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Our first glimpse of the Rockies is from a quintessential Albertan vehicle, a large, four wheel drive pick-up truck, looking mostly new but with a long crack in the bottom of the windscreen and a few other chips dotted around it. In the UK, such a windscreen would fail a MOT test of road worthiness, but here everybody - and I mean everybody - drives with one. But I am digressing.
The Rockies are staggeringly impressive. A person that has a tendency to overuse hyperbolic descriptions and exalted adjectives (like your reporter) will find themselves regretting earlier exclamations of wonder, because those mountains are really a Something Else: massive, snow-topped, heavy crags of grey rock, tearing through the sky above them. I always though that the "Rocky Mountains" designation was rather unimaginative, but it's actually perfectly descriptive. The Rockies are very rocky indeed and inspire open-mouthed awe even in the children who are generally unimpressed by the magnificence of the landscape.
Our hosts live in a house located in a new development, a few miles out of Canmore, which itself is situated just outside of the national park. We are stying almost directly under the imposing massif of Three Sisters (the Older Child gets her sketch book for the first time in weeks and does a quick drawing as we wait for our hosts to come back from skiing).
The next day, we are lent a car (complete with the windscreen cracks) as well as a National Park pass and as the day is beautifully sunny, we are off to Banff.
Banff is a major centre for tourism in the Canadian Rockies, the main town in the national park which bears its name and probably the most famous locality in the area. But then, all of Canadian Rockies are about tourism. The European settlement of the area started with the railways, and the railways brought the visitors searching for dramatic landscapes and healthy airs. Hotels (many of them railway hotels, owned by the powerful Canadian Pacific railway company) followed the railways and the visitors flocked to the wilderness.
And wilderness it remains, despite the veneer of civilization and technology, despite the roads, ski lifts, bear-proof rubbish bins and cable cars, the Rockies, as they have always been, are wild and untamed. Unlike the European mountains of similar size, where people have been living, herding sheep and goats, making cheese and practicing the yodeling for hundreds if not thousands of years, there is little evidence of ong-term permanent human habitation in the Rockies, although the original inhabitants of the land undunbtedly visited the valleys in the summers at least.
Banff is a busy, touristy little place and the town itself doesn't feel particularly enchanting, but what matters is of course the landscape around and there is enough to satisfy everybody.
We take a walk along the Bow River to the rapids slightly downstream from Banff centre. It's a pleasant stroll, mostly on a wooded path separated from the road, with attractive views opening up and changing every few meters, it seems. The day is beautifully sunny, and the mountains look magnificent. The rapids are noisy and worth the effort of the walk, and as we climb up to a small viewing platform above the road, we can see the Banff Springs Fairmont Hotel, another one of those castle-like grand railway hotels that Canadian Pacific seem to have built all over Canada. We walk back to the car park, where the children do some mock rock climbing in the playpark, and then drive to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola (which warrants a separate review, but is certainly a fun thing to do if you can afford it).
By the time we come down it's the afternoon, and we need to think of returning to base. On the way back, we do a detour to Lake Minnewanka, a glacial lake below the Cascade mountain, a few miles north-east of Banff. It's clear here that May is not quite the high season in the Rockies. The lake is surrounded by snow and partially frozen, and there is no visitors about, although mountain goats and bighorn sheep can be seen by the roadside. The lake has been made bigger but also somewhat more desolate by hydro-electric schemes that raised the water level by some 30m. Still, it's an attractive spot, although wind gets channeled down between the hills and it's starting to sleet so we only stop for a brief look.
From Lake Minnewanka we drive back to the main highway and then off again for a while along the Bow River which meanders rather magnificently under the huge massif of Mt Rundle. Views are everywhere, and as there are plenty of parking spaces we are tempted to stop for photo and gazing sessions that The Children greet with increasing moans of annoyance. The last stop before we take off on the way back to base is by the Hoodoos, a set of convoluted shapes eroded in rocky outcrops that raise from the steep valley side above the river. The walk to the lookout is quick and interesting enough even for the children, and we don't meet many people on what is normally apparently very crowded path. There are some advantages to visiting in the low season.
