Back in a time before Four Friends One World existed, the Four Friends travelled, a lot….. One of our early adventures together included exploring Banff & Lake Louise in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
In 2012, we set off on an adventure to explore Alberta, Canada. When you see nature photos of Canada, you will always see images of the Rocky Mountains and two locations, Banff and Lake Louise in particular.
We visited in late March, it might sound like a Canadian cliche, but let’s just say there was some snow!
Banff & Lake Louise Day 1
Located within the Banff National Park and part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Range, the town was first settled in the 1880s as a stopping point for the Canadian Pacific Railway. When natural hot springs were discovered in the mountains, Banff quickly became a popular tourist spot for travellers seeking spa experiences and outdoor activities.
Getting to Banff is pretty easy. We landed at Calgary Airport, picked up our rental car and headed out on the 90 min drive West of the city. The views on the drive are simply stunning. As you leave the city, you enter farmlands familiar to those from the Prairie Region. But then you start winding through the valleys until it happens, the mountains come into view. Soaring peaks jagged and chiselled from millennia of snow and ice. The mountain loom over you, dominating the landscape, despite their power, they invite you to explore and experience their rugged beauty. The drive through the National Park is worth the journey in itself. The air is clean and crisp, the trees are green and the mountain ranges are awe inspiring. We were excited for the next few days in the Canadian wilderness.
Our first stop was the Fairmont Banff Springs. This is the place to stay when you visit. It has been in operation for more than 125 years and looks like a beautiful castle nestled into the surrounding mountains. The hotel grounds are stunning. There are multiple restaurants and bars, an amazing spa and even a Bowling Alley. You can stroll into the town centre directly from the hotel and discover the local museums, shopping and restaurants.
There are so many outdoor activities to do in Banff. From helicopter tours, skiing, Icefield Glacier walks and hiking. We were in town for one thing, dog sledding! This has been on our bucket list for so long, so to say we were excited was an understatement. We are all dog lovers so this was an easy activity to agree on.
Banff & Lake Louise Day 2
We were picked up from the hotel by Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours and made our way up the mountain to the dogs. As soon as you arrive you can hear the sounds of the excited dogs in the distance. After a quick briefing from the guides on how to drive the sled and control the dogs, it was time to MUSH! The boys lead the pack first and the girls got to travel in the comfort and the warmth of the sled bag. As soon as the group was ready, the dogs started barking and we were off. These dogs can run fast! You don’t actually realise how quick these sleds move. The sled has a brake so you can slow down slightly but the force of the pull from the dogs is intense. When you are at the controls of the sled, don’t let go!
The tour included 1 hour of sledding with a stop on a frozen pond. It is an appreciated rest because dog sledding is harder work than you would expect. The views were just breathtaking. Here we had a quick cuddle and photo op with the dogs and then it was the ladies turn to drive.
The snow was falling and we were winding through a white forest that eventually returned us to where we started. After securing the dogs and saying goodbye, it was time for some hot apple cider and snacks before heading back down the mountain before it got dark.
We were still on a high from the adrenaline and wanted to head back out on another adventure. Little did we know an unexpected adventure was just around the corner. After loading the group into the van, we heard over the radio that some unexpected weather had hit the mountain and the driving conditions were becoming difficult. This is not out of the ordinary in alpine regions. Weather conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly. Too excited from the Sledding we didn’t think anything of it. We shared our sled stories with the other groups and were happy to be heading back to the hotel for some cocktails and hot showers.
Then we hit the storm. Visibility went to zero and you couldn’t see where the mountain or edge of the road was. Our driver stayed calm, but we could tell that he was getting worried. It got to a point where we considered turning back. It was getting dark and the road was so narrow that the driver couldn’t turn the minibus around safely. We had to push on. It felt like we have been driving for hours and the storm was not letting up. Snow bucketed down on us the wind roared against and past the bus. This was a blizzard the likes we had never seen.
