A trip to Canada would not be complete without visiting one of the most picturesque location that you can ever find on this planet, Banff National Park. Any picture that you take here can easily be put on a postcard, truly one of the most magical places you can possibly visit on your exchange to UW. This post is here to help you make the best out of your trip to Banff National Park as well as useful tips to enjoy.
Note: This trip was made during the term’s reading week, 12 Oct 2019 – 18 Oct 2019. You will need at least 5 days to properly enjoy Banff National Park and even head up to Jasper National Park.
Banff National Park is located in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. The nearest city to it is Calgary. Unfortunately, due to the massive size of Canada, Calgary is a few time zones away from Waterloo, which makes it impractical to drive there. Therefore, the easiest and fastest way would be to take a flight from Toronto to Calgary and renting a car from Calgary.
University of Waterloo’s vehicle rental agency is Enterprise Car Rental. This means that you will receive a discounted price when you make a reservation using the university’s code on Enterprise’s website.
You might be required to present an International Driving Permit when renting the car or during checks from the police. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to obtain the International Driving Permit before you leave Singapore. In addition, Canada drives on the opposite side of the road and have different traffic regulations, so do adequately familiarise yourself before you get behind the wheel.
IMPORTANT: Please, please, please get snow tires.
I cannot stress this enough. As long as it has started snowing, request for snow tires from the rental agency. That additional charge might just save your life. While it is possible to get by with all season tires in the cities, driving in national parks is a whole different ball game. From heavy snowfall to black ice, the conditions are extremely unpredictable. On one of the days of my trip, it was the morning after a heavy snowfall. Ice were forming on the road due to the melting and refreezing process. Traffic slowed to a speed of 50 km/h and even then, my rental SUV skidded for a good 3 seconds after I accidentally applied the brakes too hard.
In Canada, you might have better luck trying to win the lottery than trying to predict the weather in the following month or even week. 2 weeks before my trip was supposed to happen, snow has just begun to fall in Calgary. 1 week prior to my trip, the weather app shows temperatures dropping to around -20 degrees Celsius (and that is before accounting for wind chills, mind you). Yet, on the week of my trip, I was blessed with a perfect weather of around 0 to -10 degrees Celsius with no snowstorms incoming. Therefore, ensure that you pack winter outfits that will be warm enough for the worst weathers. If you think that you don’t need a beanie, you’re wrong. Wind gusts can pick up quite strongly so it would be good to get windproof pants as well.
My friends and I chose to stay in Juniper Hotel that is just 2 minutes drive away from the town of Banff.
Juniper Hotel (taken from Tripadvisor)
There are other hotels in the town of Banff so pick one that fits into your budget but be sure to make reservations earlier as Banff is a very popular place among tourists. The truth is, you can pick any hotel in Banff that you like and you will be rewarded with amazing views of the mountains in the backdrop.
Town of Banff
Popular Places to Explore:
Here are some popular tourist spots that are easy to access. Enjoy the views. #nofilter
Tip: Purchase ice cleats before exploring the snowy mountains.
Note: There is strictly no drone flying allowed in all national parks in Canada.
- Lake Louise
2. Moraine Lake
When we got to Moraine Lake, almost the whole lake was frozen over. It was amazing to walk on the ice surface and there were even some people playing ice hockey on the lake.
3. Athabasca Glacier
Athabasca Glacier is in between Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, along the Icefields Parkway. Although it is some few hours drive from Banff, it was worth the effort as you get to see how global warming had caused to glaciers to retreat few meters every few years and the views were magnificent.
Do not rush. Make sure you plan extra time for yourself to walk around and enjoy the scenery and the feels of the place, go for a little hike, etc. Give some buffer time in case of extreme bad weather as well. If you enjoy nature as much as I do, the national parks in Canada are not places you’d want to just touch and go.
-Lee Ze Bin