If you live in the Calgary area, you’ve no doubt gone to Banff countless times. Since it’s practically right around the corner. In the summer, the historic mountain town welcomes thousands of Calgarians every weekend, offering sun, mountains, cool water and lots of delicious bites. This past weekend, while my parents were visiting from New Brunswick, I figured it was a perfect time to go check out Banff…like never before.
Getting there: The town of Banff is only 129 kms away, meaning if you drive the speed limit, you’re there in 93 minutes! After the devastating flood, we all saw the video and photos of the highway being washed out, but after only a few days, it was rebuilt and ready to go. The day we drove up, it was completely smooth sailing to Banff.
Pit stop: Canmore was the first town to be hit by the floods, but driving through the downtown, you wouldn’t even know that, just a few weeks ago, the raging waters were just steps away. Canmore is the perfect pit stop on your way to Banff, especially if you drive to the town’s centre and get out to stretch your legs. There, you’ll find ice cream served out of a school bus and countless spacious and sun-soaked patios. If you’re looking to walk off the ice cream, any time I’m in Canmore, I always check out the Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk, which is just off the main street and features a winding boardwalk through a small river and wetland. The only thing you need to bring with you is a camera, trust me, you’ll want one.
Trying new things:
My parents have been visiting Banff for more than ten years, so you would think that finding them new things to do and see would be harder than it actually is. While flipping through the town’s guide, we realized that none of us had ever been to Vermilion Lakes, which is just on the edge of town. Whether you’re up for a super easy walk, or an easier drive, we were shocked that the trail wasn’t already on our must-visit list. With lots of benches and docks on the shores of the beautiful lake, not bringing a picnic or even a cold drink was our biggest regret. If you’re looking for a natural place to relax and get away from the usually busy sidewalks of Banff, you should definitely check out Vermillion Lakes.
Up next was the Cascade Gardens, which offers up some beautiful gardens and winding pathways, that seem more like Choose Your Own Adventure than a planned garden, but that’s sort of the fun. You never really know where you’ll end up, as you walk by thousands and thousands of beautiful and colourful flowers. Apparently they shut down the fountains a few years ago, but it would be nice to figure out a way to bring the back. So much of the garden looks as it’s meant to beside a pond or small waterfall, but instead many of the ponds sit empty. Besides that, we spend about an hour or so relaxing in the tranquility we found just off of Banff Ave.
Continuing on our adventure to do new things, we drove up to the Rimrock Hotel, which has the reputation for being one of the most luxurious hotels in the whole country. Sitting just below the Banff Hot Springs and the Mt. Rundle Gondola, the Rimrock’s location high above the town is what draws tourists from all over the world. Although we weren’t staying there, we thought it’d be nice to go to the lounge, enjoy a cocktail or two and take in the beautiful sights offered up by the hotel. Let’s just say, they had the fanciest nachos of I’ve ever had. If you’re looking to add a touch of class to your visit, definitely check out the Rimrock.
Where to stay: If you’re looking for something off Banff’s main streets, then you should definitely check out The Banff Centre. The world-renowned arts, cultural, and educational institution is nestled perfectly into Tunnel Mountain, making it sometimes hard to see from down below, yet it somehow manages offer the town’s best views of the river valley below. While it might not look like it, the centre actually offers a hotel service, making it perfect if you are looking to for something a little quieter, but not too far from all the action. The hotel is also great if you are checking out a show at the Banff Centre, of which there are many. This particular weekend, we were with my parents to see the Blue Rodeo concert at the centre’s outdoor amphitheater, which is practically across the street from where we were staying. If you’re looking for a relaxing way to get to and from a concert, why not stay where the concert is? Makes sense to me. Even though the rooms are technically on a campus, those interested in reliving their wild dorm life need not apply. The Banff Centre is just like a regular hotel with comfy beds, beautiful views and great service. The centre features more than 400 rooms, varying in price, style and size. (More info.)
Where to eat:
Since we were staying at The Banff Centre, we decided to spend much of our time eating at there mostly because it had so many different options. Both mornings we at Maclab Bistro, which served breakfast until 11am, which is great for those of us that tend to sleep in. Plus, fresh blueberry pancakes or french toast for less than $8 is pretty unbeatable, no matter where you’re eating. If you’re looking for something a little more formal. My parents and I were bowled over by the Three Ravens Restaurant & Wine Bar. Sitting practically on top of Banff, the restaurant offers some of the best views of the mountains I’ve ever seen, especially while enjoy lick-plating delicious dishes like Pan Seared Pickerel ($39) and Herb Crusted Alberta Lamb Rack ($42). The prices might cause you to order cautiously, but trust me, if you love your taste buds, consider it a savvy investment.
Better to see you with:
Look, let’s get one thing straight. If you’re Canadian and you have a chance to see Blue Rodeo, you take it. If you have a chance to see Blue Rodeo at The Banff Centre, you bring everyone you know. This was the second concert that I’ve seen at the Shaw Amphitheatre and once again, I have to reiterate just how beautiful it is. Lush green grass, beautiful views, beer gardens, oh and Blue Rodeo, you really can’t pass it up. All summer long, the amphitheater offers up a variety of performances and shows, from Classified, to Measha Brueggergosman. In a few week’s Calgary’s Shakespeare in the Park will also be a show on the stage surrounded by mountains. I can’t picture a more amazing way to see Romeo + Juliet!