Must-see sites at Banff, Alberta

When I first arrived at Calgary International Airport earlier this summer I was a little overwhelmed. Flying had never been my favourite activity and a trip in a province I had never been to didn’t seem very promising.

A town nestled in the Banff National Park in Alberta, my reason for visiting Banff was simple: I wanted to experience the Albertan Rockies.

Although a seemingly more touristy and commercialized area than some of the other parks in the province, Banff offers visitors the luxury of enjoying nature and hiking trails while having many restaurants, spas, art centers and nightlife options nearby.

Here are some must-see attractions if you ever find yourself down that road.

The Village

Appropriately located at the heart of the town, the town’s village is similar to many other tourist towns, fully equipped with over-priced stores, restaurants, information centres, car rental places and a mall. However there is some charm to it. A must-visit is the Grizzly House for their famous fondue.

Animal Sightings

There’s not really a specific place you can go to catch your friendly four-legged creatures, but they are around. When I was there, not only did I see a fox, sheep and deer wandering the streets, but also a grizzly and a black bear!

Banff Upper Hot Springs

I’ll be honest. When I first found out that we were heading to a hot springs on our second day there I was a little hesitant — my conversations with people who had previously visited the springs didn’t paint the best picture. That soon diminished once I entered the commercially developed outdoor pool and looked across a view of Mount Rundle. The water flows naturally through the Sulphur Mountain Thrust Fault and claims to provide beneficial minerals for all swimmers.
The view in itself is breathtaking and the temperature just right, sitting at about 38°C. Although this was only one of the nine different naturally occurring hot springs in the area, the view and its location places it above the pact.

Bow Summit Lookout

This was just a stop in one of our trips. When I first saw the perfectly blue shade of the water, I remember being awestruck. Although there are nearby trails, I didn’t venture onto any. For those who are interested in the view more than the walk up to the lookout point, there is a driving trail available.

Columbian Icefields

Hands down my favourite part of the trip. Did you ever want to experience the glaciers upon the mountains? Well, here’s your chance. You can board up on a snow coach and head over to the Icefields. If you’re up for an adventure you’re also able to sign up for an Icefield Scenic Walk.

Johnston Canyon

This is one of the most popular hiking trails near-by and with good reason. The Upper and Lower Falls are breathtaking and the trail takes you pretty close up. The hiking trail follows the canyon and leads to a meadow, home to six bluish-green spring-fed pools, within the valley above the canyon. The Lower Falls hiking trail consists of a walkway of safety rails and bridges and leads to a little cave, which you can squeeze through to see the falls up-close and personal. The Upper Falls hiking trails is a more natural and longer path.

Lake Louise

Home of various hiking trails and a gorgeous view, there’s a reason tourists flood to this location. I did the moderately easy Lake Agnes trail, which is about 7 km with an elevation of 367 m and should take you about 3 hours round-trip. Not only does this trail have a great view and take you to great spots like Mirror Lake but also to a charming log cabin teahouse for replenishing.

Valley of Ten Peaks

I always thought having one sibling was more than enough. Imagine having nine. In the Valley of Peaks reside ten notable peaks side-by-side close to Moraine Lake. Head over to the Rock Pile Trail that leads up a small rockslide to a beautiful viewpoint. There’s also a leisurely hiking trail nearby which leads to Consolation Lakes and a more challenging one up the mountain on the north side of the lake to Larch Valley.

If you go to Banff, don’t forget to bring:

• A very strong mosquito repellent
• Sunscreen
• Rain jacket
• Hiking boots
• Map
• GPS for the car

Places to check out (somewhat) nearby:

Jasper: Although we ran out of time and never quite made it to Jasper, it’s one destination that most people asked me if I visited when discussing my trip. The largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and just an hour past the Columbian Icefields, the park is the wildest of the mountain parks and boasts challenging trails to satisfy the hiking-enthusiast.

Waterton: Often referred to as the less-commercialized version of Banff, this town is four hours away and provides more of a small town atmosphere. There are a lot more water activities, scuba diving and wildflower and wildlife festivals.

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