Staying close to home for our holiday time has never been more common than it is right now. While we’re all wanting to head out and explore, visiting beaches and adventuring to exotic places, we forget that we have some amazing memories that can be made right here in our own back yard. Alberta is a destination for travellers from all over the world, coming to explore the beauty of our mountain parks but with cross border traffic restricted due to the global pandemic, popular tourist destinations are experiencing less visitors. That makes now the best time for an adventure to places like Banff and Lake Louise while still social distancing to stay safe.
The elements that make the Canadian Rockies a year-round dream destination converge in perfect harmony in Banff National Park. Established after railway workers stumbled onto a thermal hot spring, Banff became Canada’s first national park in 1885 and today is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. where you can explore more than 1,600 km of maintained trails on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. In the winter, you can ski some of the finest powder anywhere in the world. The alpine towns of Banff and Lake Louise have amazing amenities and everything you need to explore this magical place.
A mid-week visit is a great time to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city for a few days or rest and relaxation (or action and adventure if that’s your goal). The townsite of Banff has experienced some changes this summer to keep visitors and locals safe during the busy tourism season. These changes include:
- portions of Banff Avenue are closed to traffic until September 18, 2020.
- part of the 1A will remain closed to traffic indefinitely.
- non-medical masks are mandatory within enclosed public spaces as well as within the Town’s pedestrian zone along Banff Avenue and Caribou Street.
We took a family trip recently before getting ready for what’s to come when the kids head back to school and had a great adventure. Being only 4 hours from Edmonton allowed us to take a weekday roadtrip that rivals any of our adventures taken to other destinations around the world.
MOOSE HOTEL & SUITES
Opening in 2016, the Moose Hotel & Suites is Banff’s newest 4-star hotel. The design of the Moose is Mountain elegance with warm, rich, natural materials. Located a 1 minute walk from the heart of downtown Banff, the Moose Hotel & Suites features 174 air conditioned guests rooms, with a combination of One and Two Bedroom Suites and hotel rooms.
Amenities include the Meadow Spa & Pools with 10 treatment rooms and private outdoor hot pool, a bright indoor swimming pool and exercise room on the 3rd floor, and 2 spectacular rooftop hot pools with views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Dining is available at Pacini Italian Restaurant, featuring gourmet Italian food with unique and authentic flavours and a warm and friendly ambiance.
After checking in at our hotel, we walked the short distance down to Snowtips- Bactrax to pick up our bikes to explore the area.
Nestled in downtown Banff, Snowtips-Bactrax is centrally located for all of your rental needs. During the summer months, rent a town or trail bike for two hours (helmet and lock included in rental) and pedal-power your way to view all the lakes and mountain scenes Banff has to offer.
This year was a great chance to bike the spectacular, windy 50 kilometre roadway that connects Banff and Lake Louise, which is closed to vehicles this summer. Running parallel to the Trans-Canada highway, the Bow Valley Parkway offers spectacular mountain vistas and is renowned for wildlife sightings, particularly in the morning and evening.
We recommend biking all the way to Johnston Canyon before turning back for the best experience, which is roughly 27KM one-way (though you can make the ride as long or as short as you’d like).
After a great ride and some fresh air, you’ll be looking for a chance to refuel and Banff doesn’t disappoint when it comes to great restaurants serving locally sourced product.
FARM & FIRE
A short walk from our hotel we found a remarkably simple wood-fired craft kitchen right in the heart of Banff. The menu at Farm & Fire features only the freshest ingredients from local Canadian farmers in a warm and open modern dining space. Toast a selection of Canadian wines or craft cocktail with friends by the warmth of the fire.
An outstanding selection of main plates including grilled flank steak and whole rotisserie chicken created by chef Chef David Ryc and his team are served with some higher end “homestyle” creations like garlic green beans & crispy mushroom chips and truffle BC mushrooms & Oka cheese orecchiette.
After enjoying a post dinner bike ride exploring some of the local attractions around town like the Bow falls and the scenic view overlooking the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a soak in the rooftop hot tubs and relaxing chat around the outdoor fireplace was a great way to finish off our first day before taking on what was for me, the highlight of our visit the next day.
MT. NORQUAY VIA FERRATA
When I travel, I like a mix of adventure and relaxation. Day 2 of our trip was definitely the adventure day and something that I have always wanted to do.
