There’s something so incredibly alluring about untouched nature–so utterly fascinating, thought provoking, and profound. Flying into Calgary’s airport, the plane window frames the snowy peaks of the Rockies and the vast icefields that stretch for miles. The beautiful wintery wonderland beckons to be explored, calling out to the wanderlust-stricken spirits to come be inspired and reconnect with our natural world.
The drive from the airport into Banff is scenic, to say the least. As you drive, the mountainscape seemingly gets more unbelievable with every inch closer you get. With 360 degrees of beautiful views, I found myself mesmerized with every wind in the road and every turn taken. The town of Banff is quaint, cozy and cute–think Christmas Hallmark movie set. With shopping, restaurants, cafes, and bars, it’s the perfect little town to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but still have the luxuries of resort town life. Here you’ll find all the Canadian classics like Beaver Tails, Tim Hortons, the Old Spaghetti Factory, and other favourites while also having the chance to experience Banff exclusive dining spots like Balkan or the Fairmont Banff Springs’ Vermillion Room and watering holes like Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub.
However charming the town of Banff is, the real beauty of the region lies in the great outdoors. Teeming with wildlife, wilderness, and wonderment, Banff National Park was Canada’s first national park and is characterized by a skyline filled by the Rockies, trees that stretch to the skies, turquoise lakes in the summer, and vast snow-kissed fields in winter.
Take the Banff Gondola up to the peak of Sulphur Mountain and revel in the stunning scenery as you travel up to the mountaintop. Once at the top, make sure to relax in their heated tent, enjoying the view over a cup of hot chocolate from Northern Lights. Treat yourself to cocktails and dinner at Sky Bistro, which is decked out with floor to ceiling windows to really allow you to take in the view. A delicious dinner in the clouds, what could be better?
Icefields Parkway Drive
The drive from Banff to Jasper is easily one of the most scenic drives in Canada. Jaw-dropping views stretch along the long highway as you cruise through the Rocky Mountains. Make sure to fill up your tank of gas before you depart as there aren’t many stations along the way. The Columbia Icefields is a perfect place to pull over and explore. You can even go on a glacier hike here if you’re up for the adventure.
You’ve probably seen pictures of Lake Louise on Instagram and know it as the turquoise blue lake with the seemingly always calm surface that reflects the beautiful backdrop of mountains and clouds. Exploring the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is stunning in both the architecture and surrounding grounds so make a day trip out of it–or even stay the night! In terms of winter activities, you can go snowshoeing, cross country skiing, or ice skating on the lake when it’s frozen over!
For an unforgettable experience, drive out to Cochrane to tour the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. The nonprofit organization, provides 3 different passes into the sanctuary: the sanctuary walk, the intro tour, and the interactive tour.
The Sanctuary Walk allows people to walk around the grounds at their own pace, seeing the different wolfdog packs and learning about their traits through the various poster boards and trainer feeding times.
The Intro Tour allows you access onto a viewing platform inside the Engadine enclosure. Alongside an expert guide, you’ll have great, up close views to photograph the animals while learning about their various traits, the difference between high content and low content wolfdogs, and how they come to be in the sanctuary.
The Interactive Tour gets you up close and personal with the wolfdogs, allowing you to feed them treats and pet them in a controlled environment alongside an expert trainer. You’ll visit two different enclosures, one with high content wolfdogs and one with low content, seeing first hand the behavioural differences between them and understanding the fundamental differences between wolfdogs and domestic dogs. You’ll also learn about the importance of wolves in our ecosystem.
Having the opportunity to interact with these beautiful creatures is an eye opening once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that absolutely blew me away. Watching the way they move, interact with each other, the trainers, and the sanctuary visitors was incredibly fascinating. They truly are awe-inspiring.
For more information on the sanctuary or to sponsor a wolfdog, visit yamnuskawolfdogsanctuary.com.
The amount of winter sports available in Banff are endless. If you’re a skier or snowboarder hit up Mt Norquay, Banff Sunshine, or Lake Louise. You can also go on various snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing explorations, or dog sledding adventures through the mountains.
Get toasty by warming up with a hot chocolate and Baileys next to one of the many fire pits after a day filled with outdoor adventures–it’s the perfect nightcap for your Banff Winter experience.
Browse through local vendors and eat delicious Canadian bites at the local Christmas Market at Warner Stables. With a backdrop of the farmhouse, horses, stable, and snow capped mountains, it’s the perfect afternoon date.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Fairmont Banff Springs is exquisitely royal, adoringly remarked as the Castle in the Rockies. The hotel stands as a landmark in the alpine town and has been named a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the holidays, Banff Springs really brings to life the magic of Christmas with colourful decorations abundant everywhere on the grounds. Bright lights twinkling, fireplaces blazing, hot chocolate pouring, and Christmas tunes playing, it really is a magical time in the castle.
The impressive architecture coupled with the surrounding natural beauty creates a fairytale like picture–but with ghosts haunting the storybook’s pages. Yes, ghosts! The Fairmont Banff Springs is said to be haunted, mainly by two individuals: the Ghost Bride and Sam the Bellman. The story of the Ghost Bride dates back to the 20s when the Bride was descending one of the hotel’s stairs to meet her groom before their entrance into their reception. As she descended, it is rumoured her dress caught flames and she fell her her demise.
Sam the Bellman is said to be a cheery old scotsman and was the head bellman during the 60s and 70s. When he passed, many have claimed his spirit never left the halls and instead remained to help out around the hotel.
Located in the hub of the little town, Mount Royal is the perfect place to unwind after a long day of outdoor adventures. With views of Banff Avenue and Tunnel Mountain, you can’t go wrong with this comfy accommodation. Head up to the rooftop jacuzzi overlooking the mountains to really relax.
EAT & DRINK:
With unparalleled views of the mountainscape, dining at Sky Bistro is an incredible experience. Whether celebrating something or just out for a fun night, you really can’t go wrong with this venue and its delectable menu and cocktail selection. Make sure to book a reservation in advance to ensure you get a table.
Now the eggs benedict rivalled any eggs benny I’ve ever tried before, so I definitely suggest brunching here if you love to brunch. The grand space overlooks the beautiful picturesque scenery of Banff and serves up French delicacies with a dash of Canadian charm.
Some of the freshest Greek food I’ve ever indulged in was had at Balkan. The exposed brick and wood panelling created the perfect cozy cabin vibe, making this place feel more like a home rather than a restaurant.
“Good food, good beer, and good cheer.” Met up with an old friend at Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub and the experience was classic Canadian pub vibes. With old arcade games and dart boards in the back, hockey sticks lining the walls to the washroom, and Canadian beers flowing aplenty, having a pint at Tommy’s is a definite must if you’re looking for a chill but fun night out.