Canadian Rockies Travel Diary Part 1: Banff

This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary, so I felt it was fitting to vacation within the country during the summer. In mid July, I spent a week in Alberta to hang out in the Canadian Rockies. Most of the trips I’ve taken this year have been to cities, and as cultural and fun as those kind of trips are, they aren’t exactly relaxing. This time, I wanted a real vacation: chill out in nature, lounge around, have a spa day, and detox from social media.

I didn’t even feel like planning this trip. Had it been up to me, I would’ve simply shown up in Alberta, asked locals for recommendations, and played it by ear. Luckily, my travel buddy was a planner, and an even more organized friend who’d just been to the Rockies the summer previous forwarded us a very detailed itinerary she had created.

We spent time in Banff, Canmore, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake. In this post, I’ll focus on Banff. To get there from Calgary International Airport, it takes an hour and a half by car. It’s best to rent a car, unless you just want to stay in your resort and never go anywhere else. The drive is nuts because you’re surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and you feel as if you’re inside a giant 3-D postcard.

The hotels in Banff and Lake Louise were all sold out when we booked in May, and we stayed in the eco-friendly Solara Resort in Canmore, which I highly recommend (more about it in the Canmore post).

The first thing we did in Banff was have lunch at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The restaurant there, Rundle Lounge, has a spectacular view of the mountains.

The Banff Upper Hot Springs is a short drive away. I wasn’t feeling the crowd and how close you had to be to other people. It was peak season, so I kind of expected it. I didn’t stay for more than an hour in the pool. The view of the snow-capped mountains were nice, and I will say that my body felt really relaxed after. I don’t know how the minerals in the water work, but they do. Would I return to this hot spring? Not during peak season, no.

When the sun was starting to set, I looked up and saw the most mesmerizing clouds.

Later, I learned this was probably smoke from the nearby forrest fires. I never knew wildfires were such a problem in the west coast before coming on this trip. They were so bad this year that you could see them from space. Wildfires are largely preventable. Didn’t Smokey the Bear teach people anything?

I was lucky because I was able to hike and see all I really wanted to see on this trip before the smoke got bad. The exception was hiking around Banff and riding on the gondola because the air was too hazy, but it was okay. By then, I’d had my fill of nature. Instead, I hung out in Banff town, spending a lot of time in cafes writing fiction, and taking a leisurely walk by Bow River.

Two cafes I recommend are Evelyn’s Coffee Bar, a local favourite, and Little Wild, which uses biodegradable plastic for their disposables.

Banff is a tourist town. The permanent population is capped at 8,000. A local told me that Banff cannot build new housing because it’s a protected national park. A number of young Australians work in the tourism industry here, due to ease of obtaining temporary work visas between the countries, so you’ll hear plenty of Aussie accents.

Banff is big enough to have plenty of dining and shopping options but small enough that you can walk and cover the main streets fairly easily. For food, I liked Touloulou’s, which serves Louisiana Cajun food, and Saltlik, for their steaks.

I kept passing by a huge lineup of people by Cow’s Ice Cream. When the line was relatively shorter in the early afternoon, I got the “Cookie Moonster” cone to see what the fuss was all about. It didn’t turn my lips and tongue blue like other blue ice cream I’ve had in Toronto, and it was a good treat for my walk along Bow River.

I also recommend visiting the lovely Cascade Gardens across the bridge on Banff Avenue, which has a lovely view of the town, on a clear day at least.

As for ethical shopping in Banff, I did find one store that stocks Canadian designers and mostly made in Canada goods: Canadian Fashion Xperience. There’s also Patagonia Banff, where I bought a hiking jacket.

Banff was busy, but we were always able to find parking, especially away from the main streets.

As much as I enjoyed wandering around Banff, I’m glad I stayed in Canmore, which is a lot quieter. Banff has more dining options, and if you want want to party, the nightlife here is better. Since I wanted a quiet and relaxing vacation, Canmore was more my jam.

Read about Canmore, Alberta in Part 2 of my Canadian Rockies Travel Diary.


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