The Canadian Rockies are a photographers dream. Can you believe that Canada wasn’t even on my bucket list? That was until about a year ago when I really got into photography and started to notice that every Instagram post and Pinterest pin were pointing me in one direction and that was to book a trip to visit the amazing Canadian Rockies. I did what every camera loving, travel obsessed human would do and jumped straight on sky scanner and booked a ticket to the northern hemisphere. I choose to visit Canada in May. May sits right in the shoulder season so perfect for avoiding the tourist crowds and a time to get some spring hiking in. I booked a flight to LA with Air New Zealand and then hitched a ride to Calgary with Canada Air. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by warm temps and summer vibes after departing a chilly Queenstown. Not long after landing I met up with my travel buddy Lisa who had flown from Sydney. The great thing about the whole Instagram world is that there is someone who is always willing to get out and share cool adventures with, turns out we both had a lust for mountain photography and finding some cool places for outdoor photography.
Banff was our first destination. We hopped on the airport bus, paid our $63 and watched the mountains roll by. We hired a car from Avis, choosing the economy option of a ford focus we were happy with our choice of vehicle, after all it was just a means of riding around for the next few weeks on our own little Canadian Rockies photography tour that was until we got upgraded… to mustang convertible! URM hello, ultimate girls road trip! I had the absolute time of my life on this canadian rockies trip. Partly due to the epic scenery, hiking canadian rockies (24 kms in total!) delicious healthy food and some great likeminded company. If you are serious about your photography, love 5am sunrise starts & 10pm sunsets & some of the best mountain ranges in the world? Then grab your adventure buddy and head straight to visit the canadian rockies. You can thank me later!
I have also done the hard work for you and created an epic two-week canadian rockies trip plan. The following is the route we took from Banff to Jasper and back again. Hiring a car is without doubt the best option for transport, as you may want to visit some banff photography spots twice. You will also have complete flexibility to change your itinerary giving you the freedom to roam the ice fields parkway without having to worry about others or transport timetables. We started in Banff, visited lake Louise twice and spent several days exploring Jasper on our trip… I’m going to take you on my very own Canadian rocky mountain photography tour to get those wander-lusting feet itching and make you fall in love with this incredible country as much as I did.
We started in Banff and oh my I fell in love as soon as my feet graced the sidewalk. It had such a homely feeling and very much reminded me of my slice of paradise I’d just left behind in New Zealand. The town is picture perfect, full to the brim of trendy eateries, bars, shops and you are never far away from a maple leaf covered souvenir. Fur trees line the hills and mountains close in around you. 27 degrees greeted us in late May and so did the people making the most of the glorious sunshine. There’s such a cool buzz to Banff, I can only imagine what it is like in the middles of winter with all the snowboarders and skiers enjoying the famous Canada POW!
We stayed at The Banff Inn and were impressed with the light and specious room. We had one room with two queens beds topped off with a self-serve continental breakfast every morning; this came in at $203.
I think it’s always important to find good places to eat when you are away so here are a few of the places we ate while exploring.
Nourish Bistro –Perfect for all you veggies out there. The vegetarian nachos are literally to die for, they even had sliced strawberries in it and enough guacamole to last me the whole trip.
Chaya- A small Japanese café, nothing fancy about the establishment but the meals are cheap and the portions are generous. The Chicken curry is by far the best dish on the menu.
Eddies Burger bar –Here you find your new favourite hangout for some seriously good burgers and great Canadian hosting. It was here I had my first Poutine fix – A hearty dish consisting of French fries, cheese curds & brown gravy. It was the perfect comfort food to refuel from a day out in the hills.
Now for the juicy good stuff, a list of all the Banff photography locations we visited. You don’t even have to go far to get some great Banff canada photos, there are plenty of spots around the town however if you really want to tick off some epic Banff national park photography, I suggest you pop these locations down on your list.
Hands down the best time to visit this lake would be at Sunset. I love love loved this spot. There was an abundance of foreground elements for me to play with in the form of rocks, jetties & grass surrounded by epic mountain vistas. On the morning we were there the sky did all kinds of beautiful things complementing Mt Rundle with the stillest reflections and fine-looking rainbows.
Two Jack Lake
I again would suggest putting this lake on your list for Sunset. We visited here twice, once mid afternoon and retuning for sunset. The lack of foreground elements can be quiet challenging. There was a campground across the lake, which looked a great place to stay and soak up all the goodness. The lake also comes with resident geese… be careful not to get close to their signets like I did, I may or may not have screamed like a little girl.
