Written by callen60 on 15 Feb, 2009
When we settled on spending three nights at Storm Mountain Lodge, switching our reservation from the stratospherically priced Chateau Lake Louise, we thought we’d have an equally special stay and save nearly $900 in the bargain. Nonetheless, given the $270 CDN nightly price tag, I…Read More
When we settled on spending three nights at Storm Mountain Lodge, switching our reservation from the stratospherically priced Chateau Lake Louise, we thought we’d have an equally special stay and save nearly $900 in the bargain. Nonetheless, given the $270 CDN nightly price tag, I thought I’d ask if they had any packages. Not over the holidays, they said, but we do take our guests snowshoeing every New Year’s Eve. At no charge, I asked? That’s right, she replied.That sounded fantastic. Even though it wasn’t perfectly free (the $8 rental per shoe set was added to our tab), heading out under the stars with someone who knew what they were doing seemed like a great way to experience another quintessential northern activity. We pulled in from Lake Louise about 6pm, lit a fire in our cabin, and broke out the cheese and crackers and light dinner we’d picked up at the small grocery before heading back down Canada 1. Just before 10pm, we walked up to the lodge, enjoying the perfect winter scene of fir trees weighed down by snow. In back of the lodge, about 20 guests were gathering, measuring their feet against the snowshoes and getting their new gear strapped on.These weren’t the large, classic wooden snowshoes with leather straps: these had largely rectangular frames of aluminum tubing, with nylon fabric stretched partially across the opening, a web for holding the front half of your boot, and a nylon strap that tightened around the back of your ordinary footwear.Steve, our host, had already broken this trail that headed north from the lodge in the direction of Boom Lake. That was about 8 km, but we were only going out for 2-3 km, and then looping back to a bonfire. The night was calm and cool, but between our clothing and our exertions, we stayed perfectly warm (love those Sorel boots!). Snowshoeing proved easier than we expected; you just needed to compensate a little for your newly expanded foot size. But although some of the romance may be gone from the aluminum shoes, they must be a whole lot easier to maneuver, since their footprint is significantly smaller. Every now and then someone would step on their own shoes and go down, or get to close to the person in front of them and take them down, too. But that was rare, and by the time our 90-minute trek was over, we all had the hang of it. Our group included a group of five friends from London who’d come for a two-week holiday, a friendly family from Calgary, and a retired couple from elsewhere in Alberta who’d RVed all over North America and loved retreating to their own Albertan mountains. Steve pointed out tracks in the snow, described the animals who’d left them (including deer, moose, pine martens, and others), and generally showed that he’d spent a lot of time in the woods and wilderness.After correcting a wrong turn (Steve let someone else lead for a bit), we came out upon a clearing and a roaring bonfire. The staff of Storm Mountain Lodge and nearby Castle Mountain Lodge joined our New Year’s celebration, and we mingled while waiting for the midnight hour. A few folks towed the toboggan up the small hill behind the fire, some rowdy but friendly Scots from Castle Mountain offered everyone the use of their hip flask, and just before midnight Steve broke out champagne from some coolers that had been hauled up earlier. With fire roaring and the stars overhead, it was a beautiful way to welcome 2009.Snowshoes for you, too?A number of tour companies will take you snowshoeing for $60. You get transportation, a guide/instructor, and usually hot chocolate at the end. If you’d like to give it a try, get a recommendation for a good trail and just rent a pair from a local outfitter. There’s really nothing to learn, and in no time you’ll be off in the woods. And you can buy your own hot chocolate. Close
This is the place that created Banff. Well, this and the railway, and the railway made this place. After the Hot Springs were discovered in 1883, the Canadian Pacific began planning to create a reason for passengers to ride its new trains. "Since we can’t…Read More
This is the place that created Banff. Well, this and the railway, and the railway made this place. After the Hot Springs were discovered in 1883, the Canadian Pacific began planning to create a reason for passengers to ride its new trains. "Since we can’t bring the mountains to the people", reasoned President Cornelius Van Horne, "we’ll bring the people to the mountains."At first thought, it seems that they chose an unusual location for this huge brick castle. It’s not close to the railway, the hot springs, the Bow River, or Lake Minnewanka, or even (for the first few decades) ‘downtown’ Banff. But it is perfectly nestled in among the mountains, at the intersection of the valleys, with beautiful vistas in nearly every direction. Carriages brought passengers to and from the station, and for decades, pipes brought the water from the hot springs.Like many remote mountain hotels, the current hotel is not the original, with fire and expansion leading to today’s massive structure. The most recent additions were a new entrance a few years ago, needed to accommodate today’s larger vehicles, and a new convention center. Done in dark brick, the entire 800-room structure still looks like a Victorian era castle. Once it sat nearly alone in these beautiful mountains; despite the tremendous growth in Banff’s popularity, it still maintains its appeal and reputation.For years, this was one of the crown jewels in Canadian Pacific’s string of western hotels. But along with its sister property at Lake Louise, they were most recently acquired by the Fairmont chain early this decade. Despite the smallish rooms (175 square feet for some), the increased competition in the area, and the high prices ($450/night for Christmas/New Years when we looked), it remains a prestigious and popular place to stay. Even amid the tougher financial times of this year’s holiday period, the Springs was full during our stay in Banff.The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas. As we conducted our own tour in place of the hotel’s guided visit (free to guests, $15 for others), we sipped the complimentary hot chocolate provided at several locations in the lobby and registration area. Despite the exclusive air that such places sometimes seek to project, I love these large, old hotels, with their numerous restaurants, public spaces, shops, and amenities. "It’s like staying at a cruise ship," my wife said, and she nailed it perfectly, just as we passed a trio of guests in white robes and slippers returning from the spa.We made our way through the hallways to the outdoor patio, chatting along the way with a flower girl and ring bearer from a recent wedding, headed to the reception in one of the many ballrooms. Just outside the dining room lay the ice rink, perfectly positioned between two mountain ridges, with Christmas lights supplementing the deepening purple skies. I looked back through the glass at the numerous staff setting tables for the upcoming dinner hour, then turned to watch the last glimmer of daylight leave the mountain landscape. It was easy to imagine staying here. Spend a few days in the mountains, then return to civilization here for a few nights? Sounds perfect. Even though we didn’t see Lake Louise at its best, for a splurge, I think I’d choose Banff Springs over its sister property Chateau Lake Louise, since the Springs seemed to retain more of its own history, architecture, and mountain feel despite the town setting. But I’ll have to save up for a while. Close
