A friend told me she heard that Banff was “even more beautiful than Jackson”, which immediately raised my hackles as I tend to take everything a bit too personally. How dare she suggest anywhere more beautiful than Jackson Hole, a place I pay a small fortune to call home! However, after a majestic week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, I have to admit that she may have heard something fairly accurate.
Although we started out in Calgary, a dazzling polite city where no one jaywalks (ever), our hearts were into the Banff portion of the trip and we spontaneously splurged for a 30-minute helicopter tour outside of Banff National Park. It was awful. And by awful, I mean amazing and worth every penny. I was granted the front seat next to the pilot and the exposure buff in me LOVED cresting a mountaintop ridge to see the world drop beneath the window at my feet.
Although most anything would seem anticlimactic after a helicopter ride, Banff didn’t disappoint. For those familiar with Jackson hikes, I describe it as this: hike 20 minutes up Death Canyon overlooking Phelps Lake, then place a complete town with everything from Gucci to McDonald’s.
Banff is completely nested in amazing mountain views with the spectacularly colored Bow River running though the middle. Although the main street, Banff avenue is as packed as Jackson’s Town Square in July, some of the nicer hotels just 10 minutes away offer solstice for those more interested in mountain scenery than accessible shopping. We stayed at the Rim Rock Resort Hotel and would absolutely choose it time and time again.
And what’s with Canadians being so nice? No wonder the European and Japanese crowds prefer Canada; these people have infinite patience and kindness. Banff is building up their single-track trails for mountain biking and when we half-destroyed a decent rental bike (bye-bye derailleur), they cheerfully responded that all repairs were included in the reasonable bike rental cost. However, my favorite part of Banff was the Canadian attitude towards National Park and the teahouse they allowed at the top of a spectacular hike.
At 5.5 kilometers each way (3.4 miles), the hike to The Plain of Six Glaciers climbs 370 m (1215 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2100 m (6890 ft). It takes about 1.5-2 hours each way for most folks and I would classify it as moderately strenuous. The trail head is gorgeous Lake Louise but the hike quickly climbs after leaving the lake area. Because of this, I expected the tourists to start dropping off like flies. However, the Japanese tourists in Banff are a bit hardier than the American tourists in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
There were Japanese grandmas and little kids hoofing it up this hike. Amazing. And they were well rewarded. As the hike was a spur-of-the-moment decision, our uninformed and cynical American selves half expected the ‘teahouse’ at the top to be a dilapidated building with a marker explaining its historic significance. Not so. The teahouse was a legitimate if small restaurant with sandwiches, warm biscuits with jam and butter and, of course, tea. A placard told us that they helicopter in flour, sugar and such at the start of the summer and backpack in the rest. The waitresses and owner/operators live in small cabins around the tea house 5 days a week and hike down on their days off. I reasoned that if rewarded with such a teahouse at the top of Teton hikes, I might hike a little more often. With responsible stewardship on behalf of the vendor, what would be so bad about motivating hikers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone for a few select hikes? Opinions? Submit a comment below.
Super-cute-athletic-clothing-company of the day (men and women): Lululemon