Adventuring through the Canadian Rockies aka Heaven on Earth
by Taylor Deer
“The mountains are calling and I must go!”
If you follow me on social media, then you saw unreal pictures of me wandering around serene aqua blue lakes, sky-high mountains and vast forests of evergreen trees that you only see in books. Well, guess what? That beautiful place is not in Switzerland, Norway or Japan. This place (aka God’s country) is located in our neighboring country; situated in the Heart of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. I am excited to share my amazing experiences with you all these next two weeks. This week, read about my time in Canmore and Banff, Alberta.
For the past few years, the Canadian Rockies have been the spotlight within Instagram’s travel accounts and it has given me wanderlust to visit. After our successful trip to Southern California last summer, my family couldn’t wait to visit somewhere new this year. Since we spend every weekend at the beach in the summer, we figured it would be awesome to do a well-deserved trip to the mountains for this year. We couldn’t wait!
After we landed in Calgary, Alberta, we hopped in our rental car and drove an hour and 15 minutes north to where we were staying in a mountainous town called Canmore. To be honest, I was quite disappointed when we first landed in Calgary because all I saw around me was flat land and miles of farm fields. The first thing I asked myself was “Where are the mountains?!”. During the quarter of the drive, we past through endless plains and then we went over a tiny bridge where we started to see beautiful dark green evergreen trees. I LOVE evergreen trees and they always bring me back to those happy winter days skiing in US’ beautiful mountain ranges. As we drove on, we started to see beautiful mountains in the near distance, as we got closer, they were the highest and most stunning mountain ranges I’ve ever seen. (Second place is the breathtaking Pyrenees in Northern Spain. That blog post is to come.) I was so excited to get out of the car and start adventuring!
When we arrived in Canmore, we were starving for lunch so before we checked into our hotel, we grabbed lunch at a mountainview wine bar called Crazyweed. Before you assume they serve one thing, this place offered a relaxing, but fancy wine bar experience with locally sourced crafted foods. When you travel to the Rocky Mountains, whether in the US or Canada, the specialty food is anything beef-related. Since I do not eat beef, I stuck to the other Western Canadian specialties like salmon and Asian food. My family got burgers and salads and I ended up getting a delicious Asian-inspired meal called Bibimbap, which consisted of brown rice, carrot, zucchini, spinach, bean sprouts, kimchi, shitake mushrooms, onion, cilantro, kochujan, sesame, tofu tempura and organic egg yoke. It was delicious, but hot! I washed it down with a refreshing Canadian wine. It was the perfect way to start off our vacation.
Once we fueled up, we wanted to start exploring the area. Since we had been traveling all morning and were tired, we didn’t want to drive too far, so we stuck around Canmore and explored the lakes and mountains. Our first stop was to Grassi Lakes, which offers the perfect hiking trails for those who aren’t looking for anything too extreme. The day we were at Grassi Lakes ended up being very smoky from the wild fires in British Columbia, so the scenery was faint, but when you got close to the lake, it was still the beautiful clear color I saw from the photographs prior to visiting. I even got to sneak in some yoga while I was there!
As we continued our small hike, we found more nature and a beautiful stream that seemed to be much clearer. I was amazed at where I was! (If only I knew what was in store for me later on into the trip.)
After our hike around Grassi Lakes, we headed over to explore Canmore’s Nordic Centre Provincial Park. The gorgeous park is situated in the Canadian Rockies along the Bow Valley and Trans-Canada Highway (which we mostly traveled on when visiting the different parks and lakes). This great park was originally constructed for the 1988 Winter Olympics that were held in Calgary. The cross-country skiing and biathlon events were held at the Centre.
As an avid skier in the winter months, it was exciting to walk around the park and look at all of the different trails. We even got amazing views of beautiful Kananaskis County – where Canmore is located in. It was also cool to see all of the different flags featured around the park for the countries that participated in the Olympics that year.
When we were finished exploring, we checked into our hotel, showered, took a nap and got ready for dinner in adorable downtown Canmore. Around the area, there are beautiful chalets; log cabins and basic ski homes that make you want to buy one right then and there. Unlike other downtown areas in the US, Canmore’s small town offers beautiful parks around its business districts – making it picturesque no matter where you are.
