With our very sporty Toyota Corolla we headed into the mountains with Banff as the first stop. Having visited Banff on our honeymoon for only one night (and a tired night at that), we wanted to really explore it further as we felt we had unfinished business here. Our accommodation was the Samesun Hostel on Banff Ave which came with the very convenient (although a touch tight) underground parking. The staff very kindly let us check in early and after 'bagging' our bunk bed in our 6 bed dorm we headed out to explore the town as we wound our way down to the Bow river. After Parks Canada being a tad liberal with the distances we headed to the Bow Falls (it was definitely further away than 600m) along the river trail however we felt the word falls might have been a slight overstatement.
Happy hour greeted us when we got back to the hostel so thought it rude not to have at least one! Sadly, a stag do had the same idea and so, despite our plan to eat at the hostel, we headed back into town for food. After a quick dinner, we headed upstairs to spend our first night in a shared dorm, dreaming of an 8 hour sleep.
The next morning, neither of us having slept overly well, we headed out to the Upper Banff Hot Springs and managed to be first in the queue for its 9am opening. This meant we were first in the pool which was an amazing experience to have the place to ourselves. Sadly, it is not a natural hot spring but the, slightly sulphur smelling, spring water was instead pumped from deep inside the mountain to the man made pool. After relaxing and enjoying the spring waters for around an hour we left as it had got much busier and, surprisingly, there were far too many children swimming.
With a driving day the day before and not a great nights sleep we decided to hike Tunnel Mountain to clear our heads and get some fresh mountain air. With a near vertical start (Katy thought Craig was trying to kill her) the trail progressively changed to switchbacks and we were up in just under an hour. It may be the smallest mountain in Banff however the 360 degree views we were afforded at the top were stunning, made better by the glorious sunshine that had made the climb somewhat harder.
We headed for lunch at Good Earth Coffeehouse for some much needed nourishment! The tuna salad and chicken panini were delicious and unceremoniously scoffed down! After a well needed shower and some relaxation time back at the hostel we caught the bus to the Banff gondola and arrived at the top of Sulphur Mountain just after 18:30. We managed to get a gondola to ourselves both up and down. This was Craig's first experience of a gondola and he would admit himself he was a little scared (little being the understatement of the century!) The views really speak for themselves with a special mention to Phillip Nugent who entertained us with his fantastic music at the top of observation deck.
Once we had descended however, came the great food dilemma of the 20th of August. At the hostel, it was Taco Tuesday. We had been very much looking forward to them all day however, by the time we got back, we discovered the only tacos left were the vegetarian ones (a starter at best (honest opinion)). Disheartened, we decided to order something else from the menu only to discover that the frier had broken and the only accompaniment with the main dishes was a salad (we wondered if they were trying to get rid of some old vegetables). So, with Craig being worse than hangry, we headed back downtown to get some cheap and cheerful food. This, however, decided to be the best decision we made as we came across The Old Spaghetti Factory and had the best value meal of our trip. With almost every main, they served a starter of either minestrone soup or a salad and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. It was amazing and we went back to the dorm room both full (Craig had recovered fully) and optimistic of a good nights sleep.
Amazingly, despite thinking we would be first up at 07:00 we were surprised when our 3 other dorm mates got up and left just after 05:00. This meant we headed to Lake Louise a little tired, for the second morning in a row. The actual goal, was not Lake Louise, it was Moraine Lake, as we had missed it on our honeymoon. Frustratingly, it appears we are destined to always miss it, as the car in front of us was allowed up the road, we weren't. The parking lot was now full and therefore the road was shut off. To save money by not parking at Lake Louise we took the car to the park and ride and took the shuttle bus. As the queue for the shuttle to Moraine Lake was massive, we decided to go and explore the trails around Lake Louise further and try the shuttle again in the afternoon. We started by hiking to the Fairview Viewpoint where we saw stunning views out across the lake back to the hotel. This was such a peaceful moment as we were the only ones on the platform despite the crowds below. Once we were back on lake level we walked around the lake to the end of the Nordic ski trail, a relatively flat trail offering more views of the majestic lake and back towards the hotel. After our morning exertions we visited the Alpine Social for a well deserved lunch and somehow landed the best seats in the restaurant!
After lunch, we headed back to the Moraine Lake shuttle however were disappointed to discover that at 14:00, the only spaces left for the day was on the last shuttle of the day at 16:00. This would have given us only an hour at the lake and to our minds this wouldn't be worth it. Today's goal wasn't achieved but we did have fun at Lake Louise with the promise we would be back (third time is the charm)!
After some consolatory drinks at the hostel, on happy hour prices, and a bit of chill out time while no one else was in the dorm room we decided to have a quick dinner, before heading into Banff for a walk. We managed to somehow find ourselves in the ridiculous queue for Cow's ice cream shop with both of us having a cone. Katy had her usual mint choc chip and Craig the cheesecake which had broken up Oreo's through New York cheesecake flavoured ice cream, definitely a treat for a sweet tooth!
Next morning we had another early start as we wanted to get ahead of the tours at Johnston Canyon. This was a moderate (strenuous if you include the fact Craig decided to add in hill sprints as we went) trail that took in the lower falls, the upper falls (both of Johnston Canyon) and we then left most of the tourists behind as we carried on to the Ink Pots which were 5 amazing pools of various shades of blue/green. The slower the pool filled from below, the greener the colour before they flowed slowly into the river. We also ventured further on the trails and came to a narrow bridge over the river but we decided to turn back at this point as we weren't prepared for the full wilderness of Canada (forgot our bear spray). Speaking of which, we also spotted a red squirrel as we came back down from our 14km hike (we also saw an abundance of chipmunks - one woman was so desperate for a photo she was clicking her fingers at a chipmunk so it would look at her!)
We had a quick lunch before heading back to the hostel where we organised our bags, had some down time, before going for a drink with one of our new dorm mates, Dan. We headed out and had our last meal in Banff, at Pacini, which was a delicious Italian attached to the Moose Hotel, just along from our hostel. It was the best meal of our stay in lovely surroundings with Katy saying she would love to stay there if we come back. The real highlight - for Katy, the highlight for Craig was that they were showing the Green Bay Packers game - was the garlic bread station which allowed us to pick a bread, a choice of spreads from plain, garlic, pesto, tomato & basil and then grill it. The smell was amazing (if you like garlic) and tasted great as well.
It was well worth coming back to Banff but we are both looking forward to no longer staying in dorms in 4 days time as we continue our adventure North, up the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper.
Footnote: we must give a special mention to our various dorm mates during our stay in Banff (names and nicknames as follows): Stroppy English Girl (4 nights), Sephine (sp?-sorry!) (formerly French Canadian girl, formerly Dutch/German girl) (4 nights), New Girl (2 nights), Michael (1 night) and Dan (1 night).