Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is in southern Alberta, Canada, bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s known for its chain of lakes, including the large Upper and Middle Waterton lakes, flanked by the Rocky Mountains. Waterton was Canada’s fourth national park, formed in 1895 and named after Waterton Lake.

I have always wanted to visit Waterton Lakes, mainly to see the stunning Prince of Wales hotel but also because it’s a mere 4 hours drive from Banff.

During the Summer of 2017, the same time as the Verdant Creek fire raged in BC, close to Banff, the Kenow forest fire developed from a lightning strike in Southern BC about 10km from the Park boundary. In all, 19,303 hectares of the park burned and it’s a miracle the town survived.6The town of Waterton is very small and unlike Banff, is not overly busy in the Winter, it basically shuts down apart from one resort and restaurant that caters for snowshoe and cross-country skiing enthusiasts. The Summer season starts properly in June so it was very quiet when we arrived.

The drive is pretty cruisy, its mostly long straight roads through the Southern Albertan prairies. After leaving the Park we headed towards Calgary on the Trans Canada and turned South at the Cochrane turnoff and onto the Cowboy Trail. We passed through the towns of Redwood Meadows and Bragg Creek which were heavily wooded areas, the road lined with grand entrances to the various ranches we passed along the way, real Cowboy country!After heading East for a few kilometres, we turned South again at Priddis past green fields full of cows and patches of snow still melting after the long Winter.3At Turner Valley we took a wrong turn (I should say, didn’t take the turn-off) and ended up on a wooded area on the edge of town. As we went to turn around I looked to the side and saw a large brown figure in the woods. On closer inspection I saw it was a Moose! We stopped the car and jumped out to try and get a better look. There was a wire fence between the road and the large Male Moose, but we kept our distance all the same. What a treat! Moose are few and far between and I’ve only seen 3 since I arrived in Canada nearly 2 years ago.2Most of the towns were small, flat farming towns that were littered with farming machinery businesses with ranches and farms on the outskirts. Black Diamond is very pretty with all its storefronts decked out in Western Style. Heading away from some of the towns we passed through were large housing estates full of beautiful new houses on large plots of land. Although I personally prefer living in the mountains, I can understand why you would want to buy land out here. The prairies are stunning, and the land is vast and the views over to the Rockies stretching North and South as far as the eye can see is quite an amazing sight as well. I’d certainly appreciate that view from my kitchen window!1From Black Diamond to Pincher Creek, the last major town before Waterton Lakes, the highway is a long, mainly straight, 152 kilometre stretch heading South. The land down here is barren flatlands and rolling hills, the colour changes to a light, sun scorched shade of brown that rolls away into the distance meeting the grey and white peaks of the Rockies to the West.

At Pincher creek we stopped for gas, food and took photos of a very funny message we saw out side a church. “Blah, blah, blah, Just come to Church”4We continued down Alberta highway 6 another 44 kms to Waterton National Park Gate. Past the Bison Loop (just outside the park, which was unfortunately closed) the road passed through the marchlands and swamps beside Maskinonge Lake and then Lower Waterton Lake, The Golf Course (closed), Red Rock Canyon (closed) and finally to the magnificent Upper Waterton Lake.  We passed the historic Prince of Wales hotel on the left and headed down into the townsite.5There was a lot of roadworks in town, so we had to circle around our hotel before finding a way into the car park. I went to the reception of Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort only to find the front desk closed, luckily a staff member pointed out my keys in an envelope stuck to the wall outside reception. We found our Lodge named Red Rock House just out the back of the main reception and we were pleasantly surprised we had been upgraded to a suite with a full kitchen.7We unpacked and settled in with a beer or 2 and searched the internet for a place to eat. We had arrived just after 8pm so after showering we headed into town to find somewhere to have dinner. Unfortunately, even after checking online and seeing places were open, the whole town was dark apart from one restaurant that we managed to get into 30 minutes before they closed. The Lakeside Chophouse is one of Waterton’s premier dining establishments and a bit pricier than we were looking for, but it was a wonderful experience.  Fergus and I ordered the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich and Kurt and Zeke got the Prime Rib Mountain Burger. The Chicken Burger was HUGE! 3 big pieces of mouth-watering fried Chicken smothered in cheese, honey cayenne mayo and rocket, YUM! It was probably the best (definitely the biggest) Chicken burger I have ever eaten.8 On full tummies we wandered back to the resort and settled in for the night.

Day 2

The manager of the resort was on the reception desk when I wandered over in the morning, he was a charming man with lots of stories to tell from his time in the Navy and working at other bars and hotels. He told me a bit about the fires and the National Park and gave me a few ideas of what was open in the area.1I went to the only shop open in town that happened to also be a gas station and bought eggs, bread and milk for breakfast. Cooked the boys eggs on toast and made a pot of coffee everyone hated, luckily a trusty Starbucks was open in town, why am I not surprised?