The disadvantages hit us rather forcefully the next day, when we set off in the morning with a plan to visit the Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise. It's sunny and hopeful looking as we drive off from Canmore, taking the Bow Valley Parkway which is supposed to be the more attractive route. Alas, fog and mist descend pretty quickly and we can't see much apart from the road and a few trees nearby. Within a few miles it starts to snow. By the time we turn back onto the Trans Canada Highway, I am driving in a minor blizzard, with the wipers going at full speed and the snow falling in large, wet and sticky flakes. Back Canmore it's raining cats and dogs and we get completely soaked in a short run between the parking bay in a retail park and the inside of a cafe. Clearly, Johnston Canyon wasn't to be. We will take another shot at Lake Louise tomorrow, as part of our onwards journey.
Banff National Park is easily accessed from Calgary, and we visited in a motorhome as part of a holiday touring the Rockies and British Columbia. The town of Banff is certainly a relatively touristy town, but these things are purely relative, and there is plenty of wilderness all around.
Parking for motorhomes in the town itself is a bit tricky but there is ample space on the edge of town, with just a short walk to the friendly and informative tourist information centre, who were happy to give advice about local facilities and sell us some bells to warn the bears that we were around.
Banff made a great introduction to the Rockies for us, we could get a feel for the area, do some stocking up and browse round the fairly extensive range of shops. Due to its situation it's probably quite hard to travel through Banff National Park without passing Banff, but that doesn't matter because it's well worth stopping for a look around anyway.
I have visited Banff National Park on two occasions in the past few years, and it is a trip I highly recommend. Get yourself a hire car from Edmonton or Calgary and do the trip between Jasper and Banff - it is fantastic. Both parks have plenty to do, and is really an independent traveller's dream. Banff National Park is possibly the more tourist friendly of the two, Banff town actually being quite large compared to Jasper which is fairly compact. In Banff National Park, is the famous Lake Louise with nearly as famous Chateau Hotel (please see my review of that). This is picture postcard perfect, and as such suffers from hoards and hoards of tourists, most of them in large coaches. It is much more pleasant in the evening, when most of the coaches have gone. Turquoise blue lakes abound, and many offer hiking trails for relatively short and easy hikes, as well as perfect picnic spots. Moraine Lake near Lake Louise also gets its fair share of coach parties, who all seem to make the pilgrimage to the top of a rough viewpoint, but the view is pretty nice. Nearer Banff is Lake Minnewanka which is a long lake and always seems slightly less frequented. There are loads of photo opportunities everywhere, and sometimes it is nice to go for a drive somewhere and just stop off at the various lakes, waterfalls and viewpoints. The popular way to get great views of Banff is to take the Gondola up Sulphur Mountain, but for a different view drive to the Norquay Parking Lot which looks right down on the Town. Banff Town in the summer is very busy, and the main Banff Avenue has touristy shops as well as a surprising number of upmarket outlets. A little way out of Banff Town Centre you will find Banff Springs, a Baronial Castle style of hotel first opened in 1888 by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. It was for years owned by the hotel division of the same company, which recently became known as Fairmont Hotels. It is a striking hotel, in a lovely location, and from
the hotel it is a semi-strenuous walk to the Upper Hot Springs which is a nice trio to take, even if you don't partake when you get there - just the smell is enough! I wrote a review for another website last year of the Banf Springs Hotel, which I'll copy below. ************* I first visited Banff Springs in 1997, and from then always considered it one of my two favourite hotels (along with the Royal York), because of the atmosphere and because we were made to feel very welcome. I looked forward to going back last July, and although it's still up there in my top ten, there were a few things to burst the bubble. When we arrived we drove to the back of the hotel to unload our bags, only to find that the old entrance was no longer there - silly us! The large extension at the front was now the main entrance, and because we could not see any valet parking attendants anywhere, we drove to the garage and dropped the car off, and walked to check in. The new stone of the extension does stand out rather, and hopefully in a few years time will have blended in to the older parts. The new reception area is grand, like you would expect from a grand hotel, with lots of marble, grey stone walls, crested carpets and gothic style chandeliers. A large staircase ascends from the middle of the lobby between the rows of check in desks. We checked in, commenting that this was the last of eight Fairmont Hotel on our vacation. We waited quite a few minutes to check in, and it transpired that the check in clerk had arranged for us to have an upgraded room. We were pleased, but I must admit, I felt a bit jealous of the single businessman checking in next to us, who had been upgraded to the Honeymoon Suite. Our room, on one of the higher floors, had character and although on first impressions seemed quite large, the small windows and sloping walls could have become quite claustrophobic in time, especially as one of the blinds could not be rai
