The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are popular summer tourist destinations and Banff National Park is the busiest of them all. It has striking natural beauty, easy access from the Trans Canada Highway and is just 90 minutes from an international airport. It’s no wonder it can receive up to four million visitors a year.
The summers are short in the mountains and many people want to visit during the brief 8 weeks of warmer July and August weather. This is when Banff and Jasper National Parks are full of recreational vehicles, tour buses and individual tourists from other parts of Canada, the United States and around the world.
One of the most visited places is Lake Louise in Banff National Park. On a nice summer day the front shoreline of the lake can look like the crowds of an amusement park. However, keep in mind this is just one spot in a massive park of 6,641 square kilometres (2,564 sq miles). There’s many other areas to explore.
Even though it can feel like tour buses and hordes of people have overtaken the parks there’s always ways to get away from the crowds. We’ve provided tips on how to seek some solitude.
Get Up Early And Take Advantage Of The Long Hours Of Daylight
Timing is everything in the summer, strategically plan your day to visit the most popular spots in the early morning or later in the evening. The hours near dawn and dusk also offer a better chance to spot wildlife, this is when they are most actively feeding.
Pulling yourself out of bed early is the best way to beat the crowds. The sun rises as early as 5:30am in the summer. It’s a time when you can enjoy some solitude and tranquility of the day while the majority of tourists are still sound asleep. Even the most popular places like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake will have only a handful of people around. Early morning is the best time to start driving the Icefields Parkway before the RV’s hit the road and the heavy traffic begins.
Take advantage of the long hours of daylight, it can be light until 10 pm. Many tourists and tour groups have had to move along to their next destination by dinner time. You can enjoy the last few hours of the day with far less people around.
Spend the busiest portion of the day at places off the beaten path or enjoy some time relaxing around your accommodation, using the pool if it has one or take a nap!
How To Beat the Crowds In The Most Popular Spots
Take note of what are some of the most popular summertime spots in the parks. As we’ve stated the best way to avoid the masses is to visit these areas and attractions as early as possible or late in the day.
- Lake Louise
- Lake Agnes Tea House Trail
- Moraine Lake
- Johnston Canyon
- The Banff Gondola
- The Jasper Tramway
- The Ice Explorer Adventure
- The Peyto Lake/Bow Summit Lookout
- Athabasca Falls
- Cavell Glacier Pond and Cavell Meadows Hike
More tips on how to get away from the crowds in busy areas:
- Find a trail – where there’s a mass of people gathered looking at a view it’s often as easy as finding a trail nearby and walking a bit further away
- Choose longer hiking trails – the majority of people don’t want to walk or hike for more than an hour or two at most, the longer trails will be the least traveled
- Look for an alternative photo spot – people get fixated on fighting for the same spot to take a photo, there’s always an alternative angle to shoot the same beautiful scenery
Lake Louise – rent a canoe to paddle on the lake, even though you might be one of a couple dozen canoes floating around you will have left hundreds of people behind on the shoreline and you’ll be able to explore areas of the lake they can’t get to. Continuing further down the lakeshore trail will also get you away from some of crowd, the further you go towards the back of the lake the less people there will be.
Moraine Lake – renting a canoe at Moraine Lake is also a way to get away from any crowds gathered at the front of the lake. Only a fraction of those people will walk along the shoreline trail and even less will continue along towards the far end of the lake.
Banff Avenue – in the summertime the amount of people in downtown Banff can become overwhelming, escape the crowds of Banff Avenue in the nearby Cascade Gardens. They are located behind the Banff Parks Administration building at the end of Banff Avenue across the bridge.
The Banff Gondola – this is one of the busiest attractions near the town of Banff. Once at the top of the gondola the boardwalks leading to the views and to historic weather station at Sanson Peak can be crawling with people. For a trail that tends to be a bit less crowded head south from the upper gondola terminal. A trail leads through a bit of forest to another vantage point that offers a spectacular view in a more peaceful setting.
The Jasper Tramway – at the top of the Jasper Tramway if you’re willing to do some hiking you can leave most of the crowds behind and get some incredible views by making your way to the top of Whistler’s Mountain.
Plan Your Visit To Avoid Holidays And The Busiest Summer Days
These holidays will be extra busy in the parks:
- July 1st Canada Day (even busier if it is on a Friday or Monday making it a long weekend)
- August Civic Holiday long Weekend (first Monday in August)
- September Labour Day long weekend (first Monday in September)
Try to visit the most popular attractions on weekdays and lesser visited ones on weekends. The majority of children in Canada don’t get out of school until the very end of June and return after the September holiday long weekend has passed. This means times just outside of that time frame can be slightly quieter as many families won’t be traveling. For more information see our post When Is The Best Time To Visit Banff National Park And The Rocky Mountains.
Plan Your Meals Outside Of The Peak Eating Times
- The most popular restaurants in Banff will be jam-packed at 6 and 7pm with the establishments on the main drag of Banff Avenue being the busiest. Try some of the ones on the side streets to see if they are any less crowded.
- Consider eating your evening meal earlier at 5pm or have a later lunch and your evening meal after the 7pm crowd is finishing up.
- Pick up something to make a meal at the grocery or grab quick take out food to enjoy outdoors. There’s many beautiful spots to enjoy like the picnic tables in the town’s central park near the Bow River.
Look For Accommodation On The Outskirts Or Outside Of The Towns
The properties in the towns, particularly in downtown Banff are right in the thick of the chaos. The hotels on the busy main strip of Banff Avenue are the ones to avoid if you want a quieter setting. Try some of the B&B’s on the backstreets of town or the resorts up on Tunnel Mountain for more of a wilderness setting. They are just a few minutes drive from downtown Banff. If you’re looking for something even more remote, there’s chalet or cabin style properties along the Bow Valley Parkway that runs between Banff and Lake Louise. In Jasper there’s accommodation options outside of the town area at Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake and along the north end of the Icefields Parkway.
Canmore can be a good alternative base instead of Banff and it’s only a 15 minute drive away. It’s less touristy than Banff and doesn’t get as crowded. There’s lots of accommodation options including condo vacation rentals that can be a nice alternative to hotels. The town also has a good selection of restaurants and pubs.
For camping the same principle applies, the camping sites closest to the towns will be the busiest and the first to fill up such as the ones on Tunnel Mountain close to the Banff townsite. Try the ones at Two Jack Lake or at Johnston Canyon. As an alternative to the Lake Louise campground try Waterfowl Lakes or Rampart Creek. There’s some options in nearby Kootenay National Park at Marble Canyon and McLeod Meadows. They are still close enough that they could be used as a base to explore areas of Banff National Park.
Consider Visiting In A Shoulder Or Off Season
If crowds, lines or waits of any sort are not your thing then consider a visit during a shoulder season. The parks are beautiful year round and depending on what your interests are you can have a very enjoyable trip outside of the summer months. September can remain somewhat busy but it’s not as bad as the crowds of July and August. An exception would be in the later part of September in the particular area of Moraine Lake. This is the time when the larch trees in the area are displaying their golden yellow colours.
Early to mid-October can still be a wonderful time to visit, or consider late June. There’s many other times of the year that can be a suitable option if you’re not expecting warm weather and doing the kinds of activities that are associated with it. See our post on Enjoying Lake Louise In The October Shoulder Season and the Pros And Cons Of Banff And Jasper National Parks In The Shoulder Season Of April and May.