We finally descended to an elevation below the force of the storm. We knew we were near the main road. Once we made it to the bottom we all cheered and clapped and were so happy our driver made it down safely. It was definitely time for some cocktails! We spent our evening reminiscing about the days adventure and ended the night with a friendly game of 9 pin bowling!
Banff & Lake Louise Day 3
We packed up and said our goodbyes to Banff and hit the road headed for Lake Louise. Only 45 mins North East of Banff, the drive was easy and the snowy roads were clear for the previous nights storm.
The mountain ranges continue to have a dominating presence. You are surrounded on either side of the highway. You feel small when travelling along a route like this. We heading towards our second Fairmont hotel on the trip, The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Built in the early 20th century, the hotel was only open during the summer months in its early years. In 1982, it was officially winterized and is now open all year long.
Located on the shore of Lake Louise, outdoor activities are its focus. In summer, visitors take long hikes around the lake and surrounding mountains. Canoeing, fishing and horseback riding are popular activities. In winter, skiing, ice fishing, skating and sledding are just some of the things to see and do.
Lake Louise is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. You will notice in photos that the colour of the lake is a stunning emerald green. The is caused by the rock flour carried by the glacier melt in the surrounding mountains. Because the lake is frozen in Winter, all you can see is ice.
After checking into our room and dropping our bags, we headed outside to explore the lake. If you are lucky enough to visit in winter (late Jan to mid-March), you can explore the impressive ice castle display the hotel builds each year. Set on the edge of the lake, the designs differ each year and creates a winter wonderland ambience that is fun for children and adults alike. You can strap on a pair of ice skates (rentals from the hotel) and skate around a section of the lake surrounding the ice sculpture. This was something we had to do. We don’t have much experience with ice skating, but an opportunity to stumble and slip into a landscape as stunning as this, how could you not! We wobbled your way onto the ice and very slowly pushed ourselves around the lake. After some near falls and some awkward photo attempts, we starting getting the hang of it and had a really great time.
We swapped our skates for boots and headed out on the Lakeshore Trail to explore the snow-covered paths and eventually making our way to the frozen waterfall. Walking the trail was a little tough as there was so much snow on the ground and the trail wasn’t very clear. The fresh air, stunning views and the sounds of boots crunching in the snow, distracted us from the extra physical effort required. We thought to ourselves, we must come back in the summer months and explorer the same trail to see the differences between the seasons. Our legs were pretty tired, so we headed back to relax in the hotels pool and hot tub.
A couple of hot tub cocktails, refreshed and relaxed, the boys could only think of one thing, food. It is important to note this hotel is pretty isolated. It is about 15 mins out of the town of Lake Louise so unless you feel like jumping in the car, your dining options are limited to the hotel. The good news is, there are lots of choices. Our dinner selection was an easy one, Walliser Stube. Featuring innovation European cuisine, this place is well known for Swiss Fondue. We just had to try it.
Reservations are recommended as it is very popular and quite small, so make you check in with the hotel concierge to arrange a table for you. The room is cozy, and covered in dark oak panelling. A perfect winter setting.
As our trip came to an end, we settled into the evening with some great wine, some delicious cheese fondue and spent the night reminiscing about our amazing adventure and future travel plans.
Banff & Lake Louise Day 4
We awoke to views of fresh snow capped mountains glistening in the morning sun. A considerable amount of snow that had fallen overnight. Not wanting to miss out on an adventure and the fact that we are all still kids at heart, we grabbed some toboggans from the hotel and heading up a little hill for some sliding! It took a little while to get moving down the hill (all the weight from the previous night’s fondue!) but once we got the push off right, we were flying down the hill. After an hour of frolicking and throwing snowballs, it was time to head back to Calgary and jump on the plane back to Vancouver.
Alberta is a really beautiful part of Canada. If you are planning a trip, put this on your list for Summer and Winter, you won’t be disappointed.
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