Friday, September 7, 2007

WE Destination - Banff & Lake Louise – Two gems in the Canadian Rockies

By Monica Joseph-McIntyre

If you ever find yourself in Calgary, be sure to take at least a day to visit the town of Banff and Lake Louise. I chanced upon these Canadian gems when I paid a visit to my sister and her family in Calgary, while my husband attended a business conference in the city. We decided to take a couple of days after the conference to see the Rockies up close. My brother-in-law lent us his car and we took off on an unforgettable mini-vacation.

The 90-minute drive up the TransCanada Highway and through Banff National Park was spectacular. We were tempted to stop every half-hour to capture the panoramic scenery on camera as we drove up and through the mountains, which had names like, Castle Mountain (which looks like a castle) and the Three Sisters (a threesome of narrow peaks with similar facades standing in a line).

The town of Banff, established in 1885 as part of Canada’s first national park, is nestled at an elevation of 1,383 metres (4,537 ft.). There are plenty of hotels to choose from in the busy little tourist town. We stayed in the Banff Aspen Lodge, (rates vary from $112 to $262 a night for an economy room, depending on the season) located on Banff Ave., (the main drag), and is also just minutes away from all the shops, restaurants, museums and galleries. The two-room suite was clean and comfortable, with TV and a fridge, and a communal hot tub.

While you’re meandering through the streets and lanes or browsing at the shops and boutiques, the majestic mountains are always in sight. And there is no shortage of restaurants. Dining can be pricey, but there are bargains. We found an excellent Sri Lankan fast-food outlet in a mall for a cheap, exotic lunch. For dinner we went to a Mexican place on Caribou St. called The Magpie and Stump. Dinner for two: under $40.

We left Banff the next morning, weaving our way even higher into the mountains.
Forty minutes later, we arrived at Lake Louise. Her turquoise water was a jewel in the bright morning sunshine, and was backed by the snow-capped peaks. The majestic Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury hotel, sits steps away from the lake, offering visitors a constant view of nature’s panoramic scenery. If posh restaurants aren’t your style, there’s a coffee shop inside for quick refreshments.

We went in mid-June expecting summer weather, but experienced fresh, 10-degree mountain air – so it’s a good idea to carry a light jacket even in summer. Peak season is July and August, but the park is open year-round. In summer there are guided walking tours, and trails for the adventurous to explore. Or you can rent a canoe and paddle around the lake.

A sign leading up to the trails warns visitors that they are in grizzly bear country. Other wildlife in the area includes moose, wolves and big- horned sheep. We didn’t see any of these creatures, but the breathtaking splendour of the mountains was more than enough.

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