We headed up to the Prince of Wales hotel for a look in the morning. The Prince of Wales is a historic railroad hotel located on a bluff overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, it was constructed between 1926 and 1927 in a Swiss-chalet style by the Great Northern Railway of the U.S. This stately hotel offers 86 guest rooms and a traditional British atmosphere complete with Afternoon Tea, the Royal Stewart Dining Room, Windsor Lounge, and the Princess Gift Shop.63The hotel had not yet opened for the season, so we were unable to go inside but the outside was spectacular. Swiss chalet motifs, including steeply pitched gabled roofs, intersecting gables, two-storey dormers, tiers of continuous balconies supported on large brackets, a lantern cupola, and the use of contrasting finish colours of green, red and yellow make it really stand out against the surrounding mountains.5The wind up on the ridge was unbelievable, why the 4 Big Horned Sheep we saw sitting up there thought it was a lovely place to have a sit down I don’t know, but the views were amazing. From the hotel you can see all the way down Upper Waterton Lake, over the township and back in the other direction toward Linnet lake and the prairies. The location couldn’t be better for a hotel.24We then decided to go up to Red Rock Canyon. The guy at the hotel had told us the access road was open but when we arrived there was a barrier across the road. It was about 14km to the actual canyon, so we decided to walk a little way up the road to see what we could find. We entered the trail that ran parallel to the road and the river and after climbing a small hill we came out onto a grassy area where we could see quite clearly over to the opposite side of the river to the golf course. 2Fergus was the first one to spot what liked like a Black Bear walking along a snowbank on the course and we all quickly rallied around to spot it as it walked along the snow. It looked quite large, so we were happy it was on the other side of the river which had steep cliffs on either side. After that Bear disappeared behind some trees we carried on up the pat a bit before spotting another 2 bears, one tan and the other a very deep brown, foraging on a grassy mound. These 2 were closer (still on the opposite side) and looked like big cubs. Seeing 3 bears in the space of 10 minutes was a bit much for us so we turned around and headed back to the car, we certainly didn’t want to meet any on our side of the river!3We carried on back out of the park to the Bison Loop to see if we could see any Bison from the start of the road. The view was cool but there was not a single Bison in sight! Boo! We went to the Bison Paddock twice to see if we could spot any but I later read all the Bison had been relocated before the fire. 6We decided to get mover provisions (booze) so headed back to Pincher Creek, a 30 minutes drive away. Bought some Palm bay and beer and Fergus bought a jar of Moonshine (When in Rome I suppose…) and we headed back to Waterton.7Went for a few drinks at Vimy’s, the bar and restaurant in the resort. We sat at the bar and had a few pints while watching sport and chatting to the friendly new barmaid from Ontario. Exchanged travel stories and enjoyed the sun on our backs through the sunroof.

In the late afternoon we went for a walk to Cameron falls which is right in town. The crystal-clear cascading mountain water rushes steadily over 1.5 billion year-old Cambrian rock, throwing off a mist that dusts your skin as you pass by. We walked up the easy paved pathway to the right of the falls to get a better view and take a few photos.1098.jpgThat night we decided to eat at Vimy’s so after an early evening nap we headed over at around 9:30pm. We were met with the waitress (not the one from earlier) telling us the kitchen closes in 20 minutes! Charming. So we just ordered poutine and a pint each. The poutine wasn’t great and had too much gravy and not enough chips or curds. When we got the bill, we had been changed for jugs and not pints, so we had to get her to redo it. Not the best service from a restaurant that is the only one open all year round!10.jpg

Day 3

After a breakfast of bacon and eggs we headed down to the lakeside for a wander. I had originally wanted to camp at the town campground right beside the lake but was a week or so too early. I’m glad that was the case as it was so windy down there, there were still big snowbanks scattered around, some as tall as me and it was pretty cold. But I bet its a fantastic place to stay in Summer when the weather is warm and the lakes calm. 1.jpg

2Walked along to some Red Chairs and got a photo before meandering with our thoughts back to the car.3The drive home was long and uneventful. It also seemed shorter as we knew where we were going.

The only stop we made was at the Longview Jerky Shop. We had bought Jerky from a garage in town on the way to Waterton and then passed the Jerky Shop a bit further up the road so said we would stop there on our way home.5 I haven’t been to many Jerky shops, I haven’t really had a lot of jerky but what I have had I’ve loved. This place had all kinds of flavours and different kinds of meats. From Chicken, Elk, Turkey, Pork and Bison jerky to flavoured Beef jerky such as mandarin/ginger, honey/garlic, teriyaki, maple beef and dill pickle. They had everything and for $6 a packed it wasn’t too bad. I picked up some Chicken and Teriyaki Beef to chew on on the way home.6Overall Waterton is a lovely place to visit but as I said above, I do regret not visiting in the previous Summer before the fires. But who’s to know what nature is going to bring?

