Shannon Did What / Travel + Lifestyle Blog

Global

Banff Winter Go Guide

TravelShannon GuerreroComment

Sometimes I get it in my head that it’s so hard to travel with a 9-5 or in my case 9:30 to 6:30 full time job.  In actuality, it isn’t as hard as we think.  Weekends are the perfect time to plan your getaways.  You can see much more than you’d think in just a few days.  If you can swing it, throw in a Friday off and you’ve got a whole 3 days for exploring.

International travel from the United States is totally out of question in just a few short days, right? Wrong!  I’m here to tell you, it is doable to go to a foreign country in just a limited amount of time.  Granted, you have to mentally and maybe physically prepare yourself if you want to optimize your time.  It can be tiring, but hey you’re traveling and seeing new places, right? So it’s all worth it.

My recent perfect weekend getaway location was to Canada, Calgary and Banff specifically.  Here is my Go Guide (psst new blog series!) on what to see, eat and do while in Banff during the winter:

 

See.

SUPRISE CORNER - From here you can get a great view overlooking the historic Banff Springs Hotel and the Bow river.  The Hotel is especially scenic nestled amongst the giant trees at the base of the mountains.

VERMILLION LAKES - Take the Vermillion Lakes Scenic Drive.  And by scenic I mean stunning.  There are three lakes the comprise this area.  I really would recommend going at sunrise or sunset here.  At sunset, we had each lake to ourselves and peaceful is an understatement.  The reflection of the mountains in the water makes for a really pretty picture.

LAKE LOUISE - I think this is the most scenic and famous lake in Banff.  Lake Moraine would probably tie for first, but unfortunately during the winter Moraine is closed due to the windy and dangerous road to get there.  We went to Lake Louise at 8am in the morning. No one was there and it was snowing.  Talk about surreal.

LAKE MINNEWANKA - Take the Lake Minnewanka Scenic drive and you’ll pass through, you guessed it, more stunning scenery.  Two Jack Lake is great photo op along the way.  Be careful as you drive, we came across a few road blocks on the drive!  Long horned sheep were crossing the road.  I feel like there’s some kind of joke there.  Wildlife is everywhere in Banff, so keep your eyes peeled!

 

Eat.

LA BELLE PATATE - The restaurant makes all things poutine.  Ok its not technically in Banff, but you can stop at La Belle Patate on your way to or from Banff - it’s located in Canmore - for one of their 25+ types of poutine.  We had the original and the smoked meat poutine (smoked meat, bacon, onions and mushrooms!).

PARK DISTILLERY - Right in the heart of the little town of Banff is Park Distillery offering up campfire-inspired food and you guessed it, in-house distilled spirits.  Sit on the benches out front for people watching or upstairs for an unobstructed view of the snow-covered mountains. 

THE BISON - You can't go to the Canadian Rockies without trying Rocky Mountain cuisine - Elk, Bison etc.  Also, did you know bison and buffalo are the same? Americans say buffalo; Canadians say bison.  The Bison restaurant is a great place to get a taste of food and drink all made in Canada.  It really is a farm-to-table experience.  Try the smoked meat and cheese platter.  Aside from the to die for smoked bison, the cheeses are locally made and the accoutrements are so good you may not have room for dinner.  If you do have room after that get the Bison Ribeye.  It will melt in your mouth along with the gruyere chips thats comes with it.  Honestly, everything on this menu looks mouth watering. 

THE JUNIPER - I’d recommend the Juniper for your Sunday brunch.  It’s got this great patio that over looks Vermillion Lakes and frankly most of Banff.  It was snowing during our brunch.  We sat there for a few hours just staring out at that valley watching the snow fall and eating stuffed french toast filled with stewed cinnamon apples, canadian brie and an apricot coulis.  Can you say perfect? 

 

Do.

DRIVE THE ICEFIELDS PARKWAY - The Icefields Parkway is about an hour drive west of Banff.  This 144 mile drive is one of the most picturesque drives I’ve ever taken.   You can drive as much of it and turn around or take it to Jasper National Park.  Two favorite stops: Bow Lake and Bow Summit to get a view of Peyto Lake.  This is about a 15-20 hike up to the summit - in the snow.  When we finally got to the summit and turned the corner to see the valley and view of Peyto lake below, I’m pretty sure my heart literally skipped a beat.  We had it to ourselves too.  I could have cried - it was that beautiful.

