Banff, Canada

Baffled by Banff: A Trip to Mountaintop Heaven

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Have you ever been to Banff before? Because Christ on a cracker, is it one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited or what? I’ve logged visits to 44 of the 50 U.S. states, and while there are some amazingly stunning parts of my own country, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a spot quite as spectacular as Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

Exhibit A:

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

While I had all these grand plans of hiking and canoeing and other things outdoorsy and calorie-burning during my three days in Banff and Lake Louise following the magnificent journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, I’m sorry to say that Evan and I pretty much spent an entire afternoon atop Sulphur Mountain just admiring the view.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

I mean, wouldn’t you?

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

This is where we wished we’d stayed, the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

Magnificent, right? Instead, we had to settle on dinner there at the chateau, before retreating to our own backpacker-like inn, which was charming in its own way.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

On our last morning in Banff, we signed up for a wildlife tour. We had heard grand stories of all of this alleged wildlife that Canada boasts, but had yet to see a trace in the week we’d been bopping around BC and Alberta.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

The tourism board rep we brunched with even went as far as to tell us of the “bear jams” when downtown Banff was thrown off course by a hungry visitor and how many mornings the elk in her backyard were so many, she couldn’t even open her door.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

We figured this just a ploy by the tourism board to increase numbers—”Canada: Where the Moose Roam Free and the Locals Co-Exist Peacefully with the Bears”—as we had seen one “long-horned sheep” (AKA ram) on our 24 hours aboard the train, and little else besides some osprey and eagles. But we wanted the goods; give us the two-ton beasts. We’ll gladly make friends.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

So when we boarded our tour bus, we took an informal poll of our fellow tourists to inquire as to whom had actually had a real wildlife sighting (sheep and birds so don’t count). Twelve of the 14 raised their hands, the two losers with their arms firmly pinned to their sides being Evan and me. Boy, did we feel like the cool kids on the bus. We did spot a horse, oh but he was on reins and pulling a cart.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

And a chipmunk, which just about made my day. Evan, on the other hand, was not impressed. “It’s still a rodent!” she exclaimed. True, but a cute one at that.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

So we had high hopes as we embarked on our wildlife excursion, as anyone who forked over $55 for a three-hour tour (a three-hour tour) might. Instead, we had a gem of a guide (the sarcasm, it drips from the keyboard) who claimed to work on some big bear project but refused to take us anywhere near where the bears supposedly chill. But we want bears! GIVE US ALL YOUR BEARS, PLEASE.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

I even brought a pot of honey and everything (I hear it helps to establish rapport)! And just to further ensure that there was no way a bear would stick around for our arrival, Douche Guide would yell out, “Ho Bear!” to scare them all off as we approached (something to do with a Pavlovian association between that phrase and them getting whacked in the butt with a dart; I don’t blame them, if someone was using my behind as a target, I might be inclined to run the opposite way, too). But hey, we saw plenty of scat (AKA poop if we’re being uncouth), and as our guide pointed out, “that’s wildlife, too, you know.” Touche.

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

In the end, we saw two ground squirrels, some juniper, and a lot of tracks, indicating that a bear, wolf and some elk had been somewhere in the area sometime in the past months or so. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them, so I guess we’ll just have to return…

Welcome to Banff, the Prettiest Place on the Planet

  • July 29, 2008

    No Pooh? Boo!!

    But the area is beautiful, that hotel looks amazing. I would’ve done nothing else but staring at the scenery myself.

  • July 29, 2008

    Actually, I prefer being called “Asian” versus “Chinese”. Possibly because I don’t want to be mistaken for a Commie or a spy.

  • July 29, 2008

    Hardly do pictures do scenery justice-but wow, yours do! I was staring at the pictures for a while so I can see how you did that for a long time! WOW!

  • July 29, 2008
    La Petite Chic

    Oh wow, those are beautiful pictures! And that chateau reminds me of a castle. Very cool!

  • July 29, 2008

    Where has Banff been all my life? Jeez.

  • July 29, 2008

    i am dying to go to banff!!! i hear amazing things about it.

  • July 29, 2008

    i NEED to go there. no more excuses. it is only an 11 hour drive. i drove 15 to get to NORTH DAKOTA of all places…

  • July 29, 2008
    loaded bow

    Tourism officials make lots of odd ball claims (like that Kamloops is BC’s friendliest vacation destination? it’s nice, but I’m quite sure that BCers don’t know it as such!), but the one about wildlife in Banff is generally true! I have never been there without seeing some pretty crazy animals – this February we were almost late for a wedding at the Chateau because we had to wait for the elk to clear.

    It may not be such a bad thing though that you didn’t get up close and personal with the bears. A woman was killed by a grizzly on the Canmore golfcourse (15 minutes outside of Banff) not so long ago.

  • July 29, 2008

    I have this great image of you toting around a jar of honey, all prepped for some Bear Rapport.

  • July 29, 2008

    It’s too bad you didn’t get to see any wildlife. Try a trip to the Yukon, you’re pretty much guaranteed bear, caribou or elk! Or come to Northern Ontario, blow your mind beautiful.



  • July 29, 2008
    The Running Bob

    Bear pooh is wild life, too?

    How many Molson’s did the guide have to get to that conclusion?

    Living, breathing bear pooh — sign me up!

  • July 29, 2008

    Those pictures are beautiful – and I love that you post videos.

  • July 29, 2008

    heh! I live an hour from Banff and have for about 8 yrs and still find it gorgeous every time I go there for a hike. I’ve yet to see a bear but have seen plenty of other wildlife. [other then poo and chipmunks :p)

  • July 29, 2008

    My husband has a Banff t-shirt and every time he wears it, I uncontrollably yell BANFF at the top of my lungs. My own private Tourettes.

  • July 30, 2008

    hehe yup just an hour from Banff, 45 mins from Kananasksis, and about 2hrs from Lake Louise. Three of what I think are the most beautiful mountain landscapes in Canada. I really do not spend as much time in the mountains during the summer as I should! When I first moved here from NB, I spent many a weekend hiking or camping there.

    I’m making up for it this weekend though, Friends and us are heading to Fernie for the long weekend for camping, I can’t wait!

  • July 30, 2008
    moosh in indy.

    My heart just dropped from those pictures of the view. My mom took my sister there back in the day when she didn’t like me. At the time I didn’t care but now I’m really bitter.
    Stupid flat Indiana. grumblegrumble

  • July 30, 2008


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  • August 6, 2008

    Hi there,

    Lived in Banff for a few years and am so pleased to hear that you enjoyed it! I think I’ll forever be a girl of the mountains. And the pics are great, but shockingly still don’t do it justice… The Valley of the Ten Peaks and Morraine Lake which is outside Lake Louise used to be pictured on the Canadian $20. Worth checking out as well.

  • August 22, 2008
    Why Mom Drinks Rum

    Well lookie there! You did make it to Banff! See, if I had spent more time neglecting the work on my desk and actually explored the site more, I’d have seen that.


    It is gorgeous – we stayed at the Rimrock over Christmas when we showed our Minnesotans around and it was great as well. Stunning views.

  • January 23, 2009

    Banff is gorgeous. Trust me, you do NOT want to meet up with bears in the wild. Living in BC we know bears are dangerous and do not like people watching them. Yearly there are deaths from bear encounters. Be thankful you did not get a chance to share your honey!

  • September 12, 2017

    You don’t always want to see bears… I have seen them in the unplanned fashion and it puts about 5 years on you.

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