 

 

Advertisements

5 important things to know when doing a season in Banff.

Housing / Work / Discounts & Freebees / Banff Ambassador / Leaving Banff

I did a heap of research after deciding on Banff as the base for my 2 year Canadian working holiday visa.

We travelled in the States and Eastern & Western Canada for a couple of months before arriving in Banff in September ready for our first Winter season.

Come June of the following year we left Banff and drove across the country to St John’s, spent a month in the UK and drove back to Banff ready for our second Winter in September 2017.

So all in all we have spent close to 20 months living in Banff in total, I must say it feels a lot longer than that.

There isn’t a town on Earth, even my own hometown of Dunedin, or London, that I feel I know as much about. This is partly due to working on a hotel front desk and having to know and advise guests, but also because I wanted to cram as much in to these last 20 months that I possibly could.

Living in Banff isn’t easy, whether you are fresh out of collage and on your first big overseas trip or, like me, you are a bit older, have travelled and lived in multiple countries and have been on good money. It’s hard for everyone.

So for people looking to make this beautiful piece of the world their home, I offer the following advice;

1. Housing

Finding a home in Banff isn’t an easy feat, or so I’ve been told.  We only looked at about 4 houses before finding one so it was very easy for us. The second time around we got right back into the same house. Easy peesy.

But, a lot of people are forced to stay at hostels and even hotels for months on end while trying to secure a place to live.  Arriving at the right time of year definitely helps. Late May to June is good because a lot of the Winter seasonaires leave, and equally, September to late October due to the Summer workers departing. 

Most workplaces offer staff accommodation at great rates, they have to, being in a National Park, Banff has very limited housing and new buildings rarely go up, if they do it’s because something else has been torn down. Staff accommodation is great but if you are arriving as a couple and work at different places it won’t work. Most staff accom is for a single person, in either a shared bedroom or an apartment shared with a colleague.

For couples, you’ll need to go private and there are a lot of options, just not a lot of rooms.

Don’t be fooled into going to a real estate agent looking for a place, they will probably laugh in your face. Most accommodation is either owned by a local or rented by a local and sublet to travellers.

The best places to look are on the Facebook page, Bow Valley Home Finders or Kijiji which is Canada’s Craigslist or Gumtree. Also knowing the right people helps and word of mouth goes a long way.

We got our room through a couple we noticed were replying to the same adverts on Facebook as we were. We teamed up and tried to help them find a room and vice versa, in the end we ended up living with them and made lifelong friends.

2. Work

There is tonnes of work in Banff, absolutely tonnes, if you arrive at the right time.

As each season starts, help wanted signs appear in all the store and restaurant windows and this is a great way to find work. Make sure you have a lot of hard copy resumes and get walking.

I work in recruitment and tried to get a role doing that but unfortunately the well paid, non-hospitality jobs go to locals. Early on I made the mistake of applying for professional roles I could do standing on my head but they probably knew I would expect too much money or roles that only locals would get due to visa restrictions. I understand this because I know the cost of the recruitment cycle and to hire someone who will only leave to travel after a few months is not productive for any company.

So I had to go back to my roots and get something in hospitality. I didn’t want to do serving as I had done that for years and didn’t want to constantly work nights. I didn’t think it would look good on my resume either. 12 Years of corporate recruitment work to only go back to what I’d done 15 years earlier. No.

Also suffering a broken arm only a year ago I didn’t want to be lifting heavy trays all night.

But serving is actually where the big money is in Banff. Tips are huge and depending on where you work can be a lot, lot more than your wages.  I know people who worked 3-4 nights a week, did 5 hours shifts and made twice as much as I do.

It’s different here in Canada as well. The host seats you and gives you your menu then the server takes your order, the runner brings you your meal and the server gives you the bill. Back in Australia, when I worked in restaurants, I did all of that and barely made $10 a night in tips! And that is working in a fine dining restaurant! Yes, if you want to make money in Banff, work in a restaurant.Anyhoo, I ended up working at the Front Desk of a hotel in town, I love it and I get commission for ski rental, selling tours and the occasional tips. It pays the bills, enables me to ski 3-4 times a week and also save a bit of money.

My boyfriend managed to get gardening work during the few months there wasn’t snow covering the ground and labouring work during Winter and he was on great money.

Again Kijiji is a great place to look and also the Banff Resource Centre is a great help.

I know resumes, I look at them all day but I still had to tweak mine a lot for Canada. The resource centre will help you to understand how to do this and what employers are looking for.

Additional to this, most large companies such as the Fairmont, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Caribou Properties have job fairs at the beginning of each season. Go to their websites; see what’s available and pop along. Meeting you face-to-face is a great start and a lot of people get jobs this way.

3. Discounts and Freebees

As a Banff local, you get treated rather well. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live but the town knows that and looks after the dedicated people who choose to live here.

