We arrived in the little town of Banff with 2 full days to fill and no real idea of what to do. We therefore made our first stop the Banff Visitor Information Centre, where we were plied with maps, brochures and a whole host of suggestions on how to spend our time in Banff. This is how we ended up spending our 48 hours in Banff.
Hike up Sulphur Mountain and Sanson Peak
There are two options for getting to the top of Sulphur Mountain, so named for the hot springs located on its lower slopes – (1) 8 minute gondola ride up or (2) hiking up. Always up for a good walk in the sunshine I, of course, went with option 2 (which I would highly recommend!).
Classified as a “moderate” hike, I found this to be a very pleasant walk, though we were mostly walking through some reasonable inclines with lots of switchbacks. Hikers are given snippets of the gorgeous views that await at the top of the peak through the tall pine trees that line the trail. Though you know what to expect, it was still an amazing feeling to make it to the top and feast your eyes on the 360 degree views of the town of Banff.
From the peak of Sulphur Mountain, it is then a 1KM walk to Sanson Peak, named after Norman Bethune Sanson who diligently monitored the conditions atop Sulphur Mountain for nigh on 30 years. The remains of the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station can be seen here.
As the views from the top of Sulphur Mountain are one of the top tourist highlights, be sure to get here as early as possible to beat the crowds and queues for the gondola.
Banff Springs Hotel
This luxury hotel has got the most amazing views of the Rockies. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but made sure to get a quick drive in around the premises. Check out its views of the Rocky Mountains and Mount Rundle, and marvel at its proximity to the town’s hot springs and Bow Falls! Now if only I could afford one of the rooms here…
Located within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel, Bow Falls is worth a short visit. There is a little paved path that runs alongside the falls, where one can have a nice stroll upstream of the falls.
Lake Minnewanka and the surrounding lakes
These lakes, located towards the north east of the centre of Banff, are not to be missed under any circumstance. We spent both of our late afternoons here, whiling away the hours under the setting sun, reading and watching the locals frolic in the freezing cold lake water whilst snacking on local cherries. Bliss.
Johnston Canyon hike
As we had so enjoyed the Sulphur Mountain hike, we decided to go on another hike of similar difficulty the following day. After another quick consultation with the Banff Visitor Centre, we decided to make the 30 minute drive out to Johnston Canyon for a hike up to the Ink Pots.
The one mistake we made was arriving on site a little too late at 11am. The first part of this hike to the Lower and Upper Falls is classified as an “easy” hike and is thus, an extremely popular tourist attraction. Cars lined the road by the entrance to the canyon and the trail was absolutely heaving with walkers by this time in the late morning.
Despite having to share the path with crowds of others, the walk itself was gorgeous as the trail hugged the Bow River all the way through to the falls. The water was a glorious clear turquoise colour, the kind of water that just invites you to strip off and jump in (despite knowing you’d freeze in it!).
The path clears up considerably past the Upper Falls, where the trail leading up to the Ink Pots are classified as “moderate”, with some steep and rocky uphill sections. The trail leading from the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots is not that picturesque, but the views of the Rockies and fast flowing river, along with the small bubbling “ink pots” dotted around the vast meadow is a pretty awesome sight to behold at the destination point. All in all, our return hike took approximately 4 hours to complete.
We made a quick detour to the Hoodoos Trail on the morning we were due to leave Banff to check out these strange rock formations. Hoodoos are sedimentary rock covered by harder rock where the different rates of erosion results in a unique rock formation. The views overlooking the Bow Valley and the north face of Mount Rundle just adds to the attraction.
All good alpine villages have a local cheese fondue house and Banff was no exception. After spotting a restaurant advertising steaks and fondue, we were sold and had to satiate our sudden fondue craving. Interestingly, roasted garlic is served on the side here, rather than mixed in directly with the cheese as I’m used to in Europe, due to the more common occurrence of garlic allergies in Canada. Who knew?
We followed our first scrumptious lunch with two scoops of Cows ice cream, apparently voted Canada’s best ice-cream (and arguably one of the world’s best). On a hot day like it was, this was god-sent.
After our fairly long hike through Johnston Canyon, we were absolutely starved by the end of it and were hankering after a decent-sized portion of steak and fries. This did the job for sure…
Next stop, Lake Louise!