Lake Minnewanka Scenic Loop
The Lake Minnewanka drive is a 24 km scenic loop that can be easily accessed from the town of Banff. From Banff Avenue head towards Highway #1 and cross under it, on the other side it becomes Lake Minnewanka Drive. To take in the scenery at a leisurely pace allow an hour to do the drive, longer if you want to make any stops.
This route offers an excellent opportunity to see wildlife, particularly in the spring. Look for bighorn sheep next to the road and up on the cliff sides on the section from Two Jack Lake to Lake Minnewanka. You may also see elk, mule deer, white tail deer, fox, wolves, coyotes and a bear if you’re really lucky.
Columbia ground squirrels are some of the smaller creatures that can be seen in the grassy areas along the roadside. As with most wildlife viewing, your best chances to see animals are in the early morning and in the evening.
There are several areas along the Minnewanka Loop where you can stop for a short walk, take a hike, have a picnic or photograph the picturesque lakes. The first attraction along the route is the Cascade Ponds. If you keep right and head counter-clockwise around the loop the other stops will be in the order of Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Upper Bankhead and lastly Lower Bankhead.
Cascade Ponds – a great spot to stop for a picnic or go for a casual stroll.
At Upper Bankhead there’s a 4.2 km loop that goes past the remains of old coal mine shafts and the Holy Trinity church and at Lower Bankhead a 1.1km trail goes through the remains of an old mining town the operated until 1922.
Lake Minnewanka – a beautiful lake back dropped by mountains, it’s the largest lake in Banff National Park. There’s picnic tables and a cooking shelter. Take a walk along the shore line or book a Lake Minnewanka boat tour that goes out to Devil’s gap. There’s a small cafe that operates in the summer months.
Lake Minnewanka Loop Seasonal Closure
From mid-November to mid-April the western portion of the Lake Minnewanka Loop drive is closed. The area is an important wildlife corridor and the closure helps with conservation. Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka can still be accessed by turning right after the Cascade Ponds. Once you reach Lake Minnewanka you’ll have to go back the same way.
Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A)
The Bow Valley Parkway is a 51 km alternate route between Banff and Lake Louise. It’s a narrow two lane road with a much slower speed limit of 60km/hr. It’s not fenced like the Trans Canada Highway that runs through Banff, so there are chances to see wildlife right along the roadside. Keep an eye out for deer, elk, wolves, coyotes and grizzly bear. Early morning and just before dusk offer the best chances to see wildlife.
The Bow Valley Parkway branches off of the Trans Canada Hwy 5.5 km’s west of Banff. The other end of the parkway can also be accessed from an exit off the Trans Canada Highway near the village of Lake Louise.
Along the route there are several viewpoints and interpretative displays. Accommodations along the route include three lodges and a campground. Allow up to an hour to drive the parkway from end to end, longer if you want to make any stops along the way.
Castle Mountain Inernment Camp – during World War I there was an internment camp in this area that held immigrant prisoners from the Ukraine, Austria, Hungary and Germany. A monument stands to remember those who suffered here.
Morant’s Curve – closer to the Lake Louise end of the Bow Valley Parkway is a famous spot along the Canadian Pacific Railway. The images taken by photographer Nicholas Morant in the mid-20th century as promotional material for the CP railways became iconic images recognized around the world.
Between March 1 and June 25th there is a mandatory travel restriction from the southern end of the parkway to the the Johnston Canyon campground. To help with wildlife conservation there is no travel permitted by vehicle, bicycle or foot between 8pm and 8am. Johnston Canyon and the rest of the parkway can be accessed through the intersection of Highway 93 and the Trans Canada Highway. You can find more information here: Bow Valley Parkway Mandatory Seasonal Travel Restriction.
The Trans Canada Highway Between Banff and Lake Louise
It’s not often a highway is recommend as a scenic route, but when it runs through a national park it’s bound to pass through some spectacular scenery. Along the highway there are views of Mount Rundle and the Vermillion Lakes, the Bow River, Castle Mountain and Mount Temple.
If you’re traveling back and forth between Banff and Lake Louise take the Bow Valley Parkway in one direction and the Trans Canada Hwy in the other.
Vermillion Lakes Road
The Vermillion Lakes road runs for 4.3 km’s along a set of shallow lakes that provide a wetland for birds and various wildlife. The area offers a spectacular view of Mount Rundle. This is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset photography. The flat road also makes it a great place to take a casual stroll or bike ride.
The Vermillion Lakes road is located 5 minutes west of the Banff town site starting just before the exit to the Trans Canada Highway.
Tunnel Mountain Drive
A 9km scenic route right in the town of Banff. It starts where at the intersection of Banff Avenue and Buffalo Street. Buffalo Street turns into Tunnel Mountain Drive where shortly after on the right hand side a view opens up that overlooks the Bow River and gives the iconic postcard image of the Banff Springs Hotel from the spot known as Surprise Corner.
Continue on until it Tunnel Mountain Drive meets up with Tunnel Mountain Road and turn right. Along this portion of the drive you’ll see views of Mount Rundle and the Bow Valley. The road continues on until you meet back up with Banff Avenue.
This road offers a free alternative to the Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola. It’s a winding 6.4 km drive that has a viewpoint that overlooks the town of Banff.
Bow Falls/Golf Course Drive
This drive is approximately 11km’s. Turning right from Rundle Avenue heads to where the Bow Falls meet the Spray River. The Golf Course continues on from there. It goes past the Banff Springs golf course looping around the far end of it and then returning back to where you started. The area is frequented by elk. From November 1st to May 1st there’s still access to the Bow Falls, but the Golf Course Drive is closed to vehicles to allow the animals to be undisturbed in this important wildlife corridor.
The Icefields Parkway (93N)
The attractions of the Icefields Parkway have made this rated as one of the top scenic drives in the world. There’s many places to stop for a picnic, take a stroll along a turquoise coloured lake, hike or see a waterfall. Or just sit back and enjoy towering mountains and glaciers right from your windshield Also see our Tips for Driving The Icefields Parkway.
See our post for more detailed information on drives and specific places for wildlife viewing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.