Everyone's always talking about going to Banff, but they don't mean the town. The city of Banff, Canada, is great, but aside from one stunning garden, it's overly touristy and not actually where the sights are. When people talk about the beauty of Banff, they really mean Improvement District No. 9, or the hamlet of Lake Louise, which is inside Banff National Park.
Why is Lake Louise Village called Improvement District No. 9? I can't explain this naming situation, but Canada does seem to have a problem with it. I mean, what are these road names? In any case, my mom's reaction to finally making it to Banff proper: "I'm so glad we survived the Hunger Games." Haha!
One cool thing about crossing over from Yoho National Park to Banff is that the border is the Continental Divide. It acts as both the boundary between Yoho and Banff and the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta.
There are a few options for how to get to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and the easiest is to stay in the village, not in Banff. The shuttle from Banff to Moraine Lake is at least an hour's trek. It's much better to stay in Lake Louise Village for a couple of days and then go stay in Banff (or Canmore for a quieter scene) for a few days. These two stops will provide closer access to all the best parts of Banff National Park.
When you do make it to Lake Louise, there are a few different ways to enjoy the scenery: a peaceful walk along the beach (the Lake Louise Lakefront Trail), an expensive kayak rental on the water ($150/hr!), or a rigorous hike up to an absolutely stunning viewpoint. The hike up to the Fairview Lookout was less than a kilometer but very steep. It's 528 feet of elevation gain in 0.7 miles, making it challenging but doable for people of all ages and abilities. The view from the top makes it all worth it. You really can't beat this gorgeous blue-green glacier waters (I promise these pictures are totally unedited!), the mountains and evergreen trees, the lodge and the kayakers.
For an extra bit of excitement, I didn't want to go back the same way. In just under a mile, you can hike down a few switchbacks and then walk along the water. Because this trail was marked as unmaintained ("Hike at your own risk!"), it was pretty empty. We made a few trail friends who were glacier hunters and only saw four other hikers on this trail. It was a great option because the less maintained trail makes you feel closer to nature, and the walk along the water is absolutely picturesque. There is a more populated trail on the other side of the lake, and it was quite busy. This trail was a better way to have your own slice of paradise, a private beach on Lake Louise if you feel like taking a dip.
Lake Louise is surely one of the most beautiful parts of Banff National Park. It's also more accessible to get to than Moraine Lake, as it is closer to town and has ample public parking. That said, Moraine Lake is really special, and if you're able to reserve the park shuttle in time or pay for a seat on a tour bus, it is definitely worth the trip.