Banff, Canada has been on my mind since my high school years. I remember watching a PBS special on the Canadian Rocky Mountain train that would take you from Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB and I was desperate to take this train ride. I remember countless times trying to convince my brother to join me on this train adventure, without luck. While planning the summer travels, my girlfriend Jenny dropped the magic words, “You know Banff is only like three hours from Glacier, right?” No, I did not and quickly Banff was added to our itinerary.
What had thrilled me about Banff originally? The mountains looked insanely beautiful and the Canadian Rockies just look so much more spectacular than the American ones. Also, there’s just something about Canada. It always seemed a bit magical to me….imagines of people wearing red and black flannel shirts, playing pond hockey and seeming insanely progressive and accepting. All the fun stereotypes of Canadians appealed to me.
We had just left Glacier and the wildfires they experienced, and were very excited to leave the smoky haze behind us. As we made our way into Alberta, we crossed flat farm and grassland which looked a great deal like corn fields of Illinois and Indiana that we were so used to. The smoky haze continued as we made our way further north and appeared to be getting worse. So I quickly Googled Calgary and the first thing that popped up on my phone was this headline, “Calgary Wakes Up to Blanket of Wildfire Smoke”. It appears we were headed into smoke even more thick than it had been in Glacier!! Fires in British Columbia were blowing smoke into Alberta. Oh well, this is what we need to expect when spending August out west!
We didn’t let the smoke and haze diminish our time in Banff though, which we all agree might be a little bit of heaven on earth! There is so much we loved about Banff. The city is extremely small and very walkable and I loved strolling through the small downtown area. Almost the entire city is either pedestrian or bike friendly, making it extremely easy to get around. And should you need to, the bus system is very easy to navigate, is clean and reasonably priced. The bus would even pick us up outside our campsite!!
We had been unable to dump any of our compost since leaving Colorado almost a month before, and we were traveling with a very full compost bucket. Outside the Fire Station was a compost and recycling center and we were able to dump all of our compost there!! We were so excited. You have no idea how great it feels to reasonably get rid of your compost! A true joy!
The food is really good too! Banff has a real hopping food scene with several restaurants focusing on local and sustainable food options. We really enjoyed Park Distillery, The Maple Leaf and Grizzly House, which has a phone at every table and you can call tables and chat with whoever looks interesting. (We found out the restaurant was a swingers club in the 1970s, and the phones were used to discretely make introductions!)
But of course, what makes Banff so magical is the nature surrounding you. The mountains are spectacular, the pristine lakes, rivers and waterfalls, the biking and hiking trails all throughout the town help contribute to the unique experience that is Banff. For two days we were in Banff, falling in love with it, and one morning, after a hard, cold rain, I stepped out of our Airstream to see this huge mountain in front of me!! Who had put that there?! The rain and wind and blown the smoky haze away for the day and exposed even more of the mountains surrounding us, and of course I fell in love with Banff all over again. Granted, it was mid-August and the temperature that morning was forty-two degrees, but that only made it more beautiful to me.
The highlight of the trip was the day we took the shuttle into Lake Louise to hike the Plain of the Six Glaciers tour. The incredibly beautiful Fairmont Chateau Hotel sits at the base of Lake Louise, with a very famous view of the mountains and glaciers behind it. It’s the postcard photo every person who comes here wants to get. We tricked the kids into hiking “just around the lake” but once we started going, the hike became more and more beautiful and we ended up taking them almost five miles up the mountain to the Plain of the Six Glaciers, a spot where you can sit and view six glaciers and enjoy a meal prepared in a small brick tea house that’s been there for almost a hundred years. Everything served at the tea house is hiked in by the small staff that works there and upon finishing our meal of tea, Indian dahl soup and chocolate cake, we had to hike our waste back down the mountain with us! The meal was one of the most memorable we will ever have!!
In the end, our kids hiked almost nine miles that day, to an elevation gain of over 500 feet. We were so proud of them! If the kids have beautiful scenery around them, and a destination that could prove to be magical, they don’t seem to notice that they are hiking their little feet off!! After this grueling but rewarding hike, we stopped into the bar of the Fairmont Hotel and toasted our achievements, me with champagne, Justin with bourbon and the kids with a kiddie cocktail. It was a spectacular day!
After three days in Banff we were supposed to head into British Columbia for a few nights of camping and kayaking but unfortunately BC was in a state of emergency due to over 500 wildfires smoldering at the time. We were told to stay away. So we were stranded in Banff for two more days. What an incredible place to be stranded!! We were not sad in the least as this gave us even more time to explore.
Another great and unexpected thing that happened in Banff……. Micah learned how to ride a bike!! After two months watching his sister bike and appearing to have limited interest, on our first day there he asked me to bring his bike out. For about half an hour I held the back seat of his bike as he steadied himself and tried to gain his balance. And then a few times I let go and away he went. By the time we left Banff, he was banged up, had a fair amount of bruises, but was starting to get really confident on the bike. His confidence has only continued as the summer goes by!!!
Of course we will be coming back to Banff. I would love to see it in the fall, when the leaves on the trees are changing colors. I would love to see it in the winter, when the Bow River freezes and people skate through town. I would love to see it in the spring, when the snow begins to melt and the flowers start to bloom. Oh the flowers, I failed to mention that Banff has one of the most beautiful public flower gardens!! So do not hesitate to head up to Canada if given the chance and check out this perfect place.