BANFF, Alberta – Having the great fortune to travel throughout the Canadian Rockies, there are five towns within reasonable distance of one another that I’ve found to be perfect destinations. If you only have a limited time in the Rockies, these towns are ideal for enjoying at least a week in the mountains.
Whenever I am in Canada I try to visit Banff with its population of 7,500 and its stunning placement inside a ring of majestic mountains. There are so many things to do in Banff, not the least of which is eating in some of the over 200 restaurants! Banff is inside a national park, which regulates the township’s ability to expand, keeping it quaint and livable. Only two hours ride from the Calgary Airport, Banff is a snap to reach once you’ve landed.
One drawback for me is during the peak months of July and August when the shops and attractions are flooded with visitors, as bespeaks a good resort town. The winter months can also be busy with skiers who find that Banff’s easy access to the slopes at Norquay, Sunshine, and Lake Louise make it an ideal base camp. You can get a Tri-Area Lift ticket for all three of these great ski locations and enjoy yourself with a variety of downhill challenges. If you don’t ski, winter is still great in this town, as there are many other types of activities to participate in.
Accommodations are easy to find and prices vary, so you are sure to find something that fits your budget.
Note to potential traveler: If you are interested in hiking the west end areas of Banff National Park, such as Paradise Valley, Beehives, Lake Agnes, Larch Valley, and the Plain of Six Glaciers, realize that you will be a bit far if you are staying in the Banff townsite, which is located at the east end of Banff National Park.
Located in the Front Range of the Canadian Rockies, Canmore is just outside the national park and as such, provides reasonably priced accommodations. The town has about 10,000 inhabitants and is a bit less touristy than the neighboring Banff townsite. Only 1 ¾ drive from Calgary Airport, Canmore is easy to reach and well worth the stay.
Note to potential traveler: During the winter months ski shuttle buses are fewer in Canmore than in Banff townsite. You will also be farther from prime scenery and hiking trails that are prevalent around Lake Louise. If you have rented a car, this should be no problem as all areas are highly accessible during summer, spring, and autumn when the roads are safe and clear.
For more information on Canmore, please go to CanmoreKananaskis.com.
Normally Golden would make an excellent base when taking trips to Banff and Lake Louise, but as of now (almost 2008), the Trans-Canada Highway just east of the town continues to go through major construction. As this is the only road connecting Golden to Lake Louise, the highway is closed for 30 minutes to an hour each day from April to October.
The work is planned to continue for another few years, but once it’s completed, the route will be much more efficient with four lanes instead of the two lanes that precipitously hold to steep canyon walls. If you don’t mind the road delays, then Golden is an ideal town to enjoy.
For accommodations in Golden, please click here.
Jasper is a great little mountain resort town, with a population around 4,500. It is actually my favorite town in the Canadian Rockies, with amazing scenery, great things to do, and the sensation that you can get to know everyone if you lived there for a few months. The only problem I have with Jasper is that, like Banff townsite, it can become very crowded during July and August and you need to make reservations for a place to stay well in advance.
However because Jasper is 4 hours from Edmonton International Airport and 5 ½ hours from Calgary Airport, many vacationers choose to go to Banff, which is closer. So, although there are many tourists, Jasper is still more quiet than Banff townsite in the summer.
Lake Louise is a very special resort village, with a population of only 1,000 people. Classified as a “settlement,” this village lacks a school, hospital, or church, but it does have what I consider one of the most important elements for a good travel destination: great restaurants! Besides the good eating, Lake Louise is situated right in the heart of some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Canadian Rockies.
There are trails galore, and to take a hike in spring, summer, or fall, is to fall in love with the sublimity of nature’s gifts. In the winter, there are great outdoor opportunities, such as skiing, skating, riding a horse-drawn sleigh, or my personal favorite, going for a dog sled ride. Accommodations are more expensive than in other areas within the Canadian Rockies, and many people find the village too quiet during the winter months. But if you are not daunted by either of these factors, Lake Louise is idyllic. Plus the village is only 2 ¾ hours from Calgary Airport, 3 hours from Jasper, and a 45 minute drive from Banff townsite.
For more information on Lake Louise, please go to DiscoverLakeLouise.com.