Written by Vanilla Sugar on 18 Oct, 2008
If the name alone: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump does not capture your attention, then the question: What is a Buffalo Jump? will certainly arouse your curiosity. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jump sites in North America.…Read More
If the name alone: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump does not capture your attention, then the question: What is a Buffalo Jump? will certainly arouse your curiosity. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jump sites in North America. The term buffalo jump refers to a natural cliff used by the native people to kill bison. At this location in Alberta, Canada, Plains Indians systematically lured the bison toward the precipice sending the animals plunging some 59 feet to their death. The name of this place draws from a legend about a young boy who wanted to witness the plunge over the sandstone cliffs. He stood under the shelter of the cliff’s ledge to watch the beasts fall. As the bodies mounted, the boy became trapped between the cliff and the carcasses. When the hunters came to butcher the bison, they found him with his skull crushed by the weight of the killed animals. They named the place Head-Smashed-In. Archeologists estimate that the North American Plains Indians first used this area for killing bison at least 5,700 years ago and perhaps as early as 10,000 year ago. Throughout the 1,470 acre site, they have found the cultural remains associated with communal buffalo hunting – drive lane cairns, projectile points, butchered bone, fire-broken rock – stratified to a depth of nearly 33 feet. Their study has traced the evolution of communal bison jumping here from its earliest beginnings to the eventual abandonment of the site sometime in the 19th century.Today, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is preserved and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This cultural property received the designation in 1981. Visitors can tour the indoor Interpretive Center exhibits and programs. There are outdoor interpretive trails as well. When I entered the Interpretive Center, I accepted the good advice from the young woman at the information desk. I went directly to the display called Pis’kun – The Buffalo Jump. This area presents a thorough explanation of how the hunters used the natural topography and knowledge of bison behavior to hunt them efficiently despite the lack of sophisticated weapons.From here, I went outside to the walkway leading me to three areas which are the anatomy of the Jump.To the west lies a large drainage basin, a grassland area, a natural grazing spot for the herds of buffalo. From here, there are traces of long lines of stone cairns built to help hunters direct the stampeding buffalo to the jump. I stood at the kill site, the natural escarpment, the cliff where herds of buffalo were forced over the cliff. From this precipice, I could see some tipi rings in the distant large prairie below the cliff. There, the Plains Indians found a source of fresh water and made shelters for camping, butchering, and processing the killed animals. At the Jump archeologists found massive, stratified bone deposits which testify to the success of generations of hunters. There is a recreated archeological dig and mini-theater presentation included in the Isskoohtsik – Uncovering the Past exhibits back in the Interpretive Center. I would have found this display of archeology more impressive had I not previously visited the Wahkpa Chu’gn Archaeological Site near Havre, Montana. (See blog entry: http://glotours.blogspot.com/2008/07/theres-buffalo-jump-behind-mall.html ) By comparison, the key word differentiating the two sites is recreated. At the Head- Smashed-In Site the dig has bones and tools scattered about in a museum-type display whereas at the Wahkpa Site, visitors can actually stand within the depths of the dig and see the actual stratified bone deposits that remain largely undisturbed.What the Head-Smashed-In Site lacked in its archeological display, it made up for in its other exhibits. Naapiwa Otawahsini – Napi’s World explains the geography, climate and vegetation of the Northwestern Plains. Okso’koaiksi – Napi’s People reveals the culture of the prehistoric Plains Indians including food gathering, ceremonies, and family life. Otsito’tohpi Naapikoaiksi – Cultures in Contact charts the impact of the arrival of Europeans on the Indian people – the use of guns replacing traditional buffalo hunting, the introduction of disease and alcohol, and the near extinction of the buffalo. All proved to be highly informative and insightful lessons on native people.When I reached information overload viewing the Center’s exhibits, I followed the signs to the Lower Trail. This half-mile walk took me beneath the Jump. It seemed a fitting place to end my visit. I thought about the legendary boy. I imagined the thundering stampede of buffalos falling over the Jump. Almost like a cemetery, it was peaceful on this Lower Trail as the wind rustled the tall grass. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo JumpLocated approximately 11 north and west of Fort Macleod, Alberta in Canada(403) 553-2731www.head-smashed-in.com Close
Written by Vanilla Sugar on 13 Oct, 2008
National Geographic calls The Icefields Parkway "one of the world’s ten greatest drives." This endorsement alone made me persistent in my goal to travel this stretch of road through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Our motorhome "Dolly’s Pride" would stay parked in the…Read More
