Moments that make you go ‘oooooh’ and ‘ahhhhh’ are what Banff is all about. Dramatic scenery begs for amazement at every lookout, dining table and patch of wild. From making eye contact with exotic creatures to staring up at sky-high peaks jutting into the misty air at staggering angles, hearts are easily set aflutter in and around this must-do stop on any Canadian travel itinerary. Here are our top five unmissable moments in Banff.
All of the drives are legendary in Banff National Park, but the winding Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper National Park is an absolute must. Trailing through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, this is easily one of the most scenic highways in the world. Over 230 kilometres, watch as the impressive roll of scenery transforms from massive mountains and plummeting valleys to glistening ancient glaciers and pristine lakes in every shade of blue. Most take to this road with two hands on the steering wheel, but for the adventurous, it is also possible to do it on two wheels and pedal, even if just for scenic slice of the highway.
While there are many friendly locals in the cosy township of Banff, the true locals roam the wild. Everything from deer and moose to elk, sheep and even bears traverse the myriad of natural landscapes in the area, but there are also cougars, lynx, wolves, otters and other majestic creatures. The best spots to glimpse the local wildlife are along Vermilion Lakes Drive, the Bow Valley Parkway and the Icefields Parkway in the evening or early in the morning, with Spring and Autumn typically the best seasons. A wildlife tour however is one of the best ways to see as much as possible at any time of year.
There’s no need to book accommodation with a hot tub in Banff, nature provides its own huddled amongst the dramatic play of landscapes. Slide into the soothing and recuperative thermal mountain springs, open throughout both summer and winter (no doubt the warm respite during a frosty winter is hard to resist). There are numberous bubbling hotspots on Sulphur Mountain and a more in the national park, including the ever-popular Banff Upper Hot Springs, Radium Hot Spring and Miette Hot Springs. If getting into your swimmers isn’t appealing, explore the original local hot spring which is now also home to an impressive new museum at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
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For 360-degree panoramas that have to be seen to be believed, be whisked to the airy heights of Sulphur Mountain on the Banff Gondola. The eight minute ride to the 7,500 foot summit offers natural eye candy galore, but the 360-degree panoramic views from the top are simply unmatchable. Peer out over six rolling mountain ranges, the Banff township and the staggering Bow Valley from the main level observation deck. There’s also the one-kilometre self-guided Banff Skywalk, which leads to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site and Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.
The calm, azure waters of Lake Louise are spectacularly framed by the green spikes of towering pines and the snow-capped peaks of dramatically steep mountains, but the best frame of all can be found at the Fairmont Chateau. Peer out through the grand old windows overlooking the lake while tucking into their famous Afternoon Tea spread, overflowing with signature teas, delectable pastries and traditional finger sandwiches. Alternatively, for tea with a side of view that’s not so leisurely and lavish from start to finish, strap on your hiking boots to tackle one of the two panorama-laden trails to historic alpine tea houses nestled high up in the mountains.
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