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It’s little wonder that Banff and its surrounding national park is one of the most popular places in North America to visit in summer. The scenery, for one, is drop-dead gorgeous. As a former Alberta resident, I’ve vacationed in Banff at least 20 times (and continue to make a road trip through Banff each year), and I’m still smitten with its majestic rocky peaks, pine forests, tumbling waterfalls, alpine meadows and turquoise lakes.
Then there are all those rocky mountain activities — hiking, canoeing, soaking in natural hot springs, biking, golfing and more. And don’t forget the wildlife. I’ve seen black bears, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, brilliant blue jays and cheeky chipmunks that grab bits of your sandwich and run.
This summer is a particularly good time to check out all that Banff has to offer. From May to November, special activities, concerts, exhibitions and events are planned in celebration of the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park. It was Canada’s first national park and the world’s third when it was created in 1885 — and Albertans are proud of this beloved locale.
Among my favorite outdoor activities in Banff is hiking. Spanning 2,564 square miles of wilderness, the area boasts 1,000 miles of trails — more trails than any other mountain park in the world. Clients can find everything from easy walks to serious heart-pumping climbs.
I never tire of the scenic trail to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon (3½ miles roundtrip). A paved walkway, with steel catwalks hugging the overhanging canyon walls, it leads to a bridge across Johnston Creek and then through a short tunnel to the Lower Falls. On a warm summer’s day, it’s exhilarating to stand at the viewpoint and feel the spray as water plunges into a frothy pool below. The trail gets more rugged as it continues up the canyon via additional catwalks to the Upper Falls, where a viewing platform hangs out over the gorge above a thundering 100-foot waterfall.
For clients who golf, teeing off at the world-renowned Fairmont Banff Springs Golf Course on the beautiful Bow River is a must-do activity. They can challenge themselves on 27 championship holes — 18 of which were designed in 1928 by master golf course architect Stanley Thompson. The signature fourth hole, the Devil’s Cauldron, is ranked among the world’s best par three holes. Every ounce of concentration is needed to shoot over a glacial lake from an elevated tee. The problem is that elk, which commonly cross the greens, also vie for your attention.
For awesome bird’s-eye views of six mountain ranges, there’s the Banff Gondola (open year-round). The ride takes visitors up 2,300 feet to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. In summer, it’s not uncommon to see bighorn sheep grazing beyond the viewing decks. A half-mile boardwalk also leads to a 1903 weather observatory and another viewing area.
When clients tire of all that fresh-air activity, they can relax in the soothing hot waters of the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Banff National Park was founded after Canadian Pacific Railway workers discovered these natural hot springs in a cave. Today, the facilities are much more comfortable and consist of a large outdoor spring-fed hot pool, complemented by the services of a restored 1930’s heritage bathhouse.
The picturesque little town of Banff is worth exploring, too. Its ski shops, clothing boutiques and jewelry stores make for pleasant (though sometimes pricey) shopping. Many galleries feature traditional artworks and sculptures by First Nations’ artists.
And if clients miss seeing all the region’s animals in the wild, they should head to the Banff Park Museum. Housed in a rustic 1903 national park building, this fascinating natural history museum displays a turn-of-the-century taxidermy collection of stuffed elk, bear, beaver, insects and fish found in the Canadian Rockies.
Finally, to round out a perfect summer visit, the internationally renowned Banff Centre for the Arts stages dance, theater, opera and musical performances throughout its annual summer arts festival, which runs from May to the end of August.
When the snow falls, Banff turns into a white wonderland, offering a whole new set of fun activities – including dog-sledding, ice climbing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and even ice diving. But downhill skiing and snow boarding rank at the top of the list.
Within Banff National Park, downhill enthusiasts have three resorts to choose from: Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Area and Sunshine Village. Together, they cover almost 8,000 acres of skiable terrain, all in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shuttle bus service is included in the cost for clients who buy a tri-area lift ticket.
The only ski-in/ski-out accommodation is the 84-room Sunshine Mountain Lodge. In December, it just completed its west wing replacement, opening 30 new eco-luxurious rooms and suites with in-floor heating, floor-to-ceiling views, jetted tubs, and large screen LCD TVs, all decorated in a rustic mountain theme.
Sunshine Mountain Lodgewww.sunshinemountainlodge.com