National Geographic calls The Icefields Parkway "one of the world’s ten greatest drives." This endorsement alone made me persistent in my goal to travel this stretch of road through the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Our motorhome "Dolly’s Pride" would stay parked in the Tunnel Mountain Village of Banff National Park site number 232. Driving our Toyota Corolla tow car would make it easier to maneuver into the numerous viewpoints and to see all that the travel books promised: "vast wilderness of magnificent peaks, ancient glaciers, diverse wildlife, waterfalls, pristine mountain lakes, and broad sweeping valleys." The Icefields Parkway stretches a full 144 miles between Lake Louise and Jasper. I would travel the only a segment of the road beginning at the Junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Icefields Parkway. I planned to head north 78 miles to the Columbia Icefield and Icefield Centre to visit the Athabasca Glacier. My first attempt to make this road trip failed, but I eventually reached my destination.On Friday, July 11th, the Highway Patrol Officers diverted all northbound traffic from Banff off the Trans-Canadian Highway at Castle Mountain. We were five miles short of reaching the junction for the Icefields Parkway. A day later, word around the town of Canmore was that an accident shut down the Highway in both directions for nearly half the day. We had idled in that traffic jam for over an hour creeping along. Without a CB in the Toyota, we sat wondering why the route to the Icefields Parkway was as congested as Houston in rush hour. When we were forced to exit onto a secondary road near the Castle Mountain and head south on the Bow Valley Parkway, we turned back to the campground. We would schedule our Icefield trip for another day during our stay at Banff National Park.Three days later, we tried to follow the route again. This time the journey took us to the Columbia Ice fields, a day-long round trip from Banff that ought not to be rushed.Lake Louise was our first stop. This highly regarded community was way too crowded for me. People clustered around the turquoise colored lake photographing the towering backdrop of Victoria Glacier. The resort, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, dominated the scenery. This was definitely a hub for shopping at Samson Mall, eating and bumping into tourists. I need not have bothered to slip out of my embroidered, beaded Skechers sandals and lace up my Timberline boots for this brief visit. This was definitely a Skechers place. I secretly hoped that the rest of the drive would be less commercial, less crowded. We hadn’t driven far out of Lake Louise before I realized my wish would be true. The pull-offs along the Icefields Parkway offered views of snow covered mountains and glacial lakes. The milepost guide from the National Park Service helped us decide which viewpoint to select for stops. Vehicles clustered in areas not designated as pull-offs gave us clues to wildlife viewing. We saw a black bear lunch on wild berries close to the highway. Another time, two grizzly bears quenched their thirst at a pond. We watched them a safe distance away with binoculars. Our travel guidebook suggested that the drive from Banff to the Columbia Icefield would take 90 minutes. I suspect that must have been calculated at a rate of 55 MPH without stops along the way. By my calculation, we lollygagged nearly 3 hours.At the Icefield Centre, visitors can opt for "Guided Ice Walks" or book a trip for Brewster’s Glacier Experience. We decided to take the 90-minute narrated journey aboard Brewster’s 6-wheeled Ice Explorer, a unique motorcoach shuttle bus that lumbered down a near vertical drop to the Athabasca Glacier.Our enthusiastic guide feed our intellect with the cold historic and geological facts about the Columbia Icefield. She told us that the Icefield is the largest concentration of glacial ice below the Arctic Circle in North America. And, it is one of the last places in southern Canada where temperature, wind, and water continue to interact as they did during the last Ice age. She explained the extraordinary fact that snow melting from the apex of the triple continental divide on Mount Snow Dome is bound for one of three oceans: waters from the northern side flow to the Arctic Ocean, meltwaters on the west join the Pacific Ocean, and waters originating on the east will eventually make the journey to the Atlantic Ocean at Hudson Bay. Mount Snow Dome overlooks the north side of Athabasca Glacier, the glacier accessible from the mighty all-terrain Ice Explorer.Before our group was allowed to set foot on the glacier, our guide warned us not to go beyond the bounds of icy surface. She pointed to some hikers in an area that could be dangerous for even the strongest of men. "One step into a crevice could land you deep below the surface of the ice. You might not be as lucky as one fellow who fell through the ice. He landed in a subterranean water passage. Fortunately, it had the force of an amusement park water slide. He slid out an opening at the base of the glacier. Others," she paused effectively, "were less fortunate." She promised we could easily and safely explore the glacier within the reasonable bounds of the ancient ice since in most places it measured 1,000 feet thick.Then continuing in the spirit of her upbeat commentary on the Athabasca Glacier, she advised us all to take a taste of the glacier water running clear like a small spring. "Some say the water flows from a fountain of youth. One drink will take ten years off your life," she winked. Out on the glacier, I saw some old boys, 60+ take a hopeful sip. And, one fearful youngster complained, "If I take a sip, I’ll be back in diapers, Mom!" I wandered around quietly on the massive ice field taking in the incredible, towering mountains. I breathed the cool air and felt content that I hadn’t given up on driving the Icefields Parkway, truly one of the world’s greatest drives.Note: A Canadian Park Pass is required to travel along the Icefield Parkway #93Brewster’s Glacier Experience 1-800-423-7433Columbiaicefield.comGuided Ice Walks 1-800-565-7547 Close
Written by jenandfrank on 02 Jul, 2006
Ice Field ParkwayThis is a stretch of road between Banff and Jasper, considered one of the world's most scenic drives, located just west of Lake Louise. It is a two hour drive from Banff Springs. Once at the Columbia Ice Fields, it is another…Read More
