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Trip Report 4 days in Banff Natl park

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Arrived in Calgary Sun Aug 2. Since we wanted to return the car late in the day on Thurs. we went to the hotel first (Holiday Inn Airport) and relaxed for a while & got oriented. Took the shuttle back to the a/p around 4 and rented from Enterprise. Drove to downtown and walked around, visited the Clagary Tower and had an early dinner at Earl’s on Stephen Avenue Walk mall. Food was nothing special but it was so nice to sit outside in the fabulous weather after leaving 90 degrees & humidity at home that it was worth it.
The Holiday Inn Airport was a decent hotel for our needs. It was the least expensive choice, the rooms were a bit on the small side but they were very clean, nicely decorated, comfortable and had a great shower. They are very convenient to downtown and have a bus/light rail option if you don’t have a car.
We left Monday morning for Moraine Lake Lodge, stopped in Banff town along the way. The weather was so fantastic, no humidity, mid 70’s and sunny. We drove through town and ended up at the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel (saw an elk walking along the side of the road in town). We parked and walked all around the grounds and through the hotel. Quite impressive!! We drove to Bow Falls and checked out the golf course. Then we headed to our hotel, stopping at Samson Mall in Lake Louise to get bottled water and some snacks. FYI- I’d suggest stocking up on anything at a grocery store on the way out of Calgary or even Banff. The store in Lake Louise is limited and pricey but our granola bar supply served us well.
Arrived at Moraine Lake Lodge around 3:30. We had splurged on a room with a lake view for the 3 nights we were there. The rooms were very nice, definitely small but attractive, clean and again great showers. The staff was very nice and helpful. I will discuss more on the lodge later. I can’t even say enough about the views there, with the spectacular weather it was just gorgeous and so relaxing. There were several people out in canoes and the major crowds were mostly gone. We were anxious to walk around the lake and just take in the view. Walked to the falls at the end of the lake and back. We decided to do canoeing tomorrow. We were kind of stuck for dinner since we were in no mood to drive out of the valley again and the main dining room was extremely expensive and we weren’t that hungry. We grabbed something from the café- they tend to run out of things early and the choice is limited.
We sat out on the balcony and had some wine, read and relaxed. The view was spectacular and for our first visit the room was worth the price (well maybe worth the price, but regardless we were glad we did it).

Day 2- we woke up to clouds at eye level and left over rain from the night. It was very grey and didn’t show any signs of clearing up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very disappointed. We couldn’t see a thing. If we hadn’t had the day before like we did, I would have wondered was all the fuss was about regarding scenery! We had the buffet breakfast in the beautiful atrium dining room. Food was very good and actually reasonably priced. It drizzled off and on all morning and sightseeing plans seemed unlikely. We drove over to Lake Louise for the first time. It was beautiful even though much of the view was obscured by clouds. Stopped at the visitor center in Lake Louise to get some info. The lady there suggested we drive up the Icefields Parkway today going straight to Columbia Icefields then make stops on the way back giving the weather a chance to clear up. We decided to do that, couldn’t help making a couple stops on the way (saw a bear) even though the clouds obscured a lot of the views. It was still very beautiful. We did the Brewster ice explorer trek to the glacier. We really enjoyed it. We headed back making some lookout stops along the way. Worth the stop and short hikes are Mistaya Canyon and Peyto Lake. It was nice to get out and stretch and be rewarded with gorgeous views. Again we had the dilemma of what to do for dinner. We still didn’t feel like the really expensive dinner at the lodge and many other hotels had similar priced dinners. (it’s funny what you mind and don’t mind paying a lot for on different vacations). We ended up at the Station restaurant in Lake Louise town, an old railroad station. The food was pretty good and reasonably priced; we really felt relaxed in there and enjoyed the atmosphere. It was on the late side when we got back so we hit the sack soon afterwards.
Day 3- another iffy day weather wise. We were going to do the Lake Agnes hike from Lake Louise. We stopped again at the visitor center for a trail map and decided since we were on the way to go to Emerald Lake. We stopped at the Natural Bridge (worth the stop) along the way and once we got to Emerald Lake there was the sun. I was so happy! Emerald Lake was spectacular, we walked the 1.5 hour loop around the lake and had a very good late lunch at Cilantro’s. Again, sitting outside in the sun and wonderful weather, it couldn’t get any better. We were afraid to go back to Lake Louise area in case the sun didn’t follow us so that’s why we spent so much time at Emerald. We finally left and drove to Takakaw Falls then finally headed back. To our delight the weather had cleared everywhere so we went back to Lake Louise for another view and were stunned at the difference minus the low clouds and fog! It was really beautiful! We spent some time there then went back to do the canoeing at Moraine Lake (once you’re there, you kind of want to stay. It is a bit of a drive up and down that mountain road). Unfortunately the canoes just closed (7 pm) so we never did get to do that . We didn’t need dinner after the late lunch. This was our last night and we both really wished we had another day or 2.

