Banff National Park – Banff, AB, Canada

2016-08-31-AB-1470733.jpgAfter being spoiled and indulged aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, we disembarked at our final destination, Banff, a busy town within Banff National Park.  We didn’t bring Betsy here, planning instead to stop at Lake Louise later to meet up with friends.  So instead we extended our stay to three nights and rented a car for our explorations.

Banff (pronounced “Banph”) is named after Banffshire, Scotland, the birthplace of two of the original Canadian Pacific Railway directors.  It was originally founded and developed with tourism in mind, after the discovery of extensive hot springs in the area and the subsequent creation of Banff National Park.  The founders were very successful, as this little town is busy year-round.

Banff, Alberta
Cascade Mountain overlooks the town of Banff

Driving around town

Just a few miles away was the birthplace of Canada’s National Park System, and Banff National Park.  At the Cave and Basin Historic Site, we visited a naturally-occurring warm mineral spring inside a cave, with a nearby emerald-colored basin – both discovered in 1883 by three railway workers.

The discovery captured the attention of the nation, and since then it’s been expanded and protected.  Leading to the creation of Banff National Park in 1885, it was the first national park in Canada and the third national park established in the world.  Besides numerous hot springs, the park also contains at least 25 peaks rising 9,800′ or more.

A hugely popular public spa was built and operated for many years:

Banff Upper Hot Springs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the many natural mineral hot springs in the area that attracted travelers a hundred years ago.  Canada Parks maintains them, preserving their authentic heritage.  For $7.50 we could have joined folks for a steamy soak, but alas we came unprepared.  So instead I simply took a picture of them soaking as we soaked in the scenery of the surrounding mountains.

Upper Hot Springs
Upper Hot Springs, one of nine naturally-occurring hot springs in the Banff area

Driving up winding Tunnel Mountain Road, we stopped at Surprise Corner.  It was possibly named by locals because of the surprise that comes after a sharp corner.  We certainly enjoyed the sudden appearance and incredible view of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel:

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
The surprise was the historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Continuing along scenic Vermillion Lakes Drive, we got a good look at Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain.  The lakes here are the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Banff National Park.

Mount Rundle
The massive limestone wall of Mount Rundle with its towering cliffs stretches 7.4 miles southeast
Sulphur Mountain
A couple taking a break at the lake in the shadow of Sulphur Mountain

Walking around town

Being a fairly small town, navigating around was easy and Banff Avenue was a long stretch containing shops, boutiques, restaurants and château-style buildings.  With mountain peaks dominating the skyline, Banff is one of the few places we’ve been that have the combination of gorgeous scenery surrounded by majestic mountains and opportunities to hike near town.

Banff National Park

Canadians know how to enjoy their summers, adorning their homes, shops and streets with an array of beautiful flowers:


Banff, Alberta
Parking is at a premium here, and hopping on the “Roam” local public transit is hassle-free
In Canada they call it Washroom
Up here their called washrooms, eh?

We meandered along the Bow River Trail and walked past roaring rapids as we climbed above Bow Falls:

Banff, Alberta
A wooden pedestrian bridge crosses the river near town
Bow Falls
Bow Falls was featured in the 1953 movie “River of No Return “
Mount Norquay, Banff
Mount Norquay across glacial Bow River, which flows through Banff

Didn’t I say Banff has great mountain sceneries which ever way you look?

Beyond the town of Banff

Leaving civilization behind, we drove beyond town and explored Banff National Park further north, along Bow Valley Parkway.  We didn’t drive all the way to Lake Louise, saving some of it for our stop in a couple of weeks.  Along the way, the front range and mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains began to dazzle us.

The eastern portion of the parkway – called the montane – is a critical habitat for carnivores including wolves, cougars and bears.  From March 1st to June 25th, travel by vehicle, bicycle or on foot is not permitted between 8pm and 8am.  This is to ensure that wildlife can move freely across the landscape.

Grey Wolf
Our first sighting of a Grey Wolf!  It looked pretty black to us
Morons Curve- Bow Valley Parkway
A seemingly endless train at Morants Curve, following Bow River
Canadian Railway along the rockies
A wonderful view of Bow Valley, the emerald green river and glorious peaks
Sawback Range, Bow Valley Parkway
A sea of green, brown and red with specks of yellow
Sawback Range, Bow Valley Parkway
Jagged Sawback Range

With our time somewhat limited, we managed to squeeze in a decent 7-mile hike at Johnston Canyon Trail.  Having seen the overflowing parking lot the day before, we ensured an early start.  The trail follows Johnston Creek into a cool shady place between cliffs and magnificent waterfalls.

