Where to kick up your heels after a full day of adventuring in the Canadian Rockies
From quiet campgrounds to cozy cabins to grand century-old chateaus, there’s something for all styles and budgets in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Most of the parks’ accommodations are centered around the communities of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, but there are also a smattering of gorgeous lodges and cabins tucked into more isolated corners–some are even hike-in only! Keep in mind that reservations are essential in July and August.
SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS
From frontcountry campgrounds to backcountry escapes, Banff and Jasper National Parks offer thousands of places to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars. Frontcountry highlights include the waterfront Two Jack Lakeside campground (pictured above) in Banff, stunning glacier views at the Icefield campground near the Banff-Jasper boundary, and the riverside Wabasso campground in Jasper. Visit Banff and Jasper’s camping web pages for more information. If heading into the backcountry, designated campsites generally have fire pits, picnic tables, food storage cables, and outhouses. Some of the easiest ones to reach are the three paddle-in campsites on Jasper’s splendid Maligne Lake. More backcountry information can be found on Banff and Jasper’s backpacking web pages.
If you want to stay at a campground but don’t feel like lugging around your own gear, Parks Canada has several solutions. The best is its oTENTiks, which are essentially wood-framed canvas prospector tents outfitted with a table, chairs, and bunks that can sleep six. Brand new to the parks, they can be found in the Tunnel Mountain Village II and Two Jack Lakeside campgrounds in Banff and Whistlers campground in Jasper. Jasper’s Palisades Centre also rents fully-equipped wood cabins. In Banff’s Two Jack Main campground, you can reserve a site that’s already outfitted with a tent, bedding, and stove. Or, to broaden your horizons, rental gear can be found at shops like Mountain Equipment Co-op in Calgary or Edmonton, Bactrax in Banff, or Source for Sports in Jasper.
HUTS HIGH IN THE SKY
Imagine spending a day on a mountain trail to emerge in a meadow where smoke gently wafts from the chimney of a secluded cabin. The Alpine Club of Canada operates a network of nearly 30 communal hike-in “huts” in the Canadian Rockies, including six in Banff and four in Jasper. While many require mountaineering experience to access, some, like the Wates-Gibson Hut and the Sydney Vallance Hut in Jasper, are rustic log cabins in the woods that can be reached after a good day’s hike. With fully-equipped kitchens, propane lighting, and woodstoves, all you really need to bring is food and bedding for your bunk. Incredibly affordable, non-members pay about US$30 per night.
Unspoiled wilderness paired with first-class comforts? It doesn’t get better than this. At the ends of miles-long trails that can only be traversed on foot, snowshoes, skis, or horseback, Banff and Jasper boast a handful of fully-catered backcountry lodges. Think warm wood cabins, plush communal living rooms, and gourmet meals far from stresses of civilization–and electricity. Chief among them is exclusive Skoki Lodge (pictured above) near Lake Louise, a National Historic Site that hosted Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on their Canadian honeymoon. Also in Banff National Park, other top-tier options are Shadow Lake Lodge and the pair of lodges reached by horseback on tours with Banff Trail Riders. In Jasper National Park, hike or arrange a horseback ride to the cabins of Tonquin Valley Backcountry Lodge, which also features canoes, kayaks, and trout fishing on pristine Amethyst Lake.
KEEPING IT COZY
If you’re looking to stay closer to civilization, there are plenty of lodges, inns, and resorts that will keep you cozy in the parks. In Banff, Moose Hotel & Suites has rooftop hot pools and rooms with fireplaces right downtown. On the townsite’s edges, Buffalo Mountain Lodge is a secluded retreat with fireplace-equipped rooms and a hot tub, while at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, you can stay at a forested property that hosts regular cultural events as well as artist residencies. Surrounded by wilderness between Banff and Lake Louise, Storm Mountain Lodge (pictured above) has an array of luxurious log cabins around a communal, taxidermy-bedecked lodge and restaurant, while Baker Creek Mountain Resort is a family-friendly property that has wood cabins with kitchens and fireplaces. In downtown Jasper, Park Place Inn is the town's swankiest option, while the quirky Athabasca Hotel has vintage-trimmed suites above an Old World-style restaurant. Just above town, you'll have a good chance of spotting elk from your cabin at Bear Hill Lodge, while a little outside of Jasper, Pine Bungalows is an award-winning eco-lodge located right on the shores of teh might Athabasca River. If you want to stay further afield, Pocahontas Cabins has neat log bungalows near the lovely Miette Hot Springs, while Pyramid Lake Resort is a large, family-friendly property on a lake with islands to paddle to and plenty of hiking trails. Really, the options in Banff and Jasper are plentiful. Visit www.banfflakelouise.com/accommodation and www.jasper.travel/where-to-stay for more listings, including dozens of lovely little bed and breakfasts. You can also find a lot of great properties on Airbnb.
Do you want to experience the opulence of bygone era? Fairmont Hotels and Resorts operates a trio of classy hotels in the parks that date from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. These three majestic hotels–Fairmont’s Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise (pictured above), and Jasper Park Lodge–all hail from the country’s grand railway hotel era, when Canadian railway companies built luxurious castle-like properties across the country to serve well-to-do passengers traveling along the new train tracks that connected Canada’s populous east with the province of British Columbia. Expect 5-star class and comfort (as well as prices), plus amenities like gourmet restaurants and spas–and all just a skip from the woods.
WHERE TO DRINK AND DINE
From cute cafés to bustling brewpubs to sumptuous steakhouses, when it comes to drinking and dining, there’s a little bit of everything in the towns of Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper.
Without a doubt, the town of Banff is the culinary capital of the Canadian Rockies. Right downtown, Park Distillery (pictured above) serves cocktails mixed with homemade spirits and meats from its “campfire kitchen” in an arty space decorated with Canadiana class. Nearby, trendy Block Kitchen + Bar specializes in Asian-inspired tapas, old-world Ticino serves up Swiss-Italian fine dining like fondue, while classy Chuck’s Steakhouse is the place to go for premium Alberta beef. For coffee, a light lunch, or baked treats, try Evelyn’s Coffee Bar or Wild Flour Bakery. For a night out, lively High Rollers has craft beer, pizza, and bowling lanes, while Rose & Crown is a bustling pub that hosts live bands every night of the week.
In Lake Louise
Forget everything else for a drink, meal, or afternoon tea paired with unparalleled views of emerald water, soaring peaks, and gleaming glaciers at the elegant Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a grand century-old hotel that boasts a trio of gourmet restaurants, a lounge, two bars, and a deli. The hotel’s Alps-inspired Walliser Stube restaurant is a particular draw for its fondue. For something completely different, take a three-hour round-trip hike right from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes or a four-hour round-trip hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers (pictured at top of page) for lunch at a charming backcountry teahouse, where fresh ingredients are hiked in daily.
Tekkarra Restaurant and Evil Dave’s Grill are the main fine dining draws. The former offers a menu featuring a slew of hearty bison and wild boar options, while the latter is known for inventive cuisine with an international flair. Right downtown, Coco’s Café is the place to go for coffee, light meals, and baked treats. For homemade craft beer and inspired pub fare, visit Jasper Brewing Company. If you’re looking for a night out, nothing beats getting to know veterans and locals at Jasper’s Royal Canadian Legion branch, also known as The Stand Easy, which has draft beer, a grill, and live music several nights a week.