Written by jenandfrank on 02 Jul, 2006
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 31 Oct, 2002
Banff is a town that has been designed to blend into the park. It does this so successfully that in my attempt at photographing the town it is difficult to see it for the trees. It has various rules and regulations concerned with the national…Read More
Banff is a town that has been designed to blend into the park. It does this so successfully that in my attempt at photographing the town it is difficult to see it for the trees. It has various rules and regulations concerned with the national park such as only materials found in the park can be used for building houses.
Banff mostly consists of a street (Banff Avenue) about a mile long with various short side streets. Houses are low-level timber houses so as to fit into the park. There are some beautiful log cabins and houses. The town is full of restaurants – over 100. It is difficult to recommend one. In general we just had a look at the menu and if it suited we walked in. We were never disappointed. I admit though to being slightly partial to the succulent steaks served up by The Keg Steakhouse and Bar. Coming from Scotland where we think our Aberdeen Angus beef is the best in the world, I am probably as good a judge of a good steak as any. I can only say that it was cooked to perfection and it was as good a steak as I have ever tasted.
For more information on menues and locations check out The Keg Steakhouse and Bar.
Banff was full of touristy-type shops. Unfortunately many of the shops seem to stock the same items.
Within the town, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is worth a visit. It is home to artwork and photos of the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Alpine Club of Canada library and the Archives of the Canadian Rockies. Canadian art is interesting for The Group of Seven set out to establish a unique Canadian form of art. It tends to record not only what the visual senses see but also feelings. I like Canadian art but it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
Contained in the grounds of the museum are many historical buildings. We had a guided tour through the area. It is difficult to get worked up about a lot of timber buildings. I remember that to have a veranda or balcony was a sign of wealth in the early days
Luxton (Indian) Museum just over the bridge spanning the Bow River was very enjoyable. This natural history museum is named after Norman Luxton who once operated a trading post in the Banff area. Part of it is set up as a trading post and many items relating to Canada’s past are contained there.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola is possibly the highlight of a stay in Banff. It transports visitors to an elevation of 2,281m (7,486 feet) above sea level at the top of Sulphur Mountain. This offers possibly the best view in the Canadian Rocky Mountains - an unobstructed 360° view of memorable mountain scenery. At the summit are three outdoor observation terraces.
For the adventurous, there are trails along mountain ridges with panoramic views. We tended to stick to various low walks. One was to Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park's largest waterway and another in the area behind the Banff Spring’s hotel. The hotel was built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company to attract tourists into the area. According to our guide they built it the wrong around so that the staff get the best views and the biggest rooms. It is pretty much a village in its own right with its shops and golf course. The challenging 6,729-yard course offers scenic thrills and golf challenges throughout its 18- and 9-hole courses.
The attraction in the area was the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, discovered in the 1880s by two railway workers. These sulphur springs are great to bathe in, so some of the members of our tour told me. Being rather a stiff climb I didn’t make it to the caves myself.
Written by Lovestogo on 29 May, 2005
We did some easy walks/hikes while spending 2 weeks in the Banff and Canmore areas. These are strolls that anyone can enjoy on almost flat and wide, well-groomed trails or boardwalks. However, all three of these are also some of the most popular…Read More
We did some easy walks/hikes while spending 2 weeks in the Banff and Canmore areas. These are strolls that anyone can enjoy on almost flat and wide, well-groomed trails or boardwalks. However, all three of these are also some of the most popular sites to see, so crowds are always around.
The Lake Louise Shoreline Trail is one of the busiest but also easiest trails that provides awesome views of the Chateau Lake Louise, as well as the lake itself. With very little elevation gain, the path follows the lake, is easy to walk, and is also wheelchair accessible, with the first 300m being paved. There are benches along the path where you can stop and enjoy the sparkling emerald-green waters of Lake Louise, and perhaps if you are lucky, someone will be canoeing or kayaking on the lake.
Near the end of the shoreline trail, there are some good rocks for climbing, and on our visit, quite a crowd had gathered around to watch several climbers. A good view of Mt. Victoria and the Victoria Glacier can be seen from the end of the lake. There was also grizzly-bear activity at the end of the lake, with a grizzly sow and her cubs nearby on our visit. The Plain of the Six Glaciers trail can be picked up at the end of the lakeshore trail.
