Spectacular destinations tend to draw spectacular crowds. Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, is a perfect example; every summer the world flocks to gawk at the area’s stunning alpine lakes—made viridian by glacier flour—and to trek deep into rugged canyons riven by raging mountain streams. The good news is that with just a little planning and mindfulness much of Banff National Park can be enjoyed in near solitude.
Here are some tips for avoiding the crowds so you can feel like you have one of the world’s most dramatic and revered destinations to yourself.
Be the early bird
What if we told you that you could do the Johnston Canyon trail—a wildly popular hike in Banff National Park—without seeing another person? You can, and we’ve done it. Grab a cup of coffee and make this your early morning trek. If you show up at dawn, you’ll quite possibly have the trail to yourself. You’ll feel as though the waterfalls, ancient Douglas Firs, and steep cliffs were put there just for you.
Bonus: Another extremely popular scenic point overlooks the wolf-shaped Peyto Lake. Make this another early morning agenda item and you can enjoy the dazzling views of the lake without the crowds.
Johnston Canyon Trail
Take the path less traveled
In just about any other place in the world, the lesser hikes in Banff National Park would be choking on tourists. But when a park has epic sights like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, hikes such as Bow Glacier Falls don’t quite get the attention they deserve. All of this means that, despite towering waterfalls and dizzying rock crevasses, the Bow Glacier Falls trail draws significantly smaller crowds than one would expect. Go there!
Bonus: Consider hikes between Banff and Lake Louise, which are the two main hubs of the park. For instance, Boom Lake, just west of the rustic Storm Mountain Lodge, is significantly quieter than (but almost as jaw-dropping as) more trekked spots. When you’re done hiking, head to Banff Hot Springs to rest your tired muscles; you deserve it.
Walk (um, climb) the “iron road”
Speaking of sights off the beaten path—high above the town of Banff, clinging to the side of Mount Norquay, is the Via Ferrata. Italian for “iron road,” the Via Ferrata is a series of cables, steps, and iron rungs that allow just about anyone to safely experience the thrill of rock climbing. Regardless of your skill level, with a trusted guide and a small group, you have the opportunity to scale a mountain and take in the entire park from a vantage point few ever experience.
Bonus: If your idea of vacation doesn’t include an adrenaline spike, there are other ways to enjoy Mount Norquay. We suggest taking the chairlift to the Cliffhouse Bistro, grabbing a charcuterie board and local brew, and taking in the views of the Banff townsite and surrounding mountains.
Viewfinder Tip: Save time & money by booking your activities along with your flight & hotel on Expedia.com or the Expedia App.
Soar above it all
Generally speaking, you would have to hike for days to find the kind of solitude offered by Rockies Heli Tours. An exhilarating helicopter tour over the Bow Valley ends atop a remote mountain, where you can do a little hiking through a forest so un-trampled that your guide will have to help you find the route. You also have the option to end your hike with a glass of champagne because with a panorama of majestic peaks spread out before you, champagne just makes sense.
Bonus: If a helicopter tour isn’t in the cards, you can still get above it all. Both the Banff Gondola and the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola provide visitors with a way to take in the park from on high.
Leave the shore behind
Most visitors to Banff National Park are drawn to the aquamarine waters that make the place so famous. However, very few of those visitors experience actually getting on those jewel-toned waters. Find solitude among the crowds by grabbing a canoe and paddling out to the middle of magnificent Moraine Lake.
Bonus: If you like a little rush with your solitude, plummet down the Kicking Horse River’s class IV rapids (with a trusted guide, of course).
What are your tips for getting away from the crowds in popular destinations?