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Banff National Park and Lake Louise In Banff National Park, we splurged by staying at the lovely Castle Mountain Chalets in Bow Valley, exactly midway between Banff and Lake Louise. The town of Banff stretches along the Bow River in the shadow of towering Mt. Rundle. The north end of Banff Avenue is crowded with hotels and motels, while the southern end features shops and restaurants. The area offers many attractions. The Banff Park Museum specializes in the park’s natural history with plenty of stuffed birds and mammals. The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, named for Norman Luxton who was close to the area’s natives, exhibits Indian artifacts and boasts a terrific Indian Trading Post with an extensive array of native arts and crafts for sale. The Upper Hot Springs, set against the Alpine backdrop, is wonderful for a warm soak after a long hike. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site shows how the source of the hot springs was discovered in 1883, leading to the formation of Banff National Park. The Banff Gondola takes you 7,486 feet up to an observation deck with a dramatic view of Banff township and the surrounding mountains. The Banff Springs Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1888, is one of the most luxurious mountain resort hotels in the world and well worth a visit. While there, take a walk down the hill to the path by the Bow River and the small but impressive Bow Falls. There are diverse hikes around Banff and Lake Louise. We took the popular Johnston Canyon Trail off the Bow Valley Parkway. Here a paved walkway takes you up to the Lower Falls of Johnston Creek. Then a suspended boardwalk built through the gorge leads to the dazzling Upper Falls. There is no actual town of Lake Louise, but the focal point of the area, Chateau Lake Louise, fulfilled my expectations. The view from the Bavarian-style hotel, built in 1890, is so gorgeous it feels like a mirage with its brilliant turquoise lake in front of snow-covered Mt. Victoria. Our favorite hike, called the Plain of the Six Glaciers, began in front of the Chateau, proceeded around the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail, then climbed through evergreen forests and glacier-scarred terrain, affording ever more breathtaking views of Victoria Glacier and the surrounding snow-covered peaks as we ascended. Exhausted after an hour-and-a-half of climbing, we finally reached our destination: the Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse, a rough wooden restaurant built in the 1920s by the CPR. The young staffers live there for the summer and bake the breads, pies and cakes fresh each day. All supplies have to be hiked in or packed in by horse. Needless to say, for tired and famished hikers, tuna sandwiches on fresh baked whole wheat bread and homemade chocolate cake were just what the doctor ordered. Reenergized and restored, our hike down the mountain took half the time. There are many other lakes to visit and day hikes and back country hikes to take in the area, but we were running out of energy. So we rented horses for a ride around Lake Louise with Timberline Tours; took the Lake Louise Sightseeing Gondola up Whitehorn Mountain for excellent views of Lake Louise and the Chateau; and enjoyed the relaxing Lake Minnewanka boat cruise.
Families will find no shortage of activities in the Canadian Rockies. Besides some of the best hiking you’ll ever find, there are all kinds of guided tours, bike and boat rentals, camping, fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, golf, rafting trips, and more. Our family agreed this was one of the most satisfying and successful summer vacations we’d ever had.
Vancouver • Vancouver Touristinfo Centre (604) 683-2000
Jasper • The Jasper National Park Information Centre 500 Connaught Drive, Jasper (780) 852-6176
Banff/Lake Louise • Banff/Lake Louise Tourism Bureau (403) 762-0270 or www.banfflakelouise.com • Banff Visitor Information Centre 224 Banff Ave., Banff (403) 762-8421 • Lake Louise Visitor Information Centre Adjacent to the Samson Mall (403) 522-3833