Ice Field ParkwayThis is a stretch of road between Banff and Jasper, considered one of the world's most scenic drives, located just west of Lake Louise. It is a two hour drive from Banff Springs. Once at the Columbia Ice Fields, it is another hour to Jasper. It is along this parkway that you will see all kinds of wildlife – that is if you pay attention and drive safely. We saw a grizzly bear and words can not describe how exciting it was. He was huge!!!! (See picture) The bear, it seemed, could care less about the 20 or so tourists jumping up and down, shaking their heads in disbelief and franticly snapping pictures - no more than 200 ft away. If you see a few cars pulled to the side of the road there is probably some sort of animal nearby. Stop, stretch your legs and get out those cameras. But remember; stay close to your car - it may be a grizzly!!!!!!! Highly Recommended.Columbia Ice FieldsMain hub (Icefield Center) is a large, green-roofed building which houses, bathrooms, gift shop, visitor center, cafeteria and fine dining area. The facility was completed in 1996 and covers and area of over 300 kilometers. It is here where you can buy tickets to visit the Athabasca Glacier which is across the valley from the visitor center. Tours leave every 15-30 minutes depending on season. They take you via regular tour bus to the tip of the glacier. Then you get off that bus and board a gigantic glacier snowmobile (6 wheel drive). It looks like a moon machine. There are huge glass windows on both sides; so you have views from every seat. The tour guides are very friendly and helpful, telling you facts about the glacier and the area on your way. The ride takes about 15 minutes (if that). The glacier is basically a vast ice and snow field with mountains surrounding you. There are frequently avalanches; very cool to see. Don’t worry - you are far enough away to be safe. It is so bright because of the snow; I had a hard time looking around. Bring sunglasses, a heavy coat, hiking boots and your camera. The wind can get strong and the snow from the mountains/glaciers whips around. Difficult for the handicap; to get on and off buses and to walk around. There are no set paths, nothing is shoveled, there are no platforms to stand on, etc. You are warned more than once that walking on the glacier is at your own risk. There seems to be huge “fissures” in the ice that people occasionally fall through. Ouch!!! 23 CAD per person (adult) that includes a 90 min excursion with a drive to the glacier and 20 minutes to walk around and take pictures. The center also has two dining options; cafeteria style and fine dining, bathrooms, gift shop, small museum that lays out the icefield for you and plenty of free parking. We were there in off-season and the place was packed! Recommended.General:http://www.banff.com/http://www.discoverbanff.com/http://www.banfflakelouise.com/We flew into Calgary on Continental from NY after making a connection. To our knowledge, Air Canada is the only carrier that flies direct from NY. The drive from Calgary to Banff was about an hour and a half, mostly highway and very pretty. Seeing the snow capped mountains getting closer and closer really was a thrill. This is the Canadian Rockies – at its best. The area is gorgeous, truly breathtaking. Renting a car is an absolute must. I don't care what anyone says it’s the best and most practical way to get around and see all of the sites. We visited in May which is considered the shoulder season here. I can not even imagine how beautiful the Rockies must be during the summer when the lakes are emerald green. However, wildlife viewing is supposedly at its best in spring and the crowds haven’t arrived yet. We were shocked that it remained light out until 9:30 pm in May!! Banff is considered a national park and therefore there is a charge to be in the park - 9 CAD/per day/per person. There is something for everyone here; skiing, snowboarding, hikes, snowmobiling, shopping, history, great food, golf, white water rafting and wildlife. As you drive around, you’ll see the name “Brewster” everywhere. That family basically owns everything. The next closest town which is similar to Banff but not as charming is Canmore. It's about 20 minutes east and the look and feel of the town is very similar to Banff but not as resort like. A few hours are more than enough to explore this small town. A good portion of the movie “Brokeback Mountain” was filmed here. The Three Sisters mountain formation also makes for great photos.The Fairmont was a great hotel to stay in as it was centrally located within Banff. It was however, impossible to get a picture of the full hotel from standing anywhere on the premises. We found out through the hotel’s bookstore that the best place to get pictures of the full hotel (Fairmont) is off of Buffalo Street. If coming from the hotel, make a right onto Buffalo and take road all the way down, it will curve left and the hotel (full view) will be on the right. There is also a deck that you can climb to get better shots from a higher vantage point. Bow Falls is a small waterfall around the corner from the Fairmont. Nothing exciting. However, Bow Valley itself really is spectacular. Free parking, some locals come here to just relax.The weather really varies here from warm in the day to cold at night. It also varies depending on where you are (mountain vs. on Banff Ave,). We found it interesting that we could not use our (American) ATM cards at any of the local bank machines. We were rejected each time. Thankfully we had some US cash on us and we were able to go to the local bank and exchange it for Canadian Dollars. We have never had this problem anywhere – not in Europe, Mexico or the South Pacific, but in Canada our cards did not work, so plan ahead. Be that as it may, we did find things to add up. Although there wasn't one specific thing that was expensive, we definitely felt that everywhere we went it cost us money; to get into the park, to take the gondola, to get on the glacier, parking, etc. This was a trip we always wanted to take, so we overlooked this. But – when we got home and added it up – this was a very expensive 4 day trip. That being said - it’s surprising how expensive the area priced out during the “high season” (June to September). To be honest, I just can’t imagine it being more money than what we spent. There are good deals to be found for lodging in the off season, you just have to search a little on Expedia, Travelocity, etc. The major downfall to visiting off season is of course, a few of the roads are still closed (Moraine Lake, Tunnel Mountain Drive) and many of the lakes are still frozen over. Regardless, we were still kept very busy and had plenty to do. It’s true - the Rockies are beautiful any time of year. The people are wonderful and so welcoming and the food overall, was fantastic. You will not be disappointed. Highly Recommended. Close
Banff Gondola – 403-762-2523 or http://www.banffgondola.comThe 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.…Read More
Banff Gondola – 403-762-2523 or http://www.banffgondola.comThe 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 – 1AThis 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. RecommendedJohnston CanyonLocated 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.Lake MinnewankaLocated 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 – 403-762-1557This 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 LoungeLocated 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.
