Banff and Jasper National Parks with Two Kids

By Piyushi Dhir

I love routines, familiarity, and schedules. Especially when it comes to my two kids.

But every now and then, I love throwing our lives into tumult and travelling. And that is exactly what travelling with kids is: chaos!

After a tedious but rewarding trip to Orlando and Dallas earlier last year, replete with flight cancellations, meltdowns, irritable kids on never-ending flights and disappointing hotels, I was quite sure I was done with travelling for the year. But a few months later, the itch had set in again.

So we flew down to Calgary in August, where we rented a car and went on a road trip with our one-year-old and seven-year-old to the famous Canadian Rockies: Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. It was a trip of a lifetime!

While we could not do a lot of things because we had to accommodate our kids’ schedules and abilities, we were able to see and experience so much.

Here’s a blog about the trip, and if you are on the edge about travelling to Banff and Jasper with your little ones, I hope this encourages you to give it a shot.

Here’s what our itinerary looked like with details about each day and how to make it kid-friendly:

Day 1: Flight from Toronto to Calgary

You can expect 4-5 hours of flying time. Keep your kids busy with little toys, books, snacks and music. When you arrive at Calgary, you can get a rental car from the airport itself.

With kids, we’ve found that getting a rental car right away helps us have the flexibility to make stops where required.

Settle down for a night’s rest at your hotel or BnB.

Day 2: Calgary Local Sightseeing and Prep

We wanted to have a day to prepare before our road trip, so we used this day to stock up on groceries, snacks and other necessities for seven days out with the kids. While Banff and Jasper have some places you can buy things, it is best to go stocked if possible since there are long stretches of driving where you won’t find a single store or signal on your phone for that matter.

You could do some local sightseeing too (there are lots of trails and lakes around). We took the kids to Sikome Lake, a man-made lake in Calgary. They loved splashing in the shallow water and building sandcastles on the beach. There is a kid-friendly science center and some museums for wet or cold days.

We just let the kids have a lot of downtime since they were going to be spending long driving hours in their car seats over the next few days.

Day 3: Banff National Park: Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Downtown Canmore

The drive from Calgary to Two Jack Lake is about two hours, depending on which part of Calgary you are housed in. We set off in the morning and reached Two Jack Lake comfortably. The drive itself was beautiful, with mountains surrounding us.

After a brief stop, we headed to Lake Minnewanka, a short drive away. The parking lot was quite full, but we managed to find a spot after a few minutes’ wait. There were washrooms near the parking.

Tip: Book your Lake Minnewanka cruise in advance to enjoy the experience of going out onto the majestic lake.

We enjoyed a walk on the trail that runs along the lake, stopping near the water occasionally to let the kids skip rocks. The trail was stroller-friendly part of the way and then got very rocky, at which point we turned around. By this time, we were all starved.

Tip: Carry a picnic lunch if you can to allow you to spend more time at Minnewanka. There is a restaurant on-site too, but is quite expensive.

We headed into Canmore because that’s where we were staying for the next three nights. Accommodation in Canmore is priced a little better than Banff, and it’s only a 25-minute drive into Downtown Banff. Downtown Canmore has a couple of nice restaurants. We enjoyed a hearty meal and then headed to our BnB for some much-needed rest.

Tip: Even if your accommodation is in Banff, Downtown Canmore is worth checking out. Cute little shops and eateries line the street, with a view of the Three Sisters Mountains.

Day 4: Banff Gondolas, Sulphur Mountain, Downtown Banff

We drove into Downtown Banff the next day to discover that parking at the Gondolas was already full. Fortunately, they had a huge parking lot near the train station, from where regular buses run free of charge to ferry tourists up the Gondolas. We had pre-booked our Gondola rides online the previous night and needed to report fifteen minutes prior to boarding time.

Tip: Account for some extra time in case of parking hassles. Parking at the train station and taking the buses took us an extra thirty minutes!

There was a queue to board the Gondolas, but once we were on, the kids loved the ride and the sights. The Gondolas take you up to Sulphur Mountain, where there is a boardwalk that takes about an hour to complete. This boardwalk is not stroller friendly so be prepared to carry your kids or have them walk.

We did not do the boardwalk, but spent time within the building (which was stroller friendly), enjoying the exhibits, the movie, the café and the views from the top floor.

Tip: The café on Suplhur Mountain has limited options. Carry snacks up to the Mountain. From the time we boarded the Gondolas to when we returned, it took us about four hours.

Later that afternoon, we took the Gondola back down and headed into Downtown Banff for a hearty dinner. If you have time, take a walk in the Cascade of Time Gardens in Downtown Banff. It’s a perfect place for the kids to stretch their legs and run free.

Day 5: Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is breathtaking, but be prepared for a long walk. After using the washrooms at the parking, we set off with our one-year-old in the stroller and seven-year-old on foot. The trail until the Lower Falls was rocky but doable with the stroller.

Tip: You could go to the Upper Falls with your baby in a carrier or with kids who can walk. If you are determined, do the additional 3km trek to the Ink Pots for incredibly beautiful views.

Even though we could only go to the Lower Falls, it was a lot of fun and very beautiful walking among the canyons and gorges.

Tip: Expect a lot of white dust on your shoes and legs. Dress accordingly.

We kept the second half free to just enjoy our BnB and pack for our onward journey to Jasper the next day.

