Highway to Heaven
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  Posted March 14th, 2014 by Zdenko  in Edmonton, Travel | No comments yet.

Travel Alberta

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Driving the Car from Calgary to Banff.
The drive from Calgary to Banff is just a feast for the eyes. There is nothing quite like watching the Rocky Mountains unfold in front of you as the light fades. I believe it is something everyone should witness at least once in their life.

Road-to-BanffRoad to Banff – Facing the mountains

The scenery as you approach the mountains is very beautiful, and it would be a shame to miss it. The road that links Calgary and Banff is the TransCanada Highway (Hwy #1). The portion of this road that passes through Calgary is known as 16th Avenue North. The drive from Calgary to Banff will take about an hour and forty minutes and the trip covers 130 kilometers.

CarTravelBanffMapMap of Highway 1 from Calgary to Banff

The drive to Banff, particularly on a sunny day, is spectacular… real heaven! The landscape changes to prairie as you leave the Badlands, but the tiny points in the distance soon become the Rockies as you backtrack through Calgary and head west to Banff. I took a few shots through the windshield but spend most of the drive ooohhing and aaaahhing as I rounded each bend and drove deeper into the mountains. There are very few roads and highways to choose from and there are many free maps available that show the routes. Even if you plan to drive all the way to Vancouver, through the Rockies, you are very unlikely to lose your way.

Highway 1 in the RockiesHighway to heaven – going through the Rockies

Relax and enjoy the view! You’ll get your first glimpse of the spectacular Rocky Mountains across the horizon as you leave Calgary behind. During the less then 2-hour door-to-door drive to Banff, the mountains inch closer and closer, as the vast Prairies give rise to the Foothills. Then, we tuck into the mountains themselves, following the gorgeous Bow River right into Banff. 

Kananaskis Country
On your way to Banff, nestled at the foot of majestic Rocky Mountains is spectacular Kananaskis Country. Kananaskis Village is an easy 85-km or one-hour drive west along Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) and south on Highway 40.

Snow daySnow in the Kananaskis Country

Kananaskis Country is situated in the West and Southwest of Calgary bordering the towns of Banff National Park and Canmore. It is easily accessible via three highways which run through and into the area, namely: Highway 40 (a 41 mile or 66 kilometer segment of Kananaskis Trail or the Bighorn Highway); Highway 66 (a 17 mile or 28 kilometer starting near Elbow Falls Trail or Bragg Creek; and Highway 68 (26 mile or 42 kilometer gravel highway which originates from Highway 1 or Trans-Canada Highway or Sibbald Creek Trail).

Kananaskis is comprised of wild land provincial parks, an ecological reserve and provincial recreation areas. Visitors Centers situated in the area offer current information about special events, trails and activities. Once you get to Kananaskis, prepare to be awe-inspired with all the beauty the area has to offer.

The RockiesThe Rockies

Before you get into the Banff National Park you’ll pass through the small town of Canmore. This town of 12,000+ has a variety of tourist accommodations options. In the past, it served as overflow accommodation for Banff, but has now emerged as a destination an its own. It is located 5 minutes east of the Banff National Park boundary (Banff park gates) and 15 minutes from the Banff townsite, is situated in the “Front Ranges” of the Canadian Rockies, and is flanked by mountains. By the standards of the Banff area, Canmore’s accommodation tends to be a little more reasonably priced. 

This morning's sunrise over Banff National ParkView of Banff town from Sulphur Mountain

Welcome to Banff
Banff’s in the heart of Banff National Park and snugly embraced by Alberta Rocky Mountains. It’s a little town that boasts a big, worldwide reputation. Its charming streets are fun year round!

Not counting tourists, Banff townsite’s population is about 8,700. It is situated in a particularly scenic spot, ringed by mountains. It has lots of hotels and shops, a few museums, and over 200 restaurants! Because it’s inside a national park, the federal government restricts the growth of the town and who is allowed to live in it.

Banff_river3View of the Bow River in Banff

There is an annual influx of millions of visitors to this famous mountain resort town. You can experience world-class shopping, dining and accommodations. At first sight it’s apparent why the world is in love with Banff. View the Cascade Mountains or listen to the flowing waters of the Bow River, this lovely town is blessed with a spectacular natural setting, including parks, woods and trails.

Winter turns the area into a snow sport enthusiast’s dream; attract a global deluge of skiers and snowboarders, while cross-country skiers, snowshoers and ice climbers explore numerous local trails. Banff is an ideal base for hiking and wildlife viewing excursions into surrounding park areas. Especially during the summer.

Banff is also a popular weekend retreat throughout the year with excellent restaurants, day spas and shopping. Don’t forget… it’s mandatory to purchase a Banff National Park Pass.

Banff26Tourists at the ‘Surprise Corner’ bellow the Bow River falls

When you’re in Banff
Banff is only slightly less spectacular when there is a thick cloud cover and intermittent rain. But on a sunny day, you’ll enjoy the full beauty of this place. Take the scenic Tunnel Mountain Drive, where you’ll see the town of Banff and often you will find wildlife such as deer, elk, and bear. Consider that wildlife is most active at dusk, and driving into Banff National Park as darkness approaches requires extra caution.

Banff21Tourist bus in town of Banff

Banff32In front of The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

The first stop for us was Sulphur Mountain, and a gondola ride to the top courtesy of Brewster Tours. The Banff Gondola offers an easy, year round way for visitors to see breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, the Bow Valley and the town of Banff. The views are completely different, but equally spectacular in both the summer and winter seasons. At the top is a one kilometer boardwalk and 360 degree observation deck. Keep your eye out for squirrels or marmots while walking around the board walks. You might even see Big Horn Mountain Sheep…

sulphurmountainThese gondolas will take you to the top of Sulphur Mountain

When you return down to the valley enjoy the peaceful beauty of Bow Falls. Make sure you have enough time to lunch and explore downtown Banff. For an extra special experience, enjoy the Lake Minnewanka which is just a short drive from the center of town.

Local Driving Distances from the Town of Banff

Banff – Columbia Icefields 190km
Banff – Calgary 130km
Banff – Field (Yoho National Park) 85km
Banff – Lake Louise 58km
Banff – Radium Hot Springs (Kootenay National Park) 132km 

banff-gondola-9View of Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel and Bow River from gondola

As you see everything is very close when you Travel by Car to Banff!!! Keep it a stress free Canadian Holiday…

All in all, this was a wonderful drive.

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