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Banff Activities

Survival of the Fittest

Art by Colleen Campbell

Words by Nicky Pacas with help from Dieter Regett of Jasper Discovery Tours

Each year, after the harsh and inhospitable winter climate begins to soften into spring, the wildflowers (arguably the most resilient survivors of mountain weather) emerge alongside snowy and jagged trails, adding pops of colour to a grey landscape. As summer draws nearer, each major vegetative zone of the Canadian Rockies —Montane, Subalpine, and Alpine—plays host to a wide range of flora. In this issue, we’ve given you an illustrated guide to six varietals that bloom or change from the early spring until the end of September, each one playing an important role in its ecosystem.

Share your photos of these species in their natural habitat and use the hashtag #WhereRockiesWild for a chance to be featured in an upcoming issue.


CUTLEAF ANEMONE; PRAIRIE CROCUS

 

Pulsatilla patens

A harbinger of early spring, the Prairie Crocus often begins to emerge from the ground before the snow has melted.

Blooming Period: as early as March, but often seen from late-April through June

Location: Blooms in the Montane Zone; find the Prairie Crocus in the Saskatchewan River Crossing area, on the north shore of Johnson Lake, on the Bow Valley Parkway, and on the trails starting from 5th Bridge.


GLACIER LILY

Erythronium grandiflorium

Another harbinger of spring, the Glacier Lily grows at the edges of melting snow drifts.

Blooming Period: Late-April through June

Location: Find Glacier Lilies in the Alpine Zone at Bow Summit, Sunshine Meadows, and at Parker Ridge.


PAINTBRUSH

Castilleja species

The flowers on a Paintbrush can vary significantly in colour; from red to orange, light pink to white, even purple.

Blooming Period: April-September

Location: Blooms across all mountain zones. Find Paintbrushes on the Opal Hills Loop in Jasper (look for the trail kiosk in the upper parking lot at Maligne Lake), the Flower Loop/Overlander Trail, and at Sunshine Meadows.


TWINFLOWER

Linnaea borealis

A sweet-scented and trumpet-like flower.

Blooming Period: June and July

Location: Find Twinflowers in the Subalpine Zone locations of Stewart Canyon (follow the Lake Minnewanka shoreline to the Stewart Canyon trailhead kiosk), Bourgeau Lake Trail (approx. 13km west of the Mount Norquay interchange), the lower falls of Johnston Canyon, and many trails around Lake Louise.


WESTERN WOOD LILY

Lilium philadelphicum

Generally a solitary plant, the Western Wood Lily is a strikingly beautiful flower. Because of its beauty, it is often picked by admirers, resulting in its disappearance from some areas.

Blooming Period: June and July

Location: the Wood Lily blooms in the Montane Zone and is often found in grasslands and woodlands. Look for lilies on the north shore of Johnson Lake, on the Bow Valley Parkway, and on the Montane Traverse Trail.


LARCH TREE

Larix

Although Larches are conifers, they lose their needles in the fall. Before the needles fall, however, they turn from a bright green to a brilliant yellow, adding one last burst of colour to the landscape before winter’s arrival.

Notable Change: the needles often change colour in mid to late September

Location: Look for larches in the Subalpine Zones of Larch Valley, Chester Lake/Chester Creek, and Healy Pass (leave from Sunshine Village, behind the main gondola station)


For a list of tours and guides who can help you access some of the locations mentioned here (in addition to many others), see pages 73 and 144 of our online magazine.

How to Survive a Vacation with Your Family

By: Nicky Pacas

If no one has a temper tantrum or slams a car door, did a family vacation even happen?

Photo Credit: Park Canada/Ryan Bray

We’ve all been there: excited for a family trip. The bags are packed, the hotel or campsite is booked, the car is gassed up — what could go wrong? It turns out, a lot! As much as we love our families, sometimes it seems impossible to survive a vacation with them. Luckily, we’ve compiled some tips and suggestions to help you maximize your trip and minimize your stress. Surviving a family vacation? Piece of cake.

1. Don’t Over-plan: Don’t plan on doing everything during your vacation; give yourself time to enjoy each activity and leave a little wiggle room in case you want to linger on a hike or on a canoe ride. Planning too many activities can make you feel frantic and leave you feeling like you might need a vacation after your vacation.

Using a tour company can alleviate the stress of dealing with details on your holiday. Because tour companies know the Canadian Rockies like no one else, you can trust that your adventures will be well-planned and organized. You might even be able to try something you wouldn’t have access to without a guide.

