About a year ago, I came across a picture of what I assumed was of some exotic lake in Switzerland.   Turns out it was Lake Louise in Banff National Park just outside of Calgary, Canada. I have been pushing the HUBS to go ever since.  The mountains looked perfect, the water was the unimaginable shade of blue and the proximity was undeniable.  

Fast foward to this past Labor day weekend - we were scrambling because we booked a trip to Costa Rica that was cancelled because of the devastation to Houston by Hurricane Harvey.  We were about to cancel our plans entirely, but desperately trying to find another great getaway.   The first option we considered was Puerto Rico but then we turned on the news and it appeared that Hurricane Irma was headed straight there.  We then considered the sunny beaches of Mexico but Hurricane Lidia was en route.  We just about gave up, when I realized that Banff was an option, especially since Canadian parks have free entrance this year in honor of the national parks' 150th anniversary (about a $20 saving per day per entrance to the parks).  Granted the HUBS had already been (when he was 10), but it was pretty safe from all the tropical storms and a great use of our vacation time.  We literally booked our tickets 32 hours before our flight!

Banff definitely did not disappoint - even with forest fires (146 to be precise) and heavy smog it was still super pretty and a wonderful time!  Keep reading to see all the places we visited during our 6 day stay in Banff and maybe even a little drone video at the end.

Happy Wanderlust Wednesday y'all :)




Before visiting, we got some great recommendations from our friend who lived in Calgary.  Calgary is about an 1 - 1.5 hour drive to Banff.  Since we landed somewhat late, we decided to stay the night in Calgary and explore the town. 


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  close to the airport, free breakfast, good gym, quick drive to downtown, really good music playlist, good customer service (random I know but seriously true lol!), spacious suites, awapuhi shampoo (one of my faves!)
  3. CONS:  meh decor, generic, breakfast is pretty standard


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  delicious food, amazing cocktails, great ambiance, very kind staff, extremely vegetarian friendly
  3. RECS:  cocktails - asno cavalo (port + gingerbeer + lime) ah-mazing.  My favorite dishes were the yam tortilla, grilled asparagus and the gigli.  Pass on the gai lan if you don't like acidic asian flavors


The next morning we had a late start.  It was a little cooler in Banff than we had anticipated (specifically the nights) so we woke up and shopped for some layers and then drove to Banff (~100km/60mi).  En route to Banff we stopped at Cascade Ponds and Johnson Lake (an extension of Lake Minnewanka).

Aerial (drone) photo of Cascade Ponds.

Aerial (drone) photo of Cascade Ponds.


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  really pretty, very clear almost stained glass like water with green hues.  Not too touristy (even at mid-day), canoes/kayaks welcome, no hiking necessary for views
  3. CONS:  hard to see the real colors when the sun isn't directly overhead
  4. RECS:  go during morning or early afternoon for best views.
Johnson Lake

Johnson Lake


  1. RATING: 3/5
  2. PROS: no hiking necessary for view, not too touristy, en route to Banff, serene and quiet, picnic tables 
  3. CONS: view is ok
Banff International Hostel Itinerary Tour Guide Canada Charisma Shah


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  cost effective option for staying in Banff town center, clean rooms/bathrooms, 8 bunks/room, co-ed/family/single sex rooms available with en suite bathroom, free breakfast, young professionals, safe, great location
  3. CONS:  can be noisy, front desk is open 24/7 so people can arrive in the middle of the night


  1. RATING:  3.5/5
  2. PROS:  really good veggie poutine with cheese curds, friendly staff, no reservation needed
  3. CONS:  pizza hut style pizza, too cheesy, not enough sauce (I love neapolitan style pizza, so take this with a grain of salt)



On Wednesday morning, we woke up early so we could head out to Emerald Lake first thing (about a 1 hour drive from Banff).  Technically Emerald Lake is not in Banff, its in Yoho National Park.  This lake came highly recommended by several other sites, the views looks beautiful, and it definitely did not disappoint.  From there we drove up through the Icefields parkway to Peyto Lake.  

Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park, Canada)

Emerald Lake (Yoho National Park, Canada)

Emerald Lake Yoho Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah
Emerald Lake Yoho Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  no hiking necessary for view, incredibly serene, very well maintained, beautiful, minty seafoam green water, canoes available ($95/hour), wonderful 5 mile trail that goes all the way around the lake, good cliff jumping spot, great reflections.
  3. CONS:  canoes are quite expensive, gets busy starting at 10 AM.
  4. RECS:  definitely take the trail that goes around the lake - very worth it for beautiful views and evolving scenery.
Drone footage of Peyto Lake (Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada) from the Bow Summit.

Drone footage of Peyto Lake (Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada) from the Bow Summit.

These two goofballs, almost scared me to death with this shot (thats a cliff right there!!)

These two goofballs, almost scared me to death with this shot (thats a cliff right there!!)

Peyto Lake Banff National Park Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah

PEYTO LAKE (elevation 6100+ ft)

  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful views, short walk to lookout or and long hike to summit
  3. CONS:  lots of people at the lookout (during mid-day), not as well marked as we would have liked
  4. RECS:  The longer hike (4 miles roundtrip) to the summit is definitely worth the incredible views.  Summit is at ~7000ft elevation.  Hiking shoes aren't necessary but highly recommended since rocky.


  1. RATING:  3.5/5
  2. PROS: nice staff & service, comfy chairs, lots of veggie options, eclectic bar/pub food
  3. CONS:  taste was good not great.  the p'zookie was a little dry and crumbly.  quinoa beet bowl was good.  not memorable to visit again.


During the 24 hours between booking and actually taking our flight we were definitely scrambling to figure out exactly what all we wanted to see.  The plight of the constant wanderluster is going somewhere and missing something epic or beautiful.  SO each one of us researched to find the best spots and most beautiful locations.  Lake Morraine seemed to pop up on every site's list as the most beautiful lake in Banff.  Obviously we had to see it for ourself.  

Lake Morraine at Sunrise Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah


  1. RATING:  4.5/5
  2. PROS:  beautiful, perfectly flanked by mountains on all sides, bright blue water
  3. CONS:  super touristy now (much like Louise), lots of people (even at 5:30 AM for the sunrise), canoes are really expensive to rent ($95/hour), the hike for the best views is literally a pile of strewn about lumber and massive rocks (a little daunting)
  4. RECS:  if you go during high season (april - september) expect lots of people no matter the time of day, sunlight doesn't hit the mountains in september til late morning/early afternoon so sunrises are not really worth it.  Lake is absolutely beautiful though, bring hiking boots
Lake Louise Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah
Lake Louise Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah


  1. RATING: 4/5
  2. PROS:  really nice paved path around half of the lake, pretty, flanked by mountains, restaurants and nice bathrooms
  3. CONS:  way too many people (even early in the morning), hike can be pretty rocky 
  4. RECS:  bring hiking boots, lots of water, cash if you go to the teahouse
Waterfall along the Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike

Waterfall along the Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike

Plain of 6 Glaciers Hike Lake Louise Banff National Park Canada Tour Guide Itinerary Charisma Shah


  1. RATING:  3/5
  2. PROS:  cute teahouse (with veggie options) at the top, 10 miles (round trip) with elevation gain of ~2400ft, alongside beautiful waterfalls,
  3. CONS:  extremely rocky, horse poop, lots of people (you can feel rushed sometimes which is dangerous on this hike at points), view is ok.  
  4. RECS:  hiking boots, water, snacks for the top, cash to pay at teahouse, do the beehive hike instead for better views (there is another teahouse here as well).


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. COST:  $$
  3. PROS:  outstanding lick-your-fingers good food, great service, really friendly staff, walk-ins welcome
  4. CONS:  sometimes they get large tour groups so reservations might be beneficial
  5. RECS:  seriously if you like Indian food then this is a must visit - it is undoubtedly one of the best Indian restaurants I have been to outside of India.  Get the Tava Paneer and chili naan (delish!!!).  Oh the Tadka/Yellow daal was amazing too!  