Not far from Two Jack’s is Morant’s. You can visit this place at anytime. The Morant’s curve as the name goes is a beautiful spot that the railway passes through. This spot is very popular for promotional material for Banff national park. If you have the patience wait for a train to pass.
Cranmore – Day trip from Banff
Cranmore is around a 30 min drive from Banff and is where you will find the Ha Ling Peak hike. The majority of the 54.km hike leads you through switchbacks up the mountain and through the pine trees. The last section consists of loose rocks and scree. When you reach the summit you will be greeted with sweeping 360 views of Cranmore and the surrounding countryside. I was delighted to share my nut snacks with the local squirrels and nearly ended up taking one home as he snuck into my camera bag. I would give this hike a difficultly level of 6. Lisa says 7.5.
The Three Sisters
Get up and out of bed early to capture this spectacle. Set up a tripod near the river and wait for the first rays of the day to greet you. Hang around during that mid morning glow and get some dreamy portraits.
We were then en route to Lake Louise for the next three nights of our trip. I didn’t really know what to expect after leaving Banff. You really feel immersed in the mountains and nature when you spend time here. The township is a lot smaller than Banff and is most defiantly not the highlight of the area. The two main attractions in Lake Louise are in fact the lakes. They don’t prepare you for what you see online. It is so dramatically beautiful perfect for outdoor photography. We stayed in this are twice. Once on our way up the icefields parkway and again on our way back. I recommend spending some time here. There is so much to do and see and you will definitely want some quality time with the stars of Banff national park, Lake Louise & Lake Moraine.
We Stayed at Lake Louise Inn that has its own restaurant and bar area that stays open till around 11pm. There is also a gym & pool if you have any down time. The only negative was the size of the rooms. Just a little small when you have two suitcases and a load of camera gear with you.
We ate at these spots during our stay
Timberwolf Pizza & pasta café – I’m not really one to eat in the hotel I stay in but the lack of eateries in the area made this a convenient option. They made pretty mean gluten free chicken pizza and strawberry salad.
Trailhead café – These guys knew be by name come to the end of our stay. The breakfast burrito wrap filled with scrambled eggs, bacon & falafel was a welcomed treat after those early morning starts.
Here is where we visited during our stay to get those epic photographs you see on all the ‘come to Canada’ sites’ For some of the best photos of the Rockies here in Canada listen up and write these ones down.
I would suggest making this place a priority for one sunset & one sunrise. This is the most iconic lake in all of Canada and will have graced your Instagram feed a multitude of times no doubt. The bronze binoculars that hug the shore are famous in their own right and maybe feature in more photographs as a prop than get used for their intended purpose. I came here three times. Once for Sunset, the ice was still covering the lake that made for some great foreground components. We had so much fun adding a human element into our photographs and playing around in the snow. The second time was midday – big mistake, as we drove around and around the carpark for an hour looking for a park and once we arrived the lake was swarming with tourists. The third and sadly final time was at sunrise. There was hardly anyone else around. There was a beautiful pink glow going on and the reflections made the third visit worth it. Did I forget to mention that the following week the ice had completely melted! We got to witness the best of both seasons in one trip!
I was literally gobsmacked the moment my eyes laid eyes on this place. The only way I can describe is it heaven on earth and that still doesn’t do the beauty justice. All the places we visited in the Rockies this was the one that captured my heart the most. I spent several wonderful hours here. Our first night in the area we hit the sunset at Lake Louise and the drove over to Lake Moraine for some astro. We were so lucky to see this lake at all as the road is closed all winter due to snow and early spring can be pretty unpredictable. The road luckily opened the week before we arrived allowing us to come back at different times during our stay to marvel in the beauty. The last sunset I shot here we explored to the left hand corner around some logs that had been cut up before making a beeline for the brightly coloured canoes at the lakes edge.
There’s really not a bad time to visit this lake so if you can fit in a sunrise, sunset and some astro then I would say you are totally winning.
This was another one of the cool places to photograph. The cute little lake was perfect for our sunset shoot and regrettably we didn’t stick around for the sunrise but I think it would be equally as beautiful. It was so peaceful & quiet and best of all it was human free! I found some nice logs to use as leading lines and had some fun with the insane mountain reflections in the water.