Many retail outlets and restaurants will offer you a ‘locals discount’ and you will get to know these places in time and only shop there.

Banff Food Rescue is a godsend for people who are struggling and those who want to help the community. Alanna Pettigrew, the founder, started just before we arrived and her and her team of volunteers now give out free food to over 50 people a night. They collect food from local stores that cannot be given to the food banks and give it out to anyone who lines up at her door. It’s perfectly fine and their motto is ‘keeps good Food from becoming Food Waste’, Just amazing!

Snowtips/Backtrax, a rental place in town was voted the locals favourite and give great discounts on ski & bike rental and purchases for locals.A lot of places offer discounts if you have a seasons pass for the ski hills, this is all on the Big 3 website, take advantage.

Discover Banff Tours offer a big discount to locals on their tours, 45% I believe.

The Taxi Mike website and brochure is the locals bible. Taxi Mike provides an up to date list of all food and drink offers all week, all season. Save it to your favourites and grab a brochure, you will refer to it the whole time you are here, believe me!

Nesters is a place you will frequent a lot. It’s a supermarket in town and they offer a points card that is actually very good. Each time you visit you get points which accumulate and can then be used to buy groceries. Get one as soon as you arrive in town!

If you are lucky enough to work on the front desk of a hotel, you’ll also be offered FAM tours, I’ve been skiing, snowmobiling, ice walking, snowshoeing and horse riding, all for free!

4. Banff Ambassador

I touched on this in a previous post but it’s a MUST do when you first get to Banff!

1. Go to the library, upstairs in the conference room, you don’t need to book, just turn up. Here, you’ll sit down with a bunch of other newbies for an interesting talk from the Discover Banff Tours representatives about the town, history, housing, wildlife, jobs and other fun stuff for an hour.

2.You get a discounted Discover Banff and its Wildlife 3 hour tour to some of Banff’s hotspots, learn a heap and have lots of fun.3.You then get a discount card, valid for a year with over $500 worth of discounts. This includes Canoeing at Lake Louise (worth $105), gondola tickets, hot spring tickets an heaps of other cool stuff.

They do this so you are all set to advise on tours and attractions, whatever your job may be. It’s a fantastic introduction to Banff and you’ll met some fab people along the way.

4. Leave Banff sometimes

When you arrive, you’ll think ‘I’m never leaving this place!’, well I did anyway.

But it’s important to leave once and a while. You will get into a little bubble of work, home, partying and the places you frequent with your mates and it’s easy to get into a routine. That’s what you came here to get away from though.

There are so many amazing places to visit not too far away.During the ski season do a road-trip to Fernie, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama or Marmot Basin.  They are all amazing ski hills and quaint little towns with heaps to offer. You can get a discount with your Big 3 Pass or buy cheap tickets on kijiji. Have a look before you go, I never paid full price for ski tickets!

Calgary is also only 1.5 hours away and loads of big bands go there. I saw Kings of Leon, The Arkells and Frank Turner at the Saddledome. And don’t forget Hockey, you HAVE to go and see a few games, it’s so amazing!If you are a gambler, take the free shuttle to the Stoney Nakoda Casino, loose all your tips or go to the $30 Lobster & Steak buffet. Yum!

When you arrive back in Banff you are thankful, you feel like you are returning from a great mini holiday into another. Life is great. Until work starts!

Two more groups you need to join on Facebook are Banff Buy and Sell, everyone buys and sells their stuff on here! And Banff Lost and Found, Banff is the town of disappearing jackets, phones and keys. If you loose of find something, join this group!

So, that’s it. Come to Banff, have an amazing time, live your dreams and make lifelong friends.The writing below used to be written on the wall of the ladies toilets in Mels before it was painted over and I think whoever wrote it is spot on.

‘Banff Life is a good life, never forget this place’

Hiking Old Quarry Loop

Last Monday was a wonderful day, bright blue sky and lots of powdery snow following almost 2 whole days of solid snowfall. Too nice to sit indoors.

Layla and I decided to hike the Spray River Loop before I had to go to work at 3pm so after a Latte at home we headed off to the Banff Springs Golf Course where the Spray River East Trail starts.Spray LoopDue to a good 30cm of snow cover we were unable to locate the Spray River East Trailhead which I can see from the maps is just beyond the bridge behind the hotel, so we continued walking up the Golf Course road for about 200m and found the Mount Rundle Trailhead, this eventually joins the Spray River East Trail after a short walk around the fairway and up a steep incline around the side of Mount Rundle.1Once on the trail we saw the indentations of where the cross-country ski tracks are (the trail was groomed the day before but a further 10cm had fallen since then so the tracks were covered) so we stuck to the middle of the trail so as not to disturb them. Layla led the way in her trusty snow boots, I followed in my hiking boots.

