I spent a total of 5 days in Banff and so I thought I'd do you all a favour and give you some stuff that I recommend checking out while you're over in Banff. I'd have to say that hands down the craziest place that I visited was Banff, it exceeded every single one of my expectations and left me with lifelong memories, experiences and friends.
For those who don't know, Banff is a ski town that is filled with Aussies, 40% of its population is Australian so for me, it felt like I was right at home from the get go. I arrived in -25 degree Celcius in the dead of winter but honestly, it made it that much more magical. There are towering snow-capped mountains at the end of every street and deer roam the streets at night.
Before I begin I'd also like to give a shout out to Banff Adventures. These were the guys that we booked all of our paid activities through and I highly recommend them if you are in town. I am not getting paid to say any of this, I genuinely mean it.
To keep the flow of this blog post I will leave all of the photos from the different experiences until the end of the post.
1. Dog Sledding
HANDSDOWN the coolest thing I've done in my life (so far). We arrived here on New Years Day at 11am after a 40 minute bus ride which picked us up from close to where we were staying. As I looked out the window (which picked us up from the middle of the town) I could literally see at least 50 huskies howling and barking ready to get going. The company we went through is called Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours.
Before I go any further I'd like to say that the dogs are looked after incredibly well and not only that but you can actually adopt these dogs for FREE once they go into retirement.
We also got taught some of the calls that the dogs understand:
- 'Hike' means go
- 'Whoa' means slow down
- 'On by' is spoken when the dogs get distracted by something off course
We dogsledded for a total of about 45 minutes, and that's the only part I wish would be different, 45 minutes felt like such a short time. The instructors were super friendly, and were also mostly made up of Aussies. After sledding through backcountry and over a frozen lake at 40km/h we said our goodbyes to the dogs and gathered around a fire and drank on hot apple cider.
Some more info
- In winter it can get COLD. And by cold I mean that on the day we went dogsledding it was -20 degrees Celcius. Factor in the wind as the dogs move through the snow at up to 40km/h and you've got yourself two icicles for hands. I couldn't say it any more clearly: get yourself some mittens. Gloves won't cut it, trust me.
- The dogs are smart. They can tell if someone doesn't know what they're doing and they take advantage of that. Lead them, talk to them, help them up the hills by getting off the sled and pushing, and lastly, tell them that they're doing a good job.
Overall this experience has got to be one of my all time favourites from my time over in Canada. There's something so liberating about riding on a sled with howling dogs, the wind whipping through your hair at 40km an hour. I can't recommend this enough.
2. Sulphur Mountain
To preface this Sulphur Mountain comes in at a height of over 8000ft, which means that in the winter it gets incredibly cold. Don't let the cold deter you though, for me, the views are worth the cold any day. The views from Sulphur Mountain were the best that I saw in all of Canada (so far). And a fun fact: it was colder on the peak of Sulphur Mountain than it was on the surface of Mars on this day. It goes without saying that this was also the coldest day of my life and it hit -40 degree Celsius (which ironically is also the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit cross).
You can get to the foot of Sulphur Mountain by a simple bus ride (Route 1 Bus) from the centre of Banff which takes an easy 10 minutes. We also did this as a part of a package deal we got through Banff Adventures. Once you arrive at the foot of the mountain you will be able to walk straight to the gondola across the road where they also have a Starbucks for that dose of caffeine.
The gondola up the mountain can fit up to 4 people. Once you get to the top of Sulphur Mountain you'll be inside an area that is your last area of warmth before you head out into the cold. Inside is also a museum and some facts about the mountain as well as some cafes and souvenir shops.
Now to go outside.... The views literally took my breath away. It was honestly such a crazy experience. There's something surreal about standing in the extreme -40 degrees on top of a mountain overlooking vast valley's as well as being able to see Banff which is visible from atop the mountain. By the time you head up to the highest point which is known as Sanson's Peak you have ice forming on your eyelashes and beard (if you have one of those).
Some More Info
- Buy some Hot Hands (hand warmers) from any souvenir shop in Banff - you'll thank me later
- An individual adult ticket up the gondola is $56 and can be bought HERE
- Start taking photos fairly soon after you get to the peak, the cold will mess with your camera. FACT: my GoPro, Canon 5d III and Sony vlogging camera all stopped working.
Getting to the top of Sulphur Mountain is an experience you won't want to miss while you're in Banff.
3. Lake Louise
This list would not be complete without adding Lake Louise. For those who might not know, Lake Louise is a fairly well known destination in Canada that was made famous through Instagram (mostly). In the winter it is completely frozen over and is skirted by towering mountains that literally circle the entire lake. The lake is huge, at over 2 kilometres in length and is definitely worth a walk around after you've had enough of ice skating on the lake itself. The journey from Banff to Lake Louise is a 40 minute bus ride that takes you directly to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Upon arriving at Fairmont, an extremely impressive hotel that backs onto Lake Louise, you will have the chance to grab a coffee and go shopping - the hotel has an entire shopping centre inside of it. After you've had your fix you can go through the back doors of Fairmont and be welcomed to Lake Louise along with the vast mountains that tower above. In winter the lake is entirely frozen over and is partially cleared to make way for people to ice skate. On your way down to the lake there are also some small bars that are made entirely from ice where you can grab a drink if you feel the need.
Some More Info
- In Summer there are free shuttles to and from Banff and Lake Louise but in winter they don't run - A return bus ticket through Brewster can be bought HERE
- Be mindful of your shoes, my friend had hers taken (by mistake) when she took them off to ice skate.
- Skates have to be rented from Banff, they aren't available at the actual Lake. I rented mine from Banff Adventures for $15 per day.
4. Bow Falls
Now for something a little more local to Banff, this is within walking distance of the town and is a great walk when you feel like something a bit more relaxed. We decided to go visit Bow Falls on a day where we felt like we needed a bit of recovery time.
From Banff Avenue (the main street in Banff) you literally follow the road to the other end where you cross a bridge over Bow River. If you continue the path around it will approximately take you 20 minutes walk to reach the falls. If you are unsure of the exact way, there is loads of signage to help guide you.
After you finish at Bow Falls you can continue on the same road for about 10 minutes and end up at Fairmont Hotel, a 5 star hotel that looks like something out of Great Gatsby, I recommend checking it out if you have time.
Some More Info
- In winter Bow Falls is frozen over but you can still walk out onto the frozen river where you can see looming mountains in the distance.
- Although the river is frozen over past the waterfall there are still some parts where the water is running, be careful not to get too close or you could fall through the ice.
5. Banff Nightlife
Last but not least this list wouldn't be complete without telling you my favourite spot for nightlife in Banff which it is also well known for. Banff is an expensive place so expect to pay between $20-$100 CAD to enter some of the bigger clubs. However, I'm not about that life so I will tell you my experience of the two places you can go to for FREE.
Samesun is by FAR my favourite spot that you can have a good night out for free. The drinks are cheap, the food is cheap and there's always something going on at night. The night we went there we got there with the intention of staying for a drink and a meal... We ended up staying there from 4pm through to midnight. The people are super friendly, as are the staff and we made tonnes of friends while we were there.
The second place I really enjoyed was High Rollers, a bowling alley located on Banff Avenue that served cheap drinks, food as well as bowling. I will say that you will need to book your bowling lane in advance. This place is that popular that often times it is booked out for the entire night a couple nights in advance.
If this helped you out on your trip to Banff let me know! I would love to hear about it.
Until next my next blog post, stay safe but not too safe.