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Travelogue: Calgary and Banff, Canada

I was in Banff sometime ago, 18 months to be precise but I never got around to writing up my Travelogue of my experiences, and the beauty of the place fully deserves my recognition.

I was there for a work event and had flown into Calgary International Airport and spent the night at a downtown hotel. The next day I got myself out of bed early, aided by jet lag, to whiz around and see a bit of this city situated at the foot of the Canadian Rockies.

The downtown area is dominated by the 626-foot scepter shaped Calgary Tower. There is a restaurant on top as well as a ‘torch’ which is lit for special occasions, but alas not for my morning walk.

I walked through Olympic Plaza, a park containing a skating rink. It served as the medal ceremony arena for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Not far away was another park called Devonian Gardens, which had not long been re-opened on my visit. The difference with this park is that it is all indoors occupying two and a half acres of a shopping mall.

Back nearer towards my hotel was the cool area of Eau Claire, a hub of pedestrian walkways, shops and restaurants plus a market backing onto the Bow River, which runs for 365 miles through the province of Alberta.

imageThere was time to meet some colleagues for lunch at Saltlik, and then it was a drive to Banff for the real reason I was in this part of the world.

The drive to Banff National Park took about 2 hours, which included a lot of “slow down, wow, look at that” moments and some photo stops.

The whole of this area was designated a national park in 1885 and encompasses 2,500 miles of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff was first settled five years previous when the Canadian Pacific Railroad found natural beauty and hot springs on the mountain slopes now known as Sulphur Mountain. Canadian Pacific then moved into the tourism business as well as the rail industry and developed and promoted the area as an international resort and spa, helping them support the new railway reaching west across the Rockies.

The part of Canada was named Banff in 1884 after the birthplace of two of Canadian Pacific Railway’s most senior men. That birthplace being Banff Bay on the Aberdeenshire coast.

Canadian Pacific continued to build a series of grand hotels along the railroad line and Swiss ski guides were brought in to lead visitors up and down mountain paths. During the first half of the 1900’s construction and infrastructure slowly continued and by the 1960’s Banff had become the foremost of all of the Canadian National Parks.

imageOnce Calgary Airport opened in 1977 there was no turning back as airline companies brought in people from all over the world to witness the beauty that was first discovered by Great Plains tribes and unlocked by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The World’s third oldest national park encompasses three renowned ski areas, glacial lakes, towering mountain crags, a quaint town and nearly 1,000 miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails.

I, meanwhile, was avoiding any physical exertion and was attending a conference and was holed up at the Banff Centre, which describes itself as “the largest arts and creativity incubator on the planet.”

It was a little bit more breathtaking than any old conference centre, and hosts year round a whole range of arts programmes and events, as well as having pretty decent accommodation, although I was a little bit put out that I couldn’t stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs up the road, the luxurious castle on the rockies as it is known. I did however get to have a pint in their Waldhaus Pub.

imageBanff town centre was just a pretty stroll downhill from the Banff Centre with the Bow River for company. The town itself is tiny and wander beyond it’s neat compact streets and you will be in wild country territory with elk and deer replacing tourists.

The town of Banff somehow fits itself into a bowl surrounded by six mountains.

Mt Cascade (2998m) is probably the most recognizeable of Banff’s mountain and stares down from Banff Ave, the reflective Mt Rundle (2950m), Mt Norquay (2522m) is located right at the entrance to the town and is home to the Norquay ski resort, Mt Stoney Squaw (1884m) is a smaller mountain located between Mt Cascade and Mt Norquay, Tunnel Mountain (1690m) is right in town and easily accessible for a good uphill walk and a wonderful views of Banff and the entire valley and finally Sulphur Mountain (2451m) is appropriately named after the sulphur-laden water that seeps out from its core creating the hot springs Banff was originally famed for.

imageThe Bow River winds itself serenely through the town with mountain peaks all around. You are at about 4,600 feet here, but it feels a lot higher. I walked backwards and forwards over the beautifully crafted timber pedestrian bridge that spans the Bow River and the 360 mountain views are breathtaking.

The town of Banff contains the regular touristy shops and restaurants, nothing particularly memorable although I had a work dinner at Bison which was very good, and a more whimsical lunch at a fondue place called Grizzly House.

I did have a mooch around the Banff Natural History Museum and stared at a lot of stuffed animals if I remember correctly. It helped kill 40 minutes and was an escape from the autumn midday sun.

Just a couple of miles from the town is the Banff Gondola, open all year round, whose four-person enclosed cars glide up to the top of Sulphur Mountain in less than 10 minutes. You can have lunch up at the top a definitely one for the must-do list.

imageI had planned, but not very well, to visit Lake Louise. I had left it to the last day to organize myself a rental car to drive up there. It is about an hour’s drive but by all accounts undeniable ‘kodak moments’ could triple that.

Lake Jasper was also on my radar and this was a 3-hour non-stop drive, but when I rocked up at the car rental place all their cars were booked and I was left to rue what might have been.

There are many higher places to travel to than Banff, but believe me it feels very close to heaven here. The mountains that surround Banff on all sides are breathtaking with dark evergreen trees layering them like a blanket. It is a beautiful little place, one of the most picturesque I have seen in North America.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bob Miller #

    CA, I am pleased you enjoyed your time in the Banff area of our Canadian Rockies. It is indeed a special place, albeit now a fairly heavily travelled tourist destination for those from around the world. Having said that, moving west, out of Alberta, through the Rockies and into the interior of British Columbia you are offered even more spectacular mountain scenery and if one takes a rather meandering route moving north/south up and down the various valleys, as opposed to a straight western run to the coast, you would be amazed at the divergence of the landscape. From towering mountain ranges, to the rivers and lakes, to the quite well developed and very beautiful wine country of the Okanagan, to the desert area south of there and on to the fantastic city of Vancouver is indeed a delight. This country offers a huge variety of topography from east to west, but unfortunately, it is so vast and far flung, that one is hugely challenged to ever take it all in.

    May 10, 2015
  2. Indeed Bob. A friend of mine has just announced he is to retire early and is buying a house in Kelowna. He told me how beautiful it is and that you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon. He is originally from Vancouver and has had enough of his ‘New York’ view on the Upper East Side.

    I have seen a fair bit of your home country – Montreal, Toronto, Kingston, Vancouver, Calgary and Banff – but have hardly scratched the surface of it’s vast interior and coasts.

    Appreciate your invalubale travel knowledge as always.

    May 10, 2015
    • Bob Miller #

      Some pretty decent wines come out of the “Kelowna” area, so he can sample great local faire après ski and at the 19th hole! Yes, we could throw some pretty interesting additional itineraries your way! Cheers.

      May 11, 2015

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