Early morning is the best time for taking photos and to possibly avoid some of the crowds.
On our visit in early June, 2004, the lake was almost nonexistent, with the small amount of remaining water still covered with ice in places. This was one of the downfalls of visiting in late May/early June. However, we were able to walk on the bottom of the lake that normally is 75 feet deep. We didn’t spend much time doing this because the feeling resembled that of being in quicksand, the rocks gave way as the soft mud underneath had a tendency to sink in.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge and a short trail leads to the top of the quartzite rockslide that created Moraine Lake. This provides the best view of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
The Moraine Lake Trail follows alongside the lake and is picked up right beyond the Moraine Lake Lodge. There were several spots in the trail that were muddy and had standing snow and water, so we tried to dodge them. Throughout the trail there was a couple of small wooden bridges to cross, and at one point, we were totally swarmed by mosquitoes. We were thankful at that point for our rain jackets! At the end of the lake, we sat on the wooden boardwalk and wondered what the view would have been had we been a couple of months later on our visit. Ah, but this will entice us to make a return visit!
Like Lake Louise, the best time for taking photos at Moraine Lake is in the morning.
From the parking lot, cross the bridge and go past the Johnston Canyon Lodge and restaurant for another easy hike that provides some beautiful canyon and waterfall views.
Johnston Canyon consists of seven waterfalls, and, for us, getting there was half of the fun. A catwalk has been built through the canyon, which is made of concrete, with a metal handrail to hold onto. This sometimes puts you out over the bubbling and swirling water, which adds excitement to the hike. The trail to the Lower Falls is narrow but wheelchair accessible and 1.1km (0.6 miles) in length.
From the Lower Falls, another trail continues for 2.7km (1.5 miles) that increases in elevation and goes from easy to moderate. (This trail is not wheelchair accessible). But the payoff is the Upper Falls, which thunders down almost 100 feet for a spectacular waterfall. There are benches along the way to sit, rest, and enjoy the views. Another trail (3.1km) leads from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots, which are mineral springs whose sediments reflect sunlight, producing a brilliant aqua color.
The best time to visit Johnston Canyon for photos is early afternoon. Even then, we had difficulty in taking our photos due to the darkness of the canyon walls.
Johnston Canyon is also a very popular hike in the Canadian Rockies. There is no time for solitude here either, but the effects of water eroding through limestone can easily be seen on this short but enjoyable hike/walk.
Written by annekmadison on 01 Dec, 2000
Americans may find much of Highway One quite different from roads we've become accustomed to. In the West, much of it is not "freeway style" driving at all. Though the road is well engineered and maintained, many parts are two-lane undivided highway.…Read More
Americans may find much of Highway One quite different from roads we've become accustomed to. In the West, much of it is not "freeway style" driving at all. Though the road is well engineered and maintained, many parts are two-lane undivided highway. Other segments are four-lane, divided. But for most of its length through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, with the exception of city areas, there are no interchanges, no cloverleaves. We got ourselves on and off by means of stop or yield signs and short merge lanes. Drivers on the highway are advised of upcoming towns and "important intersections ahead." When the "four lane" becomes a "two lane" again, there's always a sign or two reminding the forgetful driver to "Remember -- Two Way Traffic."
This type of driving requires some old-fashioned virtues of the driver. It’s necessary -- not optional -- to be alert, courteous, and above all intelligent. Imagine, for example, drivers getting on to Interstate 95 in rural North Carolina by means of a plain stop sign. Would it work here? I'm not entirely sure that it would. Those who remember and observe those old-fashioned driving virtues move right along at a uniform and almost-unvarying 100 kilometers per hour, or about 60 m.p.h. Did we want to pass? We hit the turn signal, waited for a clear spot in the oncoming traffic, and made our move. Rather than grimly speeding up, the other driver obliged. Was there a truck behind us? He wasn’t riding our tail, but rather maintaining a respectably safe following distance until he was ready to pass -- at which point he signaled in anticipation of equivalent courtesy from us. We drove a lot of miles on Highway One and never saw a single accident. The only speeders seemed to be people with Alberta license plates. The speed limit in Alberta is 10 kilometers per hour faster, or about 70 m.p.h.
