If you were to take a look at my Pinterest board, you’d see pins on pins on pins about places in Banff, nature in Banff, and just about anything and everything to do with Banff. It had been a dream of mine to travel here, well to be honest, I feel like Banff is just about everyone’s dream destination. It has mountains, lakes, rivers, wildlife, forests, etc. which are all of course Insta-worthy.
This road trip had multiple stops on the itinerary, but Banff was determined to be the last stop. When we take road trips, we don’t ever stick to our schedule. We take our road trips knowing that we will be taking pit stops at roadside attractions, detours to cool waterfalls, or spending the day driving through a national park that we hadn’t intended on seeing!
Our route looked a little like this:
When we started the trip, we had intentions of spending a day or two at each national park, but of course due to just about every road trip having mishaps, that plan didn’t work as we had hoped.
Our stops looked like this:
- Badlands National Park–We were fortunate to see the sunrise here and it was phenomenal. The colors on the rocks were so vibrant in the morning. We didn’t end up staying here more than a few hours–too eager to get to the next place!
- Mount Rushmore–This wasn’t on our minds to stop here, but since we were so close WHY NOT. (Side note-One thing that I wish was included in our National Parks Annual Pass was parking at each place, even if we have to pay extra for the annual pass. We had to pay for parking here.) The sculpture was huge, awesome and though we didn’t stay here long, I am glad that we stopped even if its just to say “Yep, I’ve been there.” 😉
- On the road from Mt. Rushmore-Grand Teton–From Mount Rushmore to Grand Teton, we nearly broke down, cried, thought we were going to get abducted by people like in The Hills Have Eyes, and never make it to see Banff. Our van wasn’t running right and was basically dying while we were driving. We were in the middle of nowhere, no cell service, and miles until the next town. We came up to a podunk gas station, asked the reluctant owner to use his cell phone, talked with a mechanic who happened to have a shop next door (who didn’t know what was wrong), but told us that if we couldn’t make it to the next town that we could come back and sleep there. No. Thanks. We drove like mad to the next town where we had cell service. Turns out we had been driving for hours in the blasted heat with zero A\C while charging our phones, our GPS, had the radio on, etc. which meant we were using more power from our alternator than it was getting charged. We were scared, panicked and after we let the alternator get a little more charged, we headed to Grand Tetons.
- Grand Tetons National Park–This was another drive by visit that we wished would have lasted longer! We got here right at sunset and saw some seriously amazing views. It was a perfect ending to a stressful day. We camped here and woke up to a flat tire. I can’t make this stuff up haha. I filled it with air and on we went to explore around the park. We saw awesome lakes, huge mountains and rapid rivers. This place is a definite on our “Let’s go back!” list.
- Yellowstone National Park–We can’t WAIT to go back here. We didn’t even have Yellowstone on our schedule to stop here….we are cray cray. We spent an entire day here and it was spectacular. The history, views, wildlife, and literally everything else here is incredible. This park has so much diversity and in that one single day it became one of my favorite places we have ever been. We saw Old Faithful blow, watched bison graze in fields, saw numerous hot springs, stood above a ginormous waterfall and breathed in the smell of fresh sulfur almost all day. When I think back on this trip, it was one of my favorite days. We wanted to spend more time here, but all of the campgrounds were full and we didn’t have anywhere to park and sleep. We vowed that we would be back.
- Glacier National Park–Remember that flat tire I mentioned? Yeah, we ended up having to stop at a shop in Montana because it kept going flat. After an hour or so waiting, turns out that we had a shard of something sharp stuck in it. When we finally got to Glacier, it was foggy, rainy and really frickin cold! The Going-To-The-Sun Road was closed on most of the west side, so we were only able to drive down about a mile or so. I always tell Liz to stare out the window and look for wildlife since I am driving and can’t look around much. Usually, she fails at this job, but this time she saw a mama bear and a cub! We got a quick and hard to see video of them, but that was pretty stinkin’ cool. Highlight of that day! We need to go back here because it was actually a really bad time of the year (for the things that we like to do) and really bad weather. It was so foggy that we couldn’t even see mountain tops and I know there are some mountain tops to be seen here! We did manage to get pulled over in the campground though haha that was fun and not embarrassing at all.
