Mount Rundle in Banff National Park looks like a giant slab of clay that got whacked with a frying pan, and every time I see it I get shivers.
Thanks to the traveling version of the Banff Film Festival, which comes to the Paramount Theatre in Austin every spring (get your tickets now!), I get to see video of it on a regular basis. But there’s nothing like seeing it in person.
I just wrapped up my fourth trip to Banff, Alberta, which is located inside Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Ten of my favorite things about this year’s trip?
1. The highlight, by far? Trekking 7 miles over two mountain passes and across a frozen lake into Banff National Park to stay two nights at historic Skoki Lodge, built in 1931. You can’t take a vehicle there – in the winter you have to either snow shoe or ski in. (During warmer weather you can hike in.) The lodge has no electricity or running water, but it has a wood-burning stove, outhouses (about 40 yards from the main house) and a chef who cooks gourmet meals. It’s the coziest place I’ve ever visited, even when temperatures dipped to minus 15 F.
2. I’m recovering from ACL surgery so I couldn’t downhill ski this trip, but I’ve skied at all three of the Banff area resorts – Lake Louise, with incredible views of surrounding peaks; Sunshine Village, where you ride a gondola 20 minutes just to get to the base (it’s like a secret world!); and Norquay, an old-school resort with fantastic views of downtown Banff.
3. Snow shoeing across the Continental Divide from Sunshine Village Ski Resort to Sunshine Meadows in British Columbia with White Mountain Adventures. If you’re lucky (I was) you’ll be able to see Mount Assiniboine.
4. Learning about how indigenous people use native plants during a medicine walk with a guide from Mahikan Trails Indigenous Experiences in Banff National Park.
5. Riding a gondola up Sulphur Mountain as the sun sets to experience Nightrise, the after-dark immersive light show developed in partnership with the Stoney Nakoda Nation. The show borders on cheesy (think dramatic music and swirling lights), but I appreciated the nod to those who came before us. And the views of glittering Banff down below are gorgeous.
6. Renting a retro swimsuit and go for a soak at the Upper Hot Springs in Banff. Don’t schedule much time for this, as it can be crowded with tourists, but it’s a nice place for a quick soak.
7. Riding an inflatable tube down Alberta’s longest tube lanes at Norquay Tube Park at Mt. Norquay. It’s a surprisingly speedy trip!
8. Eating! Order sushi at Hello Sunshine, a bar and restaurant in downtown Banff with its own private karaoke rooms. Contemplate the huge photograph of a park ranger staring down a bear while you sip cocktails and spoon up a bowl of soup and cornbread at Park Distillery. For a less expensive option, eat like the locals at Ramen Arashi Banff, located in a no-frills space upstairs in Sundance Mall. Wrapthings up with a cinnamon-covered, paddle-shaped pastry from BeaverTails.
9. Notice the overpasses and underpasses along the highway through Banff National Park. They’re specially designed wildlife corridors. Parks Canada officials say the six overpasses and 38 underpasses built since the 1980s have reduced wildlife collisions by 80 percent.
10. Stop by the Banff sign. Everyone gets their photo taken at the Banff sign. If you’re into documenting stuff, swing by 101 Mt. Norquay Road, on the edge of town of Banff. Park in the parking lot of the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre across the road and walk over.