Taylor and Claire at Lake Louise. Photos courtesy Claire Harrell.

Travel Journal: Banff, Canada

Who went: Claire and Taylor Harrell

We went because: We wanted to experience the outdoors somewhere completely new. Taylor’s godparents went to Banff several years ago, and we fell in love just from hearing their stories and seeing pictures.

Hotel recommendations: Our travel agent, Jennifer Poche of Poche Travel, recommended splitting our stay between Lake Louise and Banff. Banff is an action-packed ski town, while Lake Louise is extremely romantic and more remote. We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau in Lake Louise and the Moose Hotel and Suites in Banff. We loved both hotels and were able to experience the best of both worlds!

Where to eat: Park Distillery in Banff

Favorite dish on the menu: The Game Burger with blueberry aioli was out of this world! Also recommend any cocktail with their barrel-aged gin, which is distilled in house along with other spirits.

Favorite view: Peyto Lake was the most beautiful site on our trip. If you’re feeling brave, we recommend leaving the viewing deck and walking down closer to the edge. Trust us—the views are breathtaking!

Local attraction worth a drive-by: Our favorite hike was at Johnston Canyon, which is located off of the Bow Valley Parkway. Regardless of whether or not you’d like to hike, we highly recommend the drive between Banff and Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway. It runs parallel to the main highway, and we saw lots of wildlife and sites on our drive, including a black bear cub!

A great experience off the beaten path: Don’t be afraid to try a hike that veers off of the main attractions. One of our favorite hikes turned out to be the Basin Trail at Emerald Lake, and it was by far the most natural and unkempt trail.

Worth the splurge: Canoeing at Lake Louise was awesome. Tip: if you stay at the Fairmont, they will give you a voucher! We thought the boathouse opened 30 minutes earlier, so we lucked out and were the first couple on the lake that morning. It ended up being worth the wait and the most serene experience.

Peyto Lake

Not worth the splurge: We genuinely enjoyed every part of our trip. If we had to choose one thing not worth the splurge, we would have to say horseback riding because it was extremely muddy to the point that the horses weren’t happy. Our guides told us that this wasn’t the norm and was caused by significant rain the week prior. It definitely made for an interesting ride, but we would suggest skipping this activity if the weather was rainy beforehand.

Insiders’ tips: Plan ahead! Every hike or activity is within a few hours of one another, but it makes the biggest difference to have your route mapped in advance. The parking lots near the sites are very small so the roads close once the lots fill up, forcing cars to park several miles away. We made sure to do all the best hikes early enough to beat the crowds and it paid off! It also stays daylight until 10 p.m. in the summertime, so we were able to save some of our stops for the evenings as well. We also recommend a flexible tripod so you can take pictures on the trail. We were able to hook the tripod to trees along the way, and it was unexpectedly our best $20 spent.

Something surprising we learned on the trip: The crowds are no joke! We were told that over 2 million people travel to Banff each summer. With a little extra planning, we were able to avoid the masses. Banff National Park is also very historic—it was the first national park in Canada and the third worldwide.

We would suggest this trip to others because: We felt unbelievably thankful and excited to experience such a beautiful place unlike anything we’d seen before. From the overly kind locals to the picture-perfect views, Canada stole our hearts!