Denver to Banff: Travel guide for Moraine Lake, Lake Louise in Alberta

Alberta’s alpine lakes are superior. It’s controversial, I know, but Colorado can’t be the best at everything. And it’s good to get out of the state sometimes, even if you’re staying within the Rocky Mountains.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen and admired many of Colorado’s lakes, but may I propose Banff National Park in Canada for your next alpine lake adventure?

The trek to the northern section of the Rockies is just a two-hour flight from Denver to Calgary International Airport, followed by a 90-minute drive into the park.

From the first sign, you’ll be blown away by the views. The mountains have rock faces at a scale you just don’t see in Colorado. And every lake is a different hue of vibrant blue or green.

Plus, who doesn’t love a hike-in-only teahouse? The area has a few of these historic cafes, which were the inspiration for this trip. There is truly nothing like drinking a piping cup of peach apricot white tea on a drizzly August day overlooking Lake Agnes. Add that to your bucket list!

I spent a week exploring with my friend in Banff and Lake Louise and we only saw a portion of this beautiful park. But I’ll share my highlights with you so you can plan to experience the wonder of the Canadian Rockies yourself.

(All prices are listed in USD.)


Passport: Duh.

Parks day passes:

  • Free for people under 17
  • Adults $7.75 (age 18 to 64)
  • Seniors $6.65 (age 65 and up)
  • Family/Group $15.50 (up to seven people arriving together in a single vehicle at a National Park or National Historic site)

Book in advance: We booked our August campsite reservation back in March when they opened up — it was a frenzied experience that avid Colorado campers will know all too well.

Getting around: I’d suggest renting a car for pure convenience. Although the buses are highly encouraged by the Parks Canada staff, they are not the most reliable and don’t drop off near most of the trailheads. If you do plan to use the bus, download the Token Transit app before your visit to make buying passes easier.

Calgary to Banff: I’d highly recommend the bus service Brewster Express if you’re looking for an easy way to get from Calgary International Airport into the park or vice versa. They are efficient and operate by reservation only. My round trip from Calgary to Banff, then Lake Louise to Calgary, cost around $200.

How to pack for an international camping trip

I flew with two packs, one 65L with all my “big” gear (tent, sleeping gear, hammock) and the second, a 40L pack that had my day-one essentials in it that would work as my carry-on and day pack.

What to know about flying with gear:

— Fuel canisters and bear spray aren’t allowed in planes so you have to purchase those after you land. We paid it forward on our way out of the park by passing leftovers over to other campers.

— Hiking poles must go into your checked bag as do any utility knives, according to TSA.

— My JetBoil stove went in my checked bag on the way there and came back in my carry-on; both were TSA-acceptable.


Lake Louise Campground

This is a beautiful and well-maintained campground with drinking water, food storage, bathrooms and showers (with hot water, even). The tent camping area is protected by an electric fence to keep bears and other animals away. The firewood is free. The only downside is that despite the name, there is no lake access to Lake Louise from the campsite.

Two Jack Main Campground

This is a huge campsite right outside the town of Banff. It has its own Roam bus stop and is just a short walk from Two Jack Lake. There are no showers but there is drinking water, flushing toilets, sinks for dishwashing, bear boxes and free firewood.

If you’re leaving the campsite by bus, it’s free to use Roam Transit but you’ll have to pay on your way back.

  • An old mining building seen on the C-Level Cirque trail on Aug. 5, 2023. (Tynin Fries, The Denver Post)

  • A view of Lake Minnewanka on Aug. 5, 2023, from the C-Level Cirque trail. (Tynin Fries, The Denver Post)


C-Level Cirque

  • 5.8-mile out-and-back trail
  • 2,490 feet of elevation gain

Get ready for an incline! This one is steep but the views are worth it. You’ll hike a part of Banff’s history when passing by old mining shafts along Cascade Mountain. Tip: When you come across the first mining building ruins, take the smaller trail offshoot behind the building for a view back toward Lake Minnewanka.

Plain of Six Glaciers — Big Beehive — Lake Agnes Tea House

  • 11.3-mile loop
  • 3,336 feet of elevation gain

If you only do one long hike, do this one. You seriously cannot beat it. You’ll see three alpine lakes (Lake Louise, Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes), visit two historic, hike-in-only teahouses, and hike to the glacier that feeds Lake Louise. You’ll do a steep incline with switchbacks to start, and spot a waterfall before stopping at the Lake Agnes Tea House for a pick-me-up. Continue around Lake Agnes, where you’ll summit the Big Beehive, and then turn back around to hike downhill in the forest, where you’ll follow a river toward the glacier and second teahouse. Then, it’s downhill until you wind up on the backside of Lake Louise to finish off the loop. There are many ways to make this trail shorter but I’d highly recommend the full loop as well as stopping at the teahouses for a steaming cup of tea, a sandwich or a bowl of soup.

Sulphur Mountain Trail

  • 6.7-mile out-and-back trail
  • 2,490 feet of elevation gain

You could take the eight-minute gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain or you could spend two glorious hours sweating your way up the switchback climb. Either way, the top will service gorgeous views, as do many of the lookouts along the trail. Got tired on the climb? You can take the gondola back down or test your knees’ endurance on the descent. The best part? The trailhead is also the parking lot for the Banff Upper Hot Springs (see below).

Other things to do

Sunrise bus ride to Moraine Lake

This is a must-do activity. Roll out of your sleeping bag at the crack of dawn to catch the 4 a.m. bus from Lake Louise Village up to Moraine Lake. Cars are no longer allowed up to the lake due to popularity so you have to book a shuttle anyway; might as well make it for sunrise! You’ll hike up to the rockpile in the dark and the sun will rise behind you and illuminate the lake and its vibrant aqua water. If you have clear skies, you’ll be able to see the nine peaks that surround the lake, too.

Pro tip: Bring along your camp stove (shoutout to JetBoil) so you can make coffee while you wait in the cold.


Via ferrata at Mount Norquay

If you want a break from the hiking, try tackling a via ferrata. It is a protected climbing route where you’re using steel cables, rungs and ladders to climb. No climbing skills are required and this activity is available to people over 12. The views are incredible. If you’re not already a climber, this may be your chance to hang off a rocky cliff without risking a fall. The views were spectacular and the guides are awesome.

$135-$275 depending on the route,

Banff Upper Hot Springs

A first-come, first-serve mineral hot spring that looks out over Banff. The single pool is hot and is a great option for muscle recovery if you have been hiking a lot like we were.

$12.17 for adults, $10.50 for kids and seniors,

Banff Ave Brewing Co.

There are some things that just taste better after a long day on the trail. A giant bowl of french fries and a White Wit (5% ABV) from this local brewery really hit the spot for us.

110 Banff Ave., 2nd Floor Clock Tower Village Mall,

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