Banff and Glacier National Parks: The Itinerary
I have posts on the website with some of the great hikes we went on while visiting Banff and Glacier National Parks but I wanted to share our itinerary as well as some wisdom I learned from our trip.
Overall toddler ranking: 9/10. This was an amazing trip for an 18-month old! She was at a great age to be carried in a hiking pack and loved playing with the pebbles that surround all of the lakes. Because of our decision to fly in and out of Missoula some days had way too much driving for her and I would be aware of that if you plan to fly out of there as well. However, the car rental prices were about half of what we were looking at in Calgary (and yes we converted to USD!).
- Day 1: Travel
- Days 2-5: Banff
- Days 5-10: Glacier
- Days 11 & 12: Travel days
Day 1: Fly into Missoula, Montana and drive 4 1/2 hours to Fernie, Canada where we will stay for the night to be closer to picking up my in-laws in Calgary the next day. Pit stop at the National Bison Range because we are so excited to be in Montana and are ready to start exploring!
Day 2: The drive from Fernie to Calgary is short and reminds us of the Irish countryside. It is really beautiful! Dim sum in Calgary (check out the China town scene there it is excellent!) before picking the in-laws up at the airport. We then drive the hour and a half to Banff and arrive in the early afternoon.
Day 3: Johnston Canyon hike to ease us into our outdoors vacation.
Day 4: Plain of Six Glaciers hike because the weather for the rest of the trip looks a bit tenuous.
Day 5: We start the morning off we brunch at the Banff Springs hotel. We get a late start but still decide to drive up the Icefields Parkway to see Peyto Lake and Bow Lake. That after we take the Banff Gondola up to the observation deck.
Day 6: Drive from Banff to our Airbnb on the east side of Glacier National Park. We stayed in the St. Mary’s area and it was approximately a four hour drive. There is a very scenic route from Banff to Glacier right along the mountains but we ended up on the wrong road.
Day 7: Grinnell Glacier hike for us and Grinnell Lake hike for my in-laws.
Day 8: Exhausted after yesterday’s hike! We take it relatively easy and just venture up to Hidden Lake in the afternoon.
Day 9: We hike part of the Highline trail but it honestly wasn’t doing it for us after the beauty of Grinnell Glacier. We only go a short ways before turning back and visiting some of the waterfalls. My in-laws do one of the tours on the Going to the Sun road.
Day 10: Boating at Two Medicine.
Day 11: Up and on the road to Missoula. We stop in Whitefish for lunch and rambling around. The town of Whitefish is adorable and idyllic! Excellent pit stop.
Day 12: Fly home!
- We had to be up and out of the house by 6am in order to make our flight out of Charlotte. The 4 1/2 hour drive to Fernie is infinitely longer than Google estimated because the roads are windy and frequently 2 lane only making it impossible to pass slower cars. EVERYONE is miserable. We arrive in Missoula at 2pm but don’t make it to Fernie until 9pm. The baby never slept. My husband managed to blow through the border checkpoint. Overall everyone is a hot mess and miserable. I would strongly recommend you not relive my mistake.
- Glacier National Park is POPULAR! We had a lot more difficulty finding parking here than in Banff National Park. Overall the trails also felt a bit more crowded. In hindsight I would have added an extra day in Banff as we enjoyed the trails there a bit more.
- Because Glacier is so popular we stayed on the east side which in comparison to the west side of the park is practically a ghost town. There aren’t as many hotels but you are in a prime location for heading to Two Medicine or the Many Glacier area. If you chose to stay on the east side of Glacier be aware there are slightly limited amenities in terms of grocery stores. We visited the little market in St. Mary’s and the larger grocery in Browning. In general we were pretty OK with living off of bananas and peanut butter sandwiches and going out for dinner.
- Book early! Hotels in both locations book up very quickly. We opted for a hotel in Banff and an Airbnb in Glacier. For us the amenities of a house are beyond worth it. I have also found when traveling with family it is frequently times much cheaper than renting two hotel rooms.
- Plain of Six Glaciers offers phenomenal views of Lake Louise. I am not usually one for a big fancy hotel but there is something really spectacular about going to the other end of Lake Louise and looking back over at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It also offers other fun activities like canoeing and sitting in lounge chairs and sipping wine for those less inclined to physical activity.
- Our visit to the Banff Springs hotel. Again, I am not overly into fancy hotels and I did not think the brunch here was worth the cost. However, our toddler loved the croquet set out on the terrace and the views were gorgeous. I immediately left everyone to their overpriced food and played outside.
- Grinnell Glacier hike. I was extremely nervous about this hike given it’s rating as strenuous on most hiking website. I had no business on a strenuous hike. However, I survived and am so proud of myself for having done so. Certainly I was the slowest in our group and towards the end when the cutbacks get really intense I just about gave up. But getting so close to a glacier is worth it and the views of Grinnell Lake from up above are stunning. We also really loved that the hike up was guided. I’m not sure I retained what I learned but for people doing less huffing and puffing you would probably get a ton out of it!
Have questions about Banff or Glacier? Email me at: email@example.com and I would be happy to talk trip planning with you! I spend a lot of time researching our vacations and would love to share the advice!