Newest Review: ... highly recommend the property, the hot tub with views over Banff and the Rockies were a highlight of our trip. I will do a full review at... more
Banff: Itinerary suggestions for people short on time.
Member Name: rosaliecullen
Date: 19/01/12, updated on 19/01/12 (35 review reads)
Advantages: Gorgeous, Beautiful. It has everything.
Disadvantages: Absolutely none.
Rather than re-iterate all of the wonderful things to see and do in Banff as 14 other reviews have done beautifully, I thought I would tell you of our activites on a 2 day trip to Banff in case others want to see it all on a tight time schedule. Banff is of course a beautiful town in the Rocky Mountains, just 1 hour away from Calgary airport by car. We visited in the summer of 2011 and had a perfect time. I seriously love the place. It is only small, one main road, less than 50 shops and restaurants but lots of visitors. In techy terms, it is a real "honeypot".
So here we go with essentially what was our trip report which I hope will provide some useful insight to the area and hopefully encourage you all to go and visit!
**Our arrival in Canada**
We arrived at Calgary airport at 2pm local time, it took nearly 2 hours to get out of the airport and clear customs but we finally made it to the rental car desk. The guy on the desk suggested we upgrade the car to at least a "full" size car for driving on the mountain roads and we are glad we did this, our Chevrolet Impala was well worth the small extra bit and with travelling around so much, the space in the boot of the car was brilliant. I would strongly recommend getting a car with at least a bit of power.
**Getting out of Calgary**
Having left the airport with the map firmly in the boot, I soon learnt that there are only a handful of main roads in Canada, and we were not on any of them. We took an unscheduled detour around the suburbs of Calgary (which I recommend not trying at home folks!) before finally finding somewhere safe to stop to retrieve the map. We finally got on the highway and before long, in the distance, the majestic Rockies loomed over us. The drive was so exciting, flat land all around us on three sides, but through the front window, the gateway to our holiday was getting closer and closer. The drive to Banff was approximately one hour and twenty minutes, but it seemed much shorter with the fantastic display of beautiful scenery to gawp at out of the window.
**Getting into Banff National Park**
After passing Canmore and paying our park pass fee (we got an annual pass as it worked out better for us), we turned off for Banff, only to take a right turn at the junction (I found Canadian signposts to be not so clear in some cases) and after 10 or so minutes, I felt we had taken a wrong turn (turns out we were on the Lake Minnewanka loop!), so we headed back to be greeted by the beautiful Banff.
**Hotel in Banff - Magnificent!!**
Our hotel was Hidden Ridge Resort on Tunnel Mountain. I can highly recommend the property, the hot tub with views over Banff and the Rockies were a highlight of our trip. I will do a full review at some point, but if you stay there ask for a room with a view and be prepared that some of the the rooms are quite dark even with all the lights on. I also recommend staying on Tunnel Mountain, it was 5 minutes from Banff in a car and felt so peaceful in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the town. We headed to Bruno's for some food, again I will do a full review but the food was cheap and cheerful, not a fine dining experience, but the staff were friendly and pointed out some good things for us to see and do. I felt like all of the staff in shops, restaurants and hotels really knew their stuff and were more than willing to dig out a map or provide information for tourists, so don't hesitate to ask.
**First full day of activity in Banff - suggestions of itinerary**
We headed to bed early, feeling fairly jetlagged and of course woke up bright and early at around 5am. This 8pm bedtime, 5am wake time would continue for the next 4-5 days and we made the most of the early morning opportunities. The week before we came away the weather wasn't so good in Banff and someone on here told us to make the most of the good weather when you can. I would say that was excellent advice and with that nugget of information safely stowed away, we jumped on the Banff gondola just around 9am. Whilst we were up there, the weather was clear-ish, then in snowed, then it was brilliant sunshine. I learned a saying about Alberta weather "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" - mountain weather is extremely changeable and a tragic downpour of rain can be over within minutes (unlike England where it seems set in for 2 weeks). The views from the top were breathtaking, really really stunning. It also helped situate us, as I couldn't quite work out where everything was, given that I had such a clear image in my mind of what Banff would be like, it took a while to break that mould. We stayed at the top of Sulphur Mountain for around 2 hours, there is a cafe up there which is nothing special and a gift shop, but we were just in awe of the entire scene before our eyes. I would also say to anyone a little nervous of the gondola, yet it is high but the ride is incredibly smooth and I felt very safe throughout. By 11am, the peace and quiet at the top of Sulphur mountain was well and truly over and the hoardes of tourists on coaches queuing to go on the gondola made me feel glad we had done it really early.
