Banff National Park is absolutely worth seeing in Canada’s west. It is considered one of the most beautiful national parks worldwide. But as described in my post “Banff National Park: Things to do“, the main attractions can be very crowded, due to its famousness. Since we had experienced untouched nature and absolute loneliness before in South America and also in North America, I was a little disappointed at first that I had to share the beautiful landscape with thousands of other tourists.
Then we got into conversation with a local from Banff and she told us that they would never go to these main attractions anymore. So she recommended us another tour, away from the crowds, which I would like to share with you in this post.
The pure driving time is about three and a half hours from Banff. We had spent the morning at Lake Minnewanka and therefore started this tour in the early afternoon. The timing was perfect, because the few tourists who drive this route do it rather in the morning. So we were completely alone most of the time.
First you have to drive to Canmore, a small town which offers few small shops, restaurants and hotels. We didn’t stop here so I can’t tell you more about it. We just drove through the town up to the Grassi Lakes.
The small, emerald-colored Grassi Lakes are a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers. From the parking lot you can do the Upper Grassi Lakes Trail Loop, which is a 4.3 kilometer long circular trail. It leads along the lake, through a beautiful forest. It can be crowded here, so not much of a difference to the other main attractions.
Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail
Behind the Grassi Lakes the 742, which is also called Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail, leads you into the untouched and much quieter nature. As the road is no longer paved from here, fewer tourists will drive it. Also the buses skip this part of the National Park, which is just wonderful!
By the way, we were here in late May and the road was easy to drive, even unpaved. Just take your time and drive slowly. You should do so anyway because of the animals you might see along the road.
Spray Lakes Reservoir
A really great stopover is the long and narrow Spray Lakes Reservoir, at 1,720 meters altitude. It supplies the drinking water for the town of Canmore and offers one of the most spectacular views along the road. At the end of May the lake was still relatively empty, partly frozen and the grass was rather brown than green, which looked really great. We stopped here for a while and enjoyed the beautiful view.
Lower Kananaskis Lake
Then we continued on the 742, stopping quite often because the landscape was just great and I wanted to capture everything on camera. On the road we only saw 3 other cars, so it was really idyllic and the way you imagine Canada.
Just before the Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail meets up with Highway 40, you’ll come to the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. These two lakes are the centre of boating and fishing in the area. The view is very nice and worth a stop to explore the area.
The 40 leads you in a northerly direction onto the 1, which leads you back to Banff.