Looking for a fall or winter getaway idea? A trip to Banff has always been at the top of my list and when Travel Alberta invited me out for my first visit last spring, I jumped on the next plane headed west! After arriving in Calgary, we picked up our car rental and drove the scenic 90-minute drive along highway 1.
Make sure to pack lots of warm clothing, hiking boots, hats and gloves for the winter season. The weather can be quite sporadic, especially if you go exploring into the canyons or up on the mountains.
I knew Banff was going to be beautiful - but I had no idea it would be this stunning! I could definitely feel myself swelling up with Canadian pride, surrounded by rivers, trees, mountains and snow as far as the eye can see. I asked myself, "Why had I waited so long to finally visit?" Banff is beautiful and every Canadian needs to make a trip out here at least once to see what the Rockies are truly all about.
To get to the town of Banff, you will need to buy a Banff National Park Pass which is based on the number of people you are traveling with, the type of vehicle you enter the park with and the duration of your stay. You can even buy this pass online ahead of your visit to make things easier.
So what to do when you get there? I visited during the winter season and the possibilities are endless. I managed to cull it down to my favourites here:Hit the Hot Springs - Take a soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs for only $8 with a sweet view of the Canadian Rockies. The hot, rejuvenating and soothing mineral-rich water bubbles up from a natural deep spring. A day spa is attached to this historic bath house, so you can book a massage and soothe those muscles after a day on the slopes. Pack your bathing suit or rent a historic 1920s style swimsuit! Towels and lockers are also available for rental.
For something a little fancier, book a day spa pass at The Willow Stream Spa inside The Fairmont Banff Springs. A $70 pass includes access to the outdoor hot tubs, indoor pools, sauna and steam rooms. A full-service spa menu is also available here. A visit during the week means you'll have a bit more privacy.
Book a Massage - My choice pick is the Red Earth Spa located inside the Banff Caribou Lodge. The therapists know what they're doing here as they work out any kinks from all the activity you get up to while in Banff. Customized massages start from $70 with complimentary access to the hot tub, steam room and exercise facilities. I recommend booking a massage in the morning before you leave Banff or the night before for the ultimate end-of-vacation treat.
Where to Stay - If this is your one and only trip to Banff then I would not miss an opportunity to stay at The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. This majestic “Castle in the Rockies,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a luxury hotel for 125 years. You'll enjoy some spectacular views from your room with lots of great restaurants, a spa and golf course on-site.
Do not miss the breakfast buffet at The Bow Valley Grill at the hotel. You'll be spoiled by a full spread of smoothies, juices, an omelet station, eggs Benedict, waffles, Canadian bacon and fresh fruit. I ate there everyday during my stay and would not pass it up. The morning view over the mountain range is truly breathtaking. Check the website ahead of time to see if there is a breakfast package which also includes parking - it will be totally worth it.
The Fox Hotel & Suites - If you're looking for something a bit more affordable and family friendly or if you prefer to heat up simple meals in your room, The Fox Hotel & Suites would a great choice. Our loft-style room was clean, modern and spacious. It had a cozy log cabin feel to it and the hotel features a unique hot tub grotto to relax in after a long day of hiking or skiing.
Take in the View - The Banff Gondola is an absolute must-do and a great way to get situated when you first arrive in Banff. Have your camera ready on the way up and explore the short 1 KM trail along the top. Make sure to wear good hiking boots with grips if you are visiting in the winter. The paths will be icy and snow-covered.
The view of Banff on the way up on the gondolaWhere to Eat - For casual light fare like salads, sandwiches, pizza and local beers on tap, I would recommend a visit to Bear Street Tavern. For something more whimsical, try Sushi House in Banff which is a sushi train-style restaurant, it's a lot of fun. Locals, families and tourists all crowd into this small space. Seating is first-come, first-served so it's best to arrive early.
Feeling like fondue to warm up? The Waldhaus Pub came so highly recommended from Connie of Charcut Restaurant, that I couldn't resist paying a visit. This cute little cottage is steps away from The Fairmont Hotel (it is part of the hotel), just close to the fairways of the golf course. They serve traditional german-fare and cheese fondue. It's a cozy, romantic candle-lit spot for a lovely low-key dinner.
Go for a Hike - One of the biggest surprises on this trip was how much I LOVED my hike into Johnston Canyon. I'm not much of a hiker, but this was a very easy trail with pathways and handrails. I wore running shoes, but I really should have bought some ice cleats to attach to them. Depending on the weather, it can be snowy or ice-covered. We came across rivers, crystal blue water, the lower and upper falls on our walk. It was incredibly relaxing and a fantastic way to be active during a vacation. It's definitely inspired me to seek out more hikes on future travels.
Trekking along to the half-thawed waterfalls and breathing deeplyWhere to Shop - Pick up a bag of loose leaf tea from Banff Tea Company. The majority of the blends are mixed in-house with their house Earl Grey being a top seller. Sweet tooth? Satisfy that craving with handmade chocolates, fudge and brittle from Mountain Chocolates. If you're suffering from dry, flaky skin the all-natural soaps from Rocky Mountain Soap should cure you. Grab a tube of their shea butter chap stick too!
Make sure to visit a few of Canada's most famous chains - The Hudson's Bay Company, Roots and Lululemon. The majority of the stores are located on Banff Avenue which is the Main Street for the town.
Go Skiing! - Banff is known for its world-class skiing. A visit would not be complete without hitting the slopes and we did so at Sunshine Mountain Resort. The snow is soft and fluffy to learn on and you're insulated inside a little bowl up on the mountain. I'll have more from my visit to Sunshine later this month!
See Lake Louise - Since my visit was during the winter, the Lake Louise was frozen and covered in snow so we didn't get to see the crystal blue water that it's famous for. It's still worth the drive! It just looks like I'll have to return again in the summer to see Lake Louise in all its glory.
Looking for more? Plan your trip to Banff & Lake Louise!
Have you been to Banff, Alberta? Any travel tips to share?