Going to Banff National Park next week - what should be on the bucket list?

As always, turn to the Dope for important life questions. Taking the 3 bambinas and a pop up trailer to Banff National Park this weekend. Village 2 campground if anyone knows or cares. Been trying to go for the past few years but didn’t work out, and the eldest bambina is going off to University in el-lay, so gotta go this time or may not have another summer opportunity.

What recommendations, must see, don’t miss, places to go nearby (I think there are 5 national parks within a couple hours drive), restaurants in town to check out, etc.???

Banff National Park will be the base and where we spend most of our time. I’ve been to Calgary for work multiple times, so that’s not on the menu.

Also, has anyone driven from the Seattle area? I’m thinking to go via Vancouver and return via Idaho just to change up the scenery but not wedded to either plan. Well, prolly go thru Vancouver just to get brunch at one of the great Shanghaiese restaurants. Probably stop overnight at some flea bag motel on the way, and power drive the entire trip on the backside. Is there a recommended route?

I’m sure there are more questions but wanted to kick this off.

There’s a restaurant in Banff called the Grizzly House. If money is no object, have some alligator or wild boar fondue. Skip Johnson’s Canyon or don’t, but I find it underwhelming unless you keep going past the falls to the Ink Pots, which should be pretty nice this time of year. Don’t skip Sentinel Pass (trail starts at Lake Louise, about 30 mins west of Banff.) Yoho National Park is stunning and probably less crowded than the tourist traps, you might want to arrange a trip to be shown the Burgess Shale.

Take a day to drive the Icefield Parkway up to the Columbia Icefields, stopping at Bow Lake to see the sights, or head east out of Banff to Highway 40 and head into Kananaskis, it’ll be less crowded and there are countless backcountry hiking trails. The scenery isn’t quite as deserving of being put on our money as Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, but Banff and environs sets that bar pretty high. Buy GemTrek hiking maps, they classify the trails and rate their difficulties and rough hiking times.

Do not - that’s “not” - stop on the highway to take pictures of the beasts.

For hiking, I recommend The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. For less strenuous activity, the Banff Springs Hotel is a pretty cool place to check out.

I remember my birthday meal at Storm Mountain Lodge with much fondness. It is a little west of Banff.

ETA: There are some nice helicopter tours out of Canmore.

Head for Lake Louise, and walk the trail to Lake Agnes. It’s a beautiful little lake, way up above Lake Louise, and offers a great view of Lake Louise and the surrounding mountains. If you’re lucky, the teahouse will be open, and you can refresh yourselves.

I always enjoyed the ghost town of Bankhead, just five minutes by car north of Banff Townsite. It was a coal mining town, and while all buildings but one are gone, you can still wander around the old mine works. A little up from the works themselves is where the town was. It is now a picnic area, but be careful if you wander around–the houses may be gone, but their foundations remain, and you don’t want to fall in.

If you’re a train buff, just over the border into BC (and Yoho National Park) are the Spiral Tunnels, where (if you’re lucky) you can watch a train curve around itself as it ascends or descends the mountains. The tunnels were engineered to reduce the gradient that trains faced in the Kicking Horse Pass. Look back at the hill you drove down and parked on to look at the tunnels–that road was the roadbed of the trains before the tunnels were completed, and the road for cars and trucks was put through.

Just a little west of the Tunnels’ lookout is the turnoff to Takkawkaw Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in North America. I do not recommend taking your trailer up this road, as it has some wicked switchbacks. But if you do go without your trailer, you’ll be at the base of the falls, where the water is mostly mist.

I love that area, and have visited frequently. I’ll add more, as I think of things.

Not on the main highway, certainly. It’s only one of three routes across the Rockies, and is used by everybody from the casual tourist to the 18-wheelers trying to keep to schedule and get someplace.

On smaller routes (examples would include the road to Bankhead, Lake Minnewanka, Highway 1A, and pretty much anything except Highway 1), there are places to pull out if you spot wildlife.

Do note that if you spot wildlife on smaller routes, and pull over, stay in your car. Take all the photos you want, but take them from inside the car. I say this for your safety–there was an incident just last week, where a bear was spotted at the side of the road, everybody pulled over and got out of their cars, got a little too inquisitive, and the bear charged a tourist. No harm done to anybody, and the bear backed off, but had it not, the consequences would have been tragic.

Somewhat similarly, on hiking trails, leave the wildlife alone. Smaller animals, like squirrels and chipmunks, will run from you if you get too close, and birds will fly away; and larger animals (bears, elk, bighorn sheep) will also go away–unless they feel threatened, and their thought process seems to be, “This human is walking towards me; I feel threatened, and so must attack the human.” Be aware, always, and do not approach the wildlife. Take photos from a safe distance.

As is often said in Canada’s mountain parks, “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.”

Thanks all. Appreciate the warnings but I’m not a city slicker and know better than to try ride a buffalo.:wink:

thanks for all the suggestions so far. Will drive to the campsite and leave the trailer there. Not sure how strenuous the hiking will want to do, but my kids are all teenagers now and run a lot during the school year so we might get ambitious.

I chose Banff National Park in part because it does have a town nearby. My kids haven’t camped longer than a weekend, so I want to make sure they enjoy this trip (thus cementing future trips) even if that means going into town rather than one of the other Parks in the area.

The Tooth - icefields = glaciers? A lot of them? Can you walk out to them and on them this time of year?

Takkawkaw Falls and Lake Agnes also sound interesting.

Anyhoo, keep the ideas coming. I’ll forward these to the bambinas for them to do further research. Thanks for the above and thanks in advance

The Icefield is where glaciers come from. You can book a tour and get a ride out on a coach where you can stroll around. I don’t think you can just mosey onto them from the highway as the edges are all full of crevasses and cracks and such. Definitely worth catching while they’re still there.