 The trail is mostly long, flat straights through the forest but you and venture off at points to see the view across the river. The view doesn’t disappoint either! From where we were we could see the semi frozen Spray River heading North towards the Bow River below us, The Rimrock Hotel nested halfway up Sulphur mountain and the Banff Gondola rising above it to the summit facility and above that the bright blue cloudless sky. It is one of the best views I’ve seen in Banff and one of the least seen by the masses I assume.2During our hike we only saw a handful of cross country skiers, no other walkers or anyone fat biking and luckily no animals. When on these trails and its all quiet and peaceful you do wonder who or what may be looking at you. A woman and her dogs were chased down this very trail at the end of last Winter by Bear 148. (who has unfortunately since been shot by a hunter in BC) There are also Wolves and probably Cougars in this area as well, but we didn’t see or hear anything but the river meandering through the valley and the whoosh of the snow falling from the trees.3At about 12:30pm we came across a man cross country skiing and asked how far the bridge was and his reply was ‘about 4-5 km’ so we decided to turn around and take the Old Quarry Trail as we didn’t have time to do the whole Spray river Loop in just a couple of hours. So, we turned around and headed off on another trail down the ridge towards the river. This trail was steep and narrow, but we had magnificent views of the valley with the Banff Springs hotel and Mount Norquay in the distance. We passed a woman snowshoeing as we came down and wondered if we should have hired them as well. Headed over the bridge and up a steep incline to the Spray River West Trail.4As it turns out, the area beyond where we had cut onto the trail is for skiing only, so we wouldn’t have been able to hike the whole loop anyway.  The trail on the West side of the river winded through the trees and was flatter that the East. We passed 2 children and their Father skiing and chuckled as the little girl fell into the soft powder and then stared at us as we passed.5The trail ended at a car park just beyond the hotel and after walking back to my house we enjoyed another coffee and Maple Cookies. Yum!

Grotto Canyon FAM Tour

Layla and I were lucky enough to get to do another FAM tour with Discover Banff Tours in mid December. This time it was Grotto Canyon.

Grotto Canyon is located just outside Canmore in Exshaw, an area made up of a number of plants and a small hamlet. 1The group was made up of around 25 of us and 2 guides, one of which also took us on the snowshoe tour of the Paint Pots.

We put on our snow cleats and walked through a stunted pine forest before coming to a viewpoint at the edge of the forest overlooking The Bow Valley. 23On entering the canyon the path changed from packed snow to ice and in places the ice wasn’t very thick. People’s feet were disappearing through the ice all over the place but thankfully the creek we were walking on was only 10cm or so deep.

Once deeper inside the canyon and more sheltered from the sun the creek became hard with layers of ice and footing was much stabler.  The canyon walls slowly became higher as we progressed and soon the walls rose high above us and trees clung onto the sides, the snow hanging off their branches.56At one point we were shown ancient pictographs on the canyon walls which were likely created by Hopi visitors from the Arizona region. The ochre used to paint the designs was most likely collected from the Paint Pots.811We stopped for lunch in a lovely area containing frozen waterfalls people were climbing. We ate Maple cookies, had hot Chocolates and watched the folks climbing, the squirrels foraging for food and took lots of photos. What a lovely spot for a break.10791213After our break we headed back through the canyon just as the sun came out and lit up the ice and the snow covered sides. It was just beautiful.1314

More info:

Who: DiscoverBanff Tours

Where: Grotto Canyon, Banff National Park

What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Ice cleats & hiking poles, refreshments

Difficulty: 4.2km, 100m elevation gain

Duration: 4 hours

Price: $74 Adult / $42 Child

 

 

 

It’s looking like a great season so far!

It’s been a brilliant start to the ski season, rumour has it ‘it’s the best since sometime in the 50’s’ but I have also been told they say that every year.

I’ve skied 15 days so far and am well on my way to beating last year’s total of 50 days on the hill.

Sunshine Village has had a heap of powder days already this season and although it’s challenging for me to ski in powder, I have been getting a lot of practice in and am starting to enjoy floating through the champagne snow which is a foot deep in places. At least if I do fall over, it’s not painful, its just hard work to dig yourself out. I can see why snowboarders love it! Powder day at Sunshine

The weather hasn’t been great in terms of sunshine. Up until this week there has been a lot of ‘white-outs’, snowy days and visibility has been very poor. But, this week the sun came out and is staying out for the next few days. Skiing on a ‘bluebird’ day is just amazing! The snow glistens, the views are amazing, and you can see exactly where you are going. There really is nothing like it.Powder day at Sunshine=happy girls!

