Van Travel: How to do Banff in a Van

I challenge you to say the title of this post five times fast.

Shane and I recently spent 10 days on the road in Vanna White, making our way up to Banff, Alberta to enjoy the beautiful nature of the area and take some mountain bike trails. Banff is touted as one of the region’s best places to explore on two 27.5” wheels. Combine this with our years-long obsession with the beauty of the lakes and ranges in Banff, and you have yourself two very excited travelers bailing their van camper up to the border on a Friday evening after work with the promise of adventure on the horizon.

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I’ll say this outright: we didn’t do everything we wanted to in Banff, and given 10 days, you wouldn’t be able to either. So put this location on your Bucket List twice and soak in the experiences you have, because you won’t want to rush your time there. Here are the highlights of our first brush with Banff and pro tips on staying in the area:

camping
Because Banff is located inside a National Forest, no dispersed camping is allowed. Thus, if you are going to stay in Banff, a little planning ahead is recommended. Make campsite reservations so that you aren’t having to look around upon arrival—a lot of places fill up fast, especially on the weekends, and the majority of spots are first-come, first-served. Banff has an in-town campsite, Tunnel Mountain, that is still in the woods but close to downtown; 20 minutes down the road, there are also others that are a little more off-the-grid such as Two Jack. Despite not planning ahead and playing the campsite shuffle once or twice during our stay, we loved our camping experiences there.

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mountain biking
There are endless amounts of biking to do in the Banff area! We took some local trails such as the Tunnel Mountain systems, near our campground, in addition to others on the south side such as HooDoos Trail, Sundance, and Spray River. Most anywhere you go you will find mountain bike access with well-marked names and difficulty level. The two pieces of advice I would offer with mountain biking in Banff is to a) visit the Visitor’s Center in town for a map of the trail systems, as they’re super detailed and helpful; and b) bring a bear bell with you on the trails so that you are less likely to sneak up on any big (or small) critters.

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Lake Louise
Lake Louise is a beautiful body of glacier water to the east of Banff. Some folks go there for the canoe rides, others for the hiking trails. Some go just for the Instagram pictures. I spent an afternoon there listening—first, to my audiobook on the side of the public dock, and then to a complete stranger-turned-friend over the course of the late afternoon. I recommend going to Lake Louise and checking out the beautiful scenery it has to offer, but it’s less of a lake for swimming, so make sure you’re ready to go for canoeing, hiking, or capturing beautiful photos and you won’t be sorry!

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Johnson Canyon
We took a little walk through Johnson Canyon while in Alberta. The area itself is a free, maintained trail that guides explorers through the canyon and over waterfalls. Like the rest of the region, the color of the water is completely unreal in its saturated teal tones. Combine this with beautifully carved rocks, tumbling water, and woodland creatures, and it’s a really stunning place to experience the magic of Banff. If you really find yourself enamored with this area, you can stay at campgrounds near the canyon as well.

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As I mentioned before, there were so many things we wanted to do in Banff but didn’t have time for during our first trip, so if you are planning a trip to the area and would like any pointers please feel free to get in touch using the ‘contact’ section of our website and I would love to chat!

4 thoughts on “Van Travel: How to do Banff in a Van

  1. Oh… you brought back memories. I visited the Calgary Stampede a decade or two ago, and fell in love with Banff when we took a jaunt out of the city for a couple days! The scenery was breathtaking! (I got accosted by a moose-ette who was convinced that I had brought her some snacks!)
    I have wanted to go back ever since… thank you for the beautiful photographs and the renewed vow to return to Banff!

    Like

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