Downtown Canmore offers wonderful services, shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. It is also the center for the town’s arts and culture community with several art galleries, live music venues and local theater performances. Just like most mountainous small towns and cities, Canmore offers a “hipster” community, so you know you’re going to be exposed to the best crafted foods, music and art.
For dinner, we wanted to sit outside and take in all of the spectacular views around us. We found a great patio restaurant called The Wood that features great food, 30 different wines from the local wineries and the best selection of Rocky Mountain craft beers. My family enjoyed a savoring steak dinner while I got a healthy chicken stir-fry. The weather in the Canadian Rockies ranged between the high 60s to low 80s during the day, but at night the temperatures dropped to the low 50s, high 40s. We ended up getting a little cold sitting outside as the night went on, but The Wood offered numerous heated lamps to help us stay warm. It felt like I was around a campfire, even though I wasn’t.
I loved our hotel, Paradise Resort Club! It offered beautiful suite-style chalets, a stone fireplace and amazing views of the Rocky Mountains. At night, we fell asleep to a warm fire and woke up to a gorgeous breeze. I enjoyed sitting on our patio deck and admiring the views. I could never get sick of that.
My family and I couldn’t wait to experience Banff National Park on our second day. The town of Banff is located 20 minutes north of Canmore and features unparalleled mountain scenery, wildlife, adventure and a clean city. A cool fact about Banff is that it is Canada’s first national park. It started as a hot springs reserve and now offers never-ending adventure and activities for everyone.
We waited to grab breakfast until we got to Downtown Banff. We found a warm and welcoming log cabin restaurant called Melissa’s Missteak. There is a lot of history behind this restaurant, which was awesome to learn about as we sat down to eat. Melissa’s is located next to Banff’s Homestead Inn. The original hotel was built as a temperance house between 1913 and 1919 and it was later sold to a local businessman who made it into a hotel and restaurant.
For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious Swiss apple pancake made with fresh apples topped with cinnamon, sugar and fresh lemon. It was the perfect breakfast to fuel up on before I started my adventurous day in Banff.
Our first fun activity for the day was horseback riding at Warner Stables, located 10 minutes from the downtown area. Prior to this trip, my family discussed that we definitely had to make horseback riding happen. My grandfather owned a horse when my dad was younger, so he always enjoyed riding; my mom used to ride Upstate when she was a teenager and I used to take lessons when I was younger, so we were all thrilled to get back on one and explore Banff’s beautiful nature. To be honest, it had taken me a lot of courage to get back on a horse because I had fallen off of one during the time I was taking lessons. It was a scary experience for me, so I was happy when I got back on one in Banff and felt safe and secure on my beautiful brown horse called Browning. He was super friendly and calm!
We all were chosen horses based on our size, so my brothers got the tougher horses and my dad got a tall one, since he is 6’ 4”. When we were all ready to go, we went out on the trail in a single filed line and headed straight into the aspen-filled woods of Banff National Park.
During our ride, we got to see the tallest mountains in Banff, the beautiful crystal blue glacier water of the Bow River Valley, stunning wilderness and beautiful birds. (I was secretly hoping we would’ve spotted a grizzly bear from a FAR distance, but we didn’t.) Riding a horse where I had a view of evergreen and aspen trees, beautiful mountains that I am mainly used to seeing in a screen saver and the gorgeous mineral river that I thought I would only see in Iceland, made me feel like I was living in a postcard – better yet, a dream!
We ended our horse adventure riding through the meadows before we reached the stable where we got our picture taken for memories.
After getting a brief education about Banff’s mountain peaks from our horseback riding guide, we couldn’t wait to go to one of the lookouts and check out the epic views. About five minutes from Warner Stables is Banff Gondola that helps you see a whole new side of the National Park’s famous Sulfur Mountain.
When you arrive at the Gondola, you hop right on and enjoy the views as you make your way 15 minutes up the mountain. Since I ski, I am used to being on a gondola high up in the mountains, but my family wasn’t used to it and were a bit freaked out. (My dad and brother are afraid of heights.) I love hiking and would have enjoyed a hike in Banff, but since we were only there for five short days, we didn’t want to spend a whole day or more hiking up a mountain when there are so many other wonderful activities and unique ways to see beautiful Banff.
