Banff national park
There is much more than a big, luxurious hotel, and lots of place to eat when visiting Banff. First off, it’s a National Park! Even with fresh snow on the ground there were several items to keep us busy between meals.
Let’s start off with one of the most photographed lakes in the Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise. This lake is located several kilometres away from the main highway and even with the recent snow the access road was perfectly cleared for us to easily drive up and view the lake.
Part of the allure of the lake is it’s colour. Colour that is best viewed, a) in the morning, and b) on a sunny day to get the best reflection. Yeah, weather didn’t cooperate with us on this one. We arrived in the afternoon, and with passing clouds, it went from mostly clear in Banff, to cloudy during the drive towards Lake Louise.
For those visiting during peak periods, it’ll be near impossible to find parking in the lot closest to the lake, and we spotted a massive overflow parking lot just off the highway.
Fortunately, shoulder season to the rescue. We were able to drive right up, find a place to park without issue and made the short walk to the lake. Even with the cloud cover, focusing around the edges of the lake the colour of the lake was present.
With the recent snowfall, my thought of taking the waterfront walk along the lake was quickly nixed because, being a national park, the walkways are not cleared. With the previous traffic, the snow had been stomped, and squished, into an inviting mix of slush, and ice. We stayed close to the walkway that connected back to the parking lot.
The lake does provide with ample people watching opportunities. The struggle to get that “perfect picture” had more than two people almost fall in the water while we visited. The [presumed] Instagram life must be rewarding as an entourage past us, headed straight towards the water’s edge. The model quickly shed her winter coat and boots and instantly the photographer started taking a lot of pictures. This all occurred while a second person held the winter clothing out of the frame, and the final person had a reflective fabric shield to provide additional lighting.
My geography lesson during the trip was taking the less travelled road towards BC. In less than 10km after leaving the main highway there were the provincial flags of British Colombia, and Alberta surrounding the Canadian flag. We stopped and I found out; Banff National Park, is one of four national parks that help to protect this portion of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, the neighbours being Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho. The continental divide also marks the provincial boundary.
This was definitely not the main route through the Rockies as the following signs greeted us as we turned onto this road:
- Chain-up [your tires for additional grip in winter conditions] Area
- No Cell Service for 108km
- No Gas for 110km
I’m happy we didn’t have to travel this road in its entirety. Instead, after pictures and getting the SUV to do a few spins in the fresh snow, we safely returned to the main road, re-entering Alberta:
This mountain is popular because you can take the Banff public transit to the base to either take the Gondola up to the top, or hike up the hill. Obviously we’re not in any shape to attempt the hike up, so we hopped in the Gondola.
[Shoulder season for the win!] Reservations for our Gondola ride were made easily ahead of time online. When we arrived it was a quiet day as we walked straight onto a waiting Gondola. Given the size of the waiting area, this is not the norm during busy season. We also had the Gondola to ourselves, instead of sharing with 2 other people, until we both realized that Gondolas aren’t our favourite mode of transport. For the 8 minute ride, Little Miss sat motionless staring at the hillside not enjoying the almost 700 metre elevation climb. It felt like we were climbing at a 45 degree angle to the ground! (source). I had the pleasure of watching the Gondola base, and parking lot shrink in size. I too, focused on the snow covered forest after a while.
Once at the station, we had lunch as part of the ticket package we purchased. We found the food good, and given the elevation several snow squalls went through while we ate. The view from the restaurant is breathtaking as the restaurant has floor to ceiling windows.
After lunch we proceeded to walk around the exhibits, including venturing outside to the large deck area where I took many pictures. With the high winds my idea of walking over to the lookout post, along the ridge, quickly disappeared. We returned via Gondola to the base station, visited the shops in the building before returning to our rental SUV.
Bow River Falls
Very close to the hotel is the Bow River Falls. This river continues downstream flowing through Calgary. It was scenic to visit and it wasn’t hard to miss pandemic related signs at all sites and throughout Banff.
There is much more to Banff National Park, however given our time to explore and the weather we were satisfied in getting a small glimpse into what this National Park holds.
Explore other parts of this trip:
Part 5 – Banff National Park sites (this post!)