Ahhh Calgary, home of the 1988 Olympics, The Calgary Stampede, and my birth city. It’s also a place I know surprisingly little about. I was last in Calgary in the wintertime about 15 years ago – a wimpy West Coast girl who barely survived the icy winds. What I do remember from that trip is that the land around Calgary being quite flat, so I could see the bright snow covered Rocky Mountains some 70 miles to the West of the city, even in the nighttime.
Calgary has grown at a huge pace in the last 15 years, with the city boundaries constantly shifting. In the past, Calgary has grown out, occupying the prairie lands and mountain foothills that surround it. This has caused a lot of sprawl; but I recently read an article that the mayor is trying to address this and densify the city. You can see the effects already. Apartment blocks are sprouting up all over the downtown core and new neighbourhoods are being created. Calgary sits on the Bow river and has wonderful walks to take in the city, but also the nature surrounding it. The area of Kensington is a very trendy area just North of the downtown core, which has quaint shops, cafes and heritage housing, all with great views of the city.
Calgary offers a lot to its residents and visitors, but probably the most beneficial perk is the proximity to the mountains. It’s only a one and half hour drive to Banff, the most well known and touristy winter resort in the Rockies. I know that every winter many Brits choose Banff for their skiing, and the planes to Calgary from London are full throughout the winter months.
Summer in Banff is equally as busy, which is why we decided to do a day trip from Calgary. At this time of year, the village is rammed and accommodation is very scarce, even if you stay outside the town. When we arrived, the tourists were out in full force – tour buses clogged the streets and parking lots, and pedestrians jammed the sidewalks. But it all seemed like organized chaos really, nothing too out of control, and very good for local businesses.
Banff town is great to stroll around, but the real highlight is the scenery. Your mouth simply drops open everywhere you look. The colours of the trees and the mountains are just so rich, that you don’t think it’s real. Freshwater creeks run through the town and from time to time you see people in rafts floating down the rapids. A visit to the Banff Springs hotel, overlooking the village, is an essential stop. It’s one of the old Canadian Pacific railroad hotels, and it has absolutely retained it’s old world charm. Just walking around the place is like visiting a museum, and it’s a great place to stop and have a drink while you take in the outstanding scenery.
About half an hour up the highway is Lake Louise, the other major tourist stop in the Rockies where you can take your own picture of the scene that is always featured in the brochures. The windy road up to Lake Louise is very chaotic, and everyone is looking for parking in the limited space. We had almost resigned ourselves to parking miles away, and walking up the hill, when we spied someone leaving and snuck ourselves in. What luck!
There’s no town directly around the lake, but there is another CP hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise, which is worth a wander around, but is no comparison to the one in Banff. The real sight is the turquoise lake outside, turned a phenomal colour by the glacier silt the flows down from the mountains. As you can imagine, the area is overrun with tourists taking selfies at this time of year, but surprisingly, it was still manageable to walk around the lake and take in the views.
Our first trip into the mountains was absolutely awe-inspiring, and it was so easy to just sit on a bench and stare at the nature around us. After 3 months of travelling and seeing all sorts of areas, this was far and away the best (so far). We even joked that if we had gone from West to East, we would be in big trouble because we probably wouldn’t have gone any further.
As we travelled back to Calgary and once again entered the foothills outside the city, we became even more excited that we soon would be crossing the Rocky Mountains and entering British Columbia, that final province of our cross country trip.