The 5 Best Tips for Exploring BANFF and Lake Louise Area in Summer
1. WAKE UP EARLY...like 4:30 AM early. Avoiding crowds is the best way to truly experience the beauty and depth of these mountains. Nothing creates more awe and appreciation than a sunrise at Moraine Lake in the quiet hours of the morning. I woke up quite early (4:25 AM) on my trip in June and got to Moraine Lake by 5:45 and nothing prepared me for the Valley of the Ten Peaks in the early morning glow. The same goes for Lake Louise, getting there in the early morning will help you see it without a bunch of selfie sticks in the way.
2. Book your campsite far in advance. I know impromptu trips have their own romantic air and I do enjoy my last minute adventures, but BANFF is always crowded, especially in the summer. Be aware that campgrounds can be closed due to wildlife such as bears and wolves. In August 2016, I went into BANFF without a campsite and was told that two campgrounds (Two Jack Lakeside and Two Jack Main) were currently closed due to a wolf who had wandered into the campground and ate human food. This closure made the park service scramble to relocate hundreds of people who booked their campsite in advance and thus no campsites were available anywhere in the park. The biggest campground is Tunnel Mountain and it will usually have spots. My personal opinion is to aim for Two Jack Lakeside or somwehere near Lake Minnewaka!
3. Take the time to explore BANFF townsite and the visitor center. The rangers at BANFF Visitor Center are extremely helpful and resourceful. I always like to ask for their favorite hike as a way of seeing a local side of the area and avoiding the crowds. There's some great lunch stops in BANFF and galleries that showcase the amazing wildlife photography of the area. Be aware that many gift shops exist, but you can easily avoid those for a some tapas at The Block (get the calamari or the naan bread with hummus) or a homebrewed moscow mule at the Park Distillery on BANFF Avenue. After a long day of hiking, it's nice to walk around enjoying the feeling of a small town planted in the middle of the mountains.
4. Drive just to drive. The roads of BANFF offer some spectacular views and hidden spots. I spent hours driving along the back roads as a means of exploring and making sure I discover new hikes. Sunshine Road is most popular during the ski season, but during summer it's far more quiet and accessible. It's a hub or wildlife, including bears if you're lucky! We were advised from a ranger that 6 to 7 pm is the optimal time bears might be on the roadside foraging, but we didn't see any to our dismay. However, we did see deer, bighorn sheep (standing in the middle of the road of course) and even a fox carrying off a rabbit as a fresh kill. It's a diverse road and offers beautiful views of a stream and meadows. We drove it 4x just for the fun of seeing something new each time!
5. Be flexible. Weather can change dramatically in a span of hours in BANFF. We enjoyed a sunny day on Wednesday and summer humidity and by Saturday it was pouring rain then snowing! It's good to be flexible regarding hikes being closed because of bears, weather changes, or even a road closure. On rainy days I'll spend time reading in my tent, exploring galleries, or enjoying lunch and a drink. It's also fun to grab a bottle of wine, some mac n cheese and have a slumber party on rainy nights that prevent sitting outside around a campfire. If you like hiking or exploring in rain/snow then you'll have plenty to do!