For early risers, book a Morning Wildlife Tour with Maligne Adventures in Jasper. Since most wildlife sightings occur early in the morning or later in the evening, depend on the expertise of the guides to get you to the right places to see mountain fauna (they have a 95% success rate) during a three-hour tour by vehicle.

Photo Credit: Ross Pugh, Maligne Adventures Wildlife Guide

For rock lovers, book an experience with Canmore Cave Tours and explore water-worn passageways and the beauty that hides beneath the mountainous landscape. A guide and the right equipment gives you access to the places that go unseen by most. Cave Tours typically have a minimum age requirement of 10 years old, but some educational offerings are accessible to all ages.

If you aren’t sure what hike best suits the abilities of your family members, get in touch with White Mountain Adventures for guidance on their hiking packages. Don’t see anything you like? Book a private or custom tour for an expertly arranged experience.

2.Know your Limits: if you have never climbed a mountain before, don’t plan on summiting the highest peak for your first activity. Start with reasonable activities that allow you to test your comfort level and skills before trying something bigger.

Whenever possible, pick an experience that offers variation so as to accommodate everyone’s abilities. Banff Trail Riders hosts two different (but equally fun) ways of getting to their Cowboy Cookout at 3 Mile Cabin: by wagon or by horseback. For family members aged 8 and older, the horseback ride is a guided tour along the base of Sulphur Mountain. For family members younger than 8, or for those who aren’t as keen to ride a horse, the wagon ride gets guests to the cookout after a scenic tour along the Bow River. No matter how you get there, you’ll all be eating together.

Not everyone can hike to great heights. For the best alternative to hiking, see our hot tip on gondolas and chairlifts.

Photo Credit: Banff Trail Riders

3. Pack your Snacks:  Don’t rely on eating a big breakfast or a big lunch to get you through your activities in the Rockies; nothing ruins a great day like being hangry. Packing small, easy-to-eat snacks can be a life-saver when you’re out on the trail and still far away from the parking lot. Visit the bulk section of the grocery store to stock up on nuts and dried fruit to put in your backpack. Energy bars, beef jerky and bananas also make good trailside treats. Remember to pack out your wrappers and peels so that you don’t leave attractants for the wildlife in the area.

For a family-friendly restaurant that is perfect for pre- and post-adventure fueling, visit Communitea in Canmore. With a friendly and healthy menu for kids (and a play area to keep them occupied), adults can indulge in a meal for themselves. Bonus: Communitea opens early (8am) and celebrates Friday with cupcakes!

Photo Credit: Orange Girl Photo

For other family-friendly eating options that can satisfy even the pickiest eaters, visit Craigs’ family restaurant in Canmore, Earls in Banff, or O’Shea’s Restaurant in Jasper.

If you’re looking for places to buy your snacks, find a list of grocery stores in our magazine on pages 92, 102 and 156.

4. Pack your Clothes: The weather in the Canadian Rockies is predictably unpredictable; it can be hot and sunny at the base of a mountain, but windy up top. Make sure that you bring layers so that you can plan for sudden changes in weather. Having extra clothes also makes it easy to move between activities without having to first stop at your hotel room or campsite.

For a list of shops that will outfit you for the mountain weather, see pages 91, 98, 104 and 156 of our magazine. Don’t forget your sunscreen! On page 26, see some of our favourite products to keep your skin protected from the elements.

Photo Credit: Jade Wetherell

5. Think about Interests: Do you love water activities? Do your kids love water activities? Sometimes the things we’re interested in doing are very different from the things the rest of the family enjoys. Make sure that you balance everyone’s interests, even if that means going to a museum for an afternoon instead of riding bikes. Chances are that you will be able to persuade your family members to do the things you enjoy if you show the same interest in their desires.

If you are up for adventure but the rest of your family wants to cool down in the water, why not make the best of both worlds and go whitewater rafting? Jasper’s Whitewater Rafting takes clients (kids must be at least 6 years old) through exciting rapids for speedy adventure. Jasper Raft Tours offers a gentler alternative to whitewater rafting through their tours designed for the entire family. With local guides who have grown up in Jasper or lived in the town for a long time, visitors are led on a sightseeing adventure down the Athabasca River.

Photo Credit: Jasper Raft Tours

6. Have a Plan B: In Lynda Pianosi’s book, Take a Hike with Your Children, all of the hikes that Pianosi recommends have a “Plan B”—each hike is close to a playground or interpretive centre so that if your kids won’t budge beyond the trailhead, you can still make the most of your location.

Pick up a copy of Lynda’s book at Café Books in Canmore. Some of our favourite hikes include the Fenland Trail in Banff, Cougar Creek in Canmore, and Morraine Lake Shoreline in Lake Louise. The Red Squirrel Trail in Jasper is close to the townsite and accessible for all walking abilities.

