I invited Catherine Forth from Have Kids Will Travel to do a guest post on her favorite activities with kids in Banff, Alberta in Canada. Reading the post reminded me how much we loved this area when we spent our summer vacation there a few years ago.
As this photo of Moraine Lake demonstrates, the scenery is beyond belief spectacular. A perfect candidate for Photo Friday. Check out Delicious Baby for more Photo Friday posts and read on for great Banff activity ideas from Catherine.
The Rocky Mountain town of Banff is internationally renowned for its first-class skiing, luxurious spas, fine dining and breathtaking vistas. However children have a different checklist when it comes to evaluating places, and that’s not why the area appealed to me as a kid.
I was fortunate to grow up with this world-class tourist destination in my backyard. Born and raised in Calgary, I assumed everyone’s horizon was flanked by a saw-tooth of snow-capped peaks. Banff was our regular all-season spot for picnics, day trips and weekend getaways a mere hour and a half’s drive down the road. It never occurred to me that my local stomping ground was a travelers’ magnet. It’s only after I’ve grown up and moved away that I “get” how special Banff National Park and the town of Banff itself is. But no matter how far I roam or how sophisticated my worldly experiences have become, Banff always brings out the kid in me, its essence forever etched in the soul of my inner child.
With that youthful perspective in mind, here are my top five must sees and dos with the kids in Banff.
Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Whether you are lucky enough to actually stay here or not, you must pop into the glorious Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, one of the original Canadian Pacific Railway properties that helped pioneer leisure tourism in the region. This historic chateau is Western Canada’s closest thing to a storybook castle, and I’d always revel in the medieval vibe of its grand halls complete with stone walls, armored knights, rich tapestries and stately chandeliers. Ghostly rumors of dancing brides and former bellmen haunting the place only added to the kid appeal. It’s gone through some major renovations and is particularly posh these days, but there’s nothing stopping you from wandering the public spaces and exploring its many nooks and crannies. Just behind the hotel you can stroll down the stairs to Bow Falls, a short but powerful cascade that makes a great photo op. If you’re lucky you might even spy some elk here.
Sulphur Mountain Gondola
Grownups will wax poetic about the majestic views from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, but kids might get more of a kick out of the gondola ride itself. The 8 minute ride up to 7,486 ft. in a glass bubble dangling from a wire was always a thrill to my younger self. In warmer months you might want to take a picnic up there (bring a sweater!) or there are two restaurants by the observation deck too. Stretch your legs along the easy 1km boardwalk or even hike up to some of the old weather stations up there. Chances are you’ll encounter some chipmunks, marmots and big horn sheep along the way (they are relatively tame but best to keep your distance). It’s a bit pricey these days ($29 for adults, $14 for 6 to 15, free for 5 and under), but it’s one of those Rocky Mountain experiences you shouldn’t pass on.
Upper Hot Springs/Cave and Basin
For me, the distinctive rotten egg smell of sulphur always brings back warm childhood memories of soaking in the century old hot springs of Banff – no trip there was complete without a dip. Granted, it is a little stinky (cue the kids’ fart jokes), but once you get used to it there’s something so soothing about the natural geothermal mineral waters which hover around 38 degrees C. It’s particularly magical bathing in the outdoor pool in the winter (as a child I loved how my eyelashes would frost over but my body was toasty warm), but any season is a good time to soak in the view while you soak your weary bones. Note there’s a children’s wading area for the little ones.
Welch’s Candy Store
Welch’s Candy Store has been an institution on Banff Avenue since 1965, and I make a traditional pilgrimage to the shop every time I’m in town. Trust me, it’s not just for kids. There are fancier confectionaries in Banff but there’s something about this family run, old fashioned, hole in-the-wall candy store that makes it special. You’ll be nostalgic and stumped for choice as you contemplate the endless glass jars, shelves and bulk bins full of every sugary treat imaginable – jaw breakers, red hots, sours, soap candies, sponge toffee, pez etc. Homemade and imported chocolates, European licorice and maple syrup items are particular specialties. Stock up on some treats for the road.
What-doos? Hoodoos, for the uninitiated, are geological oddities of limestone pillars artistically eroded by wind and water throughout the millennia. These sandy spires stand like sentinels overlooking the scenic Bow and Spray River Valleys below. There’s an easy ½ mile interpretive hiking trail off Tunnel Mountain Road along a paved path (stroller friendly!) that offers great view of the hoodoos, Mount Rundle and the Banff Springs Hotel. There’s an old never-ending call and response poem we used to chant when visiting the hoodoos. Teach your kids at your own discretion – this thing can go on for hours.
You remind me of a man.
– What man?
The man with the power.
– What power?
The power of hoodoo.
– What do I do?
Remind me of a man.
– What man?
Catherine Forth, editor of Have Kids Will Travel, has lived in 9 countries, traveled to over forty others before and has not let having children quell her wanderlust. She currently lives in Barbados with her husband and two young daughters, who are no doubt oblivious to the fact that they live in a world-class tourist destination.
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Ciao Bambino’s list of family-friendly places to stay in Canada