It wasn’t the typical time to visit Banff during the Film Festival like you might expect. The end of October is a time of transition for the area. The green is exchanged for snow. Deciduous Larch pine trees that line the town streets turn vibrant yellows and oranges. Tourists are replaced by waves of Australians and Germans coming to do the winter season on the working holiday visa.
It was a bit bizarre. Back home I’d be excited to see the latest Banff films, but it seems the festival is merely filling space in the calendar. The other odd thing was that no one was talking about it and I didn’t really see too much going on in that regard. I looked at the programme, but in the end I figured it would be better to see the Top 10 when the films go on tour. Plus there was plenty to do around the mountains.
Getting in and where I stayed
I flew from DC to Calgary, headed into the city with a $9.50 day ticket and then took a Greyhound bus to Banff for $24. It’s almost half the price of the airport to Banff shuttles and is still pretty direct.
Plus you get to see Calgary on the day pass. I really wanted to see an ice hockey game, but the Calgary Flames were on the road. Instead I found food and the best coffee I’d had in a month.
Transferring to the Greyhound terminal was easy on the C-train tram. The terminal itself looks like it’s still trapped in the 80s and there isn’t much food there. I expected to find an old arcade and the John Connor from Terminator 2, the one that wasn’t a little bitch, but unfortunately they were nowhere to be found.
After about an hour and a half I arrived in Banff where I’d strongly suggest either booking one of the hostels right in town or taking the #2 bus ($2) to HI Banff ($37-41 for dorms). Its described as a small hill to walk up, but that’s a lie, you walk up half of Tunnel Mountain! At least it’s a cool mountain lodge and they give you free bus passes (when you get there).
Mountains Gandalf, I want to see mountains…
The Canadian Rockies are epic. Highway 1 follows the awesome Bow River Valley, goes up the Icefields Parkway and all the way to Jasper. It really is stunning and so is Banff, but don’t expect to escape civilisation without venturing into the bear filled back country.
After grabbing a coffee in town where the Australian barrista’s accent was music to my ears and delight to the coffee receptors in my brain I took a walk along the Bow River
It’s peaceful and full of wildlife. Elk munch away at the river side and there were minks amongst the squirrels and birds in the trees.
The trail from town goes all the way around to Surprise View and then from there you can take Tunnel Mountain Road or walk to The Hoodoos for a great view of the valley and Mt Rundle.
The Hoodoos themselves are pretty boring, but the view is great at sunrise. On the way there Cascade Peak was on fire and I ran into a couple with two enormous Leonbergers – dogs of the mountains.
After three misty autumn days in Banff, the clouds finally cleared the way and the pine forests turned golden. I guess this is what the Larch Valley would look like.
You can walk up Tunnel Mountain as well, but it’s a really mediocre view. The summit is heavily treed and all you can really see from up there are the resorts, the golf courses and Banff township.
The Banff Gondola isn’t much better either. The mountains look great with a dusting of snow, but it’s abundantly clear that you haven’t left civilisation. It reminded me of Queenstown in New Zealand, but far less beautiful without the Lake Wakatipu.
To really enjoy the Canadian Rockies it’s best to head to Lake Louise or go bush. If you do take the gondola though, it’s normally $49 a head, but if you arrive at 4.30pm, you can purchase tickets for $29. The light will be nicer and you get to see sunset and twilight.
It’s very popular though, so arrive at least 15 minutes earlier and skip the line by using the free WiFi to buy your ticket while everyone queues. Even though there were signs saying paper tickets were needed a ticket on your mobile is scan-able so just line up.
The shops sell what I call Scandi-Canadian or Scanadian jumpers. Super heavy thick wool jumpers that look like grandma knitted you one for Xmas. They are far cheaper than Dale of Norway Scandinavian jumpers, but are bulkier and definitely inferior. I guess I’ll have to keep hanging out for a Norwegian one.
Where to from here?
It was another $20 to grab a Greyhound bus an hour down the road to Lake Louise which in my opinion is far nicer than the Banff township itself.