If you are up for a hike then strap on your boots and hike to Agnes teahouse. It is one of the most famous trails in the Rockies and offers stunning views from every angle. I didn’t even take a photo to show you so you will have to add this to your Rockies bucket list. The track was super busy with tourists but when we tasted the hot chai and bliss balls we knew why. If you hit it up early the mirror lake near the top will make for a great photo. This was a nice little two-hour hike and we both agreed on a 5.5 difficulty rating.
This 6km trail starts at the Moraine lake car park and is only accessible in warmer temps. It turned out to be my favourite hike of the trip and not a particularly easy one. The snow hadn’t melted in some parts so we were hauling our bodies through waist deep snow in some parts. Nonetheless it was a flat track and after about an hour and a half’s worth of effort we were rewarded with the most gorgeous view. Wild pines, a river and the stillest reflections on the lake that then nicely highlighted Mt Babel behind. I felt like I had just walked into a scene from the movie wild.
The Icefield’s Parkway
This place is like no other. If you are driving from Jasper to Lake Louise make sure you allocate at least a day to make the most of this stunning stretch of road. The Icefield’s Parkway is dotted with over 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls and emerald lakes nestled beneath sweeping pine and larch forests. The abundance of wildlife here will sure keep you on your toes and you will find yourself watching for any rustle in the bushes. I highly suggest you take your time. Stop at all the lookout points and do the short little hikes to grab those photos that will make your friends and family green with envy. Here are some of the best places we stopped, trust me there was more but you just have to go and experience it for yourself.
There isn’t a bad time to visit this very photogenic lake. We visited twice and were met with very different conditions. The first time the sky was blue the lake was its usual gorgeous turquoise colour and the second time we were greeted with the ultimate moody grams image. I think I preferred the grey skies; it made the whole place a lot more dramatic. It’s just a short half an hour hike from the car park. In late May / Early June the path was still covered in snow so pack your hiking boots.
Just a few short minutes off the parkway in Sunwapta falls. Be prepared for lots of people and a short slippery slide down to the best views of the spectacular horseshoe shaped falls. One of my best tips for here would be to bring an ND Filter or polarizer down with you as the lighting conditions are pretty hard to shoot in. I unfortunately didn’t have these accessories so left without a shot I was happy with.
One of the most popular hikes along the highway is right here. It is a flat, easy walk through the pine forest hugging the side of the canyon. If you look close you can see a small trail that will take you to the Johnstone canyon cave, such an incredible spot.
Bridal Veil falls
I think during the winter you could drive straight past this spot. There is a small stop off and pretty impressive. You can see the falls from the roadside and the sheer size of them makes the pit stop worth it.
We stayed in Jasper for a total of five nights. It’s a super small town, which makes it really easy for getting around. Jasper is less touristy than Banff and seemed to be full of local folk. The low key and laid-back atmosphere made it a perfect bolthole for us allowing us to explore Jasper National Park.
We stayed at the very comfortable Mount Robson Inn. The rooms are large and threw s two outdoor hot tubs… Just adding to our ultimate girls trip! The buffet breakfast was welcoming in the mornings; bagels and boiled eggs became my staple.
Where did we eat?
Downstream –A really cool eatery and bar, the locals seem to love it! When we arrived on the Friday everyone was hanging out playing pool and a hen party was gearing up for a night on the town. The menu was very exciting and left me so spoilt for choice. I opted for the Salmon and ended up finishing Lisa’s sweet potato fries – were on holiday after all!
Jasper Brewing company –Here you sit on bar stools up to tall tables and take your pick form the huge beef selection on their menu. Another local’s hangout that arrive early to secure seats to watch the ice hockey. Such a great vibe here and some great conversations with the local guys.
Scoops & Loops –30 flavours of ice cream! I repeat 30 flavours of ice cream. Even in the colder months one cant deny a massive scoop of Green Tea flavoured goodness. Make sure you check this place out if you have a sweet tooth!
Now back to the good stuff. We had such a great time exploring around Jasper, I will take you with me so you can revel in the beauty.
I would head down here for sunset like we did. It was my favourite out of all the Jasper Lakes. Pine trees line the sides and the jetties were fun to play around on. We didn’t see many others and thankfully there are no bears here. I even managed to talk Lisa into getting into her swimsuit!