Eden - Rimrock Resort Hotel, 100 Mountain Avenue, Banff – 403-762-1865 or www.rimrockresort.comLocated on the same street as the Banff Gondola is the Rimrock Resort, a quaint, understated hotel. The Rimrock is part of the Leading Hotels of the World and judging by Eden -…Read More
Eden - Rimrock Resort Hotel, 100 Mountain Avenue, Banff – 403-762-1865 or www.rimrockresort.comLocated on the same street as the Banff Gondola is the Rimrock Resort, a quaint, understated hotel. The Rimrock is part of the Leading Hotels of the World and judging by Eden - deservedly so. Upon arrival, we were escorted to the restaurant by the valet and referred to by last name all evening long. Very relaxed atmosphere within a very quiet hotel - we even saw a Caribou grazing on the property. The elegant lobby has a fire place, some plush sofas, coffee tables, chairs, etc; basically a living room. The restaurant has heavy velvet draperies with large gold silk accents, dark furniture and walls, and lots of European art. The tables had crisp white linens, with a small glass bowl and an orchid floating inside of it. Our napkins were changed every time we got up – I mean God forbid we have to use the same napkin after using the facilities. Fresh (large) floral pieces were everywhere. The large wine cellar was viewable upon entering and exiting the restaurant. The bathroom had linen towels, small bottles of Listerine, Aveda lotion, Neutrogena chapstick and shoe mitts – all for the taking/use. We had a great table, next to the window that faced the back of the property and surrounding mountains. There were five people waiting on us at once to serve our every request. Immediately after being seated we were kindly asked to please turn all cell phones to vibrate as not to disturb other guests. Yes – this is that kind of place…I mean the bathroom has amenities. Come on! Bottled water was complimentary and we were given a choice of Pellegrino or Evian. I will say this, all of the attention and the general atmosphere of the restaurant made it slightly overwhelming at first. I mean just so much pomp and circumstance. But we quickly got used to all of the attention.The menu is French cuisine with regional accents and changes every season. It has received the 5 diamond AAA award, and many other awards including one from Wine Spectator. Eden offers 4 dinner options; 3 courses for 90 CAD, 4 courses for 100 and 5 courses for 110. We were warned that all portions were small - almost like tastings and they weren't kidding. The fourth option was a tasting menu for 150 CAD with 8 courses. I found it fascinating that all menus are interchangeable. That's not common in a restaurant such as this. In any event, we ordered and were greeted by the bread waiter who offered us a choice of four breads; lemon zing, multigrain, sourdough and rye – all delicious of course and served with salted or unsalted butter and some sort of whipped cheese spread.First course, compliments of the chef, was a cinnamon-ginger (sweet) drink with a frozen "essence" (which was a cinnamon burst), served in a champagne glass. Hard to describe but refreshing, which was the point, and very tasty. The second course, also compliments of the chef, was a parsnip puree with a ground squab center and pistachio oil drizzle. Sounds a little too eclectic to be good but it was. In fact, it was incredibly delicious and was perfect to peak our interest in what was to come. Our third course was whatever we chose as our first course (so in layman's terms, the appetizer). We had the truffle risotto with Parmesan crisp and king oyster mushrooms and the buffalo tartar with carpaccio soaked in sambuca. (See picture of carpaccio below). Served with such care, the presentation was almost too beautiful to touch.
The fourth course was an intermezzo which we were told was served because the chef was unhappy with how our entrees came out. If that isn’t the most hilarious thing you have ever heard, I don't know what is. Entrees options included; Alberta beef, tenderloin with truffle oil, sea bream, buffalo ribeye, veal, venison, quail and squab. We chose the Alberta beef and the sea bream (see pictures of both below). Again, presented beautifully and extremely delicious. My husband had an extra course of quail. At that point I was truly too stuffed to even consider another course. Dessert options were mascarpone with raspberry ice cream and a chocolate cake. We chose the mascarpone (see picture) and the cheese plate (which was on the appetizer menu). The cheese plate included grapes, candied pecans and a wide selection of cheese but no bread or bread flats. After the dessert we ordered was gone, we were served yet another "compliments of the chef" course. It was a two-tier silver dish that had pieces of milk and white chocolate, white chocolate covered leece nuts, bonbons and shortbread cookies. And of course, it goes without saying that each piece was carefully decorated and carefully placed on this tray. Service was truly incredible, friendly - suggesting wines, telling us about the local area, explaining all aspects of meal. We received constant attention. Sounds intrusive? – somehow it wasn’t. Before ordering wine we were served tasting options by the cellar master, Quinn. He was extremely knowledgeable; he explained every aspect of the extensive wine menu. We learned a great deal especially concerning Canadian wine. He even was unhappy with the temperature of the wine my husband ordered and insisted on giving him only a tasting while he cooled the wine a "degree or two". Are you kidding?!! Really, I can not say enough about this guy. He was great.We were given two pieces of banana bread dipped in chocolate and wrapped in a beautiful gift bag, as a parting gift from the matre'd. Incredible! The cellar master, Quinn, walked us out to the car and waited for us to pull away. We were the last to leave that evening. Expect to spend at least 2 hours dinning. We were there almost three. Complimentary valet parking. The restaurant serves dinner only. Dressy attire required, no children. Reservations are a must. Accepts all major credit cards. If you think about it, 90 Cad a person (about $82) is nothing compared to the quality and amount of food – not to mention the level of service – you get. It was an incredible meal, one of our best ever. A romantic evening, a great place for a special occasion – Very, Very Highly Recommended
Athena Pizza & Spaghetti House – 110 Banff Avenue, Banff – (403) 762-4022Since we spent the day sightseeing we wanted to go somewhere that was casual and had good pizza for dinner. We had heard about Giorgio's but when we asked the concierge he insisted…Read More