Day 4- after another good breakfast at the lodge, we took one last look around the lake and headed to Banff town to do some shopping and have lunch. We took the Bow Fields Parkway all the way to Banff. It was a beautiful drive with lots of opportunities for stopping points but we didn’t have the time. We didn’t see any of the wildlife the parkway is famous for either. After shopping and lunching in Banff we headed back to Calgary with a stop at the Olympic Park. I was hoping to see something more “Olympic” at the park, they were setting up for a weekend long rock concert and were having boys extreme sports going on. Disappointing. Back to the Holiday Inn, dropped off the car at the airport, had a beer at the bar and crashed. The shuttle took us to the a/p at 4:30 Friday morning. It was a fantastic trip, better than I hoped for and I am definitely planning a return trip!

Other comments and thoughts:
Moraine Lake Lodge- we loved it. We wanted the balcony with a lake view and we used it. Since it doesn’t get dark until around 10 pm we sat outside or even from the room and looked at the view constantly after we were done for the day. Probably wouldn’t splurge on that again but glad we did it for our first visit. Even though it was pretty remote and once you drove the mountain road to the lodge at the end of the day, you probably weren’t going to go back out of the valley for anything we were glad with the choice. Even though the Fairmont at Lake Louise was beautiful it was just way too large for what we wanted at this location. It kind of reminded us of a small scale Vegas hotel, which we love in Vegas but not in the Rockies. There were also more people there and bus loads of noisy, obnoxious teen age kids from all reaches of the planet. If you can’t handle not watching TV at night, I guess Moraine Lake Lodge wouldn’t be for you. There is really nothing else to do in the evening there (on Tues and Thurs a ranger speaks at 9pm in the library). We love to read on vacation so it wasn’t an issue for us, actually I can’t imagine turning on a TV in that setting! And the food issue, the café closes at 7 and is limited, the restaurant is very expensive but lovely setting and was pretty full every night. We were glad we had light snacks in the room with us.

Banff town- lovely town, lots of nice shops and places to eat. For us, we wouldn’t like to spend more than a night/day there since it is very crowded and busy. If you’re looking for some hustle bustle with a gorgeous view, this would be the place to stay. Next time we said we’d like to stay at least a day at Banff Springs just for the setting, service, luxury, and convenience to town (and the golf for my husband) but then move on to more tranquil seas.

Wildlife and tourists- we were only lucky enough to see one bear from the roadside and the elk in Banff. I just can’t get over the people chasing the bears with their cameras. Even if you don’t read any of the information that is everywhere about how to handle wildlife sightings, where’s the common sense?!?! Where the 8 or 10 cars were stopped for the bear, there were families heading up the hill where the bear was with their 4 and 5 year olds in tow to take pictures!! The bear was twice the size of those little kids. Good God.

It was really neat to see many of the places that I read about on this site for several months. I felt like I was someplace sort of familiar but it was much clearer going by the hotels, restaurants, and sights for real.

Rental car- after much searching and changing, we got a pretty good deal with Enterprise at the airport. What started out as 600.00 ended up at 154.00 for 4 days. We changed from picking up away from the location for a 50% + savings to getting it at the airport for much less than half the original price. I checked Hotwire but didn’t get a good deal so I let it go. They kept emailing me lower and lower prices until finally I figured it was as low as it was going to get.

Money- we usually use our ATM cards in Europe to get cash, its convenient and current. We had a very hard time finding ATM’s that accepted our card in Canada (we have Bank of America). We only found 1 bank in Calgary that we could use it at and got out what we thought would cover us. Also, nowhere took Discover card (I was hoping to rack up some cashback points on the trip). When we returned and checked out statements, there were international fees everywhere!! Any money we saved with the exchange rate we lost in those stupid fees.

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