There is nothing more Canadian or beautiful than Banff in any season. My husband and I decided to make the 15 hour drive during an extreme cold snap for the New Years weekend. Temperatures dipped below -30 degrees Celsius as we made our journey across the prairies. For some reasons the mountains were calling me. When we arrived in the mountains at 2am, there was a snow storm and white out on the highway. The driving was treacherous; we could barely see the road. I wondered why the mountains had called on me and feared for my life and safety during that drive. Luckily, my superhero of a husband got us to our destination safely while keeping his composure. We only had 3 days to spend in Banff and because the weather was unseasonably cold and daylight was minimal, we could not spend much time outside. The following are some recommendations for your weekend stay:
Day 1: Canmore
A little town nestled amongst picturesque mountains. I have been to Banff several times, but not to Canmore. Very glad that we made this part of our trip. We came here to buy groceries, but what made us stay were the adorable shops and abundance of restaurants in the area. I actually prefer the vibe in Canmore over downtown Banff. We ate lunch at the Wood Restaurant and Lounge, which is in a log building with a toasty fireplace. Food and service were excellent. The curry lentil soup was delicious. We did some shopping and then headed out for a scenic walk. We found a great spot by the Engine Bridge, which is just off of 11th Ave. This is a more secluded place to enjoy the views of the river and surrounding mountains.
Day 2: Downtown Banff
We started our day with a drive up Tunnel Mountain Road and took a walk along the Hoodoos Trail. This is a great place to get a glimpse of Banff Springs Hotel amongst the mountains. We were not very inspired by what we saw, so decided to venture off behind the Buffalo Mountain Lodge to take a hike. There is a clearing behind the resort where they have weddings in the summer and is a great backdrop for photos. The resort itself is somewhere I have stayed in the past. I recommend it as well as it’s restaurant.
We then ventured into downtown Banff and visited the shops. Bought some goodies from Mountain Chocolates and Mary’s Popcorn. My favourite shop in town is The Hudson’s Bay as this location has mountain specific items and is very Canadian. There are many touristy shops and a mall with very little to offer. If you are a fashionista, then you may be a little disappointed. I myself preferred the shopping in Canmore. We ate dinner at the The Maple Leaf, which is always a great choice. Then back to the resort to soak in the hot tub and relax.
Day 3: Johnston Canyon
The drive along The Bow River Trail was a perfect way to start our day. It makes you feel as though you are driving down a cottage road with trees decorated with snow. It was a nice change from the fast paced highway, as you feel more connected to the wilderness. We arrived at the Johnston Canyon parking lot at 11am and it was somewhat empty. Apparently, this is a busy spot in the summer, but not so much in the winter. The hike through the woods took my breath away. This had to be the highlight of our trip. When we got to the lower falls we knew we had to forge ahead as they were beautiful, but did not blow us away.
We continued along the 2.7 km hike to the upper falls in the -20 degrees weather. Luckily, I wore 2 layers of everything (even 2 jackets and 2 pairs of mitts). I recommend layering if you are doing this in the cold. My hair even turned into little icicles! When we arrived at the upper falls, we noticed a couple of young boys had jumped off the platform to get a closer look. Me being adventurous, decided to follow. My gymnastics skills came in handy as I hung from the 7 foot tall platform and dropped to the ground. I was able to actually touch the falls and pretend to climb them. Looking back, it would be unfortunate if one of the icicles fell on me. Do this at your own risk!
After our hike, we ventured back to our resort at Dead Man’s Flats and explored the area. We were fortunate to find a secluded trail through the woods that led us down to the Bow River. If you are looking for a private spot for a walk, picnic or photo then this is your place just behind the Copperstone Resort.
What a wonderful trip we had! There is something about the mountains that makes me feel alive, make my problems feel small and remind me of the beauty in this world. There are a few things that we didn’t have time for such as skating on Lake Louise, having tea at the Banff Springs Hotel and soaking in the Upper Hot Springs. I guess we will have to go back!
Kira Canadian Girl
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Agreed – there is something magical about being in the mountains that helps put everything in my life back into perspective. Looks like you had a lovely three days out west. We were in Banff two summers ago and had an amazing time. Would love to go back in the winter for some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
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