The following is a very brief list of some great things to see and do if you are in Banff National Park Canada.
This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is a canyon carved out of limestone by the river that still flows through it today. In the canyon you can see many small streams trickling in to feed the river. The river itself is just amazing to look at. It is that trademark emeraldy-bluish colour that many bodies of water in the Rockies possess. Oh yeah, and did I mention the three waterfalls along they way? There is a bridge that crosses in front of one of the waterfalls to a small tunnel in the cliff wall. If you go up through the tunnel you arrive at a spectacular vantage point to view the falls. The tunnel itself looks like it was eroded into the rock by centuries of being battered by a torrent of cascading water. I am not sure that this was how it was done but it is cool to look at nonetheless.
After the three falls the trail continues on to the “Ink Pots” which, I am told, are many pot hole-like depressions in the earth with colour in them. I have never made it up there myself and thus cannot comment more about them.
To get to the canyon from the Banff townsite, take Highway 1 toward Lake Louise, you will see a sign along the way telling you where to get off of Highway 1 on to Highway 1A toward Johnston Canyon. When you arrive in the parking lot there are public bathrooms and a concession stand of some sort. There are also cabins for rent right beside the canyon. To view the canyon you follow a trail that lines one side of it. It is an easy to walk trail complete with stairs in steep spots and handrails or guardrails in places so you can get close to the edge of the path safely and view the canyon.
This mountain is one of the most unique and beautiful ones in the park and it is worth seeing and photographing. If you are heading to B.C. or Lake Louise be sure and make a stop here. There is a nice river running past the mountain and it makes for a pretty landscape. Also, the last few times I was there I saw an active osprey nest built atop the bridge that spans the river in front of the mountain (just east of the Highway 1 and 93 junction).
This is probably one of the most photographed places in the Rockies and it’s no wonder. Lake Louise, with its emerald water and surrounding glaciers, is an amazing sight to behold. To get here from Banff townsite simply follow the signs on Highway 1 or, for a more scenic route, Highway 1A. Once you exit off your chosen highway, you will enter a small townsite with a little mall and some resteraunts. There will be a sign pointing you to Chateau Lake Louise. Follow the windey road for awhile until you arrive in the large parking lot. The Chateau Lake Louise is right on the lake and you may use this lot even if you are not staying as long is you park in the visitor section. If you walk past the public washrooms and continue on toward the hotel you will come to the lake.
There is a short walking trail that follows along the side of the lake. I highly recommend walking at least part of this pathas it is a very beautiful walk. If you know what to look for, you are very likely to see or at least hear some pikas (a small but vocal member of the rabbit family). You can tell a pika by the ‘eeeeep!’ sound they frequently make. There are many pikas living in the rock piles at the end of the lake. There are also marmots and mountain goats at Lake Louise but, sadly, I have never been fortunate enough to see them.
After this short hike up the side of the lake if you are feeling more adventurous, there is a pretty grueling hiking trail that continues on up into the mountains to a seasonal tea house. Some words of advice if you decide to attempt this trail (which is known as the Six Glaciers trail):
bring lots of water, it is a tough hike and the sun can get pretty hot at those higher altitudes
if you plan to go to the tea house, check to make sure that it is open at your time of year and find out what time it opens and closes at (my husband and I learned this lesson the hard way. Upon arriving at the tea house with the intent to buy more water, we found that this was the last night of the season and the place had closed fifteen minutes prior to our arrival. Luckily the one remaining staff member was friendly and generous. She made us some lemonade to put in our water bottles for the long trek back down to the lake.
Those with asthma and other lung or breathing issues may have a difficult time breathing in such a high altitude. Lake Louise is at a higher altitude than the Banff townsite and hiking further up into the mountains could prove difficult.
If this doesn’t sound like something you are up for, simply turn around and follow the easy trail back toward the Chateau Lake Louise.
This one seems a bit obvious I know, but if you are staying in Canmore or Lake Louise you should not forgo making the trip into town at least once. Banff is a pretty little town and it is always nice to walk up Banff Ave (the main street) and do some window shopping. The townsite has many stores you would find in any typical mall such as the Gap, La Senza, and Roots but it also has some pretty unique ones as well. A few of these include:
- The Fudgery where you can watch your favorite sweets being freshly made in the window and the smell is unbelievable.
- Cows ice cream which is unique in that there are only three locations anywhere (to my knowledge) one in Banff and the other two on Prince Edward Island.
- The Christmas Store where the name says it all really.
The streets are also lined with many pubs, bars and restaurants serving all types of food and drink.
The townsite offers much more to do than shopping and eating alone however. There is a gondola up the side of a mountain. You can get a horse and carriage ride through town, see a show at the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts, or just sit on a bench and people watch. No matter how you choose to pass the time you will not be disappointed.