Last week Dave, Elle and I lucked out and got to spend a couple days in one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited. Here’s what we did with two days in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

We drove and hiked and rowed and oooooo’d and ahhhhhhh’d at all that beauty.

A one-on-one trip with our kids

You may wonder why we randomly took off to Canada, so here’s the story:
Dave and I have a feeling that as our kids get even older than the “old” that they already are, they aren’t going to be around as much.  Summer internships, possible missions or study abroad trips, summer semesters at school, you name it, they’re going to steal our kids away from us.
And that’s how we want it.  We’re all for any experiences that will help them broaden and contribute in the world.  But still, it’s so dang sad to let them go.
So Dave had the brilliant idea a little while back that after we tucked the three little girls into the new school year, and after Elle finished up her summer work, we should go on a quick trip together to seize that moment of time where we still had her home.  Just the three of us.  And that we should do it with all our college kids individually at some point in their lives.

How we decided where to go

Elle and I smiled at that idea I tell you!  We are adventurers at heart and we were sure we could find a quick get-away place for a relatively good deal.  We thought about San Francisco, then Portland, then Seattle and then somehow it turned into Canada.
Canada!  Elle and I had never been there and our eyes gleamed with some anticipation of all the beauty we knew it holds.
At first we couldn’t find any great tickets, but one morning Dave hit the jackpot on a quick search.  He found tickets and a hotel that fit our needs, and we decided that was a sign:)  We were going to make this thing happen.
By the time we arrived in that gorgeous land they call Canada we had two full days to cram in all the stuff we had researched (we had a little passport trouble getting there…but that’s a post in and of itself for another day).

But we were up for the task of fitting it all in!

And I must say, I think we did a pretty good job 🙂
Elle is a good little trip planner, so she and I worked the internet trying to figure out the best plan of attack.  And all these pamphlets you can pick up at the airport gave us some good added insight as we drove all through that gorgeous place.

So here’s what we did…and, note to self or anyone who may be doing this in the future, the second day was the best, one I would do over and over again.  So if you have even less time than we did, skip right to there!

Day #1

We didn’t get in until 2:15 the night before, we waited to do our sunrise lake visits until the next day and allowed ourselves to sleep until 8 when we headed to JOHNSTON CANYON.

Johnston Canyon

It is this gorgeous canyon tucked up in the Banff National Park filled with paths built into the rock side-walls…
…the most crystal-clear water I have ever, ever seen:
…waterfalls around every corner:

…and a little wildlife thrown in there too.

Unfortunately everyone and their dog (literally) also knew that place was beautiful so it was pretty crowded.
We kept hiking past the “lower falls” as the crowds thinned out.

Check out that water in the picture above…can you tell how clear it is even from way up high?

Even at the “upper falls” we had to wait in line to see that sucker.
It was pretty cool:
But way prettier from up top above it looking back down:
Let’s get a closer look:

That water!

Then we drove back to town to get some lunch.

This was just your average pull-off from the road:

Beauty everywhere!  That mountain up there to the left was one of my favorites, just jutting sideways sheer cliffs.  Pretty gorgeous.

Downtown Banff

Downtown BANFF is something in between a Park City and a Swiss Village feel.  My Swiss sis-in-law may not agree with the Swiss thing, but something about those gorgeous granite mountains peeking through at every turn:

…and flowers spilling out of window flower boxes:

…made me reminisce about the beauty of Switzerland.

I loved that little town of Banff!

My girl who spent her internship a couple years ago in London was sure excited to see all this British candy in the little shop we stopped in to get some snacks for our hike:

Especially those Maltesers.

Lake Minnewanka

We paid a quick visit to Two Jacks Lake and LAKE MINNEWANKA:

…which were both stunning and gorgeously blue but in my hindsight opinion didn’t hold a candle to what we were going to see the next day.

Surprise Corner

Out of curiosity we swung by what they call SURPRISE CORNER to check out the view of the FAIRMONT BANFF SPRINGS HOTEL:
It is truly a gorgeous sight and I love how they have built it so beautifully into the mountains.  When you think about the artists perspective of tucking it in right there it sure makes you appreciate it.  But it wasn’t on my “must-do” things to see for any future visitors.