Try turning your adventures into a treasure hunt by finding as many of Parks Canada’s Red Chairs as you can. The Red Chairs have been placed in special locations around Banff and Jasper National Parks, and are meant to encourage people to connect with each other and with nature. Some are easy to find, others require a little more effort, but all of them are worth the views they provide. There are 13 Red Chairs locations in Banff National Park, and 7 locations in Jasper National Park. Visit the Parks Canada website for the exact Red Chair locations.

Bonus: youth (17 and under) receive free admission to Parks Canada places this year. That means free admission to all national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas operated by Parks Canada!

7. Find Time for Yourself: this is your vacation, too! Make sure that you set some time aside so that you can get some exercise, some alone time, or maybe even a meal at a restaurant that you’ve been eyeing. Take advantage of locations that have childminding or hotels that offer babysitting services.

If you need to take a little time for yourself but you aren’t travelling with a babysitter (let’s be honest, most of us don’t), there are still ways to keep your kid(s) occupied while you try some exploring or activities of your own.

Take advantage of the child daycare services at Lake Louise while you enjoy the Lake Louise Summer Gondola or an open chairlift. The daycare is fully licensed and will take kids as young as 18 days! Full day and half-day rates are available.

At Elevation Place in Canmore, get a workout in at the pool, in the gym or at the climbing wall while your little one enjoys the “Lil’ Bears Den” childminding services. A maximum stay is two hours and children must be between 6 months and 7 years old. If your workout lasts under two hours, take advantage of the Good Earth Coffeehouse on site and relax for a while—you’ve earned it.

In the Canadian Rockies, survival isn’t about being the fittest; survival (especially on a holiday with your family) is all about planning. But once you’ve made the plans, don’t forget to relax and enjoy yourself!

Keep reading through the magazine for hot tips on sightseeing, entertainment, food and more.

Photo Credit: Ross Pugh, Maligne Adventures Wildlife Guide

What to do during Ice Magic & Snow Days

By: Calli Naish

 

The days are getting longer, the snow is getting deeper, and it’s the perfect time to celebrate winter in Banff and Lake Louise because Snow Days and Ice Magic start this week!

 

January 18, 19 and 20

Watch artists turn massive blocks of ice into glittering sculptures at the Lake Louise Ice Carving festival. The event takes place at the Chateau Lake Louise and although tickets are required between 10 am and 5:30 pm on weekends, the sculptures can be viewed for free outside of these times and during the week.

Photo by Kelly MacDonald, courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 19

The pressure is on at the One Hour, One Carver, One Block speed-carving event! Watch 10 carvers compete as fast as they can outside the Kokanee Kabin at the Lake Louise Ski Resort, and then vote for your favourite sculpture. The carving will take place between 2:30 and 3:30 pm, but you can always check out the impressive results after the competition is over.

Photo by Kelly MacDonald, courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 19

Test your ingenuity and your nerve by entering the Cardboard Sled Derby and racing your own handmade sled down Mt. Norquay. Be sure to design a trendy toboggan because prizes are being awarded for best overall, as well as fastest sled and best crash. The event begins at 7 pm and entry is $10 at the door.

 

January 19 & 20

Lace up your skates and join DJ Hunnicutt and DJ Co-Op at the All-Canadian Skate Parties. The parties are family friendly and are hosted at the Banff High School field from 7 to 10 pm on Friday, and from 1 to 4 pm on Saturday.

 

January 20

Watch local and international snow artists put the finishing touches on the infamous Snow Days snow sculptures from 6 to 9 pm. You can find these masterpieces at the Bear Street festival area where there will be bonfires and dancing into the night.

Photo by Kelly MacDonald, courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Kelly MacDonald, courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 20 & 21

Celebrate the snow with FIS World Snow Days! To encourage families to get out and explore the snow, kids will ski for free all weekend at the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Plus there are family discounts on tubing and on lessons, making it the perfect time for skiers and non-skiers to enjoy the slopes together!

 

January 20, 21, 27 and 28

Learn how to snowshoe at the Snowshoe Sampler! Meet on the Lake Louise shoreline between 10 am and 3 pm for some games and activities led by a Parks Canada interpretive guide. Snowshoes are provided so it’s the perfect time to try out a new winter sport.

 

January 26

Experience an evening of winter celebration at the Lake Louise Torchlight Dinner. The evening begins at 3:30 pm with après drinks and appies at the Whitehorn Bistro, where you’ll be entertained with an ice carving demo before doing some carving of your own as you ski by torchlight down the freshly groomed runs. The evening finishes off with a buffet dinner at the Sitzmark Lounge and live music by One Night Band. If an evening of dinner and dancing sounds great, but you could do without the skiing, no worries; you can purchase tickets specifically for the post-ski activities. This event is popular so be sure to book your spots ahead of time!