sed. The wallpaper was quite old fashioned and beige, but the bedspreads and curtains were quite cheery in a cream, pink and light blue pattern. It was what you would describe as a very individual room, totally unlike the carbon copy rooms so often found in modern hotels. Although the hotel as it stands now has been here for decades, the amenities in the hotel in general and the rooms are what you would expect of a good 4 star hotel. All rooms have hairdryers, minibars, iron and board, TV's with bill viewing options, and are equipped with good quality furniture. The public areas of Banff Springs take your breath away. Just wandering around the maze of corridors, and getting a little bit lost is part of its charm. There must be very few places that have this type of unique atmosphere - it is a happy and enchanted place. Set amongst all the history, there are modern touches - a very good spa, a wealth of eating options, shops and all modern amenities. The first evening we walked into Banff town to Giorgios (recommended). This is another benefit of Banff Springs - it is far enough out of the town to be tranquil, but near enough for a fifteen minute walk to the action. The next evening, our last night in Canada, we had hoped to dine in the Italian restaurant on site, but this was taken over by a private function. One of the upstairs bars was closed for renovation and the Grapes Wine Bar was too. It was too late to catch the shuttle bus to the Golf Clubhouse (not that the menu was that appealing). We tried the Rundle Lounge and was told that they would not be serving food that evening because of the function next door. We were getting worried that we would not be able to find anything, and it was getting too late to get a reservation at a restaurant in Banff; and we wanted to spend our last night at the hotel anyway. We asked the dining concierge about where to get a light meal, and he was aghast that the Rundle Lounge was serving drinks and
not food, because of their licensing laws. He said the only place to go was the Waldhaus Pub, which we did. First impressions weren't good, as we descended into the deserted pub. We asked if they served food, and when we saw that they did, went outside to find a table. There were no clean tables, only one out on its own near the door, which we had no choice but to sit at. The bar staff seemed unconcerned. A few minutes later a table was vacated and we went to sit at it, to the disgust of the bar tender who told us off for sitting at a dirty table. We ordered our meal, standard bar fare, and tolerated the abrupt attitude of the bar tender for as long as we could. The view was admittedly great from the terrace, with chipmunks scuttling round by our feet. The Banff Springs is a great hotel, and hopefully the problems we had with the restaurants, were only temporary - we had no problems like this last time. I would still go back now the renovations are finished, and hope for a better experience. I think you stay here to be part of the history of Banff - if it were not for the CP railway, none of the tourists would be here at all, and so Banff Springs is an integral part of the town. Not to stay here would be a real shame.
Have you ever liked the idea of putting on the sunglasses jumping into the convertible and driving for miles in the hot summer sun surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the World? Yes? then Banff National Park is for you, read on! Banff is usually associated with skiing and winter holidays, people sometimes overlook the fact that Banff also serves as a fantastic summer destination. There is only one way to explore this wonderful part of the world and that is by car (preferably open top). The roads are long straight and quiet so much so that driving actually becomes an enjoyable experience. There are many points of interest where one can stop, get out of the car and explore, far too many to mention here but if you think of crystal clear turqoise lakes, glaciers, waterfalls and snow capped mountains you get the idea. Most areas of interest are signposted and are easily seen from the conveniently positioned parking areas at the side of the road. Wildlife is also a common sight. watch out for parked cars and people looking into bushes this usually means there has been a "sighting". Three or four people usually indicates mountain goats or deer, seven or eight people would probably mean elk and if there is a big crowd with people fighting for position to get the best photograph then it can only mean the best sight of all THE BEAR. Please be careful if you do see bear especially if there are cubs nearby as I am assured on good authority they can literally rip people in two they can also run very fast so please be respectful and keep your distance and DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GO NEAR THE CUBS. In addition to Banff National Park the Icefield parkway drive to Jasper is also a must with even more incredible scenery, the highlight being the glacier which you can actually walk on but wrap up warm. There is also a useful information centre there offering trips refreshemn
ts etc. I would suggest anyone visting the Rocky Mountain area to stay in both Banff and Jasper as both have lots to offer although my favourite is banff. Don't forget your binoculars and camcorder!!!!!!!!!
Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park, established in 1885, in the Canadian Rockies. The park is located 120 kilometres (80 mi) west of Calgary in the province of Alberta. The Icefields Parkway extends from Lake Louise, connecting to Jasper National Park in the north. Provincial forests and Yoho National Park are neighbours to the west, while Kootenay National Park is located to the south and Kananaskis Country to the southeast. The main commercial centre of the park is the town of Banff, in the Bow River valley.