HAVE A SNOWBALL FIGHT - There was a ton of snow off of the Icefields Parkway, which by the way was also an avalanche zone - so beware. That much powder means only one thing: snow fight!

HIKE JOHNSTON CANYON - I went into detail about my Icewalk in Johnston Canyon, here.  There are multiple stops you can see in the Canyon - lower falls, upper falls and at the very top, the ink pots.

BANFF GONDOLA - I didn’t get a chance to take the gondola while on my trip but I heard that you can get some pretty wonderful views from the Gondola and at the top.  Any chance for a beautiful view sounds good to me!

See totally doable for a weekend, right?  I’m a big advocate for getting up early to see the sunrise, especially when I’m traveling.  It’s actually my favorite time of day.  It has the best light and is the absolute best time to see sites without massive crowds of people.  Personally, I hate crowds.  I hate going to bars a lot because I just can’t stand the hoards of people being obnoxious.  Anyway, when you get up early, more likely than not, you’ll get to see this amazing sites with no one else around.  You also maximize your day this way.  You can even fit in some naps in between - that's what I did!

Hope this go-to guide inspires your next weekend getaway!

Yours Truly // Shannon

 

Links to all of my Canada posts:

Icewalking through Johnston Canyon

TravelShannon GuerreroComment

Have you ever wanted to walk through a frozen canyon?  Did you know you could do that?  What exactly is in a frozen canyon you ask?  Yes, everything is frozen.  There’s ice on the ground, the river is frozen, the canyon walls are covered in snow and ice and the gorgeous waterfalls are frozen solid.  In this case, since it was nearing the end of winter in Banff, the ice was starting melt leaving us with beautiful sights of both ice and rushing water running through the falls and river.  

Trekking through Johnston Canyon, especially in the winter, can be pretty tricky.  I would highly recommend wearing some kind of ice cleats to be able to walk on the icy floors.  The path can get very steep, so taking every safety precaution is a good idea.  Yes, you can visit Johnston canyon without ice cleats, but I really wouldn’t recommend it.  I saw people sliding around in sneakers, and they did not look steady.  I mean, I ate it while walking around Bow Summit because I slipped on some ice.  It hurt.  Trust me - ice cleats are the way to go!

There’s an awesome tour through Discover Banff Tours that can take you through frozen Johnston Canyon in Banff.  Actually, there are tons of tours that you can book through Discover Banff Tours.  They have both winter and summer specific tours.  Some of the summer tours are whitewater rafting, horseback riding and guided hikes.  Winter tours include the Icewalk, snowshoeing, dogsledding and heli skiing among many other options.  Truth be told, I really couldn’t decide between the Icewalk Tour and the snowshoeing tour.  I’ve always wanted to go snowshoeing so it actually was a tough choice.  Ultimately, I decided I wanted to be walking through the frozen canyon, rather than walking around above looking in.  

On the tour you'll see each of these sites (with descriptions from Discover Banff Tours):

- Bow Valley Parkway:  Travel through prime wildlife habitat on the way to the trailhead.
- Catwalks:  Steel walkways built into the canyon walls give an airy view of the gorge below.
- Lower falls:  Walk through a natural cave feature for a unique view of the lower falls.
- Rockies geology:  The rock is ancient, the creek is old, and the canyon you are walking in is young. Sort out the mystery on your tour.
- Upper falls:  Gigantic pillars of ice are the highlight of the tour. Ice climbers can often be seen scaling the frozen columns.

You can visit these locations on your own, but Discover Banff Tours just makes it so seamless for you - pick-up, drop-off, knowledge, gear, etc.  For the Johnston Canyon Icewalk, they provided the handy ice cleats!  Our guide, Hugh, was extremely knowledgable about the canyon and Banff especially after it being his 11th winter season with Discover Banff Tours.  Hopefully I’m remembering that number correctly! 

He actually had a funny folklore about how Johnston Canyon came to be called Johnston Canyon. It’s pretty long so I’ll just give you key plot points!  Back in the day, people thought there was gold in the Canadian Rockies. This one guy, Johnston, accidentally dropped a few gold pieces in front of some other towns men and they took notice.  The other men gathered together to raise funds to pay Johnston to tell them where the canyon was that he found the gold.  They eventually paid him off and learned the location of Johnston's Canyon.  The men set out to dig for gold.  Months and months passed, but no gold was found and neither was Johnston.  And now all these years later - Johnston Canyon stuck.

