Most people, when they live next door to a famous tourist destination, take that destination for granted.
Even if it happens to be Banff, Alberta – UNESCO World Heritage site, Canada’s first national park and home to the glorious Banff Springs hotel (which first opened its regal doors to guests on June 1, 1888.)
But let it be said here that – in spite of our proximity to the mountain playground – Toque & Canoe wholeheartedly appreciate this attraction and much of what it has to offer.
So we thought we’d gather a top ten list for those of you who want to take in the town and its surrounding nature – a little something beyond fighting the crowds in pursuit of designer fashions on main street Banff.
1. Find thee a river. And float on it! Who cares if you feel like a tourist in your own backyard. Rafting down the restless, milky-blue Bow is an exhilerating way to experience the Rockies – no matter where you’re from or what your age. Pair the experience with a chatty and knowledgeable guide like Fern from Rocky Mountain Raft Tours and you can’t go wrong.
2. Always, always check in on The Banff Centre to see what they have going on. From festivals to rock concerts to keynote speakers – you’re guaranteed an original and quality experience. A few years back, we watched Australian musician Xavier Rudd – famous for his collages of globally-influenced music – perform at this popular venue. Memorable and soul-stirring stuff.
3. If you’re walking through the town centre, keep your eye out for the Canada House Gallery – a respected and impressive source of ‘real’ Canadian art. But be warned. You, like us, may fall deeply for significant (and significantly-priced) art pieces like Les Thomas’ endearing “Moose Calf.” Still dreaming about this iconic yet original Canadian painting.
4. How about a canoe ride on the neighbouring Vermilion Lakes? If you don’t have a canoe of your own, rent one from Blue Canoe Rentals. The waters are calm, the feeling peaceful. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself spontaneously belting out a rendition of famous Canadian folk song Land of the Silver Birch. The experience is about as Canadiana as you can get.
5. Where to sleep? We’ve stayed at a number of great spots. From The Juniper Hotel and Bistro (a gorgeous boutique-style accommodation with the best patio vista in Banff) to Buffalo Mountain Lodge (higher end but worth every penny – if not to experience their luxurious rooms then to taste their delicious, trademark mountain cuisine) to the family-friendly, moderately priced Douglas Fir Resort and Chalets (where, if you land one of their quirky cabins on the property’s edge, you may wake up to a tangerine mountain sunrise coupled with the sense that all of Banff belongs to you.)
6. Of course, there’s always the question of food. We’re big fans of family-friendly Melissa’s Missteak and have been loyal to this restaurant for years. If you’re lucky, you’ll get veteran waitress “Laurie” – who not only serves a mean steak and Caesar salad but does it with a quick wit and entertaining demeanour. For something relatively new, local Mary Morrison (a travel industry specialist) suggests The Bison. We’ll be checking in with this new resto soon.
7. You can’t come to Banff in the summer without going for a hike. Sunshine Meadows – recently named one of Canada’s top ten day hikes by the Lonely Planet. The Ink Pots with its amazing, plunging waterfalls along the way. And if you like your chocolate (here’s a potent combination) – what about a breath-taking hike on The Great Divide followed by a chocolate fondue with fresh fruit? Yum.
8. If you’re travelling with kidlets and looking for a little distraction – the local rock and gem shop and the old fashioned candy store have been a tradition since we were kids. Watch yourself though. You may lose a filling after scarfing back that sponge toffee you picked up for old time’s sake. Remember? You lost a filling back then, too.
9. O.K. You’ve travelled however far to get to Banff and you’re keen to experience the best possible view of the park there is. You want to take the 8-minute-long gondola trip up Sulphur Mountain. The view, the wind, the whole on-top-of-the-world feeling is as about life-affirming as it gets.
10. Need to blow the dust off an active day in Canada’s most famous national park? Here’s a couple of drinking holes you might want to check out. The locals can often be seen hanging at Banff’s oldest pub – the Rose and Crown. Another one to check out is The Bear Street Tavern. Double stuffed potato skins and pulled pork nachos sound pretty good to us. To top it off, St. James Gate is also known to pull a nice pint of Guinness. Enjoy!