Athena Pizza & Spaghetti House – 110 Banff Avenue, Banff – (403) 762-4022Since we spent the day sightseeing we wanted to go somewhere that was casual and had good pizza for dinner. We had heard about Giorgio's but when we asked the concierge he insisted Athena's. We asked two of the valet staff and they agreed, so Athena's it was. It's about a 2 minute drive from the Fairmont, serving deep dish, "Chicago-Style" pizza. Located right on Banff Ave, on the right side, upper level of the mall near the clock tower. With a diner-esq atmosphere; plastic table clothes, old wood chairs with plastic covered cushions, carnations on the table, etc. Low-budget, local place, some people might call it a dive. The "come-as-you-are" kind of place. They offer a simple menu with mostly pizza and a handful of salads, sandwich and pasta options. The menu also had a steak, fish and chips and fried shrimp which ranged from 9.95-19.95 CAD. Pizzas are sold in three sizes, 10, 12 and 14 inch and ranged in price from 12.95- 23.50 CAD. The wine/beer menu is larger than the food menu. Our bill was 36 CAD and that was for 2 – 10" pies and one draft beer. We ordered one plain and one house special (loaded pizza) which took almost a half hour to serve; we were only one of six tables seated, four of which were already served. The bottom line is that this pizza was O.K. Very similar to what you would find at a Pizzeria Uno's in the states. The service was fine, two waiters in all. He definitely made us feel as though we were bothering him when we had questions. Super casual atmosphere, no reservations needed, huge table turn over. Somewhat recommended if you are in the mood for a fast and casual meal. Accepts all major credit cards. Free delivery anywhere in Banff (if you don't feel like leaving your hotel room). Limited on the street parking.Coyote's - 206 Caribou Street, Banff – (403) 762-3963Located 2 minutes from the Fairmont on the corner of Caribou and Buffalo Street. Coyote's is a local eatery that refers to itself as a deli & grill, serving southwestern cuisine with a Mediterranean influence – I wouldn't go that far. Small, bright, light-interior establishment. One waitress for about 15 tables and counter seating, with lots of locals and one chef . The menu was fairly small and the waitress didn't appreciate many questions or allowed for any substitutions. The breakfast menu had omelets, frittatas and a section for "sides" which was where you'd find items like individual eggs, a side of bacon or a multi grain bagel with cream cheese for 2.50 CAD. The bread was multi grain, unless you requested otherwise and even then your only other choice was sourdough. 7.95 CAD got you two eggs, sausage or bacon with potatoes and toast. We were charged 2.50 CAD for 2 pieces of sourdough bread after I tried to return seeded multi grain bread that came with the eggs. The bacon was Canadian bacon (obviously) which is basically ham to people from the states and the sausage was a Chorizo which was very spicy but also very good. The orange juice was fresh-squeezed. Our bill was 21 CAD. Limited on the street parking. The lunch/dinner menu includes items such as; soups, salads, quesadillas, pizza, pasta and grilled entrees. No reservations for breakfast but they say reservations are recommended for dinner, another come as you are kind of place. Food was good (hard to mess up eggs), with some interesting breakfast options but the service was borderline rude. Open for breakfast from 7:30 -11 am, Lunch 11:00 am - 4pm and dinner from 5 pm. Accepts all major credit cards, children welcome. I read on a website somewhere "jacket and tie optional" - if that isn't the biggest joke I have ever heard. Would you wear a tie to your local diner/TGIF's? Somewhat Recommended.Melissa's Missteaks Restaurant & Bar – 218 Lynx Street, Banff – (403) 762-5511 We went to Melissa's for breakfast after we decided that there had to be somewhere with friendlier service than Coyote’s. A log-cabin like place with dark wood tables and chairs – no frills. Ceiling to floor windows that face the street and the Banff Park Lodge. It seemed like the kind of place where there was always a crowd. Eggs, steaks, omelets, rancheros, waffles, french toast and cereal were the bulk of the menu. They offer many combos and omelet options. Prices ranged from 3.95-18.95 CAD for (breakfast) steaks.Another place where multi-grain bread is the standard bread served, other options are sourdough muffins and plain bagels. The waitresses walk around with pitchers of fresh squeezed juice which I found hilarious – as someone who does not drink juice myself, I was convinced to get a glass because it smelled so good. Open from 7 am to 10 pm daily, breakfast until 11:30 am. Casual dress code, local place, accepts all major credit cards. The staff was large and pleasant and the restaurant was very large with plenty of seating. The dinner menu included 8-20 oz steaks (15.95-25.95 CAD), salmon (18.95), trout, lobster (22.95), pork, chicken (18.95), burgers (8.50), pizza and one pasta dish (13.95). Good place for kids and groups. Weather permitting they have patio seating as well. Limited on the street parking. Recommended for breakfast.The Grizzly House – 207 Banff Avenue, Banff – (403) 762-4055Known for their fondues and hot stones, with a log-cabin setting and an overwhelming smell of oil from the minute you walk in. A very dark atmosphere with wood furniture. The (lunch) appetizer fondues/hot rocks are 16-23.95 CAD and soups and salads range from 5-11.95 CAD. The "hot rock" meals are what we ordered for lunch. It’s an extremely hot piece of slate that is served with raw and marinated meats. The waiter brings the rock, slathers it with garlic butter, provides some guidance and leaves you to cook your meal. A cute gimmick that could be either fun or annoying depending on your point of view. I will say though - kids will love it! We ordered the sea and land (15.95 CAD) and the chicken (13.95). The lobster and steak were cooked almost immediately but I found the chicken to take much longer. I didn't realize how fast the rock cooled and towards the end of my meal I had to wait what felt like forever to cook my chicken. The waiter said he would come back with another rock – which he neglected to do. I also found it interesting that with four tables seated it took almost 20 minutes to have our essentially raw meals served in the first place.
