After 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Canadians know how to enjoy their summers, adorning their homes, shops and streets with an array of beautiful flowers:
We meandered along the Bow River Trail and walked past roaring rapids as we climbed above Bow Falls:
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.
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.
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”.
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.
I tried to capture the pool bottoms composed of quicksand that bubbled up to the top:
These springs are unique in that they have a constant temperature of 4C (39º) and their basins are composed of quicksand.
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:
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.