I was concerned about running out of gas over the vast, empty stretches of prairie we would encounter. But my worry was needless. Towns along the route are indicated clearly, in advance, by informative road signs. We could see at a glance what services they offered (gas, food, lodging, police, camping, what-have-you). Many rural towns sport attractive signs with their names and some descriptive slogan. "Gas Capital of Canada" was my personal favorite. After a short exit lane and frontage road, our gasoline awaited. On Highway One, we got a full-service fill-up every time. Remember those? A real-live person arrived to fill the tank, check the oil, and clean the bugs off the windshield. Inside we invariably found a convenience store with a supply of hot coffee, and at many stops there was a restaurant attached.
There were also plenty of rest areas. Some were bright, beautiful, and interpretive. Others consisted of a privy or two and a quiet picnic area. But in all those vast stretches, we never went without a meal, a cup of coffee, a rest room, or a fill-up when we needed them.
Highway One carried us through many towns, large and small. Brandon, MB was our first city, and I'd like to thank the anonymous van driver who let me change my mind and make an unexpected right-hand turn as I looked for the right road. Outside of Brandon we got our first taste of the "real" highway, both two-lane and four-lane. The Western Manitoba welcome center offered free coffee before handing us off to the Saskatchewan welcome center a few kilometers distant. Manitoba's center also had a small garden patch with the plants that make the province rich -- graceful stems of wheat, oats, barley, and flax. Saskatchewan's center offered us examples of the same plants in their harvested and dried forms.
We stopped overnight in Regina, capital of Saskatchewan, and toured the RCMP Museum the next day before starting off again. I’ll cover that trip in a separate journal entry.
On the fourth and last day of our outbound journey, Highway One turned "freeway style" to take us through the city of Moose Jaw, where we stopped for a lunch of A&W Root Beer and hot dogs. Moose Jaw was apparently a hotbed of activity for the American mob during the days of Prohibition. But we were anxious to get on with our trip and did not stop to see the famous underground caves.
Back on the road, we drove through fields of ripe, golden wheat that stretched to the horizon. Each town had a grain elevator, and there were trains or sets of railroad cars waiting on sidings to carry the harvest away. When the "two lane" turned into a "four lane" the other side of the road was often a mile away, and the median area contained fields of hay or grain. The western edge of Saskatchewan presented us with two large, beautiful lakes and, a bit later, with an oddly hilly terrain that was the result of glacial activity.
We arrived at Alberta's beautiful welcome center in the afternoon in the middle of a pelting rainstorm and took refuge under the front portico to stretch our legs and smoke a cigarette in the company of some folks from Calgary. They informed us that the bears, both grizzly and black, were very active this year in Banff and told us where and how we might watch some from a safe distance. We thanked them, collected some maps and brochures, and got back into the car, re-energized by the fact that our long drive out West would soon be over.
When we got to Alberta, we felt we’d truly arrived in "The West." The speed limit went up, and although there was still plenty of grain, we also saw a lot of cattle. The roads intersecting Highway One were often dirt "Range Roads," and we saw small antelope grazing freely with the cattle. There were also a lot of small oil pumps set in the middle of the pastureland, reminding the passerby of Alberta's other source of wealth. Railroad tracks and many grain-laden trains accompanied us for much of our this part of the drive.
Shortly after our departure from the welcome center, the sun finally came out for good, and we were gladdened by skies of the most improbable blue, the perfect setting for the gold of the ripe grain. We passed through the town of Medicine Hat, and our eyes began to strain for a first glimpse of the Rockies to come.
By the time we got to the outskirts of Calgary, our enjoyment of the scenery and the town were seriously hampered by the blinding rays of the sun, low but still very bright in the western sky. Good sense and the evening traffic prevailed, and we stopped for supper on the eastern edge of the city.
As it turned out, our break was long enough to ease the impact on our eyes, but it was also long enough to deprive us of that long-awaited first glimpse of the Rockies. After dinner, we followed Highway One through town. The road soon became mountainous, and after another hour or so, we had arrived in Canmore at the Big Horn Motel where we spent our last night on the road. They were waiting up for us, having expected us at 6 p.m.