After this, we headed to the Lake Minnewanka loop as the weather didn't look so great and I always figure that in general lakes and waterfalls look pretty good in the rain anyway so we tried to keep that in mind for variable weather days. We went around Lake Minnewanka, Johnson Lake and Two Jack. It absolutely poured down when we arrived at Two Jack and we had our sandwiches in the car. By the end of the sandwich, it was brilliant sunshine, so the tip about waiting five minutes in Alberta weather really made sense! This area is pretty good for wildlife and on our way out, we spotted what we thought was an elk (but since realise they were mule deer) - it was very exciting seeing these things in the wild. We stopped for a quick photo/video and then went on our way.
At this point, the weather was turning again so we were going to go to Banff Park museum, but by the time we arrived, the weather was so nice we took an unscheduled stroll down the Bow River to Surprise Corner. This is one of the "hiking trails" which is definitely more of an easy, easy walk, and also very pleasant. There are lots of benches to stop at and soaking up the atmosphere of Banff was just a really nice thing to do.
We headed back to Hidden Ridge around 3pm to sit in the hot tub, unable to believe we were in such a gorgeous place. That night we decided to eat in Grizzly's fondue restaurant, again I'll do a full review, whilst it was different, it was very expensive, not at all filling and I can't recommend it, we certainly wouldn't eat there again. Feeling shattered we retired to bed after a busy but exciting 24 hours.
**Second full day of activity in Banff - suggestions of itinerary**
We were up early and headed up Highway 1a to Johnston Canyon which took about 40 minutes. We had high hopes of seeing some good wildlife, as many people in Banff had described it as being one of the best places to see wildlife, we thought it would be a dead cert at 7am, but still, only the mule deer came to see us, nothing more exciting like the bears and wolves and cougars that had seemed so prevalent in the area when people spoke of taking this highway. We were a tad disappointed but got on with our day. Again we arrived at approximately 8.15am and it was busy enough but quiet enough to enjoy it. Again this is a "hike" that isn't so much of a hike, however believing the "hike" to be difficult, we decided to just stroll the first paved part. In flip flops, it wasn't too much fun, I recommend at least trainers as there are some uphill bits to the lower falls, but again, a much easier hike than we anticipated (particularly as we weren't going to do it). The walk was brilliant and pretty easy and the lower falls were very rewarding, had the trainers been on the feets, we would have gone to the upper falls but it seemed ridiculous in flip flops! I would suggest going to the little cafe in the gift shop, it is genuinely vintage and just felt very quaint, we really liked it!
We drove back along Highway 1a, again no wildlife spotted. We headed to Banff Springs Hotel, which is massive and impressive, but after wandering inside, I was heartily unimpressed with what seemed like a theme park castle. The man in one of the shops there told me he thought I wasn't impressed with it because I was used to real castles, which is true I guess, perhaps North Americans are more impressed because they don't see real British castles very often, so with that in mind I guess Banff Springs seemed pretty good to them!
After lunch on a picnic bench overlooking the hotel, we headed to the Hoodoos (another "trail" which is an easy paved walk). Two cougars had recently been sighted there, so we waited ages for more people to walk with us along the path as the "carnivore alert" sign suggested, but no one came so we just went to the first view point by ourselves at it seemed close enough to the car park and we made lots of noise to make ourselves known. The hoodoos were OK and worth a look, but the view over the beautiful Bow River was spectacular from this vantage point. That signed and sealed it for me, I was in love with Banff.
After this we went to the Banff Park Museum full of taxidermy animals, for the $4 it cost to get in it was worth it and filled an hour or so for us. We then wandered down Banff Avenue , disappointed that so many of the shops were full of the same (in most cases tacky) souvenirs. Once you've been in one shop, you've been in most of them! The situation of Banff between Mt Rundle, Sulphur and Cascade was so picturesque, I really loved it.
**2 days vs 2 weeks*
We had originally planned to have another day in Banff (but had to change due to hotel availability in Lake Louise), which we would in hindsight have spent visiting Canmore which is supposed to be lovely and less touristy than Banff (according to some Calgary locals). I would say the 2 days we spent in Banff were enough for us who were keen to see as much as possible and maximise the time we had in each place.
Personally, on reflection, I would now love to chill out and relax in Banff for a week or so. Either in summer or winter, it was one of my favourite places of all in Canada, but the itinerary suggested would be useful for someone trying to maximise their time in the town. We tried to pack as much in as possible, next time, I would try and chill out a bit more!
Also posted as dollydaydream84 on tripadvisor.
Summary: I love this place and would go every year if I could.