This year is Canada's 150th anniversary, so I felt it was fitting to vacation within the country during the summer. In mid-July, I spent a week in Alberta to hang out in the Canadian Rockies. Most of the trips I’ve taken this year have been to cities, and as cultural and fun as those kinds of trips are, they aren't exactly relaxing. This time, I wanted a real vacation: chill out in nature, lounge around, have a spa day, and detox from social media.
Getting to Banff
To get there from Calgary International Airport, it takes an hour and a half by car. It's best to rent a car unless you just want to stay in your resort and never go anywhere else. The drive is nuts because you're surrounded by gorgeous mountains, and you feel as if you're inside a giant 3-D postcard.
Where to stay near Banff
The hotels in Banff and Lake Louise were all sold out when we booked in May, and we stayed in the eco-friendly Solara Resort in Canmore, which I highly recommend (more about it in the Canmore post). Canmore is a lot quieter. If you prefer the nightlife, Banff is better for partying.
Banff Hot Springs
The Banff Upper Hot Springs is a short drive away. It was crowded, and I didn't like close I had to be with other people, but it was peak season. I didn't stay for more than an hour in the pool. The view of the snow-capped mountains was nice, and I will say that my body felt really relaxed after. I don't know how the minerals in the water work, but they do. Would I return to this hot spring? Not during peak season, no.
When the sun was starting to set, I looked up and saw the most mesmerizing clouds.
Later, I learned this was probably smoke from the nearby forest fires. I never knew wildfires were such a problem in the west coast before coming on this trip. They were so bad this year that you could see them from space. Wildfires are largely preventable. Didn't Smokey the Bear teach people anything?
Banff town cafes and restaurants
I was lucky because I was able to hike and see all I really wanted to see on this trip before the smoke got bad. The exception was hiking around Banff and riding on the gondola because the air was too hazy, but it was okay. By then, I'd had my fill of nature. Instead, I hung out in Banff town, spending a lot of time in cafes writing fiction, and taking a leisurely walk by Bow River.
Banff is a tourist town. The permanent population is capped at 8,000. A local told me that Banff cannot build new housing because it's a protected national park. A number of young Australians work in the tourism industry here due to the ease of obtaining temporary work visas between the countries, so you'll hear plenty of Aussie accents.
Banff was busy, but we were always able to find parking, especially away from the main streets.
Banff is big enough to have plenty of dining and shopping options but small enough that you can walk and cover the main streets fairly easily. For food, I liked Touloulou's, which serves Louisiana Cajun food, and Saltlik, for their steaks.
I kept passing by a huge lineup of people by Cow's Ice Cream. When the line was relatively shorter in the early afternoon, I got the "Cookie Moonster" cone to see what the fuss was all about. It didn't turn my lips and tongue blue like other blue ice creams I've had in Toronto, and it was a good treat for my walk along Bow River.
I also recommend visiting the lovely Cascade Gardens across the bridge on Banff Avenue, which has a lovely view of the town, on a clear day at least.
Sustainable fashion stores in Banff
As for ethical shopping in Banff, I did find one store that stocks Canadian designers and mostly made in Canada goods: Canadian Fashion Xperience (Update: this store has closed). There's also Patagonia Banff, where I bought a hiking jacket.
Do you have recommendations on things to do in Banff? Let us know in the comments below.