Fall is officially here: I can’t believe that another season is already in the rearview. While I am quite ready for throw blankets and backyard fires, butternut squash soup and hazelnut coffee, tree transformations and all of the apple-picking, pumpkin picking, Halloween candy distribution and Thanksgiving food comas that this time of year brings, I cannot help but reflect on what a great summer its been.
There’s been a lot of wandering, and I do need to catch up on blog posts about Salt Lake City, Connecticut, and some of my newest, greatest discoveries in Northern Virginia. My destination highlight today though, is a place that is back on my bucket list by popular demand.
I went to Alberta, Canada in 2017 by myself for a work trip: One of my clients was doing an incentive event at the Fairmont Banff Springs so I had three days to gallivant around Banff post-registration hours. I fell head-over-heels in love with the place, soaked in as much as possible and vowed to return one day with my husband. He and I are not snow-sport enthusiasts, however, and much of what I wanted to show him was only accessible from late May to August. With a short window realized and a growing itch to return, I booked flights and accommodations for a July 4th week getaway.
I already blogged about my initial Banff findings earlier this year, so feel free to go back and use that as an initial guide if you are booking a trip to Alberta. While my first trip was spectacular though, it was very different than the one my husband and I took. I was alone so I stayed on the beaten path, flocked to the tourist attractions but nothing was crowded in early June.
Both of my best friends traveled to Banff after my first trip- one went in late May and the other, in late July. If you plan a trip before the 2nd week in June, you run the risk of not being able to see some big sights, since many of the lakes are still frozen. Late July/ August is best, but it is DEFINITELY going to be busy, so it is important to plan accordingly.
I didn’t realize that Banff was so popular: The weather was quite rainy when my husband and I took our trip- a fluke for the time of year- but nevertheless, tour bus carousels made their way in and out of all attractions from 10AM-6PM; Umbrellas poked and prodded on lake docks, people walked into photos and did their best to dodge others… Mike and I quickly realized that we had to get creative if we wanted some privacy. On the contrary, however, I will say that Banff can be done with children. One of the things I realized was that everything was very accessible for hop-on, hop-off tours. Waterfalls were short walks away, many attractions could be seen from roadside rest stops, and quite a few hikes were easy treks.
When I booked this trip, I decided to stay in Canmore vs. Banff because for the time of year, hotel prices were MUCH cheaper. I knew that we were renting a car so it made sense to pay $100 less a night for accommodations and just pay for a 3 day park pass, drive the 15 minutes into the park each day. I am so happy we did that: not only was Canmore far less crowded but our hotel was phenomenal. We stayed at the Falcon Crest Lodge, approximately 3 minutes from the downtown area, and our suite came with a full, beautiful kitchen and dining area, living room with a fireplace, balcony with a grill, a full bathroom, complete with a shower and tub, and a bedroom with mountain views. The place was perfect in every way. It didn’t cost anything to park, Wi-Fi was free, and there were two hot tubs on premises, even though we didn’t stay on premises long enough to use them.
When we arrived, we got our bearings and then went to Safeway, the nearest grocery store, to stock our fridge and pantry. We were only in town for five days, but I wanted to fill the car with snacks in the morning and drive all day, not have to stop or veer off of the path to find food in the great outdoors.
By the time we flew (stopped over in Toronto), picked up our car rental, (absolutely necessary) drove the hour and a half to our hotel, checked in, got groceries, and grabbed pizza for a late dinner, there was nothing else that we could possibly squeeze into our travel day. We settled into our new accommodations, completely spent.
The cool thing about Alberta in the summertime is that it is light out from 4:30AM-10PM. My husband swore that he would not be getting up before 9AM (How DARE I try to plan things so early on his VACATION)…but just as I suspected, between the sun rising so early and the time difference, he was awake at dawn. We were at RAVE coffee as soon as it opened and had the best latte and panini breakfast- The place was cute and cozy that we stayed there for a bit, fine-tuned our itinerary. (They were selling coffee sacks there for $5 each so I took one home to frame!)
In effort to keep this post shorter I will share our travels with you in bullet form, divulge recommendations and tips as I see fit. Please reach out or add a comment below if you would like me to elaborate, but I assure you… this post will be 50 paragraphs long if I don’t summarize somewhere. 😊
- 7AM Start At Rave Coffee, Canmore
- 12PM Interactive Tour At Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane, Alberta (This Was A Dream Come True For Any Animal Lover- Pay A Little Extra To Go Into Their Habitat)
- Lunch & A Beer Flight At Half Hitch Brewing Company, Cochrane, Alberta (Good Beer!)
