When work sent me to Banff for a long weekend, I was ecstatic. Even though I already had an 8 day trip planned for later in the summer, I somehow sensed that there was no such thing as "too much time in Banff."
I was determined to make the most of every minute of the trip, despite working full days while I was there. Here are the highlights from my 72 hours in Banff!
The Rimrock Resort Hotel
If you've got some money to blow, this hotel is absolutely gorgeous. The Rimrock is nestled below Sulphur Mountain, and though it's not in the heart of Downtown Banff, it is a quick walk to the Banff Gondola and Upper Hot Springs with amazing views and the feeling of being right in the middle of nature.
Guests are given cards to ride the local bus system for free - meaning all of the restaurants and shops downtown are still within your reach without having to drive.
I flew into Calgary at night and made the drive from the airport to the Rimrock in the dark (around an hour and a half total) - so when I opened my window on Friday morning, I was so shocked by the beautiful view. In fact, I've told everyone, I started to tear up a little bit!
There are a number of restaurants at the Rimrock that are incredibly high caliber - Eden offers a $140 tasting menu! But I had most of my meals at the more casual Larkspur.. Located in the lobby, you're able to seat yourself and order from a great menu. My favorite part was the little balcony outside that made you feel like you were floating in the mountains and the pianist who sang and played an amazing array of songs in the evenings. And the seafood soup which was phenomenal.
Sulphur Mountain Hike
On my first morning I had to work by 8:30 AM but I still wanted to get some time to myself outside so I woke up early and started to walk up the Sulphur Mountain trail. The trailhead is practically part of the Rimrock Resort, at the base of the Upper Hot Springs parking lot.
I walked 20 minutes up before I needed to head back down to get ready for work, but the total hike is about 3 miles to the top and should take around 2.5 hours round trip.
Lunch at Fairmont Banff Springs
This hotel is 125 years old and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a castle - such an impressive, sprawling resort and absolutely gorgeous. Our event was taking place on the property, which meant we were able to sneak inside for lunch both days. There are a number of dining options inside but if you're able to snag a table at the Lookout Patio - do it! It's jaw-droppingly-stunning.
If you don't have time to wait, you should still take a look at the view and snap some pictures! Both days we ate inside at the Rundle Lounge and there was still a gorgeous view and good food!
You could spend awhile wandering the grounds of this hotel!
Drive Up & Around Cascade Mountain
My destination for this drive was "Lake Minnewanka" at the advice of a local I was talking to but it ended up being the pit stops I made along the way that were my favorite part of this drive.
I was surprised at each lake that I drove up to to find it fairly empty. It didn't seem like there were a ton of tourists out - instead, it seemed like locals enjoying a night kayak or picnic. I was the only one screaming "TOURIST" with my DSLR camera.
When I got to Johnson Lake is when I started completely re-thinking my itinerary for my return trip in September. Why jam-pack the days when we could go to a grocery store, pack a picnic, and lounge at one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen?
Two Jack Lake
It's hard to say which natural, glacier-fed lake was more beautiful. This was another, smaller, laid back lake when I pulled up with the same dazzling blue waters and magnificent mountain backdrops.
I was surprised at how easy it was to just drive from point to point - with parking lots at each major lake that had ample available spots when I arrived. I'm not sure if it was the time of day, but I didn't have any issues.
By far the largest of the lakes I visited, Lake Minnewanka has a ton of activities and amenities. However, it was my least favorite due to it's large size - it seemed like a much more touristy spot. I'm definitely glad I stopped to see it though!
Between Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka I passed tons of mountain goats and felt a little guilty that these roads cut through such beautiful natural landscapes and that the mountain goats have to contend with cars when they go to cross the street. They also have to deal with a lot of tourists sticking iPhones in their faces (myself included). But I did appreciate that there were areas to pull of on the shoulder to get out and see some great views and snap some fantastic pictures!
On my way back down I decided to stop at Cascade Ponds and I'm so glad I did! Though the water here wasn't the crystal clear blue of the others, Cascade Ponds had their own charm with their little bridges and beautiful reflections of the mountains in the background!
To be honest, this was a little underwhelming. It's beautiful, don't get me wrong - but I parked my car, got out, looked, snapped a picture and then got right back in the car. It's worth a stop I suppose, but it's very busy and wouldn't be my choice for a spot to sit and hang out.
Bike the Banff Legacy Trail
The Banff Legacy trail is 22 km+ of paved bike path connecting Banff to the town of Canmore. After work, I paid the pretty fair price of $35 to rent a road bike from Ultimate Ski and Ride on the main street of Banff. This made it really easy to hop on the trail, and included in the rental was a lock and helmet (I had 3 hours with the bike).
The ride to Canmore was beautiful and every time I looked up from the road I had to smile at being surrounded by mountains. There were a few parts that I was a little afraid of all the "Beware of Bear" signs, but there were other people out and about which helped ease my fears.
When I got to Canmore, I navigated to the town center and walked around for a little while, stopping in some cute shops and discovering a used book store and tea shop that was so adorable!
I wish I could say that I enjoyed the trip back to Banff as much as I enjoyed the ride to Canmore. I had been warned that the return trip would be uphill, but I was completely shot at that point - I had been hiking, running, and standing around for 8 hours and my legs just didn't want to do anything anymore. Not to mention the ride back was along the highway with cars zooming by, the winds picking up, and the smoke from the forest fires were rolling in. I actually got off my bike and cried for a few seconds before finishing the 30 mile round-trip ride.
But I finished, and after all was said and done I'm glad I rented the bike and experienced the Legacy Trail!
Sunset Hike Up Tunnel Mountain
I took a few wrong turns on my way to the Tunnel Mountain parking lot, but once I found it, it was a fairly straightforward hike to the top of the mountain where sweeping views of Banff town greeted me at sunset. I sat down, snacked on some carrots and hummus, and explored the different views from the summit. It was absolutely beautiful.
There were others at the top of the mountain but they didn't seem to be leaving, and it was starting to get dark, so I made my way down on my own and managed to get back to my car after a few panicky moments of "where is the trail?"
The fact that this is mentioned online as a possible trail run is mind boggling to me because there's no way in hell I would have been able to run up this mountain for 3 miles!
Run at Vermillion Lakes
To start this run, I parked at the Fenland trailhead and after a short "trail run" found myself on Vermillion Lakes Road, running alongside beautiful lakes. It was pretty flat, and I only saw 2 cars the entire time.
I stopped for lots of pictures, and when I got to the end of the paved road I turned around and went back. With an extra loop of the trail path, my run ended at a solid 7 miles. I highly recommend this running route if you aren't trying to run up a mountain but still want that "trail" feel and gorgeous views!
Dinner at Juniper Bistro
The Juniper Bistro is within the Juniper Hotel and I can't recommend it enough if you're looking for a dinner with a view. You could come for cocktails, appetizers, or dinner - but sitting outside here for a meal was absolutely beautiful (you should just plan on wearing bug spray!)
Views aside, the food was also phenomenal. I had the shaved carrot salad as an appetizer (candy striped beetroot, watermelon radish, apple, local lettuces, pomegranate vinaigrette, dukkah) and the duck breast as an entree (lentils & wild mushroom ragout, blueberry chutney, pickled mustard seeds, seasonal vegetables, beet & balsamic glaze) at the recommendation of my (very attractive) waiter. So good!
On Thursday I'm headed to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper for a full week - so you better believe I'll be coming back with even more recommendations! Stay tuned!