Day 6: Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper National Park

(Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Athabasca Glacier, Goats and Glaciers, Sunwapta Falls, Tangle Creek Waterfalls)

The drive through the iconic landscape of the Icefields Parkway is world-famous. Glaciers overlook you, mountains surround you, lakes glisten in magnificent colours and waterfalls splash around every other corner.

On the flip side, there are long stretches with no mobile signal, no GPS and no markets or stores between Banff and Jasper. Only nature and beautiful sights.

Tip: Go prepared with enough food for the whole day, as well as fuel, first aid and a map.

Peyto Lake and Bow Lake have gorgeous colors and are a lot less crowded than Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. Enjoy a picnic lunch here if the weather is favorable.

Tip: Stop at Saskatchewan River Crossing for fuel, a gift shop, washrooms and a meal. Don’t rely on this though, since it could be closed at certain times of the day and year.

At the Athabasca Glacier, you are roughly midway through your drive between Banff and Jasper. There is a building with washrooms and even a Starbucks here. This is where you can board shuttles for the Athabasca Glacier Walk or the Columbia Icefield Skywalk (budget 2-3 hours for these). These need to be booked in advance and are expensive.

Another alternative is to park close to the Athabasca Glacier and do the short hike to the foot of the glacier free of cost. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the experience of touching and walking on a glacier.

As you continue driving to Jasper, you will cross lovely waterfalls along the way including Tangle Creek, which is right on the highway (convenient with kids!). A brief stop at Goats and Glaciers offers you a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape (it is a minute’s walk from the parking). If you are up for a short hike, stop at Sunwapta Falls. They are certainly worth the effort.

Arrive at your hotel or BnB at Jasper and rest the night.

Tip: We found hotels at affordable rates in Hinton, 60kms north of Jasper. Hinton also has Walmart, Dollarama and other big brand stores.

Hinton is more affordable compared to the more expensive accommodations within Jasper National Park. But if you can afford it, certainly try to stay within Jasper. It will save you a lot of driving back and forth with the kids.

Day 7: Maligne Lake Cruise, Spirit Island and Medicine Lake

The day began rainy and wet and cast a shadow on our plans. Fortunately, by the time we reached Maligne Lake, the skies started clearing. We were able to purchase tickets on the spot for the Maligne Lake Cruise. The kids enjoyed the experience.

Tip: Enjoy a warm meal at the Waffle Hut or the cafeteria at Maligne Lake before heading out on your cruise.

The cruise is the only way to access Spirit Island, one of the most photographed places in the Canadian Rockies. The guides on the cruise were informative and we learned a lot about Jasper and the landscape surrounding us.

Tip: If you are up for a hike, there are a couple of trails around Maligne Lake. None of them seemed stroller-friendly though.

On our drive back to town, we crossed the Medicine Lake, also known as the Disappearing Lake because of how it empties out completely every fall and winter, only to fill right back in by the summer.

It’s almost as if someone pulls the plug in this giant bathtub! We were there late in the summer and we could already see parts of the bottom of the lake.

Tip: There is a steep set of stairs descending down to Medicine Lake. Alternately, you could get great photos from the parking lot above, without needing to do the hike.

Day 8: Maligne Canyon, Athasbasca Falls and Downtown Jasper

Maligne Canyon is somewhat similar to Johnston Canyon, but not kid-friendly. Strollers only go up to the first bridge which is about 0.4kms from the parking. After this, the hike becomes steep. If you have a baby carrier, or older kids, you can try going to the second or third bridge. The experience is certainly very rewarding.

We then drove on to Athabasca Falls. The falls were a short hike from the parking lot. The stroller goes up to the first bridge from where you have a great view of the falls. If you are not bound by a stroller, you can walk along a little further to get more views.

Tip: Take the Highway 93A for a quieter and picturesque drive to Athabasca Falls.

We spent the evening walking around Downtown Jasper hunting for honey garlic chicken wings because that is what our 7-year-old decided he wanted as compensation for all the car-seat hours he was clocking! We found standard brand restaurants as well as local eateries in this cute little town.

Day 9: Drive to Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Return to Calgary

On Day 9, we packed up from our hotel, bid Jasper goodbye and drove back to Banff. Just before entering Banff, we stopped at Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. Parking was full at the two lakes because of summer traffic and we had booked shuttles to the two lakes a couple of days in advance.

Tip: Try booking your parking or shuttles for Lake Louise and Lake Moraine a couple of weeks ahead, especially in the summer.

After parking at the shuttle site, we took the bus to Lake Moraine. Our older son and husband did the hike up to the Rockpile from where they were able to get a beautiful view of the lake (as seen in typical pictures of Lake Moraine). Since our little one was in a stroller, I took him for a walk around the Lakeshore Trail, from where we were able to approach and walk right into the lake.

Tip: Rent a canoe to get the classic canoe-on-a-lake Instagrammable picture as seen on the internet.

It was late in the evening and we ended up skipping Lake Louise (to my great disappointment), but the kids were exhausted and we still had to drive back to Calgary.

Day 10: Fly back to Toronto

On the tenth day of our trip, we said goodbye to the Canadian Rockies and boarded our flights to head back home with full hearts and beautiful memories.

We were exhausted after the trip and slept extra for a few days after our return. But all together, the trip was so worth it.

While our itinerary looked so packed, there was so much that we couldn’t do. We are resolved to return to Banff and Jasper to once again experience its stunning beauty and to dig out some more treasures that we missed our first time.

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About the Author

Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.