The guys were considerate of my lack of hiking stamina, so we decided to only do one major hike per day.  Each of these hikes were about 10 miles long round trip so multiple in one day was not really an option for me.  Johnston canyon is a hike that runs along a creek to two waterfall (Lower and Upper).  The Lower falls is about a 1.5 mile hike while Upper is about a 3.5 mile hike with a pretty gradual increase in elevation.  Just beyond the Upper falls, is a hike to the Ink Pots, a series of brilliant blue green ponds that appear to be straight out of an asian garden and can only be reached by hiking (no road access).  In total the hike is about 5 miles (oneway) to the Ink Pots.

Waterfall between the Upper and Lower falls at Johnston Canyon

Waterfall between the Upper and Lower falls at Johnston Canyon

Waterfall between the Upper and Lower falls at Johnston Canyon

Waterfall between the Upper and Lower falls at Johnston Canyon


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  well shaded by the trees, paved trail with rails, great views of the waterfalls, beginner level for hikes to both falls, great clean bathrooms.
  3. CONS:  lots of people, can't get in the water.
  4. RECS:  go early in the morning to avoid crowds (we started the hike at 8:30 AM)
Aerial (drone) photo of the Ink Pots (Banff National Park).

Aerial (drone) photo of the Ink Pots (Banff National Park).


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. PROS:  well shaded hike, along water, definitive trail with signage
  3. CONS:  long hike to see ink pots, several people even in early morning
  4. RECS:  bring water and snacks, the earlier the better, hiking boots not necessary.


After three days of hiking 10 miles each, we just felt like relaxing the remainder of our trip so we decided to venture a little bit south of Banff to the little town of Invermere.  


  1. RATING:  3/5
  2. COST: $$
  3. PROS:  great free breakfast with lemon blueberry ricotta pancakes, nice staff, in-room keurigs
  4. CONS:  typical drab decor, not too many young professionals


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. COST:  $5.95/person
  3. PROS:  inexpensive, natural hot spring with minerals, locker rooms, towel rental (and swim suit but that seems weird to me haha), spa on site for facials/massages/etc, really beautiful during the winter, biggest natural hot springs in Canada
  4. CONS:  lots of people, typically do renovations from september - november so regular spring is not open during that time, no drinks or food available for purchase, spa is very expensive, hard to compete with the Blue Lagoon (Iceland)


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. COST:  $$
  3. PROS:  board games available to play at table, really nice staff, clean bathrooms, good food, large tvs
  4. RECS:  try the green chile mac n cheese!


  1. RATING: 3/5
  2. COST: $
  3. PROS:  nice friendly staff, fresh food
  4. CONS:  food was under salted and bland.  Too much paprika and just not very good.  Not a good example of Mexican/TexMex


  1. RATING:  5/5
  2. COST: $$$
  3. PROS:  eclectic menus with lots of vegetarian options, pakoras were actually amazing (this Indian approves!), every dish was well made and tasted great, charming atmosphere
  4. RECS:  make a reservation


  1. RATING:  4/5
  2. PROS:  great pies, really nice family establishment, staff was warm and welcoming, seems to be a locals spot, great pies (with ice cream!), golf clubs & carts available for rent, can drink on course (when purchase at course's restaurant)
  3. CONS:  no driving range
  4. RECS:  get the blueberry rhubarb or apple pies with ice cream on top!

Unfortunately, due to forest fires in the surrounding area, most of the hikes in Invermere were closed.  We had an absolutely amazing time in Banff even with the smog.  The hikes were incredible and empowering for me haha because I have literally never hiked so much in my life.  The views are amazing but if I could go again I would avoid this forest fire season and try to go when there is still snow on the mountain tops!  The smoke and smog definitely affected our ability to take photos and drone footage, but it could hamper Banff's beauty!  Below is our drone video from this trip.  Enjoy!!

Our 6 day tour of Banff (and Yoho) National Park, Canada.

Our 6 day tour of Banff (and Yoho) National Park, Canada.

  1. Calgary
  2. Johnson Lake
  3. Cascade Ponds
  4. Banff (Town Center)
  5. Johnston Canyon
  6. Ink Pots
  7. Lake Louise
  8. Lake Morraine
  9. Emerald Lake
  10. Peyto Lake