Into the West – Calgary to Banff

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Canadian Rockies

Another clear morning and another breakfast at Nellies, as per yesterday. Well, why change a good thing? After a leisurely bag packing session to allow the rush hour traffic to calm down, we checked out and dug the car out of the bowels of the hotel and set off for Banff, about 125km away. Getting out of Calgary was a doddle. It’s easy to follow the SatNav, sorry GPS as it’s called here, when you have a) an idea how to work it and b) an idea where you’re actually going.

Parked at Elevation Place next to a giant black pickup

The trip to Banff isn’t a long one on the freeway, but it was a chance to get to grips with the car’s foibles and settle down with driving it. Heading West on the Trans-Canada Highway, Calgary soon disappears behind down and you find yourself in the midst of farms and fields, with rural side roads running almost arrow straight into the distance. Our own freeway was pointed at a bank of mountains and clouds ahead. After an hour or so, as the mountains rose up around, we decided it was time for a coffee break, and pulled off Hwy 1 at Canmore. By chance, and not wanting to fight with the downtown traffic, I drove into the car park of something called Elevation Place – well it had toilet and cafe symbols on the signs – which turned out to be quite cool. It was like a cross between a leisure centre and a community hub, with swimming pool, creche, library, bouldering walls… quite a lot really. Also had a nice little cafe, which is what we were after.

Suitably refreshed it was back to Hwy 1 West with Banff, which is  just 25 minutes or so down the road. An even shorter distance outside Canmore we entered Banff National Park itself. We had to pass through tollbooths to get in, but because this year is the 150th anniversary of Canada, all entry fees to all National Parks were waived and we got a free pass to hang on the rear view mirror. We picked a good year to visit!

Free car pass for Canada’s 150th Anniversary!

We were booked into the Banff Caribou Lodge, which turned out to be one of the many such similar ‘lodges’ on the main street through the town, inventively named Banff Avenue. Actually the hotel was plenty alright – our room was spacious with a balcony that overlooked Banff Avenue and Tunnel Mountain over the road. Once again there was an underground car park, which allowed us to squirrel the car away when not in use. Bit of a squeeze getting it into the tight spaces, but I had got used to it by the end of the stay. We had been advised to book the whole trip early because the hotels begin to fill up for peak season, but truth be told all the hotels on the avenue were displaying vacancies signs, so I am not sure the travel agent’s warning was that justified.

Looking down Banff Avenue towards Cascade Mountain.

After unpacking we went for a wander down into Banff centre, which was bustling with activity. Banff is quite a small town centred on the main street so walking around didn’t take too long. Virtually all of the shops are either touristy, outdoor-sporty or both, and there are many, many restaurants and grills centred around the consumption of beer and burnt meat (nowt wrong with that!).

Horse drawn conveyance for the tourists in Banff

We found a coffee shop on the main drag – well I say coffee shop, it was actually an ice-cream and frozen yogurt parlour – which was a good excuse to sit down and rest our feet. It’s amazing how driving can tire you out. After another look round, and a failure to notice a post office, we headed back to the hotel.

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