Alberta & BC Rockies Visitor Tips
One Day Stay in Banff/Lake Louise
Here are the things you should try to do on your first day (this may take more than a day if you are travelling with children)
- Start out in Banff, park your car on or just off Banff Avenue and take a walk down Banff Avenue away from the river to the Park Information office and then back on the other side toward the Bow River.
- On this side of the bridge is the Luxton Museum and a nice park. The post office is a block west, so you can mail your post cards.
- Return to your car and head over the bridge. You can head right to the Trading Post, straight ahead for the Park Wardens Office (popular for wedding photos), or left toward the Banff Springs Hotel.
- Park anywhere there's a free spot near the Banff Springs Hotel (valet parking and parkade parking are pricey, but if you don't have a choice...) check out the lobby, go up the stairs and find the back deck and outdoor pool with their stunning views. You can grab a bite in any of their fine restaurants.
- Head further up the hill to the Upper Hot Springs. If you have a chance, take a dip (great after a day of hiking or skiing!)
- Head down the hill a bit, and watch for signs (on the left) to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. This will give you a sky-high view of the region.
- On the way down, just after the Banff Springs, there's a right hand exit down to the Bow Falls, which are spectacular in Spring/Summer with the glacial melt thundering over. There's a little wooden walkway up beside the falls.
- Head back to Banff Avenue, and turn left at the park (Luxton Museum) and first right to head toward the Trans-Canada Highway. Cross over the highway and head up the hill toward Mount Norquay. The roadway zigs and zags up the mountainside, and just before the ski hill is a great viewpoint. In the winter, skiers can ski from the ski hill right to the motel you passed on the left after crossing the highway! It's said from the top of the Mount Norquay ski hill, you can see the bottom of the ski run between your bindings!
- Head down the road back to the highway, and this time turn right (west) toward Lake Louise.
- Watch for signs leading to "Highway 1A", which is a nice two lane tourist route with spectacular views
- When you see Castle Mountain, you know you are near Lake Louise. The town in the valley is nothing special, though its worth stopping in the Samson Mall to get info about the Icefields Parkway (this is a highly recommended Day Two trip, see below)
- Head up the Lake Louise road, which climbs several hundred metres to the famous Lake Louise, and adjacent Chateau
- In summer, there is a riding stable and canoe rental on the south side of the lake, near the parking lot, and wonderful hike along the north shore of the lake to the glacier you see on the other end of the lake. Even more interesting, for those who have a half day (and good, fit legs!) is a hike to the right to the famous Tea House. In winter, you'll have to settle for a view of the ice-covered lake, and the cleared skating rink beside the Chateau. Head inside, as well, to check out this stunning example of castle architecture, not to mention there are several restaurants (and lounges) where you can eat & drink while enjoying the view.
- Head back to Banff and enjoy dinner at the many restaurants, and check out the many bars, pubs and nightclubs catering to visitors and locals.
Two or More Day Sta
Here are suggestions for extra days in the Rockies:
- Take the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper. Worth a detour: Bow Lake & Glacier, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Icefields, and the Athabasca Falls. In Jasper, three things are truly worthwhile. the Jasper Tram (just east of town), The Jasper Park Lodge, with its bicycling room service waiters, just north of town and across the Athabasca River, and the Miete Canyon just north of the town. If its late and a night-time drive back to Banff on the twisting mountain roadway seems daunting (leave Jasper with a full tank of gas!), you may want to stay the night and drive back to Banff in the morning.
- Head east from Banff and check out the town of Canmore. Its quaint, has lots of restaurants, and two great golf courses, Three Sisters in the valley and SilverTip, which has the second highest slope rating in the world! For tourists, the best recommendation is head through downtown and follow the signs to the Canmore Nordic Centre, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic cross-country & nordic events. In summer it's a mountain biker's paradise. Drive further up the hill for stunning views of the valley, and the mountain lake which is Canmore's water supply. On the way back to Banff, take the first Banff exit and turn right to Lake Minnewanka & Two Jack Lake (watch for bears!)
- Head west from Banff and about 7 miles west watch for the Sunshine Village turnoff. This ski resort straddles the Alberta - BC border, and has winter skiing and summer hiking (with a lodge right up on the ski hill!) There's a great gondola ride to take you up to the "Village"
- Head past Lake Louise, to Castle Junction, formerly called Eisenhower Junction, and take Highway 93 south to Radium & Fairmont BC. The road has some spectacular views and moments, though it's about 2 hours to Radium. The eastern part of BC stays in Mountain Time like Alberta, so you won't have to switch your watches. Radium has a nice Hot Springs and two ski areas and number of golf resorts nearby. You can be back in Banff the same day.
- For a two day trip, head west on the #1 Trans-Canada to Yoho, Golden, the Rogers Pass, to Revelstoke passing tunnels and snowsheds to protect the highway from avalanches. Stay overnight at Revelstoke, and then head back the next day, don't forget to stop (either going or coming back) at the Spiral Tunnels where you can watch the massive freight trains enter and leave a circular tunnel above itself! The trains pass here at least 1 per hour, so it's worth packing a picnic basket.
Stampede Week always begins the Friday following July 2nd (to give the American cowboys extra time to drive up to Rockies). The world-televised parade begins at 9 am on the first Friday of Stampede Week, though you many show up as early as 6 or 7 tyo get a good front-row seat (best lighting for photos is along 9th Avenue). Many Stampede parties (and the various "saloons") already start on the Wednesday or Thursday.
Check out the FREE Stampede Breakfasts outside office buildings between 7 and 9 am (for the workers), and outside many hotels and shopping malls between 9 and 11 (not for the workers!). You can also get chow every morning at "Rope Square" in the Olympic Plaza. Some breakfasts come complete with Indians in traditional attire, marching bands from all ovder the world, gunfighter shootouts, and wagon rides. The biggest breakfasts are held the Saturday after the parade at Chinook Centre (in the south) and Market Mall (in the northwest), which typically feed tens of thousands, while listening to a variety of country acts!
Square dancing, marching bands, and Indian dances are held at Rope Square (in Olympic Plaza by City Hall) from 10 until noon. From 2 p.m. on, you can party at one of the saloons set up for Stampede Week: the big ones are the Golden Garter in the Westin Hotel. You could also stop in at the popular country bars, including Cowboys Dance Hall (downtown), Desperado's (Beside Stampede Grounds), Ranchman's (on Macleod Trail), and the Outlaw's Saloon (also onMacleod Trail). Even the "regular" bars get into the act with straw on the floors and live coutry bands.
We suggest heading down to the Stampede Park and taking in the Rodeo at 1 pm (this is what the Stampede is all about, after all) or the Chuckwagon Races and Grandstand Show at 8 pm. The rodeo prizes are the biggest in the world for rodeo and chuckwagon races, and the show is always a thrill. Fireworks are on around 11 pm each night. The Stampede midway and displays are open from 9 am until 1 the next morning with tons to do for all ages (if you're taking the LRT, check for the times of the last train).