We did the hike that spoons mentions up to the upper lake, then down and along to the top of the valley to look at the glacier [plain of six glaciers] and back. Beautiful walk, decent effort IIRC, good few hours - I guess most teenagers can physically walk all day, just whether they’re easily bored or not. There are a couple of tea houses on the route.

If you are a paddler, paddle Lake Louise. The experience is stunning.
However, get there not later than 7:00 AM (earlier if you can) to avoid the crowds. There is no separate launch area; you have to carry your canoe or kayak right through the crowd to the water’s edge. (Don’t rent a canoe at the lake - they charge $120/HOUR!!!)

In town, Check out the Rock and Gem shop, The Grizzly House for fondue (It was a swingers hangout in the 60s and has telephones at each table as well as the bathrooms. It’s like stepping back in time to 1972. It is awesome.) The Sulpher Mtn Gondola has a hike to the top that’s nice but longish. 2-2.5 hrs. Then take the gondola down. Definite yes to Storm Mountain and the Paint Pots. If you want a good brunch option I would recommend Melissa’s Miss Steak. One other thing that’s kind of unique is the Banff Park Museum. It is easily accessible and has a lot of really cool stuff about the area as well as a large collection of taxidermied animals from the late 1800s and early 1900s that is a good overview of how museums and our attitudes have changed about Nature over the years. I’m really not doing it justice with the description but it is well worth 45 minutes of your time.

I’ll second Melissa’s Missteak. I’ve had a few great meals there.

Getting into and out of Banff townsite can be challenging. I recommend using the Mt. Norquay Road exit off Highway 1–the Banff Avenue exit will get you into town, but it’s a bit of a long haul, and once downtown, Banff Avenue is difficult to turn off–pedestrians are constantly crossing the cross streets, not just with the light, but also against it.

The Mt. Norquay Road/Gopher Street/Lynx Street route will get you into downtown with as little frustration as possible. I seem to recall a parkade on Bear Street, which could be a good place to park. Banff townsite is not large, and unless you’re heading for the Banff Springs Hotel or Sulphur Mountain or the Cave and Basin, you can walk pretty much everywhere worth going to in town.

China Guy, how old are your kids?

Second the recommendations for Lake Agnes and the teahouse (named after John A’s wife Lady Agnes: when she came west on the new CPR, she rode on a chair on the cow-catcher to get a good view. Daredevil lady. )

It’s a good hike up, but worth it. Sadly, one of the little lakes on the way up has almost dried up, probably because the ice and snow caps on the mountains have been diminishing of late. Try to go on a week day rather than a weekend - there’s always tourists at Lake Louise, but the teahouse is really packed on weekends.

Also agree with canoeing on Lake Louise. It’s beautiful. Originally called Emerald Lake because of its colour, which comes from its run-off feeds from the mountains. Glacier and rockslide at the far western end. (But don’t tip: that water is cold!)

I love Chateau Lake Louise. Tea-room/ bar has a beautiful view of the lake as the sun goes down. They have several different restaurants in the Chateau, from really high-end to a cafeteria style, but I think the bar/tearoom has the best view.

If you like mountains, there’s the gondola up Sulphur Mountain with a tremendous view of the mountains.

Sulphur Hot Springs are a good relax at the end of the day.

Re-reading this, I realize that it might be misunderstood. So I will rephrase:

“I’ll second Melissa’s Missteak. I’ve had a few meals there. All of them have been great.”

Would that be Mirror Lake? The last time I was up there, Mirror Lake was barely met the qualifiers for “pond.” It was more the size of a green on a municipal golf course, if that.

Eldest is 18, twins are 13. I have a work week from hell, so looking forward to the trip but not yet very focused on it. Anyhoo, keep the comments coming please!

Okay. Be aware that in Alberta, it is common for some restaurants with liquor licenses to prohibit minors from entering. “Minors” in Alberta are defined as those who are 17-years-old and under. If you’re 18 or older, you are of the age of majority in Alberta, and thus old enough to drink, which one of your kids is. But you’ve also got 13-year-olds, who are minors under Alberta law.

There will always be a sign at the entrance indicating “No Minors.” It’s not that they have strippers, or other “adult” entertainment, but that they often have Video Lottery Terminals; similar to slot machines, which under-18s should not be exposed to. Or the owner just decides that the place just doesn’t want kids–my local sports bar is “No Minors,” and has no VLTs, but the owner simply doesn’t want kids in his place.

That being said, some places will have a “restaurant side,” open to all including minors, but with alcohol service; and a “bar side,” open only to adults, but with a full food menu available. The Boston Pizza chain is an example of a restaurant that has both sides.

In short, since you have 13-year-olds, you want to watch for places that are “No Minors.” Wild Bill’s Saloon, and its terrific food, will be out (VLTs); and I’m unsure if the basement restaurant/bar at the Mount Royal Hotel is open again, but if it is, it would be out too (more VLTs). At any rate, if you’re heading out to eat at someplace other than McDonald’s (conveniently located on Banff Avenue), always check to make sure that it allows minors. As I recall, Melissa’s does, so you’d be safe there, as well as Boston Pizza, Swiss Chalet, the Old Spaghetti Factory, and other similar restaurants.

That’s a good point, Spoons. In Alberta, do you have hybrid bars? They act as a restaurant and take minors up to a certain time of day (usually around 8 pm) and then switch to being a bar, no minors? We have that in Saskatchewan, and it’s convenient.

I think Eddie’s Burger Bar is a lot of fun, and not too expensive, compared to other places to eat in Banff. It can be very busy though, and it is small.

That’s the one. It used to be beautiful but now it’s little better than a shallow pond.

Grizzly House is fine with minors as well.