Banff Gondola – 403-762-2523 or http://www.banffgondola.com
The gondola is something we felt we had to do if for nothing else but to get a bird's eye view of the park. We were not disappointed. The views atop Sulfur Mountain are absolutely gorgeous. Definitely a photo op. Located 5 minutes from the center of Banff on the cusp of Sulphur Mountain. The charge is 23.50 CAD/adult and 11.75 CAD/children 6-15 and the ride takes about 10 minutes each way. Yes, I agree- very expensive for such a short ride but really a must do. Each "car" holds 4 people safely but if you go off season, like we did, they send you up in couples. It's a pretty steep ride up and I was more than thankful we didn't have to stop for any reason.
Once up top there is a gift shop and bathroom facilities. There is also a boardwalk with about 300 steps that takes you to another viewing point. It is not handicap equipped and not safe for children in carriages (not really practical either with all of the steps). That walk takes about 20 minutes each way and gets higher in elevation. Lots of snow and ice on the "boardwalk" even in May, so walking can become slightly dangerous if you are careless. The staff are all very nice and kept asking us if we had an enjoyable time. At the end you are directed through the gift shop (ala Disney) where you are able to purchase a photo of yourself that was taken at the top of Sulfur Mountain. That is $15 for a 5X7. The Banff Gondola is less than a 5 minute drive from the Fairmount. Depending on the time of year the attraction is open from 7:30 am to 9 pm. Recommended.
Bo Valley Parkway – 1A
This is the alternate route to the Trans-Canada Parkway, Route 1. People usually take this route, which is considered the more scenic route; to take pictures, see wildlife and enjoy the atmosphere. We saw several caribou and one young male elk along the way, but heard that many people saw plenty of other animals as well. It was a nice drive, 30 miles - very easy, but once was enough; we chose to take the faster Route 1 for the remainder of our trip. There are five main trails that branch off of this parkway, one of which is the Johnston Canyon which I will definitely suggest hiking. Recommended
Located off of the Bow Valley Parkway, ½ way between Banff and Lake Louise. This is essentially another beautiful hike. It took us about 45 minutes each way – 3 miles round trip. The canyon was created by a small stream. There are two waterfalls to see, first (lower falls - the smaller of the two) is after ½ mile, second (upper) is 1 ½ miles (1 mile from small one). To be honest the smaller one was easier to view and much prettier. The second waterfall required you to walk out on this platform (to the end) and lean over to get a good picture. The hike has steps, uneven ground, narrow walkways and the temperature (May) is cold, then warm, so dressing in layers would not be a bad idea.
The water is beautiful and it actually gets colder (the air) as you get closer to each waterfall. There is no entrance fee or parking fee – wow! - you mean the 9 CAD per day, per person we paid to get into Banff covers this too???? At certain points you feel like you are walking through caves. There were tons of trees, many which had fallen and as silly as it sounds the air just smells so wonderful. We saw one small chipmunk on our hike that was it. Not a place for carriages (although one couple was actually trying to push one) or handicapped people. Definitely recommended; an easy hike with great scenery. Recommended.
Located about 5 kilometers northeast of the Banff town site. The lake is 15 miles long and over 400 ft deep, making it the longest lake in the Banff National Park (the result of a power dam at the west end). The lake is fed by the Cascade River, flowing east of Cascade Mountain, and runs south through Stewart Canyon as it empties into the westen end of the lake. Minnewanka means "water of the spirits" in the Stoney Indian language. I`ll admit there is something spiritual about this place. Beauty lends itself to this effect. The Minnewanka Loop is an absolutely gorgeous drive; very easy to navigate with incredible views of the lake , valley and surrounding mountains. It seems that spring comes early to this part of Banff. In May the lake was completely thawed, emerald green and stunning. This area is also great for wildlife viewing; especially bighorn sheep. We saw many by the side of the road and even in the middle of the road; so be careful while driving. This area is a must see. Recommended.
Cave & Basin – Cave Avenue, Banff – 403-762-1557
This is the site where the very first mineral hot spring was found, thereby facilitating the creation of Canada's first National Park. Once you enter the lobby there are signs and a few photographs and charts. Just past the lobby is the cave. For 7 CAD/pp you get to view the Hot Springs (which is so fetid it's hard to put into words), you get to see a movie (that extols the beauty of Banff) and walk a few yards through a tunnel that ends at a small cave. There is also a few hiking trails, one of which is a short jaunt through a wetland type area along a wooden boardwalk. The Hot Springs is home to a rare snail, the Physella Johnsoni. To be honest, if you ran out of time and couldn't make it here – no big loss. Not Recommended.
Fairmount Lake Louise Hotel Lounge
Located about an hour away from the Fairmont in Banff is this very pretty hotel. Very different from the castle-like structure of Banff, this hotel does not disappoint. A huge lobby with high ceilings and medieval paraphernalia around. Lots of tourist walking around and a harpist playing in the lobby. Unlike the Fairmont Banff Springs there is plenty of free parking here in addition to valet. We ate at the lobby lounge which offered incredible views of Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains. In early May the lake was still completely frozen over. The lounge had a large bar but a limited menu. We ordered the brushetta, a burger and pasta. The brushetta was 5 pieces of toast with goat cheese and a small salad.
A delicious appetizer (11 CAD). The burger came with mushrooms, bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion (15 CAD) – fries were half the plate and a mountain of them – salty and delicious. The baked penne pasta came with pieces of zucchini and was a huge bowl covered with asiago cheese. Surprisingly good. Other menu options were salads, including a Cesar salad with shrimp, chicken or liver and a chicken club sandwich. The service was very good, and friendly. The harpist was excellent and provided for a very relaxing atmosphere. All of the seating is living room-esq with large upholstered chairs and couches. We initially planned on going to one of the hotel's restaurants but were shut out as they close for lunch at 2 pm. This was a great alternative. Accepts all major credit cards. Recommended to see the hotel and lake.