The plates included the raw meat, salad, veggie of the day and rosti which was basically hash browns. Other entrée choices were steak, meatloaf, burgers, smoked buffalo, eggs benedict and sausage of the day, ranging from 9 - 24.95 CAD. Dessert didn't interest me; I was annoyed at how long it took to cook my meal and the overwhelming smell of old oil which I equate with the place being dirty. Dessert options however included; cheesecake, fondue (of course) and parfait. The dinner menu includes "complete fondue dinners", 35.95-54.95 CAD which comes with soup or salad, cheese or veggie fondue, one main course and one chocolate fondue for dessert. The main course options are beef, chicken, ostrich, lobster, the "hunter" (buffalo, wild board and venison) or the "exotic fondue" (shark, alligator, rattlesnake, ostrich, frog legs, buffalo and venison). A minimum of two orders per table is required for the fondue. Overall the service was fine but slow, which for four tables, I can not understand. There are phones at every table which I still am confused about. Wine list includes about 100 choices and outdoor (street-side) seating is available in warmer months. Large seating inside, no reservations needed for lunch although the restaurant does recommend them for dinner. Very casual, family dining. Accepts all major credit cards. Limited on the street parking, located two minutes from the Fairmont. Overall, I thought a fine choice for lunch, but seemed a bit expensive for dinner. Recommended.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - 405 Spray Avenue, Banff. Alberta, Canada (403) 762-2211Wow! Driving up to this historical landmark is nothing short of amazing. The Fairmont is located in Banff National Park, about an hour and a half (80 miles) from Calgary airport. This hotel…Read More
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - 405 Spray Avenue, Banff. Alberta, Canada (403) 762-2211Wow! Driving up to this historical landmark is nothing short of amazing. The Fairmont is located in Banff National Park, about an hour and a half (80 miles) from Calgary airport. This hotel has a Scottish-castle appearance and is certainly an incredible sight. I am not sure what kind of building constitutes a castle but the Fairmont Banff Springs sure looks like one. Every guide book refers to it as a "Castle-like" structure; as far as I’m concerned - it’s a castle! Built in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the hotel’s construction basically marked the beginning of "tourism" in Banff. Now add to this the backdrop of snow capped mountains and a river running through a beautiful valley and you truly have a spectacular setting.Consistent with all the Fairmonts I have stayed at, the service here is first rate. I mean really good. Every employee we spoke to was more than courteous and greeted us with a smile and a "hello Mr./Mrs..." No question was deemed silly and everything we needed was dealt with immediately. Valet parking was 29 CAD/per day or 22 CAD/self – no gratuities accepted. The valet staff had to be at least a staff of 5 at any given time and they always knew us by name. The lobby is set up like a long foyer within the castle. The front desk and guest services can be found here – although not the concierge.
The Concierge desk, located on Mezzanine 1 was staffed with 2 people and they were very helpful. They booked reservations for us in advance, had excellent dining recommendations and always remembered us by name. No request was treated as a hassle, which we have encountered with other concierge staff at hotels in the past. The hotel's ceilings were cathedral height with many extravagant chandeliers, paintings and tapestries around. The main elevators were around the corner and down the hall from the front lobby. The hallways were done in new and very pretty beige wallpaper. There were paisley carpets, dark wood accents and paintings throughout. Basically, the Fairmont was built over 100 years ago but looks brand new. Our room was 603, which was at the end of a long hallway, facing Bow Valley. We were told in advanced that the valley was the "preferred" side to stay on and therefore more expensive. The valley side has a view of the mountains and the Bow River. Absolutely beautiful. We were surprised that the rooms and bathroom (especially) were on the small side. I wondered if it was just our room, but as we walked around during the next few days and peaked past a few housekeeping carts we saw that our room size was pretty standard. The rooms, 770 in all, have the trademark Fairmont "green" carpeting and the walls had the same paper/design as the hallways. Overall the room was understated (borderline bare-bones), tiny TV, no mini bar, free coffee, iron, safe, 2 nightstands and a small 3 drawer armoire. Not what we expected from a Fairmont, especially after coming from a beautiful Fairmont on the Big Island in Hawaii.
