Banff was never on my vacation wishlist, but as soon as my friend invited me to his wedding there in July, I became obsessed with planning this trip to the Canadian Rockies. I invited my good friend as my wedding date, since she loves dancing and national parks. Over a week, we were able to visit Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks. The landscapes were incredible.  I even saw some wildlife, but not as much as I expected.  A large wildfire that was burning in nearby Kootenay Park left Banff town covered in smoke, but once I left the town, the views were splendid and clear.  August is a great time to visit this area since the wildflowers are in bloom.  I spent the last few nights in Vancouver to enjoy some city life.

PLAN
Day 1: fly from NYC to Calgary, pick up rental car, drive to Banff, overnight in Banff
Day 2: morning to explore Banff National Park: Johnston Canyon and Sunshine Meadows, evening wedding, overnight in Banff
Day 3: full day to explore lakes of Banff National Park (Moriane, Louise, Minnewanka, etc), overnight in Banff
Day 4: morning to explore Yoho National Park, afternoon whitewater rafting, overnight in Banff
Day 5: full day to hike around Lake O’hara in Yoho National Park, drive Icefields Parkway to Jasper, overnight in Jasper
Day 6: full day to explore Jasper National Park, afternoon boat trip to Spirit Island, overnight in Jasper
Day 7: drive along Icefields Parkway to Banff and make stops along the way, evening flight to Vancouver, overnight in Vancouver
Day 8: explore Vancouver, overnight in Vancouver
Day 9: explore Vancouver, overnight in Vancouver
Day 10: Vancouver Gay Pride, overnight flight to NYC

FLIGHTS
Westjet (economy): JFK-YYC
I paid cash for this 4 hour flight from New York to Calgary.  It’s the only direct flight between the two cities and was worth the expense for the convenience.

Westjet (economy): YYC-YVR
I also paid cash for this one hour flight from Calgary to Vancouver.  I was hoping for great views of the Canadian Rockies from above, but all the wildfires in the area prevented that.

Cathay Pacific (economy): YVR-JFK
I used 12.5k British Airways miles to cover this direct, red-eye flight on Cathay Pacific, one of my favorite airlines.  The flight originates in Hong Kong, but has a brief stop in Vancouver before continuing to New York City.

HOTELS
Bow View Inn, Banff – moderate – paid cash
This is the hotel for the wedding party and the discount wedding rate couldn’t be beat since Banff is super expensive in the summer.  The room had a nice balcony with a partial view of the surrounding mountains.  The hotel was located on the Bow River, a few hundred feet from the wedding venue.
Recommend: Yes

HI Jasper – basic – paid cash
This hostel is a bit far from Jasper town, but the price for a private room couldn’t be beat.  The bathroom was shared but clean.  We didn’t use the kitchen or communal spaces since we were out from sunrise to sunset most days.
Recommend: Yes

Ramada Limited Downtown, Vancouver – moderate – 3k Wyndham points + cash
My room was large and comfortable and included breakfast. The location was great for walking around town.
Recommend: Yes

TRANSPORTATION
We rented a car from Calgary Airport and drove around Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks.  This trip would be impossible without a car.

HIGHLIGHTS
Lake O’hara, Yoho National Park
Lake O’hara is notoriously impossible to visit due to a complicated reservation system.  We were lucky to win the lottery. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

Sunshine Meadows, Banff National Park
Sunshine Meadows is easily accessible by gondola and chairlift. The Kootenay wildfire was burning in the background, but the views were still spectacular.

Spirit Island – Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park
We had gorgeous weather the day we visited Maligne Lake.  The  boat ride to Spirit Island takes about 45 minutes.  We were the last group of the day and were allowed extra time on the island.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park

Icefields Parkway, Banff and Jasper National Parks
Driving along the Icefields Parkway takes 3 hours between Banff and Jasper National Park.  There are unlimited photo and hiking opportunities along the road.

NEXT TIME
A week wasn’t enough time to see everything we wanted.  Two weeks would have been more reasonable.  The top activities and sights we missed are listed below.

Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park
Valley of Five Lakes, Jasper National Park
Mistaya Canyon, Icefields Parkway
Plain of Six Glaciers Hike, Banff National Park
Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

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