Dog Friendly Things to Do in Banff National Park
There are so many dog friendly activities in Banff National Park – In September, we visited what has got to be one of the most beautiful places in North America. We made our way up North to Alberta, Canada to visit Banff National Park. Even in person, the turquoise lakes seem unreal, and the surrounding mountains of the Canadian Rockies are breathtaking. Compared to the National Parks in the United States, Banff was entirely dog friendly. Calvin was allowed on all trails, campgrounds, and most hotels. Additionally we loved that most lakes had access to both easy and more intense hikes.
But First…Why is the water in Banff SO blue?
Banff is so breathtaking that most people think that these shots were taken in front of a green screen with Calvin dropped in. Truth is, Banff is even more beautiful in person.
Banff National Park is known for its unbelievable blue/turquoise colored water. The color most closely resembles the Glacier Freeze Gatorade flavor. Based on the surroundings, time of year and time of day, the lakes take on a different shade of blue. So why does the water look so blue? During winter, rock flour/silt is created when glaciers grind against the underlying rock. Come spring, the glaciers melt and bring the silt into the lakes. When sunlight meets the silt, the lake appears to reflect a blue color. The lake’s color can change by the hour as the sun moves across the sky.
How to bring your dog into Canada
It is relatively easy to travel to Canada with your dog. From the United States it is super easy to bring your pet through the border. You have two options for crossing the Canadian border with a dog: either drive across the border or fly. If you are driving across the border, you must carry a valid rabies certificate. For flying, the dog goes through the formal custom process so it is important to look up all relevant rules to make sure you have proper documentation. We had to submit a lot of information regarding Calvin’s vaccines, health information, and additional doctor’s notes. Customs also asked for proof that he had been trained (we showed his CGC paperwork). We would not recommend flying to an international destination unless your dog is objectively very well trained – the rules are stricter and customs does not fool around. For people traveling with Service Dogs there is less documentation required but it is important to note that the ADA is technically only covered in the United States so the Border Officers are allowed to ask additional questions and are not as familiar with US laws (although American based Airlines traveling to Canada do recognize ADA laws). As always, make sure that you check all airline rules when traveling to international destinations because they can get confusing.
When to visit Banff with your dog
We’ve heard that it is best to visit Banff in every season to get the full scope of its beauty. While we were there, we got a glimpse of fall and winter. September is generally considered a good time to visit because many of the crowds are gone and the weather is still good. Additionally, the lakes haven’t frozen over for the winter yet. We ended up in a full blizzard so we weren’t able to do most of the hikes we initially planned – the locals assured us that this type of weather is not typical for September. In the spring time, the lakes are especially blue as the glaciers melt. Don’t expect to hike if you visit in the winter, the lakes freeze over and the snow is deep.
It’s best to research seasonal pet restrictions when you plan to visit Banff. Many trails are in “core” grizzly bear areas and therefore have additional hiking rules and do not allow pets during cub rearing season.
Dog & pet friendly places to stay in Banff National Park
If you are into camping, the Lake Louise campground is the cheapest place to stay given its proximity to Lake Louise (about 1 mile away). The campground is surrounded by bear fences so you do not have to worry about unwanted furry friends. Additionally, the campground is lined with a flowing river which makes a great swimming hole for pups. Be WARNED…the cold can start in September and we got stuck camping in freezing rain and snow. We made it 1 night before we had to look for lodging in the town of Banff. During the summer months, camping is definitely the most affordable (and pleasant) option if you want to be close to the lakes. Book about 4-6 months in advance.
There are only a few hotels in close proximity to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and they come with a hefty price tag. Your options are slim since the one of the only pet friendly hotels is the Fairmont Hotel. This hotel overlooks the lake for a whopping $800 per night. The other hotel near the lake is not pet friendly. For affordable pet friendly hotels you will have to look into the town of Banff which is about 40 minutes away – after freezing in a tent for a night, we stayed in the town of Banff for the remainder of our trip. There were so many pet friendly options to choose from and the town is great to explore in the evenings. We booked last minute so we stayed at the Red Carpet Inn (no frills) and the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort (full kitchen, fireplace, cozy living room). Luckily, it isn’t too difficult to find pet friendly hotels in the area. Many hotels in Banff allow dogs.
How much does it cost to get into Banff National Park?
Banff National Park has a per car entrance fee. When you enter Banff, you will have to pay a per vehicle fee of C$19.60 per day.
Get to the Banff lakes early
This pointer gets its own section because it was our biggest takeaway from the trip and something we were prepared for. The parking lots at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are small and fill up quickly. Shuttle buses are available but we have heard horror stories from friends who waited hours in the summer time. In peak tourist season, expect the parking lots to be full by sunrise (6/7am). During our stay (September) we visited Louise and Moraine on different days so we could be there in the early morning (7am) before the crowds arrived – by 9am the lots were full. We also had no trouble parking at Louise in the afternoon (after 4pm) when crowds had left. Parking lots at the remaining lakes were busy but we managed to find a spot. We presume that parking is an issue at all the lakes during the summer.
