My best friend from Toronto came to town last weekend and we headed straight to the mountains to spend a couple of nights in Banff. We had a lovely fall weekend with great weather. Banff is an easy day trip from Calgary and no matter how often I go it is still one of my favourite trips to do in Canada. It is a quintessential mountain town with amazing views from any part of the town and easy access to the Banff National Park, ski hills, hiking trails and Lake Louise.
Our first day was spent wandering the main street, having lunch at the Elk & Oarsman (great pub in Banff) and then we shopped. If you are in the market for ski equipment, hiking gear or just a warm winter jacket, Banff is a great place to find it. There are at least 10 shops with specialty outdoor equipment or clothing. Many of the other shops are other kinds of specialty shops, including the Christmas store, jewelry shops and the delicious candy, chocolate and fudge stores. The Roots store in Banff has many items unique to the Banff location, I always find better stuff here than in other Roots stores. It is also a great store for gifts or souvenirs, lots of nice Banff logoed items that are good quality.
There is so much to do in Banff. The hot springs are amazing, even though they are more like a pool now than the original Cave and Basin springs. I prefer them in the cold weather, it is great to sit outside in the hot water in a bathing suit with the snow falling. Right beside the hot springs is the Sulphur Mountain gondola which takes people up to the summit. There is a restaurant and walkway at the top. The views from up there are amazing! It is a great place to spend some time wandering the walkway and then ending with a drink in the restaurant where there is a gorgeous view over the mountain range. The cost of the gondola is $35.95 per person and it is about an 8 minute trip each way up and down the mountain.
The Banff Springs hotel is worth a visit. It looks like a castle and is one of the Canadian Pacific hotels built along the railway. The original section of the hotel was started in 1887 and finished in 1888. If you can afford it, the hotel is a great place to stay and includes access to their own hot pools. If not, it is still worth a visit, the back patio has a beautiful view over the mountains and Bow River which can also be enjoyed from the Rundle Lounge inside the hotel where you can have a drink, dinner or high tea. The other restaurants in the hotel are also very good, especially for a nice dinner out.
Behind the Banff Springs is Bow Falls, stunning any time of year but particularly impressive in the spring as the water is high and rages over the falls. It is a popular spot for wedding photos and can be taken over by tour groups at times. It is a great stop for photos of the falls and the river with the mountains on either side.
In the winter there is of course skiing, both downhill at Norquay, Sunshine or Lake Louise, and cross country. There is also snow-shoeing around Banff and area, Lake Louise has a nice trail for both snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing. Another fun winter activity is dog-sledding, the dogs are amazing and really could anything be more of a stereotype of Canada?
On this trip we ended up on a tour of Banff and Lake Louise (we were supposed to go horseback riding but the hotel unfortunately put us on a bus tour of Banff instead, which we didn’t find out until we were on the tour! It was a bit of a shock.). I have never done a tour of the area before, since I live so close and go there regularly I never saw the need. The tour ended up being great, our guide was fantastic and I did see one place I had never been before, the hoodoos in Banff National park which are just above the Bow River.
We stopped at the main sights in Banff (the Banff Springs, Bow Falls, lookout over the Bow River and the hoodoos) and then drove to Lake Louise. It is definitely worth the trip. No matter the time of year it is beautiful. During the winter the lake freezes and in January there is an ice carving festival. There is always a carving of a castle on the lake and you can walk through it or skate through the castle or around the lake. In the summer the water is a gorgeous turquoise colour which is caused by the sediment from the rocks being suspended in the water and the reflection from the sun thereby creating the unique colour. As the sun was about to go behind the mountains the colour was not as visible on all parts of the lake.
The tour then took the Bow Valley Parkway back to Banff. It is a beautiful drive and provides a great view of Castle Mountain. It is a wildlife corridor and therefore a good place to try and spot animals. Unfortunately we didn’t see any there this time but we did see mule deer in Banff.
View over the mountains from the rest stop near Banff on the TransCanada Highway (Highway #1).
Aside from the beautiful scenery, tourist attractions and shopping, Banff is also great for food. One of my favourites is the Grizzly House, it is a unique experience, they serve fondue with either oil fondue or hot rocks with garlic butter for the meat/seafood portions, and a really yummy cheese fondue. You can finish with a chocolate toblerone fondue with fruit and cookies. So good! For the meat fondues, they have standards like chicken and steak, or wild game such as elk, caribou and venison, or more exotic meats like snake and ostrich. It also used to be a swingers club and there are still phones on each table that actually work, you can call any other table in the restaurant, there is even a phone in the bathroom. Other good places to eat are Saltlik, the Maple Leaf Grill, the restaurants at the Banff Springs or Rimrock, plus some really good pubs like Elk & Oarsman, Bear Street Tavern and Rose & Crown.
Alberta has many other sights to see as well but any trip to Alberta, particularly Southern Alberta, would not be complete without a trip to the Rockies and Banff.