SFC Trip to Banff, Part 2

In my last post I told you all about fishing and hiking around Lake Louise. It was beautiful. Now I’m going to introduce you to Johnston Canyon and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

After the big hike at Lake Louise we (I) wanted something a little flatter (for my knee). Barbara and I bent over a map with our coffees and found the Johnston Canyon hike and – if we (the kids) were up to it – continuing on to the Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon is an extremely popular hike because of the flatness, well maintained trails, and incredible grandeur payoff in the views of the lower and upper waterfalls. It’s only a half mile to the lower falls and another mile further to the upper falls. So a really doable and quick hike. People any fitness of ability level (including crutches or wheelchair) can go on these trails. If you want/need to park close get there before 9am. If you don’t you’ll have to park in the over-flow parking or along the road. My knee was pretty stiff and I had very little problem. The kids bounded ahead with Mark racing after them.

I was actually glad to be going a little slowly because it was so freakin’ beautiful.

The Canadian National Parks have taken special care to put in these walkways that (a) even the terrain and (b) let you walk almost over the top of the creek bed.

The water had that wonderful blue color that glacial water has. It was the same color as the Rhine River.

There are plenty of waterfall along the way. Shorter. Wider. Not quite a grand as the lower falls, but very beautiful.

And then you come to the lower falls. You can tell it’s the lower falls because you run into a bit of a traffic jam. People patiently wait in line to get a view and plenty of pictures of the falls. It is worth the wait.

From here you can go up a steeper incline (you’ve only gone about 30 meters up so far) and get to the upper falls. My knee wasn’t up for that so I waited by this wonderful view contemplating life and the existence of everything as they went on to the upper falls.

Mark and the others reported the upper falls were beautiful. You can see that this is a view of the same “lower falls” just at a higher point on the trail. It really puts into perspective just how tall these falls are.

We didn’t get to the Ink Pots – deep pools of water along the river that flows to the falls – unfortunately. Perhaps this means I’ll go back again sometime to see them. There were also other trails we wanted to hike but didn’t have time for, like the C Level Cirque, the Banff Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the Upper Hot Springs, the Banff Gondola… and that’s just in Banff! Jasper and Canmore are just a short drive away. Up there you can hike on the Columbia Ice Field, Burgess Pass, and the Bow Valley Provincial Park. Even that still only scratches the surface!

Our travel companions continued on and experienced Jasper and bears!

But before they had an encounter with a grizzly we went to check out some of the most luxurious accommodations in Banff. And, arguably, all of Western Canada: The Fairmont Banff Springs.

Mark’s dad had told us about it when we were talking about our upcoming trip. Back in the 1880s a guy named (Sir) William Cornelius Van Horne became the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and oversaw the development and completion of the trans-Canadian Railway. One of the things he and other railway VIPs loved was the beauty that was surrounding the construction path of the railway. Being not completely stupid, they also saw a money making opportunity knocking on their door.

Tourism. And if you have tourism you’re going to need hotels.

If you want the RICH tourists you’re going to need really, really nice hotels.

And this hotel is stunning. The guidebooks tell us that it was built in a Scottish Baronial Style because apparently Banff, Canada is named in honor of Banff, Scotland. The building as it is today (which I am given to understand is a bit different than the original structure) looks like late-19th century castle.

Here is a picture from the Banff Springs website….

We admired it for a while in temporary parking – they have free 10-min parking set aside for touristic gawking – and decided (a) we really would like to see the inside and (b) we also needed a snack. So I said I’d check it out and apparently walked in like I owned the place.

The inside was absolutely gorgeous. Grand. Magnificent. You can tell their guests are the rich, famous, and royalty. They have guest rooms, suites, and then the “gold” experience. I will never be rich enough for the gold experience.

They really feel their Scottish heritage. The Tartan rugs. The bluestone walls (very like the stone you find in Scotland). And several paintings by Scottish artists of both the Canadian and Scottish Banffs. Even the porters wear kilts.

Now that they are open year-round I imagine those kilts become slightly drafty around January.

We could have gone for the Rocky Mountain Afternoon Tea at $49 per person ($24.50 per child), however, given the hiking ensembles we were wearing and how we probably smelled we decided to go to the small cafe at the end of the grand hall.

If the drinks and treats available at the cafe were any indication afternoon tea would have been spectacular.  There were individual tiramisus,  creme brulee, mini fruit tarts, fresh croissants, pain au chocolate, … you name it, that had it. And every non-alcoholic beverage you could want. About 30 different kinds of teas, 4 different coffees, 10 different types of coffee drinks, fresh juices, and about 7 different kinds of bottled waters.

We picked our desserts and drinks and sat at long tables that reminded me of old library tables with lights wired into the middle of them. It was fun and we had a really nice little snack in the midst of incredible opulence.

Re-energized, Barbara and I went shopping and the boys went out and found the candy store. Banff had your normal touristy stores, but also had some galleries that showcased beautiful works of art – European and First Nation. I came away with a couple of pieces to decorate our new house. Now I just have to find a frame…

Banff is a great place for families to go. It doesn’t have the tourism crush that places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite can have, but it does have a variety of amenities that ensure hikers of all ages will have a great time. I highly recommend it!

 


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