Discovering Banff
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  Posted February 20th, 2015 by Zdenko  in Edmonton, Travel | No comments yet.

Travel Alberta

By: Zdenko Kahlina

The Town of Banff, can be a destination in itself.
My wife and I went to Banff last spring just to spend one weekend away from the big city. I wanted to share our experience and our likes and dislikes (not many!) from our trip. Here goes…

Banff15Banff Avenue during winter time in Banff

Banff is located in Banff National Park, a World Heritage Site. This lovely picturesque metropolis is surrounded on all sides by the Canadian Rockies. You can see Mt.Norquay, Cascade Mountain and Tunnel Mountain to name a few. You could spend some good holiday time there just checking out what the town site has to offer.

Banff13Streets of Banff

Rediscovering Banff
What’s there to say about Banff that every Albertan doesn’t already know? It’s great skiing, world-class restaurants, charming shops and cozy mountain-resort atmosphere are already essential holiday repertoire. But one point is worth repeating, and reasons enough to visit Banff again and again: its spectacular, humbling scenery.

Established as Canada’s first national park in 1885, Banff covers 6,640 square kilometers of protected wilderness area. Its first tourists came all the way from Europe, traversing the Atlantic by steamship and the Dominion by rail. No doubt their journey was worth it then; we’re just lucky to have such easy access now. These days Banff is visited by lots of Asian people, and there is many shops that have only Chinese names in front.

Banff6Banff Avenue downtown

If you want a quiet relaxing day during the summer, you may just want to take in the mountain views from some great patios. It doesn’t get much better than Saltlik with a glass of wine and a great appetizer or enjoy the Bison Bear Street Tavern’s outdoor courtyard.

Banff Springs hotel2The Banff Springs Hotel

The Banff Springs Hotel
If it’s a beautiful day I would definitely head up to the Banff Springs Hotel. Located in the heart of Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the world famous Fairmont Banff Springs hotel stands as a landmark in the picturesque alpine town of Banff, Alberta. It’s only a ten minute walk from downtown Banff. You can take a short detour on the Bow Falls Trail as you head up toward the Banff Springs Hotel. Enjoy the view of the falls and the thunderous sound of the water.

Canada’s “Castle in the Rockies”, has been providing legendary hospitality to their guests for more than 125 years. This place is just like a castle. The view is like no other. Nothing but beautiful mountains and lakes that are so breathe taking. They will take you on a guided tour of the place and tell you the wonderful history that goes with it.

5.0.2The 125 years old Banff Springs Hotel and Bow river

Actually, you could spend a whole day just visiting the Banff Springs Hotel. Savor a lovely lunch on the Waldhaus patio and enjoy some great Canadian art in the Mountain Gallery on the lower level of the Banff Springs Hotel. There are some very lovely shops down there as well… fifteen in all. Next to the gallery is a fine wine store selling authentic wines of the region. Even if you just window shop, check out Open Country a great woman’s clothing boutique. There’s a great restaurant behind the hotel called the Waldhaus with the best patio in the Canadian Rockies. Great food as well, though little pricey.


Sunshine Mountain Lodge
To get the most out of Banff’s wilderness scenery, stay in the midst of it. At 7,000 feet, Sunshine Mountain Lodge (top) is the hill’s only ski-in, ski-out accommodation. It offers an entirely different experience from a stay in the town site below. Guests bypass the 15-minute gondola ride to base, getting first dibs on morning powder. And, once the 5,500-or-so daily visitors ski out at dusk, lodge-dwellers again have the mountain to themselves. In this sudden solitude, pastimes include bundling up on the balcony with a steaming cup of tea and soaking in the seven-meter-wide outdoor hot tub under softly falling snow (above). Originally a simple ski lodge built in 1965, Sunshine Mountain Lodge recently underwent a series of renovations, including the construction of a new wing. The décor stays true to its mountain setting with slate floors, earthy colors, down duvets and a fireplace in every room. And from an old-time saloon to a formal dining room, the hotel’s list of culinary amenities also impresses. The food is shockingly good considering everything comes up by gondola or on the back of a snowmobile.

Banff11Banff upper Hot Springs in the winter

Banff upper Hot Springs
While in Banff take the time to go up to Sulphur Mountain. It was a neat experience especially after walking all day. I was a bit self-conscious due to the number of people! They have hot water from natural hot springs at 39 degrees keeping you warm. The outside pool is in nice setup against snow clad trees, ice on the walls and snowcapped roofs. Pool is hot, outdoor air freezing, which makes for an interesting experience in the winter. I remember my eye browns and hair would start to freeze when my head was above the water for a while. One comes awzy feeling majestically suspended in time and space, and oh so relaxed!

Banff_April_2005_100_2127Banff upper Hot Springs – can be overly crowded in summer weekends

This facility is run by the National Park Service and open year round save Christmas. Can be overly crowded in summer weekends but in April it was all ours! Enjoyed!

Banff12Main tourist drag in Banff

Galleries & museums
If you enjoy art, Banff offers thirteen galleries within the town. You can leisurely walk to any or all of them. Take all day if you like. There’s a very diverse cross section of Inuit art and Aboriginal art and crafts of the First Nations. You’ll see photography, sculpture and unique jewelry. Canada House Gallery is very well respected. They handle over 60 Canadian Artists and have been in Banff for 35 years. Also Mountain Galleries is great stop in the Banff Springs Hotel.

