Banff: Mountain Paradise, by RV - Tips, tricks, and recommendations
Banff: One of the most famous, recognizable, and most-visited places in Canada. And with good reason – with tranquil, turquoise-blue water, palatial peaks, and gorgeous glaciers, it’s no wonder this mountain paradise seems to make everyone’s bucket list.
Whether you’re looking for high tea in the high Rockies, spa-like relaxation, the adrenaline rush of a lifetime, or a little of each, you’ll find it in Banff.
The high season in this mountain oasis is quite busy, but since the town and activities do not disappoint, a visit any time of year can be amazing! If you’re visiting in July and August, prepare for larger crowds, be patient, and make sure to go on some of the gorgeous hikes away from the main sites!
Since we were lucky enough to experience the Rockies before the true high season, we did get to see and do a bit more – so if you do decide to brave the crowds, here are our tips, tricks, and favourite activities!
Icefields Parkway: This world-famous road connects Jasper and Banff National Parks. It climbs way up into the alpine, so make sure to check weather reports and dress warm. At the peak, you have a chance to take an alpine bus tour of the glacier itself; we chose not to, as I am terrified of glaciers and avalanches. (Plus, you can see from the road what the busses do. They do a tiny loop on the ice. My opinion? Not worth it.) If you’re looking for a great view, there is a hike to Wilson’s Peak just across the highway – that will give you the view you’re looking for, as well as a few of the famous Canadian red chairs!
Plain of the Six Glaciers Hike: Way back in the 1920s, some crazy Swiss mountain guides decided to build a hut back in the collection of glacial cols behind Lake Louise. Today, a 6 km hike (only 3.4 of which is actually uphill at all) can take you to this stone hut, where you can get a few hot beverages, some soup, and apple crumble – which is DELICIOUS and exactly what I wanted after the hike. 1.4 km more will take you to the highest point, surrounded by glaciers cracking in the sun (you can hear it!) and some of the most harsh, rugged beauty I’ve ever seen.
Banff Trail Riders: Norman is afraid of horses, so in a compromise, we decided to do a wagon ride pulled by two draft horses. We did the “cowboy cookout”, which includes 2 hours on the wagon, a HUGE meal of steak, salad, rolls, baked potatoes, and beans, as well as a campfire, hot drinks, horseshoe throwing, and cattle roping (of a wooden cow). It was a great time, and we loved it! Worth EVERY penny. They do these rides twice a day – once at lunch, and once at dinner. The dinner outing is cooler, but wear long pants and long sleeves – the mosquitos can get fierce!
Fondue: For a traditional fondue meal, head to the Ticino Swiss-Italian restaurant – with an elegant setting, charming décor, and real southern Swiss food, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a bit more adventurous with your palette, try the Grizzly House fondue – there’s one that includes everything from crocodile and rattlesnake to bison and wild boar!
Banff Gondola Hike: The Gondola itself is quite expensive, and there is precious little to do at the top except enjoy the view. If you’re in relatively good health, you can absolutely do this hike – it is a totally non-technical series of switchbacks winding up the mountain under the gondola. Bring a snack and have a picnic at the top. It’s worth the extra effort!
Lake Minnewanka: This totally underrated gem is much less crowded than it’s more popularized cousins (Lake Louise and Morraine Lake). The views are equally spectacular, there’s an adorable snack shop, and you can even take a lake cruise! By far our favourite of the three.
A few tips: everyone seems to get up early, get going, and then come back to the campgrounds in the afternoon. To avoid crowds, do the opposite! Have a late start, enjoy the town, relax, and around 3 or 4 pm, head to your destination. Otherwise, you might find yourself unable to visit due to packed parking lots.
If you don’t mind a few extra kilometers on the odometer, the campgrounds OUTSIDE of the major areas are quieter, cheaper, and all-around more enjoyable.
Our final tip? Stay a few days! Most visitors come for only a day or two, and that is partially to blame for the overcrowding in the mornings.
Banff really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, and I’m glad we went, but I cannot stress enough – if you can visit NOT in high season, DO! Otherwise, make sure to pack your patience and a few extra days.
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