Our spectacular Rocky Mountaineer train ride (click to see my article) from Vancouver (click to see my article) to Banff leaves us in the mood for outdoor excitement and spa pampering. Majestic Banff National Park, established in 1885, the first in Canada, the third in the world, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is rich in nature, national historic sites, ski resorts and golf courses. Every month is a celebration with a wide cross of scheduled events for all ages and interests, including overnight guided pack trips, Western barbecues and hoe down dances; in the winter, there’s sleigh rides, skiing and skating.
We reach Banffearly evening; a bus transports our group to The Brewster Mountain Lodge, conveniently located in the center of town. My oversized room has a colorful Western décor, a huge hand hewn wood bed and a large bathroom. A stroll around town and a bison burger in a popular pub give us a chance to sample some local color before calling it a night.
We head out to Buffalo Mountain Lodge for a hearty buffet breakfast in the hotel’s Sleeping Buffalo Restaurant. We are given VIP passes to Banff‘s diversified Tourist attractions.
Later we get lunch at Naturel.
I visit theWhyteMuseum; tour theBanffCenter, recognized internationally for its music, dance and opera performances and festivals.
I ride the Banff Gondola to the top of the mountain and see spectacular views.
Then off to visit the Cave & Basin where the sulfur springs were first discovered by three Canadian National Railroad workers.
I go to see The Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum, and shop Main Street for Native American jewelry.
That night we are treated to a special chef‘s dinner at the elegant Fusion Restaurant onMain Street.
The Fairmont Banff Springs reigns proudly as the “Castle in the Rockies”. Its grand foyers, elegant surroundings and nurturing Willow Stream Spa draw inspiration and energy from the mountains.
Lawrence and I spend the morning in the hotel’s Willow Stream Spa: detoxing in the steam rooms, floating in mineral pools, and being indulged with a signature Rejuvenation Treatment.
At noon, Lori Grant, the hotel’s publicity director drives us up to the quaint villageof Lake Louiseto have lunch at Chateau Lake Louise, another Fairmont property that has been welcoming guests for centuries.
We are seated in the Lake View Restaurant (less than 500 feet from magnificent Lake Louise; I munch on a scrumptious lobster and baby shrimp salad sandwich served on a crusty flaky croissant with a side of spicy Caesar salad. My cup of cappuccino, served with rock candy on a stick, is so thick, frothy and rich that I order a second.
Then Lori proudly takes us on a tour of the new building at Chateau Lake Louise.
That evening we eat at Lake Louise Station, a charming converted railroad car restaurant.
Ted Bilton of Wild Water Adventures arranges a high speed afternoon adventure on the glacier fed Kicking Horse River. To protect myself against the freezing waters and hazards we might encounter, I wiggle into rubberized insulated shoes, gloves and wet suits, then add a fleece jacket, a rubber hooded jacket and a life vest; a plastic protective helmet completes this less than attractive and somewhat cumbersome uniform. The sun is hot; we all stand in the water to keep our temperatures down as we are prepped on rafting procedures and safety rules.
The KickingHorseRiverkicks up some wild # 4 rapids ( Niagara Fallsare # 6) as we paddle down stream, eight in each raft plus our guide. I am assigned a place in the front of the raft; the rapids crash against me; I buffer their force, holding on to the safety ropes for dear life; we swerve to stay afloat; the thrill and potential spill is exhilarating. Midway through our three hour journey, we drift into a calm cove to change positions; I move to the back of the raft; I feel like I am on a bucking bronco or a roller coaster as the raft rises and falls from one rapid down to the next.
Dinner in the gazebo of The Lake Louise Inn, where we spend the night, is a friendly hoot; checkered tablecloths, fiddlers and country singers are a great backdrop for the delicious BBQ buffet of smoker - cooked ribs and chicken served with all the trimmings of a country hoe down.
Lawrence and I travel to JasperParkon a Brewster Tour bus, climbing to the highest accumulation of snow, an elevation of 6,500 feet, passing avalanche shoots or paths, caused by high winds that take down trees, rocks and snow. At a rest stop, we board a shuttle and climb to the rim of the Columbia Ice fields; glaciers surround us on all sides.
We transfer to the Ice Explorer, a space like vehicle with oversized tires; slowly bump down a steep gravel incline, then move cautiously onto and across the surface of the glacier. We leave the bus to walk on the glacier as do groups of tourists from all over the world; foreign languages and the click of digital cameras echo across the ice.
I feel like an astronaut who has just landed on a strange ice surfaced planet; the moment is surreal, Mother Nature at her purist. We spend an hour removed from reality as we know it, then descend to begin our journey on to Calgary; we spot a grizzly not far from the road and stop to take photos; we are in one of the only parks in the world where wardens patrol on horseback to protect hikers and bikers from wild animals.
Photos by Lawrence Davis
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