Planning a weekend in Banff? Plan it for autumn

Long days, clear skies and wide-open spaces begging to be explored make the Canadian Rockies an inspired autumn destination.Thursday, 20 June 2019

By Banff and Lake Louise

It’s easy to be dazzled by Alberta’s exquisite Banff National Park during the summer months. The Rockies dominate the skyline, there’s a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities on offer — from taking a gondola to a mountain peak to rock climbing — and the food and cultural scenes are buzzing. But the region’s best-kept secret? Autumn, when the majority of visitors have left and the park is decked out in beautiful fall colours, with mild weather and days still long. It’s the perfect time to explore and reconnect with nature. While it’s impossible to fully explore the vastness of Banff National Park in one season — let alone in one weekend — here’s what you can squeeze into three days in one of the most spectacular natural regions on Earth.

DAY 1
Hot springs and hiking

Ease into the adventure activities for which the park is renowned by taking the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain (7,486 ft), where scenes of six mountain ranges and the sweeping Bow Valley await. Here, Sky Bistro puts the ‘up’ in upscale dining, offering soaring views and