While I was excited to visit Calgary, my main reason for traveling to Alberta was to finally explore Banff National Park. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I saw the unreal blue-green color of Lake Louise from other travel bloggers, and heard about the wildlife that was abundant in the area. The drive from Calgary to Banff is only about 1.5 hours, making it an easy day trip as well if you’d prefer to stay in the city.
As soon as I pulled off the freeway, I was in love with the town already. The streets were filled with local cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops. The backdrop of the giant Rocky Mountains towering over the town almost looked fake with how picturesque it was. The village isn’t as large as Whistler, but I loved the small town feel it had.
Where to Eat
It wasn’t hard to find good restaurants in Banff. I try to avoid chains at all costs and support the local community instead. I was trying to save money on this trip somewhat, so I admit I went to Subway and the grocery store for a few meals. The places I did go out to were delicious, though. My first stop was The Bear Street Tavern, where I had a delicious calzone and blonde ale to go with it. It’d be a good place to go after a long day of skiing. The next night, I went to the Banff Brewing Company for a Kolsch and fish and chips. It was a good place to relax and watch hockey on TV (big in Canada, of course). Before I left, I also stopped by The Fudgery for some peanut butter and chocolate fudge – amazing!
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Bow View Lodge, which was just a few block from the main street. It was perfect for what I needed – basic and close to town. Parking was free for guests, which is a bonus in a ski town. My only complaint was I had to pay for Internet daily, which I needed as I work online. Otherwise, the service was great and the staff was very helpful. I went next door to their sister lodge, the Banff Park Lodge, for a drink in their lounge, which had a very chill vibe to it. Guests of the Bow View are also allowed to use the Banff Park’s pool if they wish.
What to Do
Tour the Area
While I was there, I had the chance to go on Discover Banff’s tour of the area. I typically shy away from guided tours, but this is one you’ll want to take. The four-hour tour drives you all around Banff, and my tour guide was extremely informative. It makes a huge difference to get the history of each place you’re visiting instead of having no idea what you’re looking at. We visited the luxurious Banff Springs Hotel, which has been frequented by many famous people. Next, we headed to Bow Falls, which happens to be where they filmed the Marilyn Monroe movie River of No Return.
We stopped at many beautiful viewpoints along the way to see different angles of Banff. We even saw a few elk grazing along in the field (they are huge, so we understandably did not get out of the bus for an elk selfie). We also went to Hoodoos Lookout, which is a strange looking formation of weathered limestone.
The last major stop was Lake Minnewaka, which was my first time walking on a frozen lake. After being fearful to walk on the lake, the tour guide showed me how strong it was by running and sliding on his stomach over the frozen lake. While I wasn’t brave enough to do that, I loved walking around and seeing how thick the ice was from pieces that had come up. As a bonus, you get hot chocolate and maple leaf cookies (my absolute favorite treat in Canada) at the end of the tour!
An obvious choice in the winter, the area has multiple mountains to choose from. I didn’t have time to snowboard unfortunately, so this picture doesn’t quite represent the amount of snow they get. You can ski at Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay, or Sunshine Village. I heard from locals all of them are good, so that’s on my list next time I’m in Banff in the winter.
Drive to Lake Louise
This beautiful lake is unfortunately frozen over during the winter (I didn’t take that into account when I originally planned this trip!), but you can walk all the way across it if you’re brave enough. They set up an ice castle and even a hockey rink to make the most of the frozen space. I recommend going inside the Fairmont Chateau and getting a cocktail in the Lakeview Lounge, which as the name indicates has a gorgeous view of the lake. Most of the hotel is roped off if you’re not a guest, but you can still look at some of the shops by the restaurant.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
I’d never been in a natural hot spring before and had to check this out. It’s been around since before the 1880s when the First Nations people used them and became much more popular when Banff National Park was established in 1885. The bathhouse has been reconstructed several times since, but it’s still the same water flowing in. You can rent almost anything you need if you don’t want to bring your own: towels, swimsuits, and lockers for rent. They offer the old-timey swimsuits if you want to feel nostalgic, as I did, but I’ll give you a tip – bring your own unless you’re petite. They did not fit me well at all! Besides that, I had a very relaxing experience soaking in the mineral water with a view of the Rocky Mountains.
The Johnston Canyon Ice Walk is also a must-do, but I will cover that in my next post. I would love to come back to Banff in the summer to go hiking and explore the lakes more when the ice melts. I saw one grizzly bear on this trip while I was driving around, but can’t imagine how much more wildlife there will be in the warm weather.
Discover Banff graciously hosted me on their tour, but all opinions are my own as always.
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