Johnston Canyon Trail
Interesting steel catwalks ran along the sheer rock walls
Johnston Canyon Trail
Yellow Lichens on pine trees
Lower Falls, Johnston Canyon Trail
Lower Falls as we returned near mid-day
Middle Falls, Johnston Canyon Trail
I call this Middle Falls
Upper Falls- Johnston Canyon Trail
Upper Falls, where most folks turn around.  We continued on to the “Ink Pots”
American Three-toed Woodpecker
A new bird for me – American Three-toed Woodpecker

We continued on and climbed above the falls to the Ink Pots.  Along the way we met a couple who stopped in their tracks when they saw a bear cross the trail.  They were happy to see us so we could hike as a group and make more noise along the way.  Kyle and Agnes became our instant “bear-deterrent friends”.

Johnston Canyon Trail
Thanks Kyle and Agnes for the picture, it was nice meeting you!

It was peaceful, quiet and beautiful when we arrived at the Ink Pots.  The area consists of several pools of emerald-colored mineral springs that bubble to the surface.

Ink Pots

I tried to capture the pool bottoms composed of quicksand that bubbled up to the top:

Ink Pots
One of the pools had this cool bubbling spring creation

These springs are unique in that they have a constant temperature of 4C (39º) and their basins are composed of quicksand.

Ink pots
Note the bubbling spring on the lower left forming a circle

The Red Chairs

Parks Canada has placed bright red chairs in scenic locations throughout the country’s national parks to help draw people to viewpoints where they can connect with nature.  On this stop we had two Red Chair moments:

Cave and Basin historic Site
At Cave and Basin Historic Site…
Mule Shoe Lake
…and at Mule Shoe Lake

Even the most appealing pictures I took here fail to convey the experience of being in these stunning surroundings and unspoiled wilderness.  But it was time to hop on a bus (included in our train package) for the return to Calgary and our lonely Betsy.  A rain storm during the ride from Banff National Park to Calgary completed an outstanding train trip across the Canadian Rockies.







  1. Of course, we’ll be patient with you MonaLiza, we know how beautiful your pictures will be! Canadians do seem to have an affinity for flowers….we lived quite near the border and spent plenty of time in up there years ago. We always commented that we knew we were in Canada as soon as we began to see fabulous flowers!

    Mud pots are really interesting!

    I now understand there are some good things about hiking with other people! People or bear’s lunch….I guess I’ll take people!

    • Thank you Sue. There was actually another couple who saw the bear, but they were too shaken that they turn around. Kyle and Agnes tried to convince them to hike with us a group but the lady was just too scared.

  2. Great visit to Banff! Johnston Canyon Trail was really neat. The falls were so pretty:) The Ink Pots make for a great hike away from the crowds. Loved those bubbles! Weren’t the red chairs a neat idea! Your photos are beautiful and brought back wonderful memories:)

    • On our return, not only was the parking lot overflowing, cars can be seen parking off the road for a mile. So glad we went early and we had the Inkpots area to ourselves for a while.

  3. Oh goodie, you’re showing us more of what we’re hoping to see next fall. :-)) Those hot springs, bubbling Ink Pots, and waterfalls are gorgeous. And you saw a wolf! I laughed about your bear hiking buddies. Definitely better to hike with at least four people in bear country—especially if you can run faster than they can. :-))

  4. What a fantastic post Mona Liza. A black gray wolf – fabulous and your views of the waterfalls and the landscape. Such amazing pictures. Thanks for taking me to some place I may never see in person. It’s been on my list FOREVER and it will stay there. I love the way you got there. Don’t worry about being behind. I’m so far behind I may never catch up. Comments seem to drop off but your true followers will be with you come what may.

  5. Banff – what a Canadian icon. My parents went there for their honeymoon in 1939. My grandparents had a picture of the town on their living room wall. Great memories, glad you enjoyed your visit.

  6. Fabulous photos, love the one of the middle falls. We love watching that woodpecker, we watched one digging a new nest in a tree, spitting out the sawdust every now and then.

  7. Excellent … Banff was our first foray into the Canadian Rockies and we loved it. Went in 2007 before we had a motorhome, so we stayed at a place just outside the hub bub of the town. The biggest surprise — to us and the locals — was an unexpected heatwave that had us sweltering while there. But we had a great time nonetheless. Morant’s Curve was definitely a highlight, with a black bear eating berries entertaining us while we waited for a train to appear. Great memories — including being asked to serve as witnesses for a couple who were getting married at the Cascades Gardens.

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