 

January 27 & 28

Excite your creative side at the Ice that Inspires carving demo, where one of the carving competitors will demonstrate the precision and artistry of ice carving. Tickets are required and the demonstrations take place between 10 am and 5 pm at the Chateau Lake Louise.

 

All Festival Long

Step 1: Consult this map (for snow) or head to Lake Louise (for ice)

 

Step 2: Find the 10 snow sculptures in downtown Banff (plus 2 at Mt. Norquay), or the ice sculptures outside the Chateau Lake Louise

 

Step 3: Take a moment to take in the magic of winter in the Canadian Rockies

 

Step 4: Tag @whererockies in your favourite winter masterpiece photos and we’ll feature them in our Instagram Story

 

Transportation

On January 20, 21, 27 and 28, free shuttles will run from the Lake Louise Samson Mall, to the Upper Lake Louise Parking Lot. The first shuttle leaves from the Samson Mall at 10:30 am and the last shuttle leaves from the Upper Parking Lot at 6 pm. No pets will be allowed on the shuttle.

 

Seven Sizzling Summer Activities in the Mountains

By Where writers

Summer is well underway, and hopefully so is your bucket list! If you need help figuring out the best way to spend your time the Canadian Rockies, look no further.

Banff by Boat

Photo courtesy of Brewster Inc.

Photo courtesy of Brewster Inc.

Thanks to a new Roam bus route, isolated Lake Minnewanka is more accessible than ever. Take the classic 1.5 hour Banff Lake Cruise. Or, book a specialty trip such as First Nations history and myths, park wildlife or family excursion. On our cruise we nibbled cheese and sipped wine as our guide shared tips for photographing the landscape. We disembarked with beautiful photos, full bellies and a desire to return for another themed tour.

Canoe Like a Canadian

Photo by Dan Evans

Photo by Dan Evans

To find a peaceful activity with mountain views and wildlife spotting opportunities minutes from downtown Banff, walk three blocks to the Banff Canoe Club docks. Every canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard rental includes basic instruction before you paddle the tranquil river, creek and lake waters. Tip: joining the Club saves you money if you rent for more than one hour.

Dog Days of Summer

Photo courtesy of Yamnuska Dog Sanctuary

Photo courtesy of Yamnuska Dog Sanctuary

Howl along with man’s (and woman’s) best friend as you tour the Snowy Owl Sled Dog Kennel or Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Both facilities offer experts to explain unique breed behaviours, and opportunities to interact with the animals. Have your own pal? Let ‘em run free at Banff Off Leash Dog Park or Quarry Lake Park in Canmore.

Climb On

Norquary Via Ferrata Pic 3

Last fall I tackled Mt Norquay’s Via Ferrata course of assisted rock climbs, scrambles and a swinging suspended bridge. Despite knowing that my harness would always be fastened safely to the handholds or cables, I was nervous when approaching the first pitch. My adrenaline level was elevated, my heart rate increased and my hands trembled. But once I stepped on to the first rung, my feelings changed to pure exhilaration! The route was dynamic and fun, allowing for spectacular views of Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle.

Off the Beaten Path

Mount Engadine Lodge. Photo by Sebastian Buzzalino

Mount Engadine Lodge. Photo by Sebastian Buzzalino

Live clandestinely at Mount Engadine Lodge in Kananaskis. Although accessible by car, the lodge still possesses a solitary ambience. Sip your drink on the deck and overlook a mountain-ringed meadow often frequented by wildlife. Reserve a meal or drop in for afternoon tea by the fireplace in the rustic dining room. Enquire about hiking and fishing hotspots; bagged lunches are available if you call ahead.

Reach New Heights

Photo courtesy of Rockies Heli Canada

Photo courtesy of Rockies Heli Canada

I’ve been a passenger on many planes, but flying in a helicopter was a first. On my Rockies Heli Canada tour, the hovering sensation was exciting and smoother than expected. Soaring above towering mountains revealed a breathtaking new perspective. We landed in a high alpine meadow to hike an otherwise inaccessible area, and chatted with our pilot over tea. You can also pair your flight with yoga, camping or horse riding. Whichever adventure you choose, you’ll enjoy the ride.

Take Your Shot

Photo courtesy of Try Biathlon

Photo courtesy of Try Biathlon

Get your heart racing, bring it back down quickly and take your best shot at the Canmore Nordic Centre rifle range. The Try Biathlon class includes Bond-worthy action shots. Are you up for it?