Sulpher Mountain

Our last plan of the day was to get to the top of SULPHUR MOUNTAIN.  This is a mountain with an incredible view of Banff, and most “normal” tourists take the Banff Gondola to the top.  But we were ready for more hikes and decided to take the 5.4 kilometers of switchback trails up to the top and take the gondola back down.
It was not a hike of beautiful vistas, it mostly looked like this the whole way:
Up and up and up with an occasional little spot where you could peep through to see the valley getting smaller and smaller below.

We didn’t realize when we started hiking what a long hike it would be, but I’m so glad we did it.  Not so much en route when we crossed under the gondola (pic above) and remembered that would have taken us 8 minutes.  But we were there to hike and it felt so good to start seeing things like this through the trees:

The view from the top of Sulpher Mountain

I should pause right here and say that pictures will never do this place justice.  Period.

But I sure loved trying.

And I loved soaking it up with these people right here:

Once we reached the top and breathed in that beauty vista for a little bit, Elle and I ran this last little trail of steps to see the view on the other side while Dave made some phone calls.

And I’m really sorry, but I could not stop taking pictures of all that beauty.

See that observation deck over there below?  That was the main place on top of the mountain.
This view was my favorite:

And this was Elle’s favorite view:

This vantage point was cool too with this tipped-sideways huge granite mountain jutting out:

We came back to the observation deck and hung with that hunky Dave for a while and ate dinner.

Then we sat in these red chairs and watched in awe as the sun sunk below the mountains in the perfect golden light.

…and then took the gondola back down.  (It’s free after 7:00 which is nice.)

Our hotel had a mineral hot tub and sauna and we soaked in them for a little before trying to get some sleep so we could get up with the sun the next morning.

Day #2

We got up before sunrise the next morning so we could try to beat the tourist crowds at the amazing Banff lakes.

Why the water in Banff is so blue

And as a side-note, I should explain right here why this water in Banff is so incredibly blue: It’s because there are so many glaciers here, and as they move and melt, making their way into the lakes below, they grind on the granite mountains producing a fine dust.  That “rock dust” stays suspended in the water because it’s so light and fine, and it reflects the sun making such striking blues as I’ve never seen before.

The drive up to the first lake in and of itself was beautiful, whisking past so much gorgeous scenery.

I love these bridge things that cross the freeways every so often.

At first I couldn’t figure out why they were there, because there is no road on top of them and then Dave figured out they are for all the wildlife to cross and roam as free as they can with a big freeway running through their land.

I liked how they made a beautiful frame around the scenery as you passed through:

Lake Louise

Our first stop was LAKE LOUISE, probably the most famous and most photographed spot in Banff.

It did not disappoint us with that crystal blue water and glacier backdrop.

We took the hike up to another couple lakes from there…

Mirror Lake

The first one was called MIRROR LAKE for obvious reasons.

Just check out that reflection!

These guys look bored but they are more in awe I think 🙂

The Beehive

See that big rounded mountain below?  That’s called the “beehive” and we didn’t do that hike.  Not enough time in the day!  (nor enough leg muscle or non-wimpiness)

We just finished our hike up these stairs:

Lake Agnes

To be greeted by LAKE AGNES at the top:

…which was really quite a mirror herself, and adorned with this little TEA HOUSE (below) that is really quite a tourist trap in my opinion.

We checked it out for a bit, but headed down quick because we wanted to do some canoeing as well.

By the time we reached Lake Louise again it looked like this:

Yeah, it’s tourist season in Banff, that’s for sure!

Canoeing on Lake Louise

So we took a canoe out on the lake to beat the crowds and check out that bluer-that-blue water more up close and personal.

From there our plan was to get to Moraine Lake, but it was already closed off to tourists…too full, which turned out perfect for us because we made some other stops and came back later that afternoon.

Just your average road-stop-to-stretch spot in Canada:

(Have I mentioned that we drove…a LOT??)

Peyto Lake

We headed to PEYTO LAKE next.

There’s a little trail from the parking lot…

…to arrive with five hundred of our closest friends to examine that beauty.  HA!

But really, it wasn’t awful because we could spread out and boy howdy, we were greeted with some serious beauty:

Again, pictures cannot do this place justice.  It was so cool to see the little tributaries coming down from the glacier that were so blue mixing in with that other blue:

Bow Lake

From there we stopped at BOW LAKE (just off of the Bow Valley Parkway where most of these lakes are situated).

(I don’t think I put that jumping picture in with the others back HERE….gotta jump when you see such beauty!)

It was practically deserted compared to the other places we had been so we hung out there a while.

Dave and I did a little yoga to stretch out from all that driving.