- 4PM Stop Back At The Hotel To Change Into Hiking Clothes (Because Why Not- It’s Still Light Out For SIX More Hours!)
- Purchased A 3- Day Park Pass At The Entranceway Of Banff National Park ($19.60CA Per Day So US, About $50, And The Pass Is Good Until 4PM The Following Day. Once You’re In The Park, You Can Keep Driving To Any Other Park That Connects)
- Climbed Rockpile At Moraine Lake, Banff National Park (Still Pretty Busy Around This Time)
- Ate Dinner In Downtown Banff & Bought Bear Spray (Necessary If You Are Going Hiking, We Also Bought Bear Bells On Amazon Prior To Our Trip. The Bear Spray Is Expensive And We Couldn’t Find Any Smaller Bottles But It’s Worth The Gamble, In My Opinion.)
- 6AM Start Into Banff National Park
- Stopped For Breakfast Bagel Sandwiches At Rocky Mountain Bagel Company (MUST Do… I’m Still Having Dreams Of These Bagels And I’m From The Northeast.)
- Decided To Drive As Far West As Possible: We Were On The Hunt For Pretty Scenes & Wildlife
- Take The Bow Valley Parkway For Bear Sightings, Especially If You Go Out Early In The Morning Or At Dusk. We Saw A Black Bear On Our Way In, Along With A Coyote, Elk, Deer, & Mountain Goats!
- We Drove Onto The Icefields Parkway Until Drizzle Turned Into Snow & The Temperature Dropped Dramatically. We Had No Choice But To Turn Around And Head In Another Direction: The Snow Was Coming Down Too Hard! Still, We Got To See Bow Lake And A Few Smaller Bright, Blue Waterways. There Are Great Stop-Offs Along The Route With Clean Bathrooms & Trash Cans
- As An Alternative, We Decided To Get Lost In Yoho National Park And Found The Most Beautiful Waterfall We Had Ever Seen. Takkakaw Falls In Field, British Columbia Is A MUST SEE.
- Other Highlights Of The Day Included Tunnel Mountain, Natural Bridge, And Emerald Lake (We Also Hiked Up To Hamilton Falls, Which Was Not As Impressive As The Other Things We Saw That Day)
- We Ate Back In Banff Downtown And I Not Only Carb-Loaded With Poutine But A Kraft Mac-And Cheese Burger At Graze. So Good!
- We Tried A Beer Flight At Grizzly Paw Brewing Company But The Beers Were Not Anything To Write Home About
- Another 6AM Start, This Time To Johnston Canyon. Thank GOODNESS We Toured The Site Before The Tour Busses Shuffled In Because The Place Was Exquisite And One Of My Trip Highlights. Crowded, It Doesn’t Have The Same Appeal. Spend Some Time Here Though, Hiking The Lower Falls, Upper Falls, And Finding This Mysterious Cave Along The Path Between
- Took A Gondola Ride To The Top Of Sulphur Mountain, Dined At 7,486 Feet At The Sky Bistro, And HIKED… Yes, Hiked Back Down. If You Read My Last Blog Entry, No, We Did Not Get To The Top Of The Weather Platform. Did I Mention That My Husband Is Afraid Of Heights?
- Enjoyed our last dinner in front of the 3 Sisters at Iron Goat Pub and Grill- Really Good Food & Beer
Our last morning was filled with the usual travel day to-do list items: One final stop at Rocky Mountain Bagel Company, a quick pass through Downtown Canmore for souvenirs, return of the car rental… flight home. We could’ve spent more time there, easily. My husband wants to return, drive farther west and do more of a relay trip: Start in Calgary, spend a night there and visit some of their breweries, spend a night in Canmore, then drive toward Jasper, as far as we can go. The cleanliness, the wildlife, the views are unmatched. We always felt safe… it was like an unblemished world, where we were.
Alberta was one of our best trips, to be honest. In my haste to document our journey at a high-level, I left out kisses under waterfalls. A hysterical interaction with a chipmunk. A walk down Sulphur Mountain with a wild deer strolling beside us, less than a foot away. Hand feeding high-content wolves. Laughter at the absurdity of snow-storm trekking in a mini-van.
We did not see Lake Louise, I wanted to canoe Emerald Lake but it was raining during that stop, I would’ve loved to have done more hiking, especially to Lake Anges’ Tea House… but will leave those for next time.
If anyone else has been to Alberta and has any other recommendations, add them in the comments! It’s a wonderful place and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my stories, document where I’ve left footprints, and hear about your experiences too.
See you on the open road. xo