I didn’t grow up traveling at all, but for years I dreamed of one day eating pasta in Italy, going on safari in Africa, and swimming in an ocean, any ocean. I had very little interest in exploring more of Canada. I grew up in Montreal and had visited Quebec City, Ottawa, and Toronto, and I simply didn’t think Canada had anything exhilarating to offer. Was I ever wrong? While I’ve since ticked off those teenage dreams of carb-loading in Rome, hanging out with giraffes in Africa, and swimming in several oceans, one of my favorite places in the entire world is the Canadian Rockies. That saying, “The mountains are calling and I must go” — I never understood it until I was in the magnificent presence of the Rocky Mountains.
The first time I saw them (and every time I’m lucky enough to visit), I felt as though I couldn’t gulp in the fresh air fast enough, with my heart suddenly feeling too big for my ribcage. But at the same time, my heart aches because around me are tourists from halfway around the world who’ve come here to witness this Canadian beauty and I know so many Canucks probably won’t ever take time to see it themselves.
When it costs about the same to travel here from within Canada as it does to go to some countries in Europe, you can understand why some opt to venture abroad. I’ve been in those shoes and understand the rationalization. But now having been lucky enough to have visited a few times, cities like Calgary, Canmore, and Banff offer so much that they deserve to top your list of vacation destinations, and not just during last year’s 150th celebrations. To make the most of your visit, rent a car, bring your appetite, and pack your camera. Ready? Let’s go on an amazing adventure.
1st stop: CALGARY Sure, there are some, plenty of pickup trucks and the city is dominated by the oil industry like you’ve imagined, but Calgary has a thriving food scene with restaurants that can more than hold their own against any other big-city options. Start your trip with a few days in Calgary and feed your soul over stellar meals at Pigeonhole and Calcutta Cricket Club. The former is best if you’re with a large group so you can share more of the delicious menu (or just over-order — it’s worth it), including plates such as fresh shucked scallops with green tomato and kohlrabi and wagyu beef tartare. For more of a see-and-be-seen vibe, Calcutta Cricket Club perfectly fits the bill. Winner of the new restaurant design award in 2017 — check out its fresh pink and green palette and eye-catching leopard wall installation — the look is eclectic and complements the modern takes on fare from Calcutta. Their kati rolls (flaky parathi — think a more buttery, croissant-like naan — filled with tandoor grilled meats) are truly habit forming.
2nd stop: CANMORE Only a one-hour drive from Calgary, Canmore manages to still have a small mountain town attitude, even though its streets are filled with throngs of visitors in the summer. The charming homes and shops with the mountain ranges looming impressively behind them will make you feel as though you’ve been dropped onto a film set for a Christmas postcard.
And if you want the mountain to act as homebase for the rest of your trip, a great option is Basecamp Resorts. It’ll have you in a prime location for your excursions, and trust us, you’ll welcome being away from the tourist-heavy main street in Banff. Modern and spacious, each unit is complete with a full kitchen (ideal if you’re travelling with your family), and there’s a rooftop hot tub for soothing soaks. When hiking has your hamstrings and calves screaming for a break (or you just need a day of self-care), book a visit to the new Kananaskis Nordic Spa. After a quick exfoliation with an essential oil salt scrub and rinse, you’re prepped to do the water circuit and saunas, plus there are heated hammocks for a little snooze. The spa may be Nordic in design, but the mountain views are all true north strong and free.
3rd stop: BANFF NATIONAL PARK There are plenty of bucket-list hikes here, but as a first-time visitor, focus on a few key outings as you get the lay of the land. Make it to these three hikes to get your feet wet.
Start with the Banff Gondola. Rather than take the gondola both ways, doing the two-hour hike up Sulphur Mountain to the Banff Gondola’s skywalk is a great way to save some cash (you pay a reduced fare for the one ride down). But if you’re not up for this hike, plan for your budget to include the Gondola visit. The price may make you balk, but with views for days, it is worth every penny. Despite soaking up mountain views for a few days now, being at an elevation of 7,486 feet
certainly ratchets up the exhilarating experience. Next day, set out to hike to the historic elevation of 7,486 feet certainly ratchets up the exhilarating experience.
Next day, set out to hike to the historic Lake Agnes Teahouse Once you’re done gawking at the incredible turquoise glacier water of Lake Louise up close, set out through the forest on the clearly marked path to the teahouse (grab a map from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise concierge). The hike is easy with several
switchbacks, and your reward? A loose-leaf tea and a cookie or slice of pie at the teahouse, which dates back to 1905. Budget about threeand-a-half hours for the 7.2 kilometre hike. Arguably even more stunning than Lake Louise is Moraine Lake with its view of the Ten Peaks. Do the very simple and flat three-kilometre trail around the lake to get snapshots of the summits from a few different angles, and finish at the Rockpile. Take a seat for a breather as you commit to memory the incredible natural beauty of the glacial lake in front of you.