Lake Louise hosted the FIS World cup early in the season and the crews who got it all ready did a fantastic job. The hours of snowmaking and putting in fences took an army and the event was a tremendous success, even on the day where a fallen tree caused the power to go out in the resort, so the athletes had to be taken up to the starting gates by other means, snowplough, helicopter and snowmobile I believe.Layla, Selina and I at the World Cup

Skiing in the early part of November was different, the snow in places was quite space and my skis took a bit of a beating due to rocks that were not quite covered. I actually don’t mind this too much as it makes you a more technical skier and able to manage difficult terrain to find the best snow. One day we even came across a sign advising us to ‘take off your skis/board and walk around this corner’, sod that! I went straight over the rocks, no problem!

Now the resort has had a fair bit more snow the conditions are fantastic, I like to spend most of my time over the back bowls and on Larch where the runs are long and less busy that on the frontside.

Even though Norquay is a lot smaller I have been up twice this season and really enjoyed it. The views over Banff from Cascade chair are just stunning. Its so exhilarating seeing the mighty Mount Rundle in the distance as you climb the hill and whizz back down.

Mount Rundle seen from Mt Norquay

Spirit chair opened this week, and it was great to be able to explore the runs around there. Their runs are quite a bit steeper compared to other ski hills so more of a challenge. I look forward to exploring Norquay more and their French fries are the best in Banff so its always a nice reward after a few hard runs.Selina and I at Norquay

Watch this space for more exciting tales of powder, bluebird days and mountain fun!

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest Park and was established in 1885. It consists of 6.641 square kilometres of craggy mountain peaks, glacial lakes, Icefields, glaciers and small alpine villages visited by over 3 million visitors annually.

With this much park to explore, there are so many reasons to visit this paradise in the Rocky Mountains.

