Nine days itinerary on the Canadian Rockies: Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks with kids

The Canadian Rockies have been on my wish list for years, a dream that finally came true in the summer of 2019.

While planning our trip I was amazed by the stunning colors of the landscapes that you see in the pictures online and I wondered if they were real. I mean, it looks too good to be true… right?

I must say that Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks did not disappoint us, they are everything you see in the photos on Instagram and much much more!

Our itinerary

In this post you will find an itinerary of the major kids-friendly attractions of Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks, from south to north .

This itinerary is built for those who come to the Canadian Rockies (by car or plane) from the Calgary area, and continue north towards Jasper.
If you plan to arrive to the Canadian Rockies from the Edmonton area, you can travel the itinerary backwards, starting your visit from Jasper and ending it in Banff.

In this post:
Day 1: Banff
Day 2: Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop
Day 3: Sunshine Meadows
Day 4: Bow Valley Parkway and Yoho National Park
Day 5: Lake Luoise and Moraine Lake
Day 6: Icefield Parkway
Day 7: Jasper
Day 8: Scenic Maligne Lake Drive
Day 9: Athabasca Falls and Athabasca Glacier

Day 1: Banff

The first day is dedicated to the town of Banff and its surroundings.
If you have arrived to the area after a long journey, today you can relax, and use the car only for short drives. 
The town of Banff is located in the heart of the natural park and several activities and hikes can be reached on foot, or by a few minutes drive.
Start your day with a stroll along Banff Avenue, and enjoy the atmosphere of this lively mountain town.

For coffe, and excellent homemade cakes and muffins, stop by Wild Flour on Bear St. Here you will find also delicious sandwiches to take with you for a picnic in the nature.

It is time to leave the city behind and to immerse yourself in the amazing nature that surrounds it.
The Bow River Trail, which starts from downtown Banff, is a tree-lined path that runs along the river for about two kilometers. This pleasant flat walk is suitable for small children, and leads up to a flight of stairs, at the end of which you reach the Surprise Corner View Point, a terrace overlooking the Bow Falls .
Another kids-friendly hike close to downtown Banff, is the Fenland Loop: a flat path of about 2 kilometers, which runs along the Forty Mile Creek, and crosses a splendid wood.
In the afternoon, head back to downtown to rent bikes and explore Banff on two wheels.
Most shops have kids bicycles and helmets, and also trolleys to attach to mom and dad’s bicycle for the little ones who are too young to ride by themselves.
Ride your bikes to the Vermilion Lakes. From downtown pedal for one kilometer towards the Banff Town Sign. After the traditional selfie with this big sign, continue for about 500 meters to Vermilion Lakes Road .
This beautiful scenic road, runs alongside three pretty lakes and is considered an excellent spot for wildlife watching. If you are lucky you might spot deers and elks.

WHERE TO STAY : Banff Rocky Mountain Resort is a family hotel with clean and cozy rooms. In the resort you will find also an indoor pool, tennis courts, and a restaurant. 
Located just outside the center of Banff, the hotel offers free shuttles to downtown.

Day 2: Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop

Today you will drive the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop, a scenic road that leads to three enchanting lakes just outside of Banff town.
The first stop is Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in Banff National Park, and the only one where motor boats are allowed.
Boats can be rented at the boathouse for an hourly rate.
Another way to explore Lake Minnewanka is to book a guided tour with the Banff Lake Cruise.
This cruise takes about an hour and a half, during which a guide provides explanations on the history and geology of the lake.
In the summer months, once a day, there is a special family tour, designed for children aged 12 and younger, with ice cream included in the price.
Several hiking trails starts from the lake. Among these, the most suitable for kids is the Stuart Canyon Trail, a trail that runs along the north shore of the lake, and takes you to the gorge carved into the rock by the Cascade River .

Once you leave Lake Minnewanka, continue for about three kilometers along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, until you reach Two Jack Lake , a lovely turquoise lake, ideal for a picnic break.

Once you leave Two Jacks Lake, continue for about 11 kilometers until the junction for Johnson Lake Road, at the end of which you’ll reach Johnson Lake.

This lake, less popular than Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake, is a true gem. On clear days you could spend hours photographing the reflection of the mountains in its water.

From the picnic area, a short and pleasant 3 kilometers hike takes you around the lake.
On warm days, the bravest can try a dip in the water, while children can play on the small sandy beach.

Day 3: Sunshine Meadows

Sunshine Meadows is one of the best attractions in Banff National Park, and inexplicably also one of the least crowded.

Not many go up to its 2300 meters, but those who do, are rewarded by a wonderful 360 degree view of the Rocky Mountains, blooming meadows, crystal clear lakes, and great chances to spot wildlife

Sunshine Meadows can only be reached via the Mount Sunshine ski lifts, located 15 kilometers southwest of Banff.
Cable car tickets can be purchased inside the ski lift station or online .
A first cable car (the most exciting part for the kids!) Leads to the Sunshine Village. Here you will find several services including a hotel and a restaurant. 
From Sunshine Village a eight minutes chairlift takes you to Sunshine Meadows.