Don’t sweat the photos
At first we were disappointed that the weather did not prove to give us the best visibility for photos. Many of the lakes we visited were total white outs or too foggy to make out any mountains. The weather in Banff is very unpredictable so don’t let “failed” photos impact your admiration of the beauty. I’ve included the lakes that were on our bucket list. We didn’t get to see all of them but be sure to try to check em out if you are visiting for a few days.
Do you need Bear Spray in Banff?
For peace of mind, we recommend picking up some bear spray especially if you are visiting during cub rearing season. Bears generally do not want any trouble but Grizzlies are generally considered more aggressive and will certainly charge when threatened. Be sure to keep your dogs on leash in bear territory for safety. There are many dog friendly trails throughout Banff – you are going to be hiking through Banff with your dog bear spray could come in handy. See this great article from Orvis about what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking with your dog.
Map of Places to Visit in Banff
The Lakes in Banff, Jasper, and Yoho National Parks
Visiting Banff means hopping from lake to lake. All of the lakes have both easy and hard trails. The harder trails are steeper inclines that lead to a birds eye view of the lake. These are less crowded.
Pet Friendly Lake Louise
Lake Louise is dog friendly! Lake Louise is probably the most famous destination in Banff National Park. It is known for its picture perfect blue water and mountain reflections. We visited Lake Louise multiple times during our stay since we fell in love with the Deli inside the Fairmont Hotel. The Fairmont overlooks the lake and is definitely worth a visit – check out the 24hr deli on the first floor for some great snacks.
There are quite a few trails that leave from Lake Louise. We were snowed in but would have loved to make the hike Lake Agnes Teahouse (closes at 5pm). This is a half day hike (1.5-2 hours each way). Once at Lake Agnes, you can walk about 500m to the lookout at the back of the lake. There are additional hikes including the Little Beehive (1km), Big Beehive (1.6km) or the High Line Trail (5km) that goes to an additional tea house.
Pet Friendly Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake is another one of the most famous lakes in Banff – rivaled only by Lake Louise. There are a few ways to enjoy Moraine Lake without breaking sweat (arduous hikes are available for those who want them). The best way to enjoy the lakeshore is to take the 1.5km out and back Moraine Lakeshore trail. This trail has no elevation but has lots of great lookout points along the way.
For an elevated view of the lake, there is .3km trail that starts right at the parking lot and leads to the Moraine Lake Viewpoint. From there, you’ll get one of the most famous views of Banff.
Dogs welcome at Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake is about a 20 minute drive from Lake Louise and is technically in what is known as Yoho National Park. Like other lakes in the area, a lot of tour buses come through but you’ll find that they do not venture to the lakeshore trail. To best enjoy the lake in peace and quiet, you’ll want to walk around the lake’s perimeter. There is a 5.2km mostly paved trail with minimal elevation. We got caught in a downpour but still had a fabulous time.
Bringing your dog to Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka is close to the town of Banff so be sure to check it out after you visit the town center. If you want more, the Lake Minnewanka trail follows the lakeshore but has multiple restrictions that must be followed due to the high concentration of momma bear activity in the area. If you are planning to hike, be advised that dogs are not permitted past the Stewart Canyon bridge and you MUST travel in groups of at least 4. See additional seasonal restrictions here.
Dog shaped Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is famously known for looking like a dog. Unfortunately we were unable to see it as we went by during a snowstorm. There is a 2.6km trail to the lake lookout point which is quite easy when it’s not icy.
Swimming in Bow Lake
Bow Lake was one of our unexpected finds that we came across while looking for a restroom. We are so glad we got to stop by – Calvin was able to swim in the water and the lake was looking amazing from the Bow Glacier runoff. If you have time, you can take the ~5km Bow Glacier Falls Trail for some extra views.
Visiting the Town of Banff with your Dog
En route to the lakes, be sure to stop in the town of Banff! Banff is located about 45 minutes from Lake Louise. It is also where you will find the most reasonably priced pet friendly accommodations. The Main Street, Banff Avenue is where you will find lots of cute boutiques. Most non-food establishments are pet friendly. The town gets very crowded so we found that the best time to stroll around was the early morning.
Renting Canoes in Banff
Banff is very dog friendly, including the canoe rentals on the lakes. The Lake Louise & Moraine canoes start at about $100-$115 per hour…Eek! The Emerald Lake canoes are cheaper to rent, at around $70 per hour. If you have your own canoe, you are allowed to self launch it on the lakes but there is no public boat launch. We did not take a canoe out onto the lakes but it is surely a unique experience.
Pet Friendly Jasper & Yoho: Other Pet Friendly Sights to See in the Banff area….
Johnston Canyon – Lower Falls, Upper Falls, Ink Pots
Other Lakes to check out: Vermilion Lakes, Hector Lake, Cascade Ponds, Johnson Lake, Two Jack Lake, Grassi Lakes, Lake Agnes, Twin Lakes
Have a great time,
Your Pal Cal