Mt. Norquay’s “Via Ferrata” is the first new experience in the National Park in recent history and a must add to your bucket list. It’s a different kind of climbing – lead by a certified guide, you’ll make your way up the cliffs above the ski area assisted by a fixed anchoring system of cables, ladders and a suspension bridge. The exposure is real, but so is the safety. No climbing experience necessary for your time on the Mt. Norquay rocks. All you need to have is the physical ability to climb a ladder, an appreciation for the outdoors and a spirit for adventure. An exhilarating experience, Norquay’s Via Ferrata comes complete with jaw dropping views, a unique perspective on the environment and a memory of Banff that will last a lifetime.
My 14 year old son joined me on this adventure and while he had some anxiety about the heights, our guide Ben took him under his wing, guiding him through some of the trickier parts of the day. If you’re looking for a way to really explore the mountain peaks and passes their 5 or 6 hour adventures will give you an experience you will never forget.
We opted for the 5 hour Skyline adventure which included an exciting high traverse on a sheer rock wall and crosses a 55m suspension bridge. The effort was rewarded at the top, with and outstanding panoramic view of the Banff area stretching out in every direction.
After our 5 hour adventure, we certainly deserved a great lunch to restore our energies.
With the retro-cool look of a European chalet, complete with mid-century modern décor and uninterrupted views over the town of Banff, Cliffhouse Bistro might be one of the best mountain-gazing lunch venues in the Canadian Rockies.
Simple, understated, and with a flair for mountain casual, the Cliffhouse Bistro is all about relaxed, upmarket lunch fare. Albertan flavours presented with a twist is our specialty.
One of the best parts of heading to Banff is that there is so much to do within a short drive. Mt. Norquay is only a 15-20 min drive from town (it’s literally across the highway and then a short drive up to the parking lot). This means you can fit multiple adventures in a single day.
THE BANFF CANOE CLUB
After a day on the side of a mountain, we were looking for something a little more tranquil and relaxing before dinner. Canoeing on the Bow River is the quintessential Canadian activity; a peaceful way to explore Banff National Park. Rent a canoe, kayak or SUP from the Banff Canoe Club, located 5 minutes from downtown Banff.
It was a great experience for our family who are paddling rookies and we had a great time laughing at each other while we struggled to get in sync with each other for our paddling efforts to avoid going in circles. But after about 20 minutes of trial and error, we found a system that worked for us. It may not have been the most photo/video worthy effort, but we had a great time spending a couple hours out on the water enjoying the great views and cool water.
BANFF TRAIL RIDERS
Our final day in Banff included an adventure my wife was most looking forward to. As a young girl who had her own horse, it was something that brought her back to a simpler time spent riding trails near her grandparents home in the Fort Assiniboine area. For a city boy like me, getting on a horse was as foreign as travelling to the moon. My memories of riding a horse as a kid involved bouncing up and down like I was on a pogo stick and holding on for dear life.
Unlike other wranglers, the gang at Banff Trail Riders is driven by a single goal: ensuring you get a comfortable Banff adventure that takes you to places you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.
It’s why they spend so much time hiring the best guides, preparing tasty meals for cookouts and overnight stays, and planning trips that make you feel like you’re right in an old western flick. Banff Trail Riders is pretty darn proud of what they offer.
We chose the two-hour ride which provided a chance to spot wildlife that you might not get to see while on foot. Passing by natural sulphur hot springs along our way to one of Banff’s national historic sites: the Cave and Basin was a great way to get confortable on the back of my horse (my wife was a natural). The trek continued along the tranquil Bow River to take in magnificent views of the Bow Valley before pressing through thick marshes as we climbed Sulphur Mountain continuing up to Windy Knoll where we were able to amazing striking photos of the sweeping landscape.
Our family loves to travel and explore. As a team that has travelled around the world, 2020 has been tough not being able to visit some of our favourite international destinations. But one positive that the pandemic has taught us is to appreciate all the things that we have close to home. With so much to do in our own back yard, we’re learning that we don’t need to hop on a plane to make new experiences. We’ve only scratched the surface of all there is to do in the Banff-Lake Louise area and we can’t wait for our next visit for more adventures and to make new memories.
MOUNTAIN ADVENTURERS WANTED
Now’s the time to tick off those Banff bucket-list experiences – and steal a sizzlin’ summer deal. Banff Lodging Co., Mount Norquay, Banff Trail Riders, and Chinook Rafting have teamed up to offer never-seen-before summer STAY + PLAY deal combos! Take up to 30% off these must-do Banff activities, and with up to 20% off Banff hotel stays, why not make it a staycation?
Find all the info you need, and these limited-edition promos at: bestofbanff.com/summer