“Get in your cars! Get in your cars!”
We’re just about to hop on our electric bicycles for a guided tour of the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff when a Parks Canada staff person runs up and shoos everyone into their vehicle. “Bear! Bear!”
Luckily for us, our shuttle van is still within sight, and our small group peels into the safety of the van, leaving our e-bikes –and lunch – behind. We wait a minute, and then a small, young grizzly bear casually ambles into view, looking very relaxed. The grizzly strolls into the forest, but we wait until the Parks Canada staff person returns and gives us the OK to get out of the vehicle and get on with our day.
Getting up close with nature is all part of the adventure at Banff National Park, which welcomes visitors back this summer, with a variety of wonderful ways for Canadians to experience the mountains without the usual crowds.
“There is more exclusivity and availability to Canadians this summer,” says Banff and Lake Louise Tourism manager, Media and Communications, Kim Logan. “We really want people to come out and have a memorable experience with their loved ones, whether you’re visiting for the day or on a long summer vacation.”
Cycle, Ride, Tour
Consider exploring Banff National Park by bike, a great way to get up close and personal with nature. “Banff National Park has some of Canada’s most spectacular road and mountain biking, for all ages and abilities,” Logan says.
Once you’ve arrived in Banff, Banff & Lake Louise Tourism encourages visitors to consider alternate transportation modes by parking your vehicle at the Banff Train Station public parking or Fenlands parking lot and then exploring the town by bus, bike or on foot. The town of Banff, and Banff and Lake Louise Tourism are offering complimentary Bike Valet parking daily from 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. (from now until mid-September), on Banff Avenue with a secure storage area.
Parkway to Pint
Try the Lake Louise Ski Resort and Summer Gondola Parkway to Pint biking challenge this summer (from now through Sept. 19). Everyone who completes the challenge – riding the Bow Valley Parkway to the Lake Louise Summer Gondola (on average, 3 hours 20 minutes) – will receive a free Banded Peak beer and Parkway to Pint T-shirt at Banded Peak Base Camp, Lake Louise (show your server your Garmin, Strava, Map My Ride or any other app that tracks your activity, to prove you’ve completed the challenge).
And if you don’t feel like cycling the 58 km back to Banff, head to Lake Louise Village and take Roam transit to return to Banff, along with your bikes.
E-biking with White Mountain Adventures
“Exploring Banff on an e-bike allows you to make the most of your visit here. The pedal-assisted option means you can push your limits and ride for longer distances,” Logan says.
Seeing the young grizzly bear was one of the highlights of my recent e-bike tour with White Mountain Adventures, which offers guided electric bike tours in the Banff and Canmore areas. White Mountain Adventures combines its Bow Valley Parkway e-bike tour with Banff’s favourite short hike at Johnston Canyon – a spectacular walk up Johnston Canyon to the Lower Falls. Our e-bike guide, Cory, is also an interpretive guide, and he makes nature fascinating, for example, explaining the hibernation process for bears and telling us the names of the birds singing in the forest. Along the Bow Valley Parkway, which has a section closed to vehicle traffic for the summer, we also spot two deer partly hidden behind the trees and a black bear foraging on dandelions. Toward the end of our trip, at the Vermilion Lakes by Banff, we see an osprey soaring overhead. Being on an e-bike is an absolute pleasure, and the trip is absolutely effortless.
Custom and private e-bike tours are available for groups.
BikEscape: For a mountain bike adventure, BikEscape offers guided tours with custom private or group tours in Banff, Canmore and Kananaskis. “The best part is there is no previous experience necessary. It’s a great way for newbies to get an introduction to the sport,” Logan says.
Banff Hiking Company: Guided hikes are a great option for first-time visitors to Banff, as well as those who are already familiar with Banff and want a deeper appreciation of Canada’s oldest national park, Logan says. Banff Hiking Company offers experiences tailored to guests’ physical ability and preferences, including family adventures.
Mount Norquay: The Mount Norquay Via Ferrata is “a unique way to experience Banff National Park,” Logan says.
While trail riding has a long history in Banff National Park, exploring Banff by horseback is fun and for most people, a very different way to see the mountains. The horses are calm, quiet and sure-footed. We follow a wide trail through the forest and have plenty of time to take in the vivid beauty of wild roses and other flowers, the scents of the evergreen forest, and listen to birdsong.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to get out and just enjoy the mountains,” says Banff Trail Riders backcountry guide, Katie Garner. “It allows you to really let go of any stress or things you’re holding on to with your work or personal life and just get out there and step away from social media and your phone, and enjoy yourself, the horses and the mountains.”
Banff Trail Riders takes everyone from absolute beginners to advanced riders out on the trails. Trail rides are open to families and children ages nine and up in the backcountry and ages eight and up for one of the hourly rides in town (rides go from one to four hours).
“It’s very beginner-friendly. We have a horse for every type of rider,” Garner says. “We work with everyone and their skillset and make it as enjoyable as possible for everyone.”
Relax and enjoy a 90-minute tour of some of Banff’s most scenic locations in a comfy new vintage-inspired coach with a fully open roof (and conveniences like USB phone charging ports). Your tour guide will inform and entertain you with colourful stories of Banff past and present while showing you some of Banff’s top sights. You can ask questions during the tour, and there will be opportunities to stop and take photos.
“If you’re planning to visit Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, the best way to do so is to reserve a Parks Canada shuttle to guarantee a seat. The shuttle is a great way to enjoy a safe, seamless adventure.”
Reserving shuttle tickets ahead of time means you’ll be able to see both lakes in a day, at your own pace. If there is availability, you can book seats 30 minutes ahead of time at: www.parkscanada.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/parkbus/louise
And if you’d like to cut down on the amount of driving you are doing, there is an option to catch the Roam bus from Banff to Lake Louise.
Refresh and dine
“The food scene in Banff National Park is almost like an après adventure,” Logan smiles. “You explore during the day and have your adventure, then come into town and celebrate your accomplishments with tasty food and amazing views. The pedestrianization of Banff Avenue, to allow for social distancing, has created more space for visitors to peruse the shops, restaurants and downtown area and has created a thriving patio scene where you can enjoy a delicious meal outdoors and soak in those spectacular mountain views.”
Here are a few of Banff’s newest food establishments:
3 Bears Brewery and Restaurant: “We call it a brewery in a forest,” Logan says. With a nearly eight-metre-high living pine tree that stretches up to the restaurant’s second floor and a retractable roof, beer garden and patio, “this is a really great place to enjoy a pint made with glacier water.” The menu offers something for everyone, including chicken wings, pizza, burgers, ribs, flatbreads, salads and much more, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Shoku Izakaya Restaurant: “This is Banff’s first Izakaya restaurant. An Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar where you can enjoy small dishes and snacks with accompanying alcoholic drinks (sake, beer, wine, cocktails, cider).”
The Uprising Craft Bakery on Banff Avenue “is a really great place to pick up sweet and savoury treats,” Logan says. This European-style bakery handcrafts a variety of artisanal sourdough bread and delectable pastries.
And another fun bakery is Wild Flour Bakery, which offers bread, pastries, breakfasts, lunches and snacks to eat in or take with you.
Located in the heart of Banff, elk + avenue hotel provides a perfect base for your Banff adventures. Comfortable and upscale, elk + avenue offers contemporary elegant surroundings, friendly welcoming staff, and it’s steps away from everything: all the shops, eateries, bakeries and fun places to explore while you’re in Banff. On-site is the Farm + Fire restaurant, which offers superlative dining (brunch and dinner, featuring farm-to-table food), and Good Earth Coffeehouse for coffee, breakfast, snacks and lunch items.