- Banff–We made it! Once we crossed the border into Canada, our excitement was off the charts. We could not wait to get to Banff! We made one of those must do pit stops to a bulk candy store, so that was basically fuel to the fire in hyperness. It was a boring drive, quite frankly, on the way there, but once we got close it was as if the mountains were exploding out of the ground. I had never seen mountains of that size before! The Canadian Rockies are undeniably phenomenal. When we got to Banff, it was later in the evening, so we wanted to relax and see the town before exploring in the morning. We got the most expensive, yet ridiculously good, hot chocolate and did some shopping. What a cute little town!
- Banff National Park–In the morning we woke up and were so amazed at everything, seriously, everything that we saw. The trees, the rocks, the waters, the animals…everything was wait for it…phenomenal. We did a morning walk by Lake Minnewanka. What a way to start the day! Sunny, beautiful and extraordinary. After the walk, we headed to Lake Louise–the most Instagram-iest place on Earth. To be honest, we thought that when we got there it would be secluded, quiet and we would get so many shots of us and the lake. Holy Moly, were we wrong! This is also probably the busiest place on Earth! It was my first “Instagram isn’t real life” epiphany. There were people everywhere. Every. Where. It was so hard to get a photo without other people in it! It was beautiful and unreal, but we were ready to go after an hour or so of dodging people on the walkway. Next, we drove to Moraine Lake…anddd waited in line in our car for about an hour. Banff is one busy place, even in the off season. The sun was setting and we were kind of getting stressed that we wouldn’t be able to see the lake during the day and we had just wasted so much time. We finally got to a place to park and we ran to the lake to get a view. You guysss, it was incredible! The mountains were perfectly covered in snow, the water was a teal as a crayon and my heart was racing just looking at the view. How does this stuff exist?! Another place that requires a second visit!
- Icefields Parkway–The next day we road tripped up the Icefields Parkway, which is a sight seeing road that connects Banff to Jasper National Park. We stopped at so many places along the way that I can’t even remember everything! We saw waterfalls, elk, more teal water, rams, lakes along the side of the road and the entire time it was sunny, rainy, and snowy all at once…I mean, it was unbelievable. Definitely a stretch of road that I’d take over and over.
- Jasper National Park–I’ll never forget visiting this place because it’s where we saw our first moose! We drove to Maligne Lake (which was known to be a popular moose spot) and explored for a few hours with no moose sightings. They offer a boat ride around the lake that advertised possible views of moose, but it was nearly $80 per person. We debated for about a half hour on if we wanted to spend the money to MAYBE see moose or just explore more on our own and hope to see something. We decided against the boat ride and thank goodness we did because as we were walking back to the van, I saw a mama and baby moose walking across the parking lot into the woods! I, no joke, sprinted in their direction. I followed them through the woods on the trail (at a distance, don’t worry) to the lake. We watched them cross right in front of people and wade into Maligne Lake. I was shaking (my terrible video skills prove it), giddy, and couldn’t believe it. We watched the mama and baby moose swim across the entire lake! Day. Made. When we got back into the van, I said, “At the risk of sounding greedy, I love that we just saw that, but I would REALLY love to see a Bull Moose.” The universe must have been speaking my language that day because 2 minutes down the road, we saw hundreds of cars parked and lo and behold, TWO huge Bull Moose grazing and scuffing their antlers on trees. Best. Day. Ever. We went back to our campground and looked at and watched our videos over and over.
- The Trek Home–We headed out from our trip a little bit early just because we were starting to feel cramped in the minivan and missed our animals! On the way home, our van acted up again. We ended up sleeping at a Walmart and taking it to the shop the next morning. $700 later, we were on our way home! We took the route through the U.P. and it was such a comforting feeling getting back into your home state. Familiar roads and views are just as beautiful as the ones we had just spent days seeing.
We can honestly say that this road trip was one for the books! It had amazing sights, mishaps, a lot of laughs and a few tears, but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. I am so grateful to have a partner who enjoys road trips as much as I do because it has quickly become my favorite way to travel.
If you have Banff (or ANY of the places that we visited) on your list, don’t waste any more time and make it happen. You will be in awe each and every day.
Here are some amazing photos from the trip! (They’re in backwards order from the places we went because apparently my computer dislikes me.)