The next morning's light left no doubt at all that we were truly in the mountains. They surrounded us on every side. We decided to take advantage of the Big Horn's laundry facilities while we had breakfast at the Grizzly Bear Restaurant next door. So, provided with a good night's rest, clean clothes, and a good, solid breakfast we turned off of Highway One into Banff National Park. It was the end of our cross-continent journey on Highway One and the beginning of our adventures in the Rocky Mountains.
Written by Sam on 03 Aug, 2000
On my first trip to Banff, I couldn't believe the jetting crags and virgin pine forests that smother Banff National Park. I had grown up near mountains, but nothing like these. Even the Swiss Alps have a hard time sizing up to the…Read More
On my first trip to Banff, I couldn't believe the jetting crags and virgin pine forests that smother Banff National Park. I had grown up near mountains, but nothing like these. Even the Swiss Alps have a hard time sizing up to the Canadian Rockies in this region. I knew then that I would have to dump the car at the nearest trailhead, and set off into the woods in search of a new secret spot.
No. I'm not going to reveal my findings--at least not all of them. They wouldn't be so extraordinary if I told everyone about them. However, I will start you out on a journey into the Banff backcountry, so that you may find your own secret spots, which I hope you, too, will not tell to everyone.
Like I said in the brief description, bring warm gear and be prepared for everything. I cannot stress this enough. Even during the summer months, freak snow storms are not uncommon, and sometimes drop more than a foot of snow overnight. Needless to say, shorts and a couple of t-shirts will not suffice. And don't think a pair of longjohns and wool socks will help much. Bring gear like you were backpacking in the middle of winter, and you won't be sorry that you packed the extra couple of pounds.
There are over 1500 kilometers of trails in the backcountry, and you can certainly pick out which one is the best for you and your time/money/experience constraints. But, I would recommend at least four to five days in the woods to fully enjoy all the backcountry has to offer.
You can find trail maps anywhere in the Banff area, or at your local REI, if you'd like to scout out a trip--which I would definitely recommend. The more you know before heading out to Banff the better, as you will be better prepared to traverse a trail best suited for your situation.
On my last trip to Banff, I took the Elk Lake trail, and hooked up with the Sawback Lake trail on the backside of the Sawback mountains to complete a loop, which I always prefer, as I don't have to see the same things on the way back as I saw on the way in. Anyways, to get to this trailhead, head to Mount Norguay, just five kilometers from downtown Banff. Park there and start in on the 50+ kilometer hike.
I'm not going to bore you with trail descriptions (because nobody likes to hear about somebody else's vacation, right!), but I will tell you that it is the most beautiful backcountry that I have ever seen. The wilderness is pristine, and animals scour over every inch of the mountains. Deer, elk, bear, squirrel, marmot, cougar, mountain goat, big-horn sheep, wolf, and moose. Watch out that you don't startle any of the larger creatures, as they can seriously hurt you on your hike. It wouldn't be much fun if all the danger was caged up like a zoo, now would it?
Throughout the trail, you will encounter towering peaks, miles of maiden forests, alpine meadows, and emerald green lakes. Animals often scury across the trail in front of you, and never once does an unnatural sound enter your ear.
Campgrounds are plotted along the trail at intervals of about ten kilometers, and I fully recommend that you use them, as they are always near a water source, and have bear poles already set up for caching your food at night.
The only other thing I can say is to have a good time, and make sure that you respect the power of the wildness. Always remember that these mountains have been around several million years longer than you have, and they will be around for several million years more. Don't attempt to fight this tradition, because you will NEVER win. So be prepared, and be aware of the weather and the wildlife--you can't control either.
Written by Peregrine on 24 Jul, 2001
If you have a chance to drive this highway, do it. If you don’t, make the chance. The road curves through the mountain valley between Banff and Jasper. Except for a restaurant/motel about halfway along the 143-mile roadway, the scenery is pristine…Read More
If you have a chance to drive this highway, do it. If you don’t, make the chance. The road curves through the mountain valley between Banff and Jasper. Except for a restaurant/motel about halfway along the 143-mile roadway, the scenery is pristine and uninhabited.