Banff_goats3Banff National Park Wild life

There are a couple of very interesting museums right in town as well. If you’re looking for some history of the area, The Banff Park Museum National Historic Site of Canada is worth a visit. It’s “an almost complete representation of the birds and flowering plants found within the limits of the park” with 5000 specimens. The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum shows how the people in this area lived. It lets you discover how they adapted to their environment and to each other. It also shows how these people adapted prior to and after contact with the European culture. You can get a feel for their culture.

If you’ve spent the day enjoying the town of Banff, it’s time for a lovely dinner. There are over 100 restaurants ranging from exquisite fine dining, to unique Canadian Cuisine, to fabulous fondues to any number of family friendly restaurants. You choose… what do you feel like tonight?

Edgy-Banff-Wedding-Rimrock-Hotel-29Edgy Rimrock hotel in Banff

We spent 4 nights in Banff and stayed at The Rimrock. The Post was small and intimate and the Rimrock had more of a contemporary big hotel feel. At check-in, we were upgraded from a Premium room to a Grand View room which was fantastic. They did this despite being fully booked as it was Easter weekend. Props to The Rimrock for this special touch on our honeymoon. The room itself was nice and had a modern flair to it. The main attraction here is the view. We had a view of Banff and Mount Rundle that was amazing. We spend most of our free time at the hotel in the Larkspur Lounge which is a large lounge area adjacent to the check-in area. It is bordered by big windows with tremendous views of Mt Rundle. They have leather chairs and sofas as well as tables scattered throughout the Larkspur Lounge and there’s a huge fireplace in the center. The garage is heated, which is a nice tough, but they charged us 15 bucks a day to park there, which was a little crazy.

fairmont-chateau-lake-louise-lake-louise-alberta4Fairmont Chateau hotel in Lake Louise

Lake Louise
When in Banff you must make a short trip to a nearby Lake Louise. Absolutely breathe taking how beautiful this place is. When we arrived, it was so serene and beautiful we wanted to stay all day. Lake Louise had the most amazing views that I’ve ever seen. From the front side of the mountain you have a view back towards the valley, the Lake itself and all the mountains on the other side of the valley like Mount Temple.

The path at the lake takes you halfway around the lake (to the right if you are inside the hotel), which is 3 KM each way. You can go much longer if you want and the path will take you away from the lake with what looks to be greater inclines. Locals tell us it completely freezes only once every six years; the thin ice was only around select areas by the shoreline. Greater inclines toward the back of the lake, paved elsewhere and path stays by the lake the rest of the hike. Tons of signage to tell you how far trails are around the lake.

DSC_9074Chateau Lake Louise

On the backside of Lake Louise you have huge spectacular bowls and almost everything is above the tree line, the views are completely different but equally spectacular. We were lucky enough to be there on a sunny day with clear skies which enabled us to experience these views.

DSC_9080Lake Louise view at the lake

Lake Louise dining: The Post Dining room very elegant and the food was fantastic. The Post Pub had leather chairs and couches, a relaxed but nice atmosphere and good food. We wanted to eat fondue at the Walliser Stube at the Chateau Lake Louise but it was closed for renovations. However, they had part of the fondue menu available at the Tom Wilson, so we ate there. The food was good but not great there. We also had drinks for an hour or two at the Lakeview Lounge at the Chateau. It’s a great spot to sit, relax and take in the views of the frozen lake and Victoria Glacier.

sunshine-village-piste-mapSunshine Village ski hill map

Sunshine ski hill

Sunshine ski hill was a very interesting mountain. By far this is my favorite ski spot in the world. I mean, you’ve got access to THREE gorgeous high mountains – what more d’you want? I also appreciate that they have a cabin at the bottom near the parking lot and then another one half-way up the mountain from whence most of the ski lifts depart. That way, non-skiers can also enjoy a nice view.

Great devide ski lift at sunshine ski hillThe Great Divide ski lift at Sunshine ski hill

It was unique in that you parked in a parking lot and then rode the gondola up the base area, which was tucked away up in the mountains. There were bigger crowds here (partly due to the fact that we were here during the weekend) and almost all the skiing is above the tree line. The runs seemed shorter here as sunshine didn’t have as big of a vertical as Lake Louise but they had better and more snow. Sunshine’s one major drawback was visibility on snowy days. We skied there on a snowy day and your socked in. Everything is above the tree line so you can’t see a thing and it made skiing there next to impossible. I would not recommend sunshine for snowy days due to the poor visibility. Sunshine did have amazing beautiful views too but overall we preferred Lake Louise due to the varied terrain, bigger vertical and easy access.

Banff1 (2)Lake Louise view at the lake

Ice fields Parkway Drive
Might have been the highlight of the trip. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful. The crowfoot glacier, the weeping wall, the Columbia Ice fields, the frozen lakes, the mountains, it was all unbelievable. We stopped and ate lunch at the Num Ti Jah lodge which was a nice treat. The day that we went was a very warm spring day with not a cloud in the sky. Due to the warm temps, there was some avalanche activity. The Columbia ice fields and Athabasca glacier were very cool too. I loved sitting there in silence listening to the glaciers cracking. Make sure that you do this trip on a nice sunny day so you can take in all the views. I’m sure this drive is beautiful in summer too but I can’t imagine it being any more beautiful that it was with everything draped in snow, it was stunning and this drive is a must do on any itinerary.

Banff_mountain9Your blogger in the mountains!

Have a good and healthy season.

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