The Scenic Drive You Can't Miss in Banff National Park

Banff National Park Winter Travel Guide
Bow Lake Banff National Park

I think my little sister and I agree that Icefields Parkway had some of the best views of the whole trip to Banff National Park. After a morning at Lake Louise (see here), we began driving the icy roads up to Bow Lake.

I’ll never forget ice skating on the massive and frozen lake, named for the set of mountain peaks shaped like a bow. When my sister stepped out onto the ice first, I was equally panicked for her safety and excited to join her. We joked that the one of us not on ice should always have the car keys just in case.

Once I braved the ice I set about finding my balance and twirling away. I have always loved dancing, but especially ballet. To this day I still think about going back to take classes, and maybe that’s what I’ll treat myself to for my birthday this year.

I have to mention that I have no way of knowing when and how reliably this lake freezes, so I can’t guarantee that it is safe. Please, take caution and follow safety postings whenever you travel. Don’t do unsafe things for the gram, okay? Anyway, we actually didn’t stay long at Bow Lake.

Next, we ventured a few miles up the road to the beautiful, cerulean blue Peyto Lake. We hiked up to Bow Summit, an overlook with incredible views of the surrounding snowy mountain peaks and this lake which actually appears to be shaped like a wolf. Peyto Lake was my little sister’s favorite stop of the whole trip.

This was our busiest day because we spent the morning at Lake Louise and needed to see all of our Icefields Parkway sights before the Santa Parade back in downtown Banff that night. I may have mentioned before that my sister seriously loves Christmas and was elated to hear that we would be in town for the annual parade.

To be honest, it was just as cheesy and wonderful as a Hallmark Christmas movie with all of that small town, winter magic. After the parade, we ate at the coziest pub in Banff called the Rose and Crown, which gave me all of the Pride and Prejudice feels. We capped off the night back at our hotel The Rimrock Resort drinking hot toddy’s by the fire and listening to the wonderful piano player. Feel free to check it all out in my Instagram stories. I could not be more in the mood for the holidays after this magical trip!

Okay, here are all of the practical things you should know about visiting Bow Lake and Peyto Lake:

Jump To: Getting There | Driving | When To Go | What To Wear | Park Pass | Where to Stay

Outfit Details: Calvin Klein Light Blue Coat (also here in red), Aritizia Leather Leggings, Old Navy Scarf, Target Winter Sequin Headband, Target Leather Gloves, Under Armour Cold Gear Top, Under Armour Cold Gear Leggings, Thermal Tights, Columbia Wool Socks, Sperry Ducks Boots (also here in pink!)

Banff National Park Winter Travel Guide
Winter Style
Things to do in Canada in the winter
Things to do in Canada in the winter
Things to do in Banff National Park
Icefields Parkway Photography Guide
Banff National Park Photography Guide
What to pack for Canada in winter
Banff National Park Winter Travel Guide
Banff National Park Itinerary
Peyto Lake Banff National Park
Cold weather style
Scenic Drive in Banff National Park
light blue coat, leather leggings, and mirrored sunglasses
Winter scenes in Banff National Park
Banff Travel Guide
Things to do in Banff
Frozen Lake in Canada
Banff National Park Winter Travel Guide

Getting There

  • Bow Lake and Peyto Lake are less than 30 miles up the Icefields Parkway, which is about a thirty minute drive from Lake Louise or over an hour from Banff. Jasper National Park extends north of Banff via Icefields Parkway starting at the Columbia Icefields which is typically closed in winter. This highway is easy to get to and has stunning views that will have you pulling over to take photos constantly.

    This region is much colder and more remote, meaning the highways do not receive as much maintenance. The roads may be icy and if weather conditions change suddenly, you could either be stranded for a time or prevented from accessing the highway/park due to road closures.

    Be prepared with extra food, water, and warm layers. A light source is helpful as well, but keep in mind batteries have really low performance life in cold temperatures even when switched off. See more precautionary guidelines or driving here.

Driving

  • I cannot emphasize enough how much safer I felt in an SUV with snow tires. As I’ve said in my last post (here), snow tires (with the snowflake symbol on them) are required by law in winter, and are totally worth the cost. Don’t let someone convince you to just get M+S tires. Seat warmers are essential as well. See official driving recommendations here.

When To Go

  • Personally I wish we had started our drive in the morning when the lighting is better. I’ve seen gorgeous photos of sunrise at Bow Lake. It was completely beautiful in the afternoon when we were there, just a bit shadowed by the mountain by that time. You may actually get luckier with weather in the afternoons, since most of the snowfall and clouds that we saw came when the sun was low in the sky. 

What To Wear

  • Canada is so cold. For some reason we were fine at Emerald Lake, but Lake Louise and Peyto Lake were some of the coldest places I have ever been. I’m not sure if snow got in my boot or if it was sweat but somehow my sock got wet and I swear I had early stages of hypothermia in my right toes. It hurt so bad as we were driving away from Peyto Lake that I actually had to pull over to thaw out and change socks and shoes. Make sure to keep your socks dry. Other than my hypothermia event at Peyto Lake, I was completely comfortable in my outfits. The only other thing I would recommend, which I totally forgot, is hand and feet warmers. Each day, I wore the following:

  • Thermal tights

  • Cold gear leggings

  • Pants

  • 2 Cold Gear tops

  • 1 thick sweater

  • Patagonia Nano puff layer

  • Wool or puffer coat

  • Scarf,

  • Warm hat or headband,

  • Fingerless warm gloves for taking photos

  • Mittens to wear over the fingerless gloves for when I wasn’t taking pictures,

  • 2 pairs of wool socks

  • Waterproof/Winter hiking boots.

  • Leather driving gloves

Park Pass

  • You can use the same park pass for Banff and Jasper. You can purchase the park pass at the park entrance booth, at the information centers, or online with a potential discount if you have time for it to be mailed to you. We purchased two individual two-day passes which we were able to stretch between Friday and Sunday.

Where to Stay

  • We stayed at Lake Louise which put us around 30-40 minutes from Emerald Lake and Peyto Lake, making it the perfect jumping off point. If you’re interested in seeing Jasper National Park as well, I recommend that you stay an extra night in Jasper here or here.

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