise have walking trails that allow you to explore on your own two feet. Plan your visit before you arrive, here are the best ways to take these destinations in stride:
Follow the river
Take the Bow River trail to bring you on the outskirts of downtown and into a quieter experience through incredible natural environments. I recommend you pick up the trail at the Banff Canoe Club (at the end of Wolf St. on Bow Ave.) and take a left to circle around Banff’s Central Park and under the driving bridge. From there, go across the Pedestrian Bridge and take the dirt path left towards Bow Falls. It’s up to you if you want to go up and over the stairs that lead to the base of the falls.
Start your day early
Foot traffic, particularly downtown Banff, doesn’t pick up until about 10 a.m., giving you plenty of time in the earlier hours of the day to enjoy the town with fewer people. Many coffee shops are open, so you can grab a cup of joe and go for a stroll, enjoying those quintessential views of Cascade Mountain and watching the world come to life.
Stroll with the stars
Despite the town’s lights, the skies here are remarkably dark, so take some time to stargaze and look out for aurora borealis in the northern skies. You never know, you might just be treated to a show.
Take a walk through history
Many of Banff’s most historic buildings are easiest accessed on foot. The Town of Banff has a handy online brochure that features all the circuits and tours that will take you by the homes of prominent historical figures and to fascinating buildings from a bygone era (download the brochure or browse the information on the Town of Banff website).
Visit the Pipestone
One of my favourite past times in the hamlet of Lake Louise is grabbing a wrap and coffee from one of the Samson Mall cafés and sauntering behind that building, down to the Pipestone River to enjoy them by the indigo blue water that rushes by. It is usually a quiet area to enjoy lunch and take in the magnificent views of Mt. Temple.
Get provisions on foot
Many of the accommodation options near Samson Mall are close enough for you to leave your car behind when you need to make a run for some provisions, whether it’s groceries, books, or a new pair of hiking pants. The Lake Louise Campground is about a 15-20 minute walk-in, so you can happily make an occasion of it and choose to get your items on foot.
Whether you’re grocery shopping, buying a trail guide, or looking for a fresh hot coffee and treat, stop at the Samson Mall and the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.
Tip: The best way to get to and around Lake Louise is to catch public transport. Take the Roam bus (8X or 8S) from Banff or leave your car at the Lake Louise Park and Ride and take a shuttle to either of the lakes (reservations required).
If you're staying at the Lake Louise Campground, avoid the parking lot queues of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. Present your pre-purchased shuttle ticket and jump onboard the Park and Ride connector to the Lake Louise Park and Ride. Then board the shuttles that deliver you right to the lakeshores.
Ready to start planning your trip to Banff and Lake Louise? Check out all the Things To Do.