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

>> Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram at whererockies and tag your Canadian Rockies posts and photos with #whererockies

A Guide to Mountain Top Moments

By Naomi Witherick

To get to the top, hitch a ride on a sightseeing lift. In minutes you’re whisked from the valley floor to heights of up to 2,400 m/7,874 ft where peaks stretch as far as the eye can see.

But gondolas and chairlifts give way to more than awesome views. While all five rides in Banff and Jasper national parks promise perfect mountaintop moments, each offers differences.

New Height, Historic Site

Hike or ride up Sulphur Mountain to look down on the Town of Banff. Photo by Brewster/Pursuit

Hike or ride up Sulphur Mountain to look down on the Town of Banff. Photo by Brewster/Pursuit

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The Canadian Rockies From Above: A Helicopter Tour

By Naomi Witherick

Nursing half a cup of coffee in a heliport felt weird. Here I was doing something I did every day, minutes before a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

My stomach was full of butterflies and complimentary coffee as I boarded a helicopter for the first time. Photo by: Naomi Witherick

My stomach was full of butterflies and complimentary coffee as I boarded a helicopter for the first time. Photo by: Naomi Witherick

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Age-Old Adventures: Icy Discoveries

By Naomi Witherick

Before hotels and ski hills, the Canadian Rockies were known, loved and lived in by First Nations. Frozen lakes were their hunting ground, snowy foothills their home. Connect with the mountains like the first inhabitants with unique experiences that resonate Aboriginal heritage.

Indigenous people have traversed Canadian landscapes for centuries. From Inuit nations in the north to the Plains tribes in southern Alberta, each had their own beliefs and traditions that are still alive.

Experience Aboriginal life-ways for yourself. From museum visits and snowshoeing to ice fishing and folklore (below) there are loads of ways to connect with native heritage in the Canadian Rockies.

Canadian Rockies things to do, Canadian Rockies ice walks, what to do in winter in the Canadian Rockies

Image: Parks Canada – Ryan Bray

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Age-Old Adventures: Sleds and Sleighs

By Naomi Witherick

Before hotels and ski hills, the Canadian Rockies were known, loved and lived in by First Nations. Frozen lakes were their hunting ground, snowy foothills their home. Connect with the mountains like the first inhabitants with unique experiences that resonate Aboriginal heritage.

Indigenous people have traversed Canadian landscapes for centuries. From Inuit nations in the north to the Plains tribes in southern Alberta, each had their own beliefs and traditions that are still alive.

Experience Aboriginal life-ways for yourself. From museum visits and snowshoeing to sleigh riding and dogsledding (below) there are loads of ways to connect with native heritage in the Canadian Rockies.

Canadian Rockies activities, what to do in the Canadian Rockies in winter

Image: Jeff Bartlett – Tourism Jasper

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What to do in the Canadian Rockies in Winter

By Where Writers

There are loads of things to do in Banff and Jasper national parks in the winter. Take a break from the ski hills to discover snowshoeing tours, ice walks, dogsledding, tobogganing and the best spots for a cozy fire pit picnic.

Canadian Rockies activities, Canadian Rockies things to do (more…)

Age-Old Adventures: Winter Walks

December 2, 2016
By Naomi Witherick

Before hotels and ski hills, the Canadian Rockies were known, loved and lived in by First Nations. Frozen lakes were their hunting ground, snowy foothills their home. Connect with the mountains like the first inhabitants with wintery walks that resonate Aboriginal heritage.

Age Old Adventures, Canadian Rockies First Nations, snowshoweing

Image: Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka

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Banff’s Best Buys

Sep. 19, 2016
By Where writers

Treat yourself to stylish souvenirs or get ready for a day on the trails, with these best buys in Banff National Park.

Banff shopping, Banff gifts

Image by Helly Hanson

Fall Style

Want a practical and stylish outfit? Helly Hansen’s Latitude 92 sneakers are on-trend and durable for walking or biking. Billabong’s (at Cascade Shops) light, ruffled dresses pair with loose-fit sweaters for cool nights. Whimsical jewellery from Cabin 108 (108 Banff Ave) finishes the look. (more…)

Fun For Free

Sep. 2, 2016
By Afton Aikens

Exploring the Bow Valley doesn’t have to drain your wallet. There’s plenty of things to do that let you see the best of the area without costing a cent.

Take your bike on a scenic cycle path or go for a swim at a beautiful lake beach. Wander through local markets, historical sites and viewpoints and entertain the kids with activity packs and shows. Let the free fun commence!

Bow Valley, things to do for free (more…)