I classify myself as a city girl, but I do love the outdoors. Last May I headed out west to Alberta for work, and I was able to tack on few personal days to really enjoy and soak up the landscape. I spent a week in the Rockies, specifically Canmore, Banff and Kananaskis. Waking up to snow-capped mountains every morning was beyond amazing. The altitude took some getting used to, but the scenery did not!
I flew WestJet from Toronto to Calgary and my flight was great (there was no one sitting in the middle seat, so I wasn’t packed in like a sardine). The total flight time was about four hours, which gave me plenty of time to catch up on some podcasts, reading, etc.
I will admit that flying domestic is beyond simple. No customs cards to fill out and no intimidating border security guards to deal with. I was able to grab my suitcase (and a coffee) and head west up into the mountains in no time.
I took the Brewster shuttle bus from YYC to Canmore. The bus was easy to find after leaving baggage claim, and the ride itself, about one hour, was great. I bought my ticket online ahead of time, but you can purchase tickets at their desk in the airport. For the best views sit on the right side of the bus. The main thing you’ll notice is the drastic change in scenery. It starts off as prairies and then those mountains get closer and closer until you’re fully surrounded by them.
(I should mention that I was staying with family and didn’t need a car of my own, but you could easily get a rental from the airport and drive up).
Oh, those mountains!! The Three Sisters: Hope, Faith & Charity, are visible from most of Canmore. The coolest thing I did, hands down!, was a helicopter ride over the rockies with Alpine Helicopters. I went on The Royal Canadian Tour. It was awesome.
The Grizzly Paw Brewery Company is a great restaurant to stop in for a quick drink when you’re doing some shopping in the downtown area.
The Legacy Trail is a paved path for runners and cyclists. It goes from Canmore all the way to Banff. Be careful during morning runs… locals have spotted bears along the way.
Cascade Mountain is what you’ll see as you drive up to Banff. The entire town is a national park, so a Parks Canada pass is required for entry. It has that chalet-village feel to it. You’ll be walking beside people who have just come from the slopes and are in full ski gear and people who are just out for a stroll in shorts and a t-shirt.
A trip to Banff isn’t complete without a trip to the The Banff Springs Hotel, even to just wander through the lobby. It was built in 1888 and the stone architecture is fabulous. The Willow Stream Spa was sooo relaxing; floating between the mineral pools and waterfalls (not to mention walking around in a comfy robe while drinking a coffee….)
Make sure to check out “surprise corner” at the top end of Buffalo Street. It overlooks the Fairmont Hotel, and you can get that iconic shot of the Banff Springs nestled into the side of the mountain. You’ll also be able to hear the Bow Falls below.
If you’re looking for something “country” to do, I would recommend a horseback ride with Warner Stables. This city slicker went on an hour long trail ride that followed the Bow river. It was perfect. The weather was fantastic. The mountains were visible the entire time and the Bow river was a gorgeous aqua colour. My horse’s name was Baldy and he was the best.
At the Chateau Lake Louise there are two tea houses you can hike up to in the spring. FYI, there isn’t a ton of parking for people looking to get that iconic Lake Louise photo. Unfortunately, when I was there the lake was still frozen but it was no less beautiful. If you venture to the Lake Louise Ski Resort as a foot passenger you can buy a ticket for the gondola and head up to the top of the mountain. They also offer snow shoeing. (*tip: don’t trust the conditions on the ground. It was slushy, so we opted not to go snow shoeing, but when we got to the top of the mountains the conditions were perfect… perfectly packed snow)
My trip out west ended with a stay in Kananaskis for my 9-5 job. I stayed at the Kananaskis Village Resort for three nights. The buildings were undergoing a massive renovation when I was there. I stayed in one of the updated rooms, which was quite nice. The view of the mountains made working a little easier 😛 . There are lots of pathways around the resort. One of them takes you to a viewing spot that overlooks what used to be a golf course (sadly, it did not survive the flooding of 2013). The sheer expanse of the mountain range was incredible.