50 Things to do in Banff National Park

1. Skiing the Big 3, Sunshine Village,

Lake Louise and Mount Norquay

2. Hiking an hour to the summit of Tunnel Mountain for amazing views of Banff and the Bow Valley

3. Indulging in Fondue at the eclectic Grizzly House restaurant

4. Exploring the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel grounds and having a stein at The Waldhaus Pub

5. Taking the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and walking to the old weather station

6. Having a soak in the 40-degree waters and enjoying the views at the Banff Upper Hot Springs

7. Strolling around Cascade Gardens looking at flowers, waterfalls and the Parks Canada building

8. Exploring the Cave and Basin historical sight and learning about the history of the National Park

9. Eating chicken wings on wing night at Mel’s bar. ($2 for 6 wings and cheap beer)

10. Taking a quick walk up to Surprise Corner for the wonderful views of the Banff Springs Hotel

11. Seeing an adventure film at the annual Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival in the Fall

12. Visiting the Parks museum, Buffalo Nation Luxton museum and Whyte museum in Banff town

13. Watching the waters of the Bow River cascade over Bow falls

14. Walking along Bow River Trail from Buffalo St to the Canoe docks trying to spot Elk

15. Eating traditional Poutine at Eddie Burger

16. Going down to Vermillion Lakes to catch the sunrise over Mount Rundle and the lakes

17. Chowing down on a Mac & Cheese pizza at High Rollers and getting in some pool and bowling

18. Ice skating on the free outdoor rink at the Banff Community High School

19. Driving out to Lake Minnewanka to see the Northern Lights dancing behind the mountains

20. Walking around the old mining town of Bankhead and admiring the views of Cascade Mountain

21. Picnicking at Cascade Ponds or Two Jack Lake and taking the kayak or paddleboard out

22. Driving around the Fairmont Golf Course loop trying to spot Elk and Black Bears

23. Heading to Earls for happy hour (3-6 & 6-close) and ordering their amazing $7 dry ribs

24. Hiking the Fenlands trail and watching the birds and animals

25. Getting your photo taken with the new BANFF sign on Lynx Street

26. Driving up to the Norquay Lookout on the ski hill access road for a magnificent view of Banff

27. Learning to Curl and catching a local ice hokey game at the Fenlands Recreation Centre

28. Hiking Johnston Canyon to see the amazing waterfalls and cascading Johnston Creek

29. Driving the Bow Valley Parkway all the way to Lake Louise and spotting wildlife

30. Hiking Sunshine Meadows up at Sunshine Village ski area and seeing the larch trees in Fall

31. Visiting the famous Lake Louise and hiring a Canoe and paddling across the lake to the glacier

32. Hiking up to the Lake Agnes teahouse and continuing to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

33. Cycling or Cross-Country skiing to the incredible Moraine Lake and the Valley of the 10 Peaks

34. Taking the short hike to the Peyto Lake lookout

35. Stopping at Castle Mountain Lookout for stunning views of this incredibly shaped mountain

36. Having an Ale brewed in Banff and watching a game of ice hockey at the Banff Ave Brewing Co

37. Taking a horse drawn sleigh ride in Banff town or along the shoreline at Lake Louise

38. X-country ski or hike the 11km to Skoki Lodge in the backcounty beyond Lake Louise Ski Resort

39. Rocket down the hill on a snowtube at Mount Norquay or Lake Louise ski areas

40. Rent a bike and cycle along the bow river to Sundance Canyon

41. Enjoy a stroll on horseback to the remote Sundance Lodge

42. Try a Beavertail at one of Banff’s two store locations

43. Enjoy a jug of beer and Thursday Night Bingo at the Banff Legion

44. Visit one on the many Galleries in town with art and craft from local artists

45. Try a relaxing float trip down the Bow river in Summer

46. Climb the hair rising Via Ferrata up above Mount Norquay’s ski runs

47. Climb the switch back trail up Sulphur Mountain and get the Gondola back down

48. Ride the mechanical Bull and do some line dancing at Wild Bill’s Saloon

49. Enjoy Banff’s Parade of Lights at Christmas and visit the Christmas markets at Warner Stables

50. See the New Years Eve fireworks while partying on Banff Avenue.

Winter has arrived…..

This Winter has arrived quite suddenly. Banff pretty much went from Fall sunshine to snowy Winter skies in a week. 

The temperature has plummeted down to -15 and the town has a carpet of white that should last the next 6 months. 

The first ski hill has opened and the other two are due to open next week.

It’s beautiful. 

Bow River starting to freeze over, soon people will be walking over it.

Mount Rundle

Cascade Mountain towering over the town.

A Sensational Sunrise

This morning I was up bright & early and after my colleague Layla picked me up we headed down to Vermillion Lakes, just outside Banff to watch the sunrise. 

As we pulled up beside the first lake, the sky above Banff turned bright pink and purple. An incredible sight with the calm icy water of the lake in the foreground and the magnificent Mount Rundle in the background. A few minutes later orange and yellow were added to the hue and the scene changed dramatically. We moved around the lakeshore to get a few different shots of the amazing landscape it was simply breathtaking.We really do live in Paradise. 

Kings of Leon in Calgary

Last weekend a very excited Layla and I headed up to the city to see Kings of Leon at the Scotiabank SaddledomeI had seen them many years before at the O2 in London but was really keen to see them again as I love their latest albums Mechanical Bull and Walls. It was Layla’s first time seeing them and she was super excited as they were on her bucket list of bands to see!

We left in Fergus’s car around 4pm and picked up Selena from Germany, a rideshare, from up on Tunnel Mountain. Chatted and listened to KOL on the 1.5 hour drive through the mountains and plains and into the city to the HI Calgary City Centre Hostal where we all had stayed a few times before. HI Calgary is a great hostal in the East Village. It’s only a few blocks from the City Centre, the River and the Saddledome so makes a perfect place to stay when attending concerts or hockey. We paid $45 for a female 6 bed dorm with free wi-if and breakfast. 

After a quick drink at Cowboy’s Casino we headed off down to the stadium. Got our tickets at the box office before saying bye to Selena. She was in seating and we were in the pit, we befriended her on Facebook and promised to meet up in Banff. 

Got some ciders and headed down to the front of the stage. At first it wasn’t all that busy as most people were milling around in the back getting food and drinks. The support band, The Dawes, an LA based Folk Rock band were late to start so by then we had made some friends in the crowd, Ashley & Ian from Calgary, Ashley was from Calgary and had 2 children and Ian was originally from the UK.  We had also made a few bar and toilet runs before Kings of Leon appeared. Caleb told us the reason for them being late was due to their flight from Edmonton being cancelled so they had to drive down to Calgary. Fair play.They started off at a slower pace with Conversation Piece from Walls, Taper Jean Girl and The Bucket from Aha Shake Heartbreak, a song about them returning from a tour in the UK where they were huge to the US where there were still relatively unknown.  They then hit us with Eyes on You from Walls, a bouncy, upbeat tune that got the crowd moving. Next up came 2 songs off my favourite album of theirs, Only By The Night, released in 2009. Revelry and Notion. Caleb’s voice is stunning, it’s so raw and sounds exactly as it does on the recordings. Next came Fans from Because Of the Times and the huge anthem Use Somebody, a song Caleb wrote while recovering from a shoulder injury and realising he was dependant on those around him.The mood went a bit quieter after the rousing excitement of Use Somebody, the lights went down and Caleb appeared on the stage on his own for some slower songs, Milk, Talihina Sky and Walls. This band is just as talented writing slower songs as they are writing big rock anthems. Closer is one of mine and Layla’s all time favourite songs but unfortunately it wasn’t included on the nights set list. Find Me, another song from Walls I like was up next and got the stadium on it’s feet again for Crawl and Radioactive, The Immortals from Come Around Sundown and On Call, all fantastic songs I knew almost to the point I could remember all the lyrics. Around The World, a song I can relate to, was up next and by then we had met a bunch of others in the crowd from Golden and Edmonton and were all dancing and singing 3 rows back from the stage. It was unbelievable how close we were. Following Around the World they finally played a song from Mechanical Bull, an album that reminds me of travelling on the Tube when I first moved to London. Family Tree was followed by Reverend, a gritty song from Walls that was released as a promotional single for the album. Back Down South then followed Pyro, a song written about the Ruby Ridge shoot out.Next was Knocked Up, an upbeat tune about an illicit relationship ending in pregnancy, followed by No Money and finally the big ones we had all been waiting for.  Supersoaker, the lead single from Mechanical Bull is a punchy fun tune that sounds similar to the bands older stuff. It’s a great song to dance to and by then I had pealed some layers of and was loving the sweaty unruliness of the pit. My feet were stuck to the floor, cups, paper and god knows what else was being trampled on and the crowd was pumped, hands were in the air, hair was being thrown about and we were all moving as one. Next up was Sex On Fire, the bands most well know, if not overplayed song from Only By The Night. Everyone went wild and jumped up and down to the mesmerising guitar rifts and the chorus we all knew. They finished the night off with Waste A Minute from Walls, a feel good upbeat song with a message.