Once you reach the top you can choose between a few hikes. 
The most suitable for families with kids starts from the chair lift station and passes through the Standish Viewing Deck, a panoramic terrace with a breathtaking view of the mountains, the meadows, and three small lakes.

Once you pass the Standish Wiewing Deck, you descend for about a kilometer along a trail that crosses blooming meadows, until you reach Isle Rock Lake. Here, you can find benches for a picnic break.

After Rock Isle Lake, a pleasant downhill trail allows you to return to the Sunshine Village without taking the chair lift. 
From here, you can return to the parking lot with the cable car.
If the kids need a snack after the hike, you can go back to Banff and have an ice cream break at Cows.
End your day in Banff, by immersing yourself in the thermal waters of the Upper Hot Springs.

Day 4: Bow Valley Parkway and Yoho National Park

It is time to say goodbye to the town of Banff and begin the climb north towards Jasper. Next stop: Lake Louise. 
This small village, home to two of the most iconic lakes in the Rocky Mountains, can be reached in about an hour via Trans-Canada Hwy.

However, if you have more time, take it easy, and take the Bow Valley Parkway, a scenic road that runs parallel to the Bow River, and offers great chances of spotting animals.

The most popular attraction along the Bow Valley Parkway is Johnston Canyon , a gorge carved into the rock by the Johnston Creek .
An easy trail of about one kilometer leads to the first waterfalls.
To see the second waterfalls, you will have to continue for another 2.7 kilometers.
The only drawback of this wonderful hike is that Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular attractions in the area, and you will find yourself sharing the narrow path with dozens of other hikers.

Continuing along the Bow Valley Parkway you will encounter countless scenic spots, some of which were made popular by famous photographs.
Among those, Morant’s Curve, one of the most iconic images of Banff National Park.

The Bow Valley Parkway ends at Lake Louise , while our itinerary continues west along the Trans-Canada Hwy, towards the splendid landscapes of Yoho National Park .

The first stop is the majestic Takakkaw Falls, located about 13 kilometers from Hwy 1.
Once you get to the parking lot, an easy 800 meters trail leads up to the falls, and allows you to admire the impressive jump up close. Takakkaw Falls are about 255 meters high and are among the highest waterfalls in Canada.

Once you leave the Tekakkaw Falls, drive to Hwy 1 westwards, until the detour to Emerald Lake. Along the way stop quickly at the Natural Bridge, a cool bridge carved into the rock by the the Kicking Horse creek.

The last stop of the day in Yoho National Park is Emerald Lake .
This stunning lake takes its name from the emerald green color of its water.
Here you can rent canoes or rowboats and explore the lake immersed in its tranquility, or stroll along the trail that surrounds it, on a pleasant walk suitable for the whole family.
For a snack break, stop at the Emerald Lake Lodge’s Cliantro Cafe , before returning to Lake Louise for the night.

WHERE TO STAY: Hotels around Lake Louise are quite expensive compared to other destinations on the Rockies. Despite this, in order to explore the main attractions of the area, especially in summer, it is advisable to sleep nearby. We chose Paradise Lodege and Bungalows , a hotel of small bungalows, immersed in a wood that seems to have come out of a fairy tale.

Day 5: Lake Louise e Moraine Lake

Lake Luoise and Moraine Lake are two of the most popular and photographed attractions of the Canadian Rockies.
In the summer months thousands of tourist visit them every day.
If you want to enjoy your visit start your day early and arrive to Lake Louise before the parking lot gets full.
Once the parking lot is full, visitors are invited to drive 5 kilometers to reach the shuttle station.
As Lake Louise is one of the most popular attractions in Canada the queue for the shuttle can take a while, and get young kids (and their parents) frustrated for the wait.

Once you reach Lake Louise take a few minutes to take in the view of this enchanting turquoise lake.

Most tourists do not go beyond the viewpoint to take some photos.
In order to escape the crowds just continue along the paved path that runs along the lake, and find a corner where you can stop and enjoy some quiet.
Another way to explore the lake in solitude is to rent a canoe at the boat house.
If you are travelling with school age kids, or have a baby carrier, don’t miss the hike that leads to the Lake Agnes Tea House.

This 3.6km uphill trail (7.2 between roundtrips) is definitely not easy for young children, but their efforts will be rewarded by hot chocolate and cake at the Tea House overlooking pretty Lake Agnes.

After Lake Louise it’s time to move on to the next stop: Moraine Lake.
This beautiful lake is one of Canada’s symbols, and it was even featured on Canadian twenty dollar bills between 1969 and 1986.

Nestled in the Valley of the Ten Peak , and accessible only via a 13 kilometer winding road, Moraine Lake looks wilder and perhaps more charming than nearby Lake Louise.