The bathroom was so small you could be on the toilet, wash your hands in the sink and turn the water on in the shower – all at the same time. Needless to say this was a one person bathroom. This was a major disappointment. The bathroom had a floral shower curtain that matched the bed spread, and minimal toiletries; shampoo, conditioner, bash wash and lotion only - Miller Harris from London. Robes and a furry bath mat were given to president's club members only. Although this hotel exudes old world charm, there are shortcomings; walls are thin, rooms are small and the doors are so heavy they slam. It was impossible to nap midday and we were often woken early in the morning by neighbors leaving their rooms. I have read that rooms here are in need of refurbishment. I disagree. Our room was in very good shape, just a tad bit small and of course - the noise.The Fairmont Banff Springs is a huge convention hotel and large groups of people congregate everywhere. Although we were not exposed too much of this, it might annoy some people. On the far side of the property there is the convention center, a small super market (Keller's) and liquor store. There is also a wine shop near the spa with a decent selection. (However, totally overpriced.) The Spa is award winning and the prices reflect that distinction. Make reservations far in advance or you will be shut out. We were disappointed when we were unable to book much of anything. Yet another downfall to a convention hotel. Rates for a Swedish massage were 119 CAD for 50 min and 149 CAD for a 60 minute stone massage. Of course many other options such as facials, manicures and wraps were available as well as an indoor pool. The outdoor, heated pool was located past the spa on Mezzanine Level 1. This pool afforded views of the valley and was popular in the evening. Dining options are too many to list but include; many restaurants, lounges, wine bars, a deli, a grill, and a pub. The Pub deserves special mention. The Waldhaus Pub, located underneath the restaurant of the same name, in a Swiss chalet-type building, was a great place to grab a drink. Here you will find ½ dozen televisions, a few dart boards, a pool table and tons of people enjoying themselves. Great fun! The restaurants offer everything from; Sunday brunch to afternoon tea, wine tasting to fresh sushi. Wine tasting can be arranged through the concierge and are held at the wine shop on-site.There are many easy hikes that can be taken from the back of the hotel (Bow Valley). The Concierge desk had maps with color coded trails which were simple to follow. Also, at sundown a walk through the golf course practically guarantees a glimpse of some wild life. (Those elk are B-I-G!!!!)Overall the service here is great – truly second to none .The castle atmosphere was exciting, sometimes at night even a little spooky. Of course, Bow Valley is absolutely extraordinary. However, I would say if you don't get a discounted rate, I would consider other options; the room was rather small and the bathroom - tiny. Not worth over $400 CAD at all. Recommended.
Written by Drever on 10 Nov, 2002
I was struck with the way Calgary has the look of a modern-day "Dallas". In many respects this is what it is. Oil and banking money built its soaring Downtown skyscrapers. The oil riches had its origins in 1914 with the first successful oil…Read More
I was struck with the way Calgary has the look of a modern-day "Dallas". In many respects this is what it is. Oil and banking money built its soaring Downtown skyscrapers. The oil riches had its origins in 1914 with the first successful oil well. Today Calgary is the oil capital of Canada.
The grid system with Avenues running east west and Streets running north south is like New York. It makes it easy for us to find our way around. A light railway, which runs along 7th Avenue before branching out, saves on shoe leather. Travel inthe Downtown area is free on this service.
The weather was in the high 20s when we were there but winter temperatures are often 25 degrees below and the golfing season is only four months long. To cope with the low temperatures the city has heated covered walkways between the skyscraper blocks so that people can move from building to building without getting frozen. A famous feature of the climate is the chinook. Warm, dry winds pour down the eastern mountain slopes and continue across the prairies raising temperatures by as much as 30 degrees in an hour. Although the city contains many trees, both the altitude and chinook winds makes it difficult for them to survive. Trees can mistake chinook winds for the start of summer and start growing just to be killed by frost.
The Canadian Dollar has been losing value for the last 25 years; therefore visitors from countries with a strong currency find the prices in Canada cheap.
Calgary has many fine shopping areas. Visiting the Downtown on 8th district, which encompasses indoor malls from Penny Lane to TD Square to Bankers Hall and beyond will satisfy your entire shopping needs. The city’s largest shopping mall is the Chinook Centre. This is the place you will find Calgary’s largest collection of national chain boutiques. The Eau Claire Festival Market next to the entrance to Prince’s Island Park is worth your while to visit. The market has one-of-a-kind stores, restaurants and the 300-seat IMAX Theatre and Cinescape entertainment centre.
You will find meals are enjoyable as the service is attentive and polite. The city has excellent restaurants. Because it is not a tourist trap prices are lower than towns such as the Rocky Mountain resort of Whistler and around 25% lower than comparable restaurants in the UK. All restaurants I visited produced an excellent meal. Canadians make breakfast one of the main meals of the day so you often don’t need a meal at lunchtime. Restaurants with all culinary tastes are available. Thai restaurants give especially good value. For those who like a taste of Irish washed down with Guinness, Irish pubs are becoming almost as common as McDonalds. The revolving restaurant in the Calgary Tower provides you with an excellent view of the city.
The Social Character of Calgary
Residents often refer to Calgary as "Volunteer City", a title fully earned during the 1988 Winter Olympics as Calgary produced more volunteers than any other Winter Olympics. Many of the participants billed the event the "best Games ever."
The Olympics left Calgary with a rich heritage including a bobsleigh and luge run, three ski jumps and the Olympic Oval built to house the speed skating events. On the Stampede grounds stands the Saddledome, named after its saddle ahaped roof. The hockey events and the figure skating competitions took place there. Today it is also heavily used for large-scale events such as rock concerts. Now people travel from all over to train for winter athletics at Calgary.
Again the world-renowned Calgary Stampede held in early July displays the volunteer spirit. The city transforms into a modern version of a western town. Everybody, even lawyers, dress-up in cowpoke outfits for the occasion and you would probably find yourself taking part in an impromptu square dance in the street with a Calgarian showing you the steps.
It is unlikely the volunteer spirit would have survived so well without a sound system of law and order. Canada’s policy of setting up the rule of law before Calgary became a town by settling the Canadian Mounted Police in a fort paid dividends. The "mounties" earned a reputation not only of always getting their man but also for being trustworthy.