It was a brilliant night, when the acoustics in a venue are on par with the musisions and they sound like they do on their recordings you can’t be dissappointed. I knew 90% of the songs and the atmosphere was great. The crowd was friendly and we met a load of cool people. The setlist was really great too, old and new, fast and slow, all in a good order. 

I’ll definitely go and see them again someday, somewhere Around The World.

Hike to the ‘Lakes in the Clouds’

Winter is nearly here and a lot of the Summer activities are closing for the season. Sunday was the last day the Lake Agnes Tea House was open so my colleague Layla and I went for a hike up there in the morning. Layla is British so loves a cuppa. Funnily enough she grew up in Basingstoke, just over the hill from Newbury where I lived for many years, it’s a small world indeed!

We left my house around 8am and drive up to Lake Louise and managed to park in the first parking lot due to it being so early in the day. Even the lakeshore wasn’t that crowded which made a pleasant change.The trail starts just past the Chateau and quickly rises steeply up through the forest zigzagging all the way up to Mirror Lake. The path is well worn and wide and mainly consists of dirt at the beginning but gets a lot rockier as you ascend upwards towards the treeline.  
There is not a lot to see most of the journey up, the forest is beautiful and sheltered from the weather and you do get the odd glimpse of the bright blue lake in places and views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Big Beehive.Once we got 2/3 of the way up we came across Mirror Lake, a small frozen lake at the foot of the Big Beehive. It’s a pretty spot for a rest and a sit down before you head up the steepest bit of trail up to the Teahouse and Lake Agnes. Up here the trees thin out and you start to get views over the valley to the Lake Louise ski resort and down the Bow Valley towards Banff. It’s impressive and a nice reward for the hard slog up.After 15 minutes or so you turn a corner and come across a small waterfall and a flight of stairs. Sitting atop these stairs is the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The building is a small log cabin with a large, covered verandah that houses the kitchen and tearooms on the lower level and the staff accommodation in the loft. Staff stay there over the Summer and hike up with fresh supplies 2-3 times a week, they also do 20-30 trips by helicopter at the start of the Summer to bring up the majority of the supplies. All the garbage is carried down by staff and guests who wish to help. (We carried down a bag of rubbish)It’s a quirky little place, we sat inside and had a pot of tea and a Mars bar while we chatted to a young couple from California who had hiked up with their 2-month-old baby, and what a happy wee thing he was, all rugged up and smiley.

We walked past the Teahouse along the lake for a better view of the surrounding mountains, Mt Whyte, Mt Niblock and Devil’s Thumb. The trail continues from Lake Agnes up to the Big Beehive and I would have loved to go up there but Layla had to work at 3 so we didn’t have enough time. You can also hike a further hour on to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House which looks amazing too.The way back down probably took us longer than it did to get up as the weather turned while we were up there and it was snowing quite heavily on our decent. The path had become extremely icy due to footfall and snow so we were slipping and sliding all over the place. Layla was first to slip over in a style that can only be described as cartoon like, she was on her back in a flash as both feet went out from under her, it looked very sore.  In one particular spot we were joined by a guide from the Chateau and 2 of his guests who had ice cleats on so they offered a steady arm for each of us to grip onto to prevent us sliding down the path. There were a lot of other hikers slipping over and the guide was warning people about the hazards. Apparently, a woman had been airlifted to hospital after slipping over on the trail the day before! They helped us down until the path became less icy and we chatted quite a bit. They were lovely, very helpful people.Once down on Lake level we walked around the end of Lake Louise, past the Chateau and the 1000s of visitors that had now descended on the place and back to the carpark. A great day with more than a few laughs along the way.

• Time: half-day hike (1-2hrs one way)

• Distance: 7 km (4.5 miles) return or 3.5 km from Lake Louise

• Elevation Gain: 400 m (1300 ft)

• Altitude: 2135 m (7005 ft)