The mountains are not as high as they are in the Colorado Rockies, but the valley is lower, giving the impression of immense height. While the lower slopes are covered with lodgepole pines, the peaks above the tree line (about 7000 feet) are as barren as the mountains around the Dead Sea. The road takes its name from the Columbia Icefield nestled in the high mountains. This is the largest ice field outside the Arctic regions and the origin of dozens of glaciers that sweep down the mountainsides to feed mountain lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, many of the glaciers are receding rapidly (well, rapidly for glaciers). For instance, the Crowfoot Glacier has changed so dramatically in the last century that you can no longer recognize the crowfoot shape it was named for.
There are dozens of roads that lead off the main highway and if you have the time, you should explore a few of them. Each one uncovers scenes of breathtaking beauty. Among the roads we took was the one to Bow Lake, a crystal blue, glacier fed lake. It is the headwaters for the river that meanders through Banff. (The Indians thought the river was shaped like a hunter’s bow – hence the name.) There’s a wonderful old log lodge at the edge of the lake that was built for trophy hunters in the 1920s. It’s called Num-Te-Jah and it is open during the summer season.
Bow summit is the highest point on the highway, just before the turn off to Peyto Lake. This is one turnoff you shouldn’t miss. A short walk through the pine scented forests opens onto a narrow valley with a turquoise lake spread along the valley floor. It was named for Bill Peyto, one of the guides who led packtrains from Lake Louise in the early part of the century. He was evidently quite a character (one guide book says he once took a wild lynx into a bar and sat back with a beer to watch the fun). It’s said he liked to camp down here by the lake. And who wouldn’t, it is spectacular. Although the lake is one of the more frequently photographed places around here, I’ve yet to see a picture that captures the exact shade of turquoise I saw the day I was there.
For miles, the road passes creeks rimed with ice and rocks slik with moss. In the early morning, fog rises from the rivers, often with an elk or two standing in the water posing.
As we got closer to Jasper, we started up what is called the “Big Hill.” The switchbacks take you up about 1400 feet in 11 kilometers. The sudden rise, however, gives you fabulous views back toward the road we just traveled. At the top of one of the switchbacks we were forced off the road by a most fascinating road hazard – a small herd of big horn sheep crossing the road. Fortunately, there was a turn off right there, so we pulled off to mingle among the sheep, mostly females and young. They were quite unimpressed by our presence and let us take pictures from just a few feet away. Minutes later, they scrambled up the steep, rocky slope on the far side of the road. What a treat.
I found a book called the Parkways of the Canadian Rockies by Brian Patton, and if you plan to spend any time here, I would highly recommend the book. It has a mile-by-mile map and description not only of the Icefield Parkway, but others in the area as well.
Written by Josh S on 08 Jan, 2005
Big terrain. That’s what I was looking for to cap a somewhat blasé ski season on the East Coast. Don’t get me wrong—carving a high-speed GS turn on boilerplate ice can be a thrill, but I thirsted for more. Vivid dreams of the drop-in, the…Read More
Big terrain. That’s what I was looking for to cap a somewhat blasé ski season on the East Coast. Don’t get me wrong—carving a high-speed GS turn on boilerplate ice can be a thrill, but I thirsted for more. Vivid dreams of the drop-in, the chute, and a sequence of jump turns filled my nights. I yearned for the long glade of reasonably spaced trees, the wide-open powder bowl, and the sheer vertical. I was completely obsessed—I had to do something to satisfy my cravings. So I flew out to Banff, and guess what: big terrain everywhere.
Just an hour-and-a-half drive from the Calgary airport lie two full-on ski areas with some of the best lift-serviced terrain in North America: Lake Louise and Sunshine Village. Both resorts are within easy driving distance of the world-famous mountain towns of Banff and Lake Louise in the heart of Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies.
Lake Louise: Chutes Galore
Lake Louise doesn’t waste any time getting the show rolling. Minutes after stepping out of the rustic coziness of the massive Lodge of the Ten Peaks, I stood 3,000 feet higher on a ridge, overlooking a vast, powdered expanse bending out of sight toward a valley far below. After a few quick warm-up turns, my season officially began.