Check out that form.  Man, we are good! 🙂

By this time, these shoes had hiked mile after mile!

Sunrise Village Ski Resort

Next we took this trusty shuttle up to SUNRISE VILLAGE ski resort:

…had lunch up there, and then took this little ski lift up the mountain…

…to do a little hike/walk over to check out this view:

Yeah, pictures can’t do any justice at all though…

Castle mountain rising up ahead in the picture below:

We saved the very best for last.

Moraine Lake

We got out of our car, hiked up this boulder mountain, and came to the most breathtaking view any of us had ever seen:

I know that sounds dramatic, but look at that lake!

There is no filter on that thing.

We just sat there in complete awe for a good fifteen minutes and I tried to bottle up and capture that beauty any way we could.

A Polar Plunge in Moraine Lake

Then Dave decided we better take a quick dip.

At first Elle and I were not interested in that little plan.  Keep in mind this is fresh glacier water.  It is COLD!  And we didn’t bring swimsuits in tow.

But he did it.

He got out of there speedy quick, but still, he made Elle and I interested enough we figured we better make that plunge too.

I mean, live life right?

(We found out hiking clothes make for great take-a-quick-dip-in-ice-cold-water apparel.)

It was a memory we won’t soon forget.

We brought home a little souvenir for our travel boxes (back HERE) from that place we want to always remember.

Some day we’ll bring our other kids back because that’s a place too pretty not to share.

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  1. I didn't realise you've never been to Canada! I'm glad my province made such a great first impression! Banff is lovely, and if you ever have a chance to come up to Jasper, DEFINITELY take it!

  2. You were in our backyard! I love your blog and have read your posts for years and was so happy to hear you came to our neck of the woods. We really are spoiled living in Calgary with the Rocky Mountains so close and I'm glad you were able to enjoy it even for a short while. Many blessings to you and your family!

  3. You were in my neck of the woods. It is a beautiful place!

    Something to note, it is actually illegal to bring any of the wilderness with you outside of the park. I recognize that people like souvenirs but if everyone takes something, the park will end up losing it's beauty.

  4. I too have read your blog for years. I love your travel posts and photography. We took a family vacation to Antelope Canyon after oogling your photos of that gorgeousness. I had always hoped that you'd make it to our neck of the woods and photograph Banff someday – so I was dying to read this post after the teaser photo you posted a few weeks ago in front of a lake that I knew had to be in Banff. I sure hope you bring the rest of your family back sometime. And yes you should check out Jasper too. You are right it's hard to avoid crowds sometimes on those most popular hikes but you are smart to get up early. Maybe next time won't be quite as packed with tourists. It was Canada's 150th birthday this year and in celebration the government issued free park passes to anyone who wanted them. Great way to celebrate but it made the national parks extra busy this year.

  5. So, so beautiful!! Haven't been to Alberta in years and now I realize I need to plan a trip to introduce Hannah to it! I've always said if I had to move elsewhere in Canada, Alberta would be where I'd want to go. So glad you were able to see it!

  6. I was just in Banff for my honeymoon (along with a LOT of other BC and AB stops- we had 3 weeks!). So funny because I did very few of the same stops in Banff as you, and yet feel like we had the same trip as you! Banff doesnt disappoint!

  7. Shawni, how do you get such great shots of all three of you together? Do you use a timer or do you ask other visitors to take the photos? They all have such great composition.

  8. A lot of Elle's modeling has been popping up in the "discovery" page on Instagram. Given the modesty of Mormons when it comes to dressing, I was quite surprised to see how much her swimsuits show off (side boob, butt cheek… good for her!). Is this something that at 18, you can just run with it and do whatever you're most comfortable with? In the age of the Kardashian-Jenners, it's not unusual to see teenagers in such revealing clothes, and has become fairly accepted as main stream. Do you talk to you daughters about sexual exploitation? women empowerment? etc. (the most recent image is for a cannabis/hemp oil promo!) Do you think this sort of sexual freedom, in terms of dressing, would hinder one's interest in or adjusting to missionary life?

    She's beautiful, as are all of your children, congrats on the modeling gigs!

  9. I am so glad you came to Canada! I grew up in Calgary and went to Banff multiple times each year. We still go down to Banff from Edmonton to be in the mountains. This year was especially busy in Banff because of Canada's 150 birthday and free park admission. Other years aren't nearly as busy. If you want to see some place just as beautiful but a little less commercialized – try Jasper National park next time!

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