My husband stared at me the way one might look at a dangerous and unstable person.
All I had said was “I hope our vacation is relaxing.”
I received the look from the other side of our bedroom which was strewn with piles of clothes, books and toys I was probably going to pack and a couple half full suitcases. It was a look that said “I don’t know how to respond to the delusional nonsense you are spewing, but I sense the wrong answer could have dire consequences.”
“Well our life at home isn’t very relaxing, and at home we have all our stuff, so…”
Plus we were going with my parents. So not the most relaxing set of variables.
My parents had invited the four of us to stay with them in a two bedroom condo in Banff for four days at the end of May. Seeing as free is my favourite price, it’s not like I was going to say no.
The last time I had been in Banff was nine years ago for our “mini-moon” (the post wedding trip we took while we saved for the big honeymoon.) Back then my concerns were centred on wholly different things. I remembered Banff as being a party town, and I really had no idea if it was a kid-friendly place. Thankfully, it is.
We were able to craft an itinerary to keep the kids interested and occupied and—this is key—not completely alienate the adults. A trip for three generations is a joy to behold!
The National Parks are renowned for their beauty, and rightly so. Banff was created as a tourist spot and over the years it has honed the tourist experience to an art. I don’t think you could have a bad time if you tried. It makes sense that most of the activities in Banff National Park capitalize on the natural beauty of the place.
The outdoor activities we loved were the gondola, the cruise on Lake Minnewanka, and relaxing after a busy day at the hot springs. The Sulphur Mountain gondola and the Upper Hotsprings are located right next to each other and it is a bit of a drive from the townsite (about 15-20 minutes), so if you are planning to do both, you would do well to do them consecutively.
Despite being assured by the operator “It’s not that bad” and amidst much mocking and clucking noises from my family, I chickened out of the gondola ride. I heard that it was beautiful up there and the boys had fun hiking around at the top and playing “spot the marmot.”
The Starbucks at the gondola terminus where I spent the afternoon bills itself as the highest Starbucks in Canada, and for my part, that’s high enough!
After all the hiking/latte drinking, we were ready for the hot springs. I’m not usually one for the human soup of hot tubs, but it feels like they are on top of disinfection at the Upper Hot Springs, and the majestic alpine setting and crisp mountain air is pretty much irresistible. If you don’t want to smuggle your hotel towels to the Springs, they rent them there, same with forgotten swimsuits (ahem).
The lake cruise was definitely one of our highlights. We had the pleasure of being on one of the first trips of the season under the able piloting of Captain Paul. The vibe from the staff was fun like the first day of summer camp. They even let our son take the wheel, a thrill which we have been hearing about ever since!
The crystal blue of Lake Minnewanka is startling to someone unused to lakes filled with glacial mountain water, and once again the setting was breath-taking. The tour guide was full of interesting facts about the geological and social history of the area, including how the town of Minnewanka Landing was flooded by the creation of a hydroelectric dam. It is a bit spooky to think you are cruising over the watery graves of the buildings that once formed the town. Picturing decrepit chimneys and foundations silently standing under the water gave me goosebumps.
Our eldest is destined to be a horror genre aficionado (too many horror movies when I was pregnant!), so this kind of thing is right up his alley. In an effort to keep his interest piqued, we sought out other mildly spooky adventures. A hike through the ghost town of Bankhead fit the bill nicely.
A former coal mining centre, the town of Bankhead was destroyed and abandoned when the mine was shut. It is an easy walk through the skeletal remains of the town; perfect for making up ghost stories!
There’s nothing creepier than a cave, and a visit to the Cave and Basin was a great opportunity to safely spelunk for young kids and old folks. The day we visited was far from crowded, and we sat in the cave silently for a while by ourselves, enjoying the quiet before venturing out into the attached interpretive centre with its interactive exhibits.
The gothic setting of the reputedly haunted Banff Springs Hotel also lends itself nicely to ghost stories. A cordial concierge regaled us with tales of the missing room on the eighth floor, the bellman who keeps coming to work despite having died over 30 years ago, and the ghost of the bride who still dances in the Grand Ballroom—all the while shooting me “Is this ok?” looks.
Thankfully, all was okay—I mentioned the six people in two bedrooms part, right? Nightmares are something I’m not sure we could have handled!
So while I wouldn’t use the word “relaxing” when I describe our getaway, it certainly was a blast.
If this is any indication, my two year old tried to unlock the deadbolt on the front door the other day. When I asked where he thought he was going, he gave me a look that felt weirdly familiar…the old “Am I talking to a lunatic?” glare he must have learned from his dad. His answer was vehement:
The author wishes to thank Banff Lake Louise Tourism for media consideration received.