A guide to outdoor family adventure in Alberta's stunning Rocky Mountains
Paddling the Bow River (all photos: Eugene Sirianni)
Lisa Naccarato (Banff, Alberta) Snow capped peaks, majestic glaciers, ice fields, rivers and lakes of surreal blue await in Banff. Established in 1885, it is Canada's first and most visited national park. Within the park's 6,641 square kilometres are two of the most awe-inspiring mountain destinations in the world, the picture-perfect town of Banff and splendid Lake Louise. Together, they are "bucket list" destinations that are a magnet for visitors from around the world.
Get ready for phones and camera memory cards filled with breath-taking vistas. Just when you think you've seen the prettiest view ever, you turn around to find one even better. And that's just the beginning. Here's why every year, 4 million visitors journey to some of the most awe-inspiring spots on the planet.
Banff from Above:
Views, Views, Views...
There are no shortage of ways to take in the majesty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains that surround and fill Banff National Park. Sulphur Mountain, Cascade Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Mount Rundle are all easily accessible and visible within the town of Banff. Hike their trails, stand in their shadows, but don't miss a ride into the clouds to a mountain summit!
(Left: View of Bow River and Town of Banff from Mt Norquay)
Located within the town of Banff, sit back and enjoy the 698m (2,292 feet) climb on an 8-minute journey to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in a cozy enclosed gondola. Glide over the treetops to a jaw-dropping mountaintop experience. With six stunning mountain ranges and the sweep of the Bow Valley before you, views from the Sulphur Mountain summit are nothing short of breathtaking. A huge visitor center awaits with lookouts, a theatre, restaurant and interactive displays of the history and nature of Sulphur mountain.
Outside, take the sightseeing walkway, a wooden boardwalk that makes it easy for even children to navigate. There are plenty of stairs, but numerous landings provide a nice break from all the cardio!
Want a little more wind in your hair? Try the Norquay Sightseeing Chairlift. This open chairlift takes you on a 10 minute ride up above the clouds to sightseeing platforms and walkways. The Town of Banff, Spray & Bow Valleys and majestic Mt. Rundle make up the stunning backdrop below. Dress for the weather, as even in the height of summer, the higher elevation can bring unexpected cold temperatures. Keep your eyes open wildlife making their way across the slopes as you pass silently above!
Lake Louise Summer Gondola
The Lake Louise Summer Gondola at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, is well known for being one of the best places in the Canadian Rockies to safely spot local wildlife like bears, moose, mountain goats, elk, and deer. Choose either an open chairlift or enclosed gondola for your ride up to the peak. On the way down, take in a unique birds-eye view of the hamlet of Lake Louise, the famous lake and Victoria glacier.
Want an even easier way to see the heights and enjoy a unique way to tour the town? Try Open Top Touring. Climb aboard a custom, vintage-inspired coach designed to look like tour buses from the 1930's (but with all the modern comforts!). Each features either a glass or open top for a fantastic view. You'll explore the people, places and moments that have made Banff into what it is today. An expert guide, dressed in period costume, will give you a glimpse into the past while highlighting the natural beauty of the area. A wonderful way to start exploring the Rockies!
Banff by trail:
Embrace your inner Cowboy.
Saddle up and get a unique view of the mountains on horseback! Banff Trail Riders pairs guest as young as 8 with calm and friendly steeds trained in western style, for a leisurely ride through forest trails and along the Bow river. Even novice riders will feel at ease as they pass marsh and grasslands, craggy rock walls and river beds taking in places in Banff rarely seen except by horseback.
Banff by water:
Is there anything more peaceful than enjoying the majesty of weathered mountain ranges from an almost silent canoe on azure waters?
Paddle the Bow. Banff Canoe Club provides canoe rentals on the Bow river just a short walking distance from the centre of town. Stable, easy to maneuver canoes allow even first-time paddlers with children, a wonderful way to enjoy the riverbank views and the mountain vistas. Never any wait for a canoe, this is a hidden gem activity. Follow the river as it bends, revealing new, photo worthy scenery at every turn!
The Iconic Lake Louise paddle. You've seen the pictures. Canoes gliding on Lake Louise's spectacular aquamarine water surrounded by dense coniferous forest, dramatic peaks and the Victoria Glacier. If this is a day trip, go early, you can't reserve a canoe, it is first-come, first-served, so lines will form quickly. If you are a guest of the Fairmont Chateau Lake
Louise, you can bypass the queue and use the guest line for almost no wait. Even in the rain, this paddle is worth the effort!
Done with exercise? Give your arms a rest and relax on a guided cruise of Lake Minnewanka. Banff's largest lake offers covered, 1 hour boat tours. Learn about the history of the lake, its first people, even folklore and tales of lake monsters! To make the most of your visit, arrive early morning or late afternoon. This will help beat the crowds and increase your chance of wildlife sightings. The best time to visit Lake Minnewanka is before 11 AM and after 3 PM.
A place for sweet dreams.
Banff has no shortage of accommodations to fit every budget. Chalet style lodges dot the main road, and anything along Banff Avenue will keep you in the heart of town, within walking distance to shops, restaurant and bars. For those looking to treat the family to luxurious surroundings, the Fairmont Banff Springs or The Rimrock Resort will deliver just outside of the town centre.
We all know that traveling with the family can get expensive very fast. If you want to stretch the budget but still enjoy great amenities and a wonderful view, try the Rundlestone Lodge.
This 3 storey mountain retreat delivers clean, spacious accommodations, some with unique "L" shaped layouts to allow privacy between king and queen beds for families all in one room. Pool and fitness centre, along with a restaurant and views of both Mt Norquay and Mt Rundlestone will have everyone smiling, all for the best value on Banff Ave!
Banff and Lake Louise enjoy peak tourism season in the summer, but anytime of the year is the right time to explore this exceptional area.
FUN TIP: Ever feel stumped looking for a souvenir to bring back to friends and family that they'll actually enjoy? Banff's own Mountain Chocolates has you covered! The chocolatier features handmade delights and has created delicious chocolate bars named after the mountains around the town where the sweets are made! The only chocolate maker in Banff than makes its treats onsite, located at 202 Banff Avenue.
For more info on Banff and Lake Louise: