Banff National Park is Canada’s oldest national park established in 1885 in the Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, and encompasses 2,564 square miles of mountainous terrain, numerous glaciers and ice fields, dense forest and majestic alpine landscapes. Although it was founded in 1885, winter tourism didn’t begin until 1917 with the first Banff Winter Carnival which featured a large ice palace built by the internees. Carnival events included cross-country skiing, ski jumping, curling, snowshoe, and skijoring. The main commercial center of the park is the town of Banff, in the beautiful Bow River Valley.
Splash Magazine Worldwide editor-in-chief Lawrence Davis and I arrived in Calgary after a brief plane flight from Los Angeles. We rented an SUV from Budget rent-a-car and made the brisk 90-minute scenic drive to Banff National Park. We checked in to the luxurious Fairmont Banff Springs, a breathtaking 768 room hotel, who's “old world” exterior, hides a completely remodeled, state-of-the-art interior. Simply staying at this historic castle feels like a vacation in itself, complete with all the amenities you would expect from a 5-star resort. But don't take my word for it, see for yourself and read my complete review.
For my first snowshoe experience, our group met with an experienced guide from The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise's Mountain Heritage Guide Program as he outfitted us with the proper winter gear in the comfort of the hotel. Outside, the lake was completely frozen over with ice and together we walked to the program's storage shed to pick out our snowshoes. Our guide gave us a brief history and pointed out all of the different shapes and varieties of snowshoes available and asked me to choose which shoe "spoke to me." I went with the "bear paw" shape and after strapping my feet into the shoes, took take a little test walk to see how they felt. At first, I'll admit it was a bit difficult to navigate through the snow, some of which was at least a few feet deep.
But, you get the hang of it and soon enough and we were off and running (so to speak). After gearing up, we set out to explore the nearby forests. Our journey began by snowshoeing around historic Lake Louise, and then we veered off into the trees for a three-hour excursion through the fresh powder and ascension up the mountain. The view of the valley, down below from the extremely high vantage point is worth the trip alone. Seeing all of those trees covered with snow and looking back on the snowshoe prints we'd left as a reminder of our presence was one of my more memorable experiences in Lake Louise. Afterwards, be sure to grab a hot chocolate from the Chateau Deli to warm up, or a tasty treat as a reward after your exhilarating adventure.
There are two options for your Lake Louise snowshoeing adventure, both day and night tours are available. By day, you’ll enter a world of stillness and mystery as you look for signs of various wildlife that inhabit the majestic and unspoiled landscape. For the nighttime excursion, (if skies are clear), you can take some time to learn about some of the great constellations that shine overhead Cassiopeia, the Great Bear and Orion the Hunter. Equipment is included: Snowshoes, Poles, and Head Lamps (for moonlight excursions). To book a tour or more information visit www.fairmont.com/lake-louise
Our next Winter adventure took us on an amazing journey through Johnston Canyon on the famous Discover Banff Tours Ice Walk through the parks Winter Wonderland. Hiking the Johnston Canyon trail to see frozen waterfalls and beautiful columns of blue ice always helps to make for a spectacular winter morning. There really is something quite remarkable about walking through a snowy trail and witnessing Mother Nature in all her glory up close on this particular winter sightseeing tour.
The Johnston Canyon Icewalk follows a series of steel catwalks that give spectacular views of the Johnston Canyon below. This popular ice walk will lead you past the lower falls and to the breathtaking upper icefalls. Travel through prime wildlife habitat and learn the clues to how Johnston Canyon was formed. Guests should dress in skiwear for this trip including hats, mitts and warm boots.
There is a sense of tranquility as you stare out into a sea of Lodge Pole pines with the hopes of seeing elk, deer, big horn sheep, moose, or a myriad of other animals inhabiting the forest, including the local Bow Valley wolf pack. A little red squirrel ran across the road and its red bushy tail was a burst of color against the white snow-covered landscape. The Ice Walk is a 5.4 kilometer trip with a walking time of about two and a half hours.
Our last stop on our whirlwind Winter tour of Banff National Park took us to Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours which were created over a quarter of a century ago as the very first dog sledding tours and recognized as a “Signature Experience” by the Canadian Tourism Commission. The tour begins with a scenic shuttle bus ride up to the top of the mountain to the drop-off point. There is brief informative lecture by one of the professional and qualified instructors on what to do, and not to do while guiding the sled dogs.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t say MUSH to get the sled dogs going, but the word HIKE! You are then off and running, literally, thorough miles of scenic snowy terrain, alongside picturesque running streams, across Lake Snow and finally back to your starting point. This amazing experience is a must-see while you’re in the park, and actually guiding the sled dogs is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is not-to-be-missed. The picture-perfect scenery alone is worth taking the tour. For more information go to their website at www.snowyowltours.com/
No matter what kind of winter adventure you’re looking, you’ll find it at Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Join the millions of visitors who have already enjoyed its breathtaking beauty, unlimited activities and fun for the whole family. Go to the website and book your dream winter vacation today. http://www.banffnationalpark.com/