Exploring and photographing Banff and Jasper National Parks

Banff National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Just over an hour straight west of Calgary, Alberta, the park is simply stunning — and extremely popular with tourists from all over the world. If you want to capture amazing photos in these parks, bring a tripod, a wide-angle lens, patience for the always changing weather, and enjoy every bit of the adventure. And if time permits, get into the backcountry and away from the tourbus stops. You’re more likely to be trampled by gangs of unwieldy tourists than wildlife anyways, and you’ll have a better chance at unique compositions. Plus, solitude in nature does wonders for the soul.

When planning this trip, my friend and I tried very hard to work in a four-day backpacking trip from Sunshine Village in Banff to Mount Assiniboine in neighboring Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. That wasn’t in the cards this time however. Instead we focused more time on Yoho National Park, and spent the rest of our time exploring Banff and Jasper National Parks with day hikes and by car. Mount Assiniboine will happen another time.

After several wonderful days in Yoho National Park, we drove in east from British Columbia to Lake Louise township in Banff National Park. We secured a camp spot north of Lake Louise at Mosquito Creek Campground as clouds and mist began rolling in. Although it had no showers, Mosquito Creek is a nice campground in a perfect location away from the big crowds but near several trailheads and other sights on Icefields Parkway.

Mosquito Creek Campground – Banff National Park
from Icefields Parkway – Banff National Park

Late in the afternoon we stopped and hiked to the Peyto Lake lookout. Due to the minerals that feed in from the adjacent glacier, Peyto Lake has a vivid blue-green color that attracts a lot of people. Although I had to dodge a few selfie sticks, it was worth the stop. I wish there were hiking trails to get closer to this beautiful lake.

Peyto Lake – Banff National Park

After venturing further north on Icefields Parkway, we turned around and drove south and stopped at Bow Lake just before sunset. Rather than park at the lookout on the highway, we parked near the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and hiked down to the lake’s northerly edge. The clouds rolled in from the mountains and drifted by very quickly, providing vanishing moments of blue sky and ever-changing light. It was gorgeous. The featured image in the post was taken here with a 218 second exposure.

Bow Lake at sunset – Banff National Park

We woke at 5am the next day to a very cold drizzly morning and drove to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise for sunrise. Not only was I hoping to capture some beautiful morning light, but we were also avoiding the hordes of tourists that take over these lakes during the daytime. The light was less than remarkable at Moraine Lake, but it got better as we approached Lake Louise just as the sun was starting to hit the mountain peaks nearby. Although it is easily accessible with a huge resort hotel next to it, Lake Louise exudes a calm historic feeling. It was nice to experience it with only a few people around.

Moraine Lake at sunrise – Banff National Park
Lake Louise at sunrise – Banff National Park

Jasper National Park was calling us next. Between bouts of rain and huge fluffy white clouds with blue skies, we cruised north on one of the most beautiful drives in all of North America. Icefields Parkway has incredible scenery around every corner and it was sometimes hard to focus on the road while surrounded in all of that beauty. For a tourist town, Jasper is full of character and has a much more relaxed feel than Banff. We camped on the outskirts of town at Wapiti Campground which sits just above the creamy-white glacial waters of the rushing Athabasca River.

from one of the many pullover stops on Icefields Parkway – Banff National Park
Banff National Park
Mountain Goats – Banff National Park

We were hoping to reserve a canoe campsite on Maligne Lake when planning this trip, but unfortunately they were all taken even eight weeks in advance. We decided to drive to the lake anyhow to check it out. After a gorgeous stroll past the vanishing Medicine Lake in the late afternoon, we arrived with a young mule deer welcoming us.

Malign Lake Road – Jasper National Park
mule deer at Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park

Maligne Lake is stunning and felt very wild. Knowing that bears frequent the area, it was hard for me to relax 100% while hiking around and taking photos. I would still love to return to paddle and camp on this lake.

Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park
Maligne Lake – Jasper National Park long exposure

The next day was sunny and warm. We hiked eight miles on Tonquin Valley Trail from Cavell Lake passing the Astoria River. This part of the trail was fairly underwhelming and mostly in the shade of the towering pines above us, but there were openings at times to the nearby mountain peaks including Oldhorn Mountain. We saw a lot of bear scat on the trail, and there were warnings that bears had been aggressive here two months earlier. That meant I spent most of my time whistling and practicing my singing voice “do-da-do!”. If the weather forecast didn’t project steady rain for the next four days, we would’ve continued on to camp deeper into the backcountry for several days. It was a nice hike nonetheless.

Astoria River on Tonquin Valley Trail – Jasper National Park
Tonquin Valley Trail – Jasper National Park
Black-billed Magpie – Jasper National Park

Our Jasper fun ended the next day after we stopped at Bear’s Paw Bakery for locally roasted coffee and pastries, then headed back down Icefields Parks to Banff making several scenic detours along the way. From there we continued our adventures south to Waterton National Park on the Canadian / US border, then to Glacier National Park in Montana. With so much to explore and photograph, I can’t wait to return to Banff and Jasper National Parks.