I am lucky to have siblings living in Calgary, Canada. Every time I visit, we always take a side trip to Banff National Park, about 78 miles west of the city. It is one of my favorite national parks in North America. As I write this article, my brothers and my dad are spending some time, male bonding at Banff National Park. I wish I were there with them. My last visit to the park was almost a dozen years ago.
The first time I set foot on the resort town of Banff, I was surprised to find the cute little town dotted with shops and restaurants owned mostly by Japanese. I loved the unique shops, the sushi and the noodle restaurants. I thought I had gone to Japan instead of Canada. The good news was that eventhough Banff is not near the coast, it had some of the freshest sushi and sashimi, and everything was cheaper here than in Japan! According to my brother, there were less Japanese stores and tourists these days. As a matter of fact, he noticed the crowd was thinner than in previous years. Not a bad thing for the park.
Banff National Park is chock full of adrenaline-pumping adventure. There are tons of trails to hike and bike, lakes and rivers to canoe, mountains to climb, and even glaciers to walk. In the winter, you can ice-skate, snowboard, or ski. Or you can opt to relax in a hot spring. No matter what you choose to do, you are greeted with jaw dropping scenery of snow-capped mountains and pristine landscape every which way you turn. This is one national park where you’ll find animals – deers and elks – roaming unbashfully, sometimes around your hotel. A drive through the scenic mountain roads will reward you with sighting of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deers, elks, moose, and perhaps a bear.
Some of my favorite things to do at Banff National Park include:
Hiking Lake Louise
Named for the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, who later married the governor general of Canada, Lake Louise is a major attraction at Banff National Park. Its brilliant turquoise water against the backdrop of Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier is a photographer’s delight. You can hike many of the trails around Lake Louise, from easy and flat around the Lake Louise shore line to the steep and more difficult, like the 5-6 hours hike up Fairview Mountain.
Hiking Johnston Canyon
The hike up to Johnston Canyon is fairly easy. The first .7 miles of the trail is a paved walkway through forest that leads to the Lower Falls. You can stop at the viewing platform to see rushing water plunging down 33 feet, creating a deep canyon. Walk another 1.7 miles of more rugged trails that meanders along the canyon’s edge to the spectacular Upper Falls. Along the way, you will pass by several smaller waterfalls and pools that you can see below. If you are lucky, you might see some birds, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Bring an extra layer of clothing when hiking Johnston Canyon as it is shady and damp.
A Soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs
After day of hiking, a soak in a hot springs is the perfect antidote for those weary muscles. The water from the hot springs is routed to a pool, where you can relax and marvel at the breathtaking alpine scenery. After soaking, you can pamper yourself with a therapeutic massage offered at the spa.
Explore the Banff Springs Hotel
Also referred to as “The Castle in the Rockies,” Banff Springs Hotel is a must stop, even if you do not stay there. There are nice shops and great restaurants at the hotel. Conveniently located in the center of Banff, this majestic hotel has magnificent views of the Bow River Valley, Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. Banff Springs Hotel was designated a National Historic Site in 1992.
Ride a Gondola
There is nothing more exhilarating than riding a gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain (elevation 7,495 ft) to see a panoramic view of the Canadian Rockies. Sit at a café, breathe the alpine air and drink in nature’s splendor.
Hike around Lake Minnewanka
The largest lake in Banff National Park, Lake Minnewanka is popular with recreational fishermen and divers. The lake was dammed in 1895 and again in 1912 for a hydro-electric plant. You can take a boat tour to learn about the history of the lake, or you can hike or drive around the lake. The popular dragon boat festival is held on Lake Minnewanka in August.
These are just some of my favorites. Banff and nearby Jasper National Park have lots more to offer. I guarantee you will be entralled by it all and will be planning your next trip soon enough!