You can visit here at anytime and best of all its only 20 minutes from downtown. Here you can perfect that leg shot, you know where you can hang your feet & legs over the side of cliffs and snap away ‘Legselfies’ if you may. Be careful exploring!
A quick ten-minute drive from the centre and you will reach Pyramid Lake. Being so close makes it very convenient for sunrise. There are plenty of rocks to play with in the foreground and just a short drive around the corner you will find on of those iconic wooden walkways. This place is typical Canada and a great photo location.
Spirit Island and Lake Maligne
The most Iconic spot in Jasper National park has to be here. The boats don’t run in time with perfect sunset / sunrise times however anytime you visit will be magical. Our visit to Spirit Island very nearly didn’t happen. It was 27 degrees the day before; I even managed to get sunburnt. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we woke up; it was snowing and turning the whole place into a magical winter wonderland. The one hour drive was made a lot easier while Mother Nature did her thing, it was such a beautiful moment and one I wont be forgetting in a hurry. When we arrived the boats had be cancelled. To avoid disappointment setting in we decided to stick around the area and take photos for the next two hours. We spent so much time exploring and having the best time in this winter wonderland, not letting our spirits get down, ha-ha get it! And to our surprise, our dedication to photography and good moods rewarded us with an afternoon trip on the boats as they were back in action. It was definitely worth the wait.
Now I have taken you on a trip through my entire favourite & best spots in Banff & Jasper national park its only fair to share some tips to make your trip smooth sailing. Plus sometimes you just need some good advice from someone who has been there and done that!
Camera gear is expensive here. The small towns are very similar to my hometown in Queenstown where the price of electrical goods is ramped up especially for tourists. I checked out two camera shops in Calgary and the prices weren’t any different to what you find online so stock up on spare batteries and SD cards before you leave.
I never thought I would be writing Bear tips on one of my blogs but Canada is home to a fair few of them so its worth being prepared. I bought Bear spray from a skate shop in Banff. It cost me $50 and I had to fill out a safety check. We were advised by locals to play loud music on our phones when walking through the wooded areas that served us well as we never had a run in with them. We did however see them out of our car window that was pretty special.
I was very pleasantly surprised by all the healthy food available throughout the Rockies. It was so different to what I had experience in the USA which was a welcoming surprise. The supermarkets carry a lot of healthy snacks, perfect for stuffing in your hike pack. I also got addicted to Kombucha, my new favourite drink that I am determined to make upon my return. Gluten free, healthy crackers and corn chips were perfect on the go snacks. Cranmore had the cheapest grocery selection and the first town you pass through so stock up there on cheap avocados and in season berries.
Check in times
Most Hotels had a later than usual check in time. If we arrived early after our sunrise shoots we would take short nap in the car to catch up on the Z’s. Expect 3-4pm check-in times. We found that we got into a little routine of napping as son as we checked in ready for a sunset mission around 6pm.
Whatever you do make sure your footwear is waterproof. I shopped for some waterproof hiking boots in Calgary and I am so glad I did. The footwear in Canada is generally a lot cheaper than New Zealand. Boy did they come in handy. Despite the fact some days hit some summer high temps of 27 degrees there was still lingering snow on some trails and around the lakes, I am happy my feet stayed nice and toasty and I didn’t have to puddle hop my way around the parks.
You are in the Rockies so don’t be expecting your budget stays. Accommodation does range however so you can grab a deal but be aware this is where you will spend your money. We did try one night at the Samesum hostel but the loud backpacker scene wasn’t a great fit for us. We decided to leave the backpackers behind and splurge a little on places we knew all our gear and belongings would be safe. The great thing about travelling in a pair is that you can split the room costs. The only cheap way to see this slice of heaven is to camp… just layer up!
You will need to purchase a park pass if you are spending time in Banff national park and travelling on the scenic parkways, this includes the icefields parkway and Bow Valley Parkway. The discovery park pass is the way to go and you can purchase it here.
Luckily for me the pass was free as Canada was celebrating their 150th anniversary!
As you can probably gauge from this whole trip I LOVED IT! I made a lifelong friend that helped me make lifelong memories. Some of the places I saw and the experiences I had will stay with me forever and I am so happy I packed my bag & booked those flights. I hope this little slice of information has helped or inspired you to get out and experience the Canadian Rockies… Oh and if you need a personal Canadian rockies photography tour guide I will gladly come along!
Enjoy, get out there and most importantly make some amazing memories of your time in Canada!