Our time in Banff National Park started with our first walk up a mountain. Not a very big mountain, but it still has ‘mountain’ in its name, so it counts.
Tunnel Mountain is located on the outskirts of Banff, and its summit offers good views of the town and valley below, and the surrounding mountains.
With an average gradient of 11% (if our calculations are right), then it is a relatively strenuous walk to the top if you are a) Emma, or b) Stewart carrying a heavy rucksack full of provisions.
On the way to the summit we encountered a local phenomenon. This is that the middle aged women of Banff do not meet up for coffee mornings, but put on a pair of hiking leggings and their snazzy trainers, put their small dog on a lead, and then bound up the mountain with their friends. If they are lucky, they will encounter a muscular and topless man jogging up or down the mountain. This is without doubt true, as we saw much evidence of it.
We are just bitter because they kept overtaking us (after all, they do walk up it every day) and because we don’t have snazzy trainers. Our walking boots do have waterproof Gortex though, so in their faces.
We then walked along the Bow River to see the Bow Falls – by far the worst falls of the trip so far considering the Niagara, Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls already seen. Nearby is the Banff Springs Hotel, which when constructed in the 1880s was the world’s largest hotel. As a member of the public, you can just wander around the first three floors and the outdoor terraces, but after a sandwich shop owner in Jasper had built it up to be like some European castle, we were a little disappointed in the end (where was the moat? Where was the drawbridge?), and quickly bored of the hotel so headed home.
Our way home on weary legs (if only we had the snazzy trainers and the hiking leggings for Emma) we properly encountered our first elk, which was near to the town centre. Ironically this was in the grounds of the Elkhorn Lodge!
Having spent a day at Lake Louise and Lake Morraine, we started our final day in Banff by taking the gondola (cable car) up to the top of Sulphur Mountain. You can hike up, but this takes a good 5 hours, and we still didn’t have the snazzy trainers and hiking leggings for Emma. The gondola takes 8 minutes to reach the summit, although the 51° ascent is not “stomach-churning” like the guide book suggested.
Once at the top of Sulphur Mountain, a short 1km boardwalk takes you to a viewing platform (although you can easily stop off along the way). The views of the town below and the surrounding area are good – you get a real sense of the bands of mountains in the Rockies as you are able to look up and down the chain. You can also see how small (but definitely very steep) Tunnel Mountain is.
The gondola is quite expensive though, and given that there weren’t any other walking options at the summit, we felt a little disappointed with the price.
Now, you might be wondering why it’s called Sulphur Mountain. I imagine that it is because in places in smelt a little eggy, which is no doubt as a result of its hot springs. The hot springs have been tamed, so you can sit in a very warm swimming pool, all for a reasonable price, with some decent views of the neighbouring mountain.
We ended our day with the Fenland Trail on the outskirts of Banff. It was decidedly more scenic than the UK’s Fenland, but equally flat. We then paid a quick visit to the adjacent Vermilion Lakes, which in late afternoon, offered excellent reflections of Banff’s mountains in their ‘calm as a millpond’ waters.