Banff National Park, Canada

This is the last in a series of three covering Lake Louise, Glacier National Park and now Banff by my sister-in-law.  To find the other entries click on the post you are interested in:

Glacier National Park and Lake Louise

The Canadian Rockies

On our way to Banff, we again took the Icefields Parkway and stopped at a couple of short hikes and viewing points we had missed on the way to Jasper.

Icefields Parkway photo:  valdodge.com
Icefields Parkway  photo: valdodge.com 

The day started out unusually clear with no low clouds and it continued to be sunny with only a few puffy clouds for our entire drive, until we got within a half an hour from Banff. By the time we got to our hotel, it was totally overcast. We had trouble finding our hotel so instead we decided to go right into Banff and go to the visitor’s center to ask for recommendations for hikes, restaurants and things we should definitely not miss in the area, as well as directions to our hotel. This is where we encountered the “lump”. He tossed a folded up trail map on the counter and told us to “read the book”. When we pressed him for a little more personal direction, he opened the map and drew a circle around a hike that he said would “get us started.” As it turned out we did try to do that hike the last day we were there and the entire area was closed due to “bear activity” and had been for a while. When we asked about restaurants and directions to our hotel, he told us in effect “that’s not my job”. He directed us to a couple of women at another counter for that information. I guess he doesn’t actually live in the town and doesn’t eat there either. One of the women at the other counter gave us a map of the town and marked several restaurants and things of interest on the map and give us clear directions to our hotel. She was most helpful. We then found our hotel and checked in.

We were staying at the Juniper Hotel on the recommendation of a friend and we found it to be okay. The location was high on a hill a little way out of town, and  juniper hotel the view was very good. They had our reservation messed up and couldn’t move us as they were totally booked that night because of a wedding reception They put us in a handicapped room with a queen bed when we had reserved a king. They did move us the next day to an upgraded room, which was fine. We had lunch in the hotel and it was quite good, but our last day there we had breakfast and it was only okay. Again I think I would have looked into something in town. The premier hotel for Banff is the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel — called the castle. It is a gorgeous old high-rise hotel and like the other Fairmonts extremely expensive.

Anyway on to Banff. Banff is a small tourist town similar to Jasper, only bigger, and also has a congestion problem during the busy season. After lunch on our first day there, it began thundering and lightening and then rained. It didn’t continue all afternoon and when it cleared up we went into town to look around and had dinner. That first night we ate at a very small Thai restaurant that was very good. The town has numerous restaurants of all kinds and lots of souvenir type shops. When we walked down the streets of Banff we could hear many different languages, French, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Arabic, German, etc. and even some English. We found that the days spent traveling from town to town are pretty much wasted days, so we were looking forward to our first full day in Banff.

On that first morning, we decided to hike to the Hoodoos. We had heard there were hoodoos there and since we had seen hoodoos in Bryce NP and loved them, we were excited to see these. It was a nice hike, not too challenging, and not very busy, but the hoodoos were a real disappointment. They had like 5 hoodooshoodoos on the side of a mountain. Nothing like Bryce. After that we had breakfast at Melissa’s which was an excellent restaurant. We ate there several times for breakfast and dinner. Their specialty at dinner is prime rib and it was one of the best we have had, and everything we had there was very good and the staff was great too. After breakfast we headed up to Johnson Canyon. A really nice hike to the lower and upper falls. The upper falls were especially beautiful. You come around the corner and cannot see the falls until you are at the very end of the trail and it was quite spectacular. The hike was fairly easy and pretty busy. Since we were in the area we went to Castle Mountain to see Silverton Falls. Not a very long trail, but an interesting hike, climbing over and under tree trunks and over rocks. There were a few people on the trail, but not crowded. After lunch, I looked at one of the tour books we had brought with us and saw information about a walking tour of Banff. We did a little of the tour that afternoon and planned to do more the next day. We walked along Bow lake to their city park. They were having a free concert in the park, so stayed and listened a little while.

Our second full day in Banff started out raining. We decided to continue our walking tour of Banff before breakfast. Luckily the rain did stop, but it continued to be overcast. We parked at the Cascade Gardens which is behind an administrative building at the end of town. Lovely flowers in a terraced garden. Then walked along the Bow River to the Bow River Falls. Not spectacular falls, but a very nice walk and easy trail. When we got to the falls, we were surprised to see that the Fairmont Banff Springs was just up the hill. We decided not to tackle the hill and go to breakfast instead. After breakfast we drove to the Fairmont. All the Fairmonts are definitely worth a visit. They are old historic hotels and quite beautiful. It was raining again, so we decided to go into town and walk around there a little bit. The weather did clear up and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The weather is so crazy here. It can be beautiful and then a cloud shows up and it rains. We were really glad we had our rain gear and carried it in the backpack all the time. We then decided go to Minnewanka Lake and Johnson Lake for a couple of shorter hikes. As I mentioned earlier the area was totally closed due to “bear activity”. So we went back to town and did the Fenland trail near our hotel. It was seemingly a very simple trail, but we almost got lost. This time on the way back to town we say big horn sheep walking down the road. That night we had deep dish pizza at Melissa’s which was excellent.

Our last full day in Banff was a  beautiful day. We went to Cave and Basin. There was quite a large interpretative center there and trails around the hot springs. cave and basinThe center at one time had been used as a hot springs spa. There was a small charge to go into the cave and tour the interpretative center. We did the loops around the building and wanted to continue on a farther trail from there, but were told we could only go to a certain point as a grizzly had been spotted farther in with a kill (elk), and the mosquitoes were terrible on the part of the trail we did do. We didn’t really have a lot of mosquitoes anywhere else.

At this point, we had done about all the trails we wanted to do and/or could do, so we went back to our hotel, sat out on our patio and enjoyed the view. We both felt ready to go home. We spent 4 nights in Banff and 3 probably would have been enough.

We have no idea how many kilometers we covered in hikes, but we certainly did see a lot of the area and wonderful scenery. We took well over 800 pictures, which included majestic mountains, gorgeous waterfalls and incredibly blue glacier lakes, as well as bears, sheep, goats and marmots.

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