A First-timers Guide to the Canadian Rockies
If you've ever wanted to visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains then Banff is definitely the destination for you. It's located in the rockies, west of Calgary in the province of Alberta. The nearest airport is Calgary Airport and then it's a couple of hours drive to Banff.
Where to Stay in Banff
We had a comfortable commute to Banff on the Brewster Express from downtown Calgary, complete with scenic mountain views. After a fairly long drive, we arrived at our hotel Moose Hotel and Suites. Moose is one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in and is the newest to Banff town, built in 2016. The hotel, facilities and our suite were luxurious and had a modern kitchenette, balcony, cosy electric fire and fabulous toiletries. The amenities were excellent too, there's 2 roof-top pools, a spa, onsite restaurant and more.
We had a lovely breakfast one morning at Pacini the onsite restaurant, it was excellent value and featured generous portions. Each breakfast came with a fruit salad and a Duo Mattino, which is a mini slice of fruity bread and a shot of yoghurt and granola. You could also visit the bread bar for free which had a variety of breads and spreads - a great way to fuel up before heading out in the cold!
Things to Do & Places to Visit
Bow River Trail
I recommend spending some time walking around the cute little resort town of Banff and going on some easy walking trails, you'll be amazed at what you can see just by walking a short distance. The Bow River trail is a nice, picturesque walk and leads to Bow Falls.
Tunnel Mountain Trail
If you're after something a bit more challenging and adventurous, the Tunnel Mountain trail is ideal. The elevation gain is 300 m and the roundtrip from Banff town took about 2.5 hours, mostly because it started snowing half way up. Unfortunately the snow meant we couldn't see much when we got to the top, but the experience was incredible and the trees looked dreamy covered in snow.
After a chilly day out you have to visit the cosy Grizzly House in town and indulge in their delicious cheese fondue for two! This is hands down the best fondue I've ever had, it features the usual mix of Swiss cheese, wine and Kirsch, but it's not too boozy and is served with a generous basket of bread cubes. This restaurant gets very busy so I highly recommend making a reservation.
Lake Louise Tour
Lake Louise was the highlight for me, we booked a Discover Banff Tour as we didn't have a car and it was just perfect. It snowed the day before and the snow settled, resulting in a stunning winter wonderland scene. It's worth nipping into the impressive Fairmont Hotel to defrost and have a nose around this swanky hotel before heading back to the lake. On this tour we also visited the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, the Hoodoos, Bow River, Bow Falls, Surprise Corner and made a quick stop to the Vermillion Lakes for photos.
Favourite Restaurants in Banff
- Breakfast/Lunch - for a Southern/Tex Mex breakfast, I recommend the Breakfast Burrito at Coyotes and the Southwestern Club
- Dinner - for steak fans, try Saltlik and order the 10oz Blue Cheese California Cut Striploin with Truffle Mushroom Mac and Cheese
My Top Tips
- Wrap up warm - thermals, layers, waterproofs and comfortable shoes are a must, the temperature dropped to -10°C/14°F one night
- Hiking necessities - don't be like me, pack bottles of water and energy bars... also don't bring a handbag it's a pain to carry!
- No car, no problem - we got around fine without one. There are tours you can do and Roam buses that can take you to places for $2
- So many lakes... so little time - Lake Louise is an absolute must! Make it a priority to visit this beauty otherwise you'll miss out
We stayed in Banff for 3 nights in October 2017 and I recommend staying for at least 5 to see everything. When I return, I'd like to visit the hot springs, take a ride on the Banff gondola and see Moraine Lake, Lake Minnewanka, Peyto Lake and Jasper National Park.