Lake Louise resembles a Vail on steroids: both share the magnificent vistas, breathtaking back bowls, and first-rate on-mountain dining experiences, but Lake Louise adds to that the muscle of a plethora of challenging terrain that Vail lacks. But there are also plenty of greens (25%) and blues (45%) that conveniently link up with every lift, allowing skiers of different abilities to ski together easily. That’s right—your novice ski partner will be totally content while you rip some serious vertical alongside.
Lake Louise packs a huge 4,200 skiable acres in a layout strikingly resembling Vail—an 1,100-acre Front Side of glades, bowls, and trail skiing; a Back Bowls area encompassing 2,500 acres of chutes, glades, and powder fields (equal to the entire size of Snowbird); and finally, a back-back side called the Larch area holding 600 acres of choice bump and glade runs. Included in the Larch terrain is a hike-in up to the top of 8,902-foot Lipalian Mountain, offering dedicated powder hounds fresh-track opportunities even late after a storm.
There’s no question that the Paradise Chair and Summit Platter (a tough go for snowboarders, but well worth the effort) offer up the sickest terrain on the mountain. Tight lines, cornices, and drops dot the landscape and pose an unending assortment of thrill-rides. The ER chutes accessible from the Paradise Chair afford some of the steepest drops down the backside. The Whitehorn 2 Gullies from the Summit Platter present a sequential series of challenges—skiing all eight in a day is a local challenge.
Perhaps the gnarliest chute of all drops away in the Jewelry Box, accessible only after a short hike along the ridge of Mt. Whitehorn. And then there are the unending Ptarmigan glades, where life slows down and fresh lines never falter… I could go on and on. At Lake Louise, bountiful hidden treasures lie in wait—the exploration is up to you.
Sunshine Village: Extreme Banff
Although it’s rare for one location to possess two great destination ski resorts right next to each other, the Banff area is a stunning exception. Only 15 minutes from the town of Banff, Sunshine Village boasts 3,358 skiable acres and the most extreme expert terrain in the area. Add to that an average annual snowfall of 264 inches (significantly higher than Lake Louise’s 179 inches), and now we’re ready to go skiing.
Over the last few years, Sunshine has transformed its image from "the family mountain" to "the steep-skiing center" of the region. Ask any local ski bum where they skied on their last day off, and chances are, they’ll say "Sunshine." With 42% of the mountain’s terrain rated Advanced and 5% Expert, the experienced skier will feel right at home.
The most famous run at Sunshine is unquestionably the Delirium Dive (known simply as "The Dive" by locals). A true in-bounds backcountry experience, the many lines of the Dive offer a variety of challenges (such as jumping an impossible ice waterfall—not recommended) before converging into a powder bowl below. Be aware that transceivers, probes, and shovels are required to ski the Dive, but other than that, you’re pretty much on your own. Only take this plunge if you know what you’re doing.
In addition to the Dive, major expert terrain expansion since last year has bolstered Sunshine’s status as the undisputed home of Banff steeps. In total, 158 acres of Expert terrain were added to Goat’s Eye Mountain, including four double-black chutes and the "Extreme Skiing – Experts Only" Wild West area. Unfortunately, the Wild West chutes never officially opened to the public this year, due to lack of snow coverage. Ski-patroller Troy Leahy skied us down to the closed boundary edge of Wild West and showed us the new historical signage dedicated to early Banff-area mountaineers, including "Wild Bill" Peyto. Peyto’s name distinctly sticks out in my mind…
…Because Troy simply lifted the rope and said, "OK, let’s go." Off we descended through untracked powder fields until we reached the narrowing confines of Peyto’s Chute. Here things got a bit tricky—a few rocks under the surface here and there, but overall, a classic jump-turn sequence down the two-ski-length-wide chute was exactly what I’d been craving for so long. "Not bad," said Troy at the bottom. "Other than ski patrol, the only other guy out here all year was [extreme skier] Chris Davenport." Not a bad way to end the season.
Now, back on the East Coast, my thoughts turn to summer and warm weather again. My ski cravings for the year have been totally satisfied. But now that I know what lies waiting up in Banff, I’m sure my cravings will be that much more severe come winter.
