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Just returned from Banff - Trip Report

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Feb 11th, 2014, 05:43 PM
  #1
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Just returned from Banff - Trip Report

Hello! We just got back from our trip to Banff, and I wanted to give a short (or not?) report, thanks to all the helpful advice I got from Fodorites.

We arrived in Calgary in the a.m., and picked up our rental car from Hertz – a Camry with snow tires ($10/day extra for snow tires, which we requested when we called for the reservation).

The drive to Banff took about 2 hours, or maybe less than that. The Trans-Canada highway was well maintained and not scary at all, except for a few areas of high cross-winds. I ordered the national park pass online ahead of time so I could breeze through the entrance to the park (but there were hardly any cars in line to purchase tickets, so I don’t think it made much of a difference!). It was cheaper to buy a yearly pass than the daily rate, so now I get to visit other national parks in Canada through next February (I probably won’t, but I CAN!)

Hotel: Stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, about 1 mile across the river from the main Banff town area. The resident mule deer was spotted most mornings, right outside the hotel. I didn’t use the spa, so can’t say what it was like, although sisters spoke highly of it. The outdoor heated pool was a lot of fun! We had originally planned to go to the Upper Hot Springs, but after reading that the springs dry up in the winter and the water in the pool is from the tap, we figured the hotel’s outdoor heated pool was basically the same thing, and free.

The hotel is BEAUTIFUL. Even though it was built to be a hotel, it has the feel of a European castle that was converted to a hotel.

My lone complaint regarding the hotel is that they don't offer free wi-fi. My sister had free internet because she signed up for the Fairmont President's Club (which is free) ahead of time. I know I should have done the same. But still, in this day and age, shouldn't ALL guests get free internet?

Food: We ate breakfast either at the buffet (about $23/person), or in the “castle pantry” which had lighter fare such as cereal, yogurt, cookies, coffee, pastries, and soup. For dinner, we mostly ate in the main town because everyone wanted to go to Cow’s for ice cream afterwards. The group’s favorite restaurant was the Maple Leaf, where everyone tried something different and we all loved what we had (mine was the Brome river duck).

Activities: Drove to Lake Louise to ice skate on the frozen lake. Only a small part of the lake was cleared for skating, although I saw people walking waaaay out beyond the warning markers. I would never dare to do that, I’m way too chicken. The Chateau Lake Louise is nice, but more crowded than the Banff Springs (because the lake is so popular?) or maybe it just seemed that way because the halls are smaller. I think this hotel would be spectacular in the summer when the lake is thawed.

On the way back from Lake Louise, we stopped at Johnston’s canyon to view the frozen falls. The road to get there (Bow Valley Parkway) was much less maintained than the main highway. There was a lot of snow/ice on the road, and we even passed a car that had skidded out and was stuck down a slope (don't worry, two other cars stopped to help). I knew the $10 extra we spent for snow tires was worth it. The canyon itself was a little dark in the afternoon, and the lighting may have been better if we stopped in the morning on the way to Lake Louise, although I’m not positive on that, as the morning sky appeared rather dark as well.

The next day we went dog-sledding in Canmore, with Snowy Owl tours. On the drive over, we passed a herd of elk on the side of the Trans-Canada Hwy, and also some big horn sheep that wandered onto one of the roads in Canmore. The sledding itself was a lot of fun, with the break at the half-way point on a frozen lake.

The next day I took my nephew to Mt. Norquay (which is really close, just outside of the Banff main town area) for the day of skiing he promised me. By lunchtime, he had complained so much that I bought 2 hours of tubing instead, and we spent the rest of the day doing that.

On another day we headed up to the Sulphur Mountain gondola because the weather was nice and clear, and we got some really nice pictures. We walked up to the cosmic ray station lookout point, where we saw the only wildlife of the day, some small green and orange birds that I didn’t recognize (some type of sparrow)? Then we spent the afternoon at the hotel pools, for some relaxation.

The next day, I took the nephew tobogganing on a slope behind the hotel (along the Spray River, next to the Waldhaus restaurant). A shop at the hotel rents plastic sleds ($10 for 2 hours, IIRC). We spent the day walking around Banff, checking out scenery (Spray and Bow rivers), trying our hand at Canadian bowling (smaller balls w/o finger holes, only 5 pins), and of course, curling! I must be very weak because I couldn’t push my rock very far. The hotel also offered curling lessons on Friday evenings.

On the last day, I drove all the way out to Golden to try snowmobiling. It’s not allowed in the Banff park itself, so it was quite a drive to the tour companies. We went with White and Wild, mostly because they seemed relatively (!) close and we wouldn’t know the difference in quality between the companies anyway. The drive took me about 2 hours (although it should only be about 1-1/2 hours) because I’m a slow driver with a kid in the car; also, some parts of the road were narrow or hilly, with snow/ice. The minimum age to snowmobile is 16, but my nephew could ride as my passenger. It was more tiring than I expected, but it was fun. The only animals we saw were grey jays, probably because the noise scares other animals away.

Things I didn’t do: I didn’t get to relax in the spa, which isn’t my cup of tea anyway. And speaking of tea, I also didn’t spend the afternoon having tea in the hotel either. My sisters enjoyed doing both, although they both thought the view at tea was better than the food offerings. I also didn’t get around to snow-shoeing, which we probably should have done in lieu of snowmobiling, but you live and learn. Oh, and no sleigh rides - nephew vetoed that one, I don't know why other than he's just fickle.

That pretty much sums up our week. Thanks again for all the advice from helpful Fodorites!
UdderlyHopeless is offline  
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Feb 11th, 2014, 08:13 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
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Glad you had a good time.. Everyone should join loyality clubs as I awlays say.. Perks can be had and some are awesome!!
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Feb 12th, 2014, 06:54 AM
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Did you soak in the Hot Spring?
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Feb 12th, 2014, 05:24 PM
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Re: the hot springs - no, we ended up skipping it because we read the springs dry up in the winter months, and the pools are filled with tap water. Since it seemed similar to the hotel's outdoor heated pool ( no natural spring water), we just stuck to the hotel pool since it was free.

But, yes, we had a good time, and I learned my lesson that taking five minutes to join a loyalty program is with it.

Banff was great, and we all had a really fun time.
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Feb 12th, 2014, 09:19 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2005
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It's great that you had such a good time, and enjoyed the winter weather, rather than complained about it.
Now, you'll have to go back in the summer, when many things are even better!
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Feb 13th, 2014, 10:52 AM
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Sounds like you were a bit misinformed about the hot springs. They do occasionally run a bit low on mineral water, but it's certainly not the case this year.

I was at the springs this past weekend and they're most definitely running on natural mineral water. They were at 40C which was great since the air temp was below -20c. It is a bit odd though to be sitting in very hot water with frost forming on your hair and eyelashes
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Feb 14th, 2014, 03:01 PM
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kgsneds - It sounds like I missed out on the real deal. Oh well, that's another reason to return one day.
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Mar 23rd, 2014, 05:19 PM
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How nice to read about enjoying Canada's winter, especially a report not based around skiing.
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