Banff – Lake Louise
Banff – Lake Louise Overview
The town of Banff can be crowded during the summer; its downtown is packed with restaurants, shops, pubs, clubs, and tourists from all over the world. Visit Banff for all that, but make your romantic retreat in quieter Canmore, about 20 miles east of Banff. Although Canmore is smaller than Banff, it is generally less crowded and less expensive. Canmore has many fine hotels and bed and breakfasts, plus a historic downtown full of shops, pubs, and nice restaurants. We stayed at two chain hotels in Canmore for part of our honeymoon (the Best Western Pocatello offered nice rooms at an affordable price), but the best place we stayed was The Creek House bed and breakfast (see link below). The gourmet breakfasts, in particular, were superb (mango Belgian waffles come to mind); we usually had breakfast right alongside the pretty creek, with a few ducks paddling lazily around nearby. In the evening, you can cook in a fully stocked gourmet kitchen or eat out (see below). It's pricey – from $390 Canadian to $580 CAD per night, depending on the accommodation and season – but worth it, at least for a night or two.
Did we mention the scenery? As we said while we drove across Alberta's prairies toward the snow-capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies, "This view is like God tapping your shoulder and saying 'Wake up! Pay attention!'" It's a truly stunning setting for a honeymoon.
Activities and Attractions
- Hike — Pick up Walks & Easy Hikes in the Canadian Rockies by Graham Pole (available locally or online) – if you're interested in exploring the area's dramatic scenery, it will be the best $20 you'll spend. It ranks all the trails in the Alberta area by difficulty and aesthetics. We hiked through Johnston Canyon, with waterfalls up close and personal (you'll get damp, and with hundreds of your closest friends – it was quite crowded). Then we headed out for more solitary hikes.
- Ski — We're not skiing experts, and we visited in the summer, but it is obvious the area caters to skiers, both downhill and cross country. Some major resorts are Nakiska, which hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics; Lake Louise, which is the largest ski resort in Canada (and rated best in North America for scenery and second best for value by Ski Magazine); and many others. Check the late season for deals, and remember that the ski season can run through May.
- Golf — Definitely stay in Canmore for this: the golf courses are closest to this town. In fact, in small Canmore, there are four courses: SilverTip, Canmore Golfing and Curling Club, Stewart Creek Golf Club, and Brewster's Kananaskis Ranch Golf Resort. Nearby is award-winning Kananaskis Country Golf Course. Finally, the acclaimed Greywolf Golf Course is two hours from Banff.
- Mountain Bike/Cross Country Ski — The Canmore Nordic Center, created for the 1988 Calgary Olympics cross country and biathlon events, is two kilometers from downtown Canmore. In the summer, it is a world-renown haven for mountain bikers. None of this is for the faint hearted: remember, Olympians were challenged here! Bikes, helmets, and skis are available for rental, and the center also offers lessons. You can also visit for the center's historic value; it has a cafeteria and gift shop.
- Hot springs — There are number of hot springs in the Canadian Rockies; Radium Hot Springs near Kootenay National Park is 80 minutes southwest of Banff, while Miette Hot Springs in Jasper is quite a bit farther. The most accessible hot springs are right in town at the Banff Upper Hot Springs, which are fed by Sulphur Mountain. Even if you are staying in a hostel with no hot tub, you can pay a small fee and soak to your heart's content in this outdoor pool of mineral water, naturally heated to 104ºF. Bring a bathing suit and remember that you won't be alone; it was a tad crowded the day we went. There is a day spa on the premises that does aromatherapy and various kinds of massage for a fee; be sure to call ahead.
- Experience a Glacier — If you love these mountains, you'll want to thank the ancient glaciers that carved them out. The Columbia Icefield is the largest glacier field in the Northern Hemisphere, and a relatively short drive from Banff. Dress warmly, in layers. The icefield consists of six major glaciers feeding three rivers. You can hike in the area or even camp overnight in a nearby campground if you're so inclined. If you want to see the glaciers without all the work, a number of tour companies will fly you over the icefield, or take you by all-terrain vehicle to the center of a glacier, where you can learn how to walk on moving ice.
- Eat — In a nutshell, the food is great. It isn't New York City, but since it caters to an international crowd, there are lots of little ethnic restaurants in Banff and Canmore that range in price from quite inexpensive to "once in a lifetime" expensive. Here's a taste of what you'll find: Joe Diner in Banff is worth a hamburger – it's a 1950s style diner with attitude to spare, and reasonably priced. Guido's Restaurante is a bit of an institution, and we had some very good, medium-priced Italian food there. It was very quiet, with candlelight – a fine honeymoon restaurant. (We also saw a moose walking down the street after that dinner.) The best food we had in Canmore was at Sinclair's, a lovely old house with a large deck that has been converted into a Canadian-style restaurant. Sinclair's is a Frommer's choice selection for the area, and reasonably priced. Finally, there is a five-diamond (AAA/CAA) French restaurant in Banff, Eden, which offers an eight-course tasting dinner for $125 Canadian (too rich for our blood on our honeymoon, but maybe next time).
- Culture — The Banff Center holds an annual film festival, book festival, a summer arts festival, a summer concert series, and a performing arts series. For its part, Canmore has a dinner theatre ("Oh Canada, Eh?"), and the Canmore Folk Music Festival is generally held at the end of July or the beginning of August. In addition, movies, shopping, and art galleries are also available in the area.
Hotel rates in Canmore ranged from $80 to $370 (CAD) when we checked; hotel rooms in Banff went for $100 to $510 (CAD). Rates are cheaper in the winter and more expensive during the summer. If you're looking for something more affordable, go west to stay at the Lake Louise youth hostel. Mind you, this isn't necessarily romantic (bunk beds in dorm style rooms are the norm, although some have private rooms for slightly more money), but $38 (CAD) per person, per night puts you within walking distance of Lake Louise. Canmore and Banff are also home to hostels; the youth hostel at Banff is considered one of the best in Canada, with private rooms going for $91 (CAD).
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