Ski area info
Although independently owned and operated, the Lake Louise and Sunshine Village resorts (along with the smaller Norquay) offer a multi-mountain lift ticket deal that provides lift access to all three mountains. Free shuttle bus service to and from the towns of Banff and Lake Louise to all three mountains is also included in the ticket deal.
More information on the lift ticket packages can be found at www.skibig3.com.
For info specifically on Lake Louise, visit www.skilouise.com.
For info specifically on Sunshine Village, visit www.skibanff.com.
Located in the heart of Banff village, Brewster’s Mountain Lodge provides the perfect base for your ski adventures at both resorts. The wooden-beam lodge feel and consistently themed log furniture add a Western flavor to the place. Amenities include a hot tub, sauna, exercise room, underground parking, restaurant, and separate ski storage.
Great eats abound in Banff—some of my favorite places for food/drinks were the steakhouse/bar SaltLik and the Irish restaurant/pub St. James’s Gate.
Written by Tank3802 on 03 Mar, 2005
In our 30 years of skiing, we had never been farther north than Utah, so we decided that we were going to be very adventurous this year and made reservations for Banff, just outside of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. (In case you don't know,…Read More
In our 30 years of skiing, we had never been farther north than Utah, so we decided that we were going to be very adventurous this year and made reservations for Banff, just outside of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. (In case you don't know, and I did not, it is just north of Idaho.) We were very excited when we got reservations at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort for the second week in February. We were even more excited when we got the amazingly CHEAP round-trip airfare tickets from Houston to Alberta, and we kept trying to figure out why?!?
Now we know why - there is not generally a huge rush of people going to Canada in February because it is so COLD! The high is generally around -10°F. We happened to hit an unusual year. It has been unusually warm this year, so the high the week we were there was about 5°F. We were lucky because the wind did not blow and the sun was shinning, so we were able to ski, but we had to wear so many clothes and keep all exposed skin on our faces covered to keep our brains from freezing!! We did have a great time, and the skiing was great. The snow was not that great. I think it was too cold to snow. Crowds are not a big problem up there as you can probably imagine. The people are great. The pubs are great. The boarders seemed to be a little more out of control than usual for some strange reason. The mountain is tough! It is very steep, icy, and not groomed for the most part.
If you go, take a day off to go dog sledding. It is the greatest.
If we could, we'd go back in a minute. It was so beautiful. Banff is a great town. I understand that the best time to ski there is March and April.
The US dollar is very good against the Canadian dollar right now, so this is a good time to go. We went to many different pubs and restaurants and a chateau. We checked out all the ritzy places for drinks, etc. All of them were great and welcomed everyone whether or not you were staying there. We tried to see all Banff and Lake Louise had to offer, and they had quite a lot. They get 5 million visitors a year, and 4 million of which go in the summer. Now is a good time to go!
Written by kinaida on 25 Feb, 2004
There is no shortage of ski rental shops in Banff. It can be somewhat overwhelming to figure out which one has the best skis for your money. We were very happy with our choice of Breeze Ski. It is located inside of…Read More
There is no shortage of ski rental shops in Banff. It can be somewhat overwhelming to figure out which one has the best skis for your money. We were very happy with our choice of Breeze Ski. It is located inside of the Glacier Shop, which is a trendy ski shop that sells clothes, skis, goggles, etc.
We arrived to pick up our skis on a Sunday, late afternoon. It took us 2+ hours to get our skis! There was someone in front of us who was trying on skis to purchase, so that absorbed much of their attention. There were only two guys working, so we ended up spending a lot of that time waiting. However, once we did get served, they were extremely attentive to every detail. My friend who has his own skis says that they spent more time fitting our boots than they did with his that he had bought!
My right boot ended up being too small and really hurt my foot on the first day that we skied. I brought it in on Monday (and the shop was much less crowded) and they refit me. Other than that, we were very happy with all of our equipment and the service that we received. We got the recreation skis (the lowest level). You can also demo skis, but those are fairly expensive. Their pricing is constant -- you do not get a discount for renting multiple days. I got sick the last day and they took back the skis and gave us a refund (you pay up front), no questions asked.
We highly recommend them (although don't go late on Sunday!). And they are conveniently located right off of Banff Ave. For more information, go to their website www.breezeski.com.