Have you ever considered visiting Banff and the surrounding area in April or early in the spring? I have to admit, when I started looking up things to do near Banff in the springtime, I was a little worried that there would be too much snow for us to see many of the sights, and terrible rainy weather with few mountain views. Still, if you are willing to risk less than perfect weather, visiting Banff (and Jasper) in the springtime can be incredibly rewarding.
My little brother, George and his awesome wife Cerys came to visit us in Vancouver, then we had an epic road trip via Wells Gray Provincial Park to Jasper. Then, after a few days in Jasper we did the most spectacular drive along the Icefields Parkway. We then had two days to explore Banff and the surrounding area. I thought I should share what we did over those days, just in case it helps other explorers who’d like to see the sights while there is still plenty of snow.
Why it’s great to visit Banff in the Spring
Banff is incredibly busy so if you visit in the summer time you will need to book restaurants in advance, expect trouble parking and be ready to hike with hoards of people. As the spring weather can be temperamental, fewer people are willing to risk their postcard-perfect views. This means hotels are cheaper and it is much easier to visit Banff’s more famous attractions. We didn’t have any problems getting seats in restaurants without reservations. We managed to park at lake Louise in the early afternoon (shocking, I know!) And we didn’t see any other hikers on our walks (apart from at Johnston Canyon, but that is the exception that proves the rule!)
If you visit Banff in springtime, you won’t be able to see the crazy blue coloured lakes, as they will probably still be frozen. But if you think ice-covered lakes are still beautiful, you’ll love it.
Map of Highlights – Banff in Spring
Meet some wildlife
My favourite thing about visiting the Canadian Rockies is seeing all the wildlife. The first time we visited Lake Louise, we saw four grizzly bears, a mum and three babies. This time we saw so many deer, elk, golden-mantled ground squirrels, douglas squirrels and this huge, beautiful black bear.
We didn’t go skiing in Banff this time (we went to Jasper.) But if you like the idea of skiing near Banff, there are plenty of options. The main three ski hills are Banff Sunshine Village, Mount Norquay and Lake Louise Ski resort. You can read more about your Banff ski options on the Banff and Lake Louise website.
Hoodoos are cool rock formations that have been eroded into spiky shapes. The Hoodoos trail is a really good walk for early in the season when higher alpine trails are still covered in snow or have risque of avalanches. We did this hike in the snow last year, and although it was lovely walking through the woodland, we never saw the views. This time we drove straight to the viewpoint to see the hoodoos. You can see see them to the left of the photo below, below the trail.
As you can see, in springtime, you won’t see the normal crazy-blue colours of lakes that the Rockies are famous for. There are some pretty (and super easy) walks along the edge of Lake Minnewanka. We saw deer around the edge of the lake and some crazy people were walking on the ice (even though it was very thin!)
This is the view of Lake Minnewanka from up on the C-level Cirque trail.
The first hike we did this spring was the C-level Cirque trail. The trail follows switchbacks through the forest to a naturally formed glacial bowl high on Cascade Mountain. There are pretty amazing views to make the effort worth the 455 m elevation gain.
Two Jacks Lake
We stopped by Two Jacks Lake on the way back from Lake Minnewanka. You can walk along the lake shore and see gorgeous mountain views. While we were there most of the lake was frozen, but it had started to thaw around the edges, and by the teeny island.
Castle Mountain Lookout
We went on to climb up to the Castle Mountain Lookout right after hiking the C-level Cirque trail. This trail takes you up to an old fire lookout. It is a bit harder than the hike up to C-level Cirque (especially when you’ve already been up one mountain that day!) But as always near Banff, the views were spectacular.
Johnston Canyon is another easy (but pretty) hike that is safe to do in the springtime. In April the trail was still very icy, but if you have microspikes it’s a great walk. Even if you don’t have spikes, we saw plenty of people sliding their way down the trail. This was the busiest area that we explored, so don’t expect this area to be a quiet, wilderness experience as you hike to the waterfalls.
The waterfalls were half frozen and very beautiful.
The top spot to visit in Banff in the Spring (well, at any time of year) is Lake Louise. You can hike up to Lake Agnes at this time of year, but I wouldn’t advise doing the highline trail or the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail. We wandered along the Lakeshore trail in one direction, and then returned by walking on the ice.
The weather kept changing from gorgeous to rainy and misty. Whenever the air cleared, it was beautiful.
It’s just a little different to the normal views canoeing on Lake Louise!
Emerald Lake was our favourite stop off on our previous road trip from Vancouver to Banff. So we were keen to show it to George and Cerys. It turns out autumn views and early spring views are pretty similar with snow-covered mountains in all directions.
Here’s the same view (from October), just with newer snow, and less ice.
Natural bridge is a cool stop-off on the road up to Emerald Lake. It is a natural rock formation that forms a bridge over a bright blue mini waterfall. The first time we visited this area, we drove straight past, so I’m gad we visited this time around.
There is a less-natural bridge to give the views of the natural bridge.
Eat tasty food near Banff
There are quite a few fantastic places to eat in and around Banff. I’ve added them all on to the map above.
Storm Mountain Lodge – This was the best meal we had in the area. The bison tenderloin was full of flavour and the wine was incredible.
Block Kitchen – We *love* this place! They serve Asian-fusion tapas and really good cocktails.
Juniper Bistro – I liked our dinner here but LOVED breakfast the following morning. They serve one of the best salmon bennys I’ve ever had, plus the view is gorgeous.
The Fairmont Banff Springs – Come here for amaaaaazing boozy hot chocolates.
Tooloulou’s – George and Cerys loved this for massive, gluten free breakfast options.
Grizzly House Restaurant – This was okay-ish. They serve exotic meats, but it is a bit of a tourist trap.
When on holiday, you may fancy a good drink too.
I hope you like the look of Banff in the spring. I have to admit, I was not sure how much we’d be able to see and do in April. But in the end, I loved every second of this trip and I think George and Cerys got to see Banff at its best. We had the gorgeous views, but without the crowds.
If you’re thinking of visiting Banff early in the season, or if you like this post, please click on the images below to pin them.