Moraine Lake parking can fill up before 7 a.m., and traffic bottlenecks, shuttle lines, and people aren’t fun in the summer. Spend 2022 at lesser-known, less-crowded spots 6 meters away from Banff. Western Canada’s beauty is so stunning that it irritates the rest of the world.
The provincial and national parks below are in British Columbia or Alberta, in the Canadian Mountains. Each is just a fraction of Banff’s visitors, let alone Yellowstone or Yosemite. Even if you can’t get here soon, dream big.
Waterton Lakes National Park, Western Canada
Waterton Lakes, the Canadian twin of Glacier National Park, attracts 2.5 million fewer tourists. The beauty won’t change the flag.
Waterton Lakes is about water and mountains, as its name suggests. Take a boat tour of Waterton Lake, drive down Akamina Parkway to Lake Cameron, and then hike 12 miles up Carthew-Alderson Trail past four lakes. The 8.7-mile Red Rock Parkway is another picturesque route worth your time; take it gently and watch for bears, deer, and sheep.
Revelstoke. Cedars Boardwalk. Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway. Woodsy. This park’s fairy-tale names are fitting: You’ll walk among giants, climb a mountain, and jade-green paddle rivers. Happiness is guaranteed.
Mount Revelstoke can be reached by climbing, bicycling, or driving; after sunset, the night sky is dazzling. Monashee Viewpoint on the parkway offers extensive views of British Columbia en route to the summit.
Going east from Revelstoke on Highway 1 takes you to Glacier and Yoho National Parks. Unbelievable 2.5-hour drive.
Yoho National Park, Western Canada
Yoho, 45 minutes from Banff, receives 80% fewer visitors than its neighbor. You can’t tell which is which by comparing their photographs: lakes, summits, northern lights, waterfalls, structures.
Lake O’Hara is a must-see, but you must reserve the shuttle in advance (or hike 8 miles). Emerald Lake and the 1,250-foot Takakkaw Falls are also there. It’s a drive-up.
Consider trekking the 10-mile Twin Falls trail, the 3-mile Emerald Lake loop, or the 12-mile Iceline Trail. In the park, you’ll hike along the Burgess Shale, noted for its Cambrian Explosion fossils. Watch out.
Emerald Lake Lodge deserves recognition. With 85 rooms, you’ll likely run into other guests, but its lakeside position and boardwalk make it impossible to resist.
Kootenay, 30 minutes from Banff, has everything of Banff’s glacier peaks and blue lake at a fraction of the crowds.
If you’re traveling from Banff, head to the Vermilion Pass Area to visit Stanley Glacier or Marble Gorge. From the south, visit Olive Lake or Radium Hot Springs. Sinclair Gorge and Highway 93 along the Kootenay River are also photogenic.
Park Wells Gray
Wells Gray’s waterfall and volcanic terrain are in the Canadian Rockies but six hours from Banff. The south side’s 21-mile “Corridor” leads to trails, camping, and millions of acres.
The double-tall Niagara Helmcken Falls, Lake Murtle, and Pyramid Mountain give stunning vistas of the province.
Mount Assiniboine is south of Banff. Mount Assiniboine is nicknamed the “Rockies Matterhorn.” If it had roads, it wouldn’t have had Banff’s clientele.
You’ll hike, take a helicopter, or combine the two to get in, and you’ll stay the night. Several 20-mile hikes are available. You’ll camp, stay in hostel-style huts, or relax at the Assiniboine Lodge. You’ll spend the day searching for stunning lakes without crowds.
Park Mount Robson, Western Canada
12,972-foot Mount Robson is the tallest in the Canadian Rockies. The Berg Lake Trail is a famous Canadian hike that gains 2,600 feet over 14 miles.
If you’re not a backpacker, hike to Lake Kinney, see Rearguard Falls, and paddle Lake Moose.
Pacific Rim NPR
Pacific Rim surpassed 1 million visitors last year, making it a popular Canadian park. It’s southwest of Vancouver Island, famed for its storms and rainforest. Millions of people will no longer sail to the Broken Group Islands or hike the West Coast Trail.
Jasper is the largest Canadian Rockies national park. With 2.4 million visitors in 2019, despite its views, we can’t call it crowd-free near Banff.
Given its size, you should be able to find a quiet place. Backpackers and campers can avoid the crowds; those who appreciate Italian espresso might check out Canada’s only glacier-view lodge, Glacier View Lodge, and their private morning excursions of the Columbia Icefield Skywalk.
Park Joffre Lakes
Lower, Middle and Upper Joffre Lakes give this park its name however, “park” is a misnomer. It’s a park, yet it’s a hiking trail. The park is five minutes south of Lower Joffre Lake, and after 2.5 hours, you’ll reach Upper Joffre Lake, where you can camp or picnic.