During the high season, the road leading to the lake is closed to traffic as soon as the parking lot gets full (usually by seven in the morning) and then reopens between eight and nine in the evening.
Despite the logistical difficulties, do not be discouraged and do not give up visiting Moraine Lake. The special lights of dawn or dusk will only increase its charm.
We arrived to Moraine Lake shortly after sunset, and had it almost all for ourselves.
Because of the late hour we didn’t have a chance to hike the area. We took a little stroll around the lake to take in the view and get some pictures. It was still worth the visit.

Day 6: Icefield Parkway

Fasten your seat belts and put on your favorite playlist. Today you travel along one of the most beautiful scenic roads in North America: Highway 93. Also known as Icefield Parkway, this road connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park, and runs alongside dozens of glaciers, turquoise lakes, and some of the highest peaks in Canada.
A full day is not enough to explore all the activities, views, and hikes that the Icefield Parkway has to offer.
But even if you don’t have time to stop, driving the Hwy 93 is an unforgettable experience. From here, you have excellent chances to spot wildlife, especially bears and deers.

Here you can find a list of child-friendly attractions on the Icefield Parkway.
Our favorites were Peyto LakeMistaya Canyon and the Athabasca Glacier .

WHERE TO STAY : At the end of the Icefield Parkway you will arrive to Jasper. We stayed at Patricia Lake Bungalows, a charming resort of small cabins located on the shores of Patricia Lake, just outside the downtown.

Day 7: Jasper

After yesterday’s long drive, today we will focus on the Jasper area.
The morning is dedicated to the Valley of Five Lakes, an amazing, kids-friendly hike.
Located 9 kilometers south of Jasper, this 4.5 kilometer flat hike leads to a beautiful valley dotted with five pretty lakes.
Each one of the five lakes is characterized by a different shade of green, turquoise and blue, determined by its depth and by the composition of the rocks that sit on its bottom.

Once you leave the Valley of Five Lakes, it’s time to get on Jasper’s roof with the Jasper Skytram .
In only a few minutes this cable car will take you to the summit of Whistlers Mountain.  From there you can see a splendid view of the surrounding mountains, the Athabasca River, and the town of Jasper.
The Jasper Skytram is an attraction suitable for families with children of all ages.
 Tickets can be purchased  online  or on site.

Click here  for our adventure at the Valley of Five Lakes and Jasper Skytram.

Day 8: Scenic Maligne Lake Drive

Scenic Maligne Lake Drive is a 46 kilometers long drive, which starts from Jasper town and ends at Maligne Lake.
This splendid stretch of road is home to several animal species, including bears and moose, and it’s a great spot for wildlife watching.
The first attraction of Scenic Maligne Lake Drive is  Maligne  Canyon. This gorge, about 50 meters deep, can be explored along a four kilometer trail, which crosses six panoramic bridges.

Once you leave Maligne Canyon, continue towards  Medicine Lake
This beautiful lake was once believed to have therapeutic powers, hence its name.
The peculiarity of Medicine Lake is that it disappears and reappears cyclically every year. Its water is continuously drained into a series of cavities in the ground. During the spring, when glaciers melt, the amount of water that feeds the lake is greater than the amount of water that is drained. In autumn the lake dries up, leaving only rocks and mud.

The last stop on the Maligne Scenic Drive is  Maligne Lake, the largest lake of the Canadian Rockies.
There are different options to explore this beautiful lake: you can hike, you can paddle, or you can join a tour on motor boat.
The latter option is the only one that gives you the opportunity to see and photograph  Spirited Island, a small tree-lined peninsula, popular among photography enthusiasts from all over the world.

Click Here to read about our day along the Maligne Scenic Drive.

End the day with a dip in the thermal waters of the Miette Hot Springs, a favorite among the kids.

Day 9: Athabasca Falls e Athabasca Glacier

Today’s first stop are the Athabasca Falls. These beautiful waterfalls, located about 30 kilometers south of Jasper, are a great attraction for families with children of all ages.
From the parking lot, a paved path of about 1 kilometer leads to several panoramic points.

After you visit the waterfalls, continue south, towards the Athabasca Glacier.
Start your visit from the Columbia Icefield Center where you can buy tickets for the  Snocoach, a special bus that allows you to reach the heart of the glacier. Here  you can buy tickets online, saving yourself the queue at the Columbia Icefield Center.
Another option to visit the Athabasca Glacier is to travel the  Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail, which leads to the foot of the glacier.
Finally, if you are feeling adventurous, you can book a tour with the Athabasca Glacier Icewalks, which provides the necessary equipment for guided walks on the glacier.
The ticket for the Snocoach tour includes access to the  Glacier Skywalk, a glass-floor panoramic platform overlooking a 280 meters drop on the Sunwapta River.
The bridge can only be reached via a shuttle that departs from the Columbia Icefield Center.

Click Here  for our adventure on the Athabasca Glacier.

This was the last day of our itinerary on the Canadian Rockies.

From Jasper you can continue west towards Vancouver, and end your trip with three days in this beautiful city.

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