The actual walk, or I should probably say hike, was definitely a moderate one.  There were some steep areas, and in a small group, you have to keep up with the group pace.  I’ve mentioned before that I have a blood disorder that affects the amount of oxygen that I get to my lungs, so this was definitely a little more challenging for me.  Add in the high altitude and at times, I felt like my lungs were on fire.  Our tour guide, however, was very accommodating, pausing to take in the sites, for pictures or just to tell us more tidbits about the area.  It was all worth it for the maple cookie and hot chocolate break.  You know how Canada is famous for their maple.  Can someone please send me a box of those cookies? They were crazy delicious.

Overall, I think it’s definitely a great idea to add Johnston Canyon to your Banff bucket list.  Even in the summer months, it is a flourishing, beautiful canyon.  I think it’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard it can get extremely crowded there, especially in the summer.  The best time to visit is in the early morning or late afternoon when the crowds die down.  The 8am tour with Discover Banff Tours is perfect to avoid such crowds.

Yours Truly // Shannon

 

To see what tours and activities Discover Banff Tours offers, click here.

*Sponsored Post: Tour provided courtesy of Discover Banff Tours! All opinions are my own.

Calgary: Top 3

TravelShannon GuerreroComment

I’ve never been to Canada.  Well, that should be in past tense.  I had never been to Canada before.  Honestly, the initial reason I chose to book a trip to Canada was because the roundtrip flight from Los Angeles was less than the cost of a trip to Arizona.  Arizona borders California.  Canada is a whole other country.  Yes, it was that inexpensive.  But, then I saw photos of Calgary and Banff - where I planned to visit this trip - and my mind was instantly changed.  How could I have not known how many beautiful sites Canada had to offer?

With a full-time job, I had to take full advantage of a long weekend getaway, so I was left with only having less than a day to see Calgary before driving west to Banff.  I can tell you though, it was well spent.  I have no doubt that you could spend more time in this city, but for timing purposes, this was just enough time to see the top sites.  Here are my Calgary Top 3:

one.

P E A C E   B R I D G E

I always try to find the best, most photographic sites when I travel and the Peace Bridge definitely fit into that categorization.  The design of this pedestrian bridge that crosses the Bow River is absolutely stunning.  It really stands out as a piece of artwork, rather than just a foot bridge.  Also, a stroll along the Bow River if you have time is great.  You have the water next to you and the big city on the over side.  Next time, I want to see the Peace Bridge at night.  It it all lit up with lights and looks like a photographers dream.  Well, it is that all the time.

 

two.

C A L G A R Y   T O W E R

The Calgary Tower is reminiscent of the Seattle Space Needle.  It is a 191-meter observation tower in Downtown Calgary.  The highlight of the tower is the glass floor that extends out a couple feet off of the observation deck giving you an unobstructed view straight to the ground.  And I mean straight down.  It is not for the faint of heart.  I don’t get that spooked over heights, and it still ended up giving me a headache or just reaching for the nearby post.  There is also a great restaurant over the observation deck that does a full rotation every 45 minutes. 

 

three.

W O N D E R L A N D   S C U L P T U R E   A T   T H E   B O W

This giant sculpture of a young girl’s head is by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is titled Wonderland.  It lives just in from of the Bow building. It is made of white bend wire. From far away it looks opaque, but close up you can see the mesh pattern. You can walk through the sculpture or just gaze at it from a distance to get the full effect.  I read a description of the artwork that mentioned that by being able to walk into the artist’s head, aka the little girl, you can peer out at the world from his view.  It’s a mystery what the real meaning is.

I think it’s worth while to mention that there are a ton of delicious restaurants to try when visiting Calgary.  With such short time, I was unable to try many of the ones I found online.  I did, however, love the dumplings my friend and I grabbed from The Dumpling Hero truck.  Try out the mac n cheese and hotdog dumpling.  I have dreams about how good it was.  Please just try if it you get the chance, it’s not nearly as weird as it sounds.

Have you visited Calgary?  It’s pretty great, eh?

Yours Truly // Shannon