During our ride up the mountain, we caught the most beautiful views of the valley and felt like we were birds in the sky. At the top, there were 360-degree views of six incredible mountain ranges. One of the great things about the observation deck is that they have a boardwalk that you can walk around and explore different areas and sides of the mountain. The one side features the main area of the National Park and the other area is the steep valley that separates Alberta from British Columbia. There is even a nice restaurant and coffee shop at the top of the mountain in case you are hungry or want to enjoy a fresh brew as you stroll.
My family and I had a great time discovering hidden gems to take pictures in front of and I even snuck some yoga in there as well. (All of the time!)
We took the gondola back down the mountain and drove to downtown Banff where we enjoyed a nice treat before walking over to the Bow River where we would begin our relaxing canoe adventure.
The Banff Canoe Club, located right down the street from Downtown Banff, offers canoes and kayaks for rental. They even offer voyager tours for groups or families who wish to be guided down the river instead of manually doing it.
Since none of us have ever kayaked before, we thought it would be best to rent canoes instead so we wouldn’t have to row alone. My family is a group of five, so we had to rent two canoes, which worked out great. My parents went in one while my brothers and I went in another. My brother Jimmy is the biggest, so he sat in the back to steer the canoe in the right direction; I sat in the front because I am the lightest and can easily help with the steering and my youngest brother Joey sat in the middle.
We did not get off to a great first start when the three of us hopped into the canoe. None of us have ever canoed before, so our canoe turned around and started going in the wrong direction. The guys kept yelling at us to row the opposite way so that we can quickly turn around or we would have been heading closely to a waterfall on the opposite end of the stream. (That would have been BAD!) We freaked out, hit into a few rocks on the side of the lake, but managed to turn around and head in the right direction.
My parents rowed right next to us and we even tapped them a few times. It got kind of annoying that they were so close to us, but it was all laughs since my mom was too busy “GoProing” the entire time.
From the canoe/kayak dock, we explored a gentle leg of the Bow River where we rowed along the serene aqua blue river and took in gorgeous views of the evergreen and aspen trees along with the outstanding Canadian Rockies. The reason why the river has such a beautiful color is because melting glaciers nearby contribute high water flows during late summer. It contains sulfur from the surrounding mountains and glaciers, making it safe drinking water. All of the water I drank in the Canadian Rockies was refreshing and probably the cleanest water I ever had in my life! Thanks to the glaciers.
Even though we had a rough start on our canoeing adventure, my brothers and I enjoyed the rest of the journey together. It made for great memories! If you want to experience a full day of canoeing when you visit Banff, there is an option to follow the Forty Mile Creek into the Vermillion Lakes. Whether you choose to stay on the shorter route or the longer one, both of them offer stunning views and great opportunities to catch some wildlife!
After our fulfilling day of adventure, we were excited to enjoy a nice Canadian dinner in Downtown Banff. The city of Banff is lively and lined with top-class restaurants, bars and shops along with art galleries and museums – just like Canmore, except bigger. No matter where you are in the downtown area, there are strikingly beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains in all directions. The main street in Banff (called Banff Avenue) has a gorgeous view of Banff’s iconic mountain called Sir Castle Mountain. It adds a beautiful touch to the city.
Downtown Banff has numerous rooftop pubs to enjoy a great drink and it even has high-class restaurants, offering the best of Canadian cuisine. After walking around and buying a few souvenirs for family, friends and ourselves, we enjoyed a delicious Western Canadian meal at The Maple Leaf. Located within a comforting log cabin with great views, The Maple Leaf offers fresh beef, fish and a selection of crafted cocktails to enjoy. My family got a steak dinner and I had the best salmon dinner I ever had! Before coming to the Canadian Rockies, I was informed that the salmon and tuna were must-haves and since I eat salmon once a week at home, I thought it wouldn’t be anything different. BOY was I wrong!
We ended our amazing day in Banff by enjoying a dessert at Rocky Mountain Chocolates across the street from the restaurant. Get ready for more adventure in my next blog post!
Looking to go to heaven on earth? Well, you don’t have to travel too far or go overseas to experience a magical place. Email me at Taylor@sitinmyseats.com if you have any questions or would like to book your next vacation to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
In the meantime, stay tuned for my next blog post on my adventures in Yoho National Park in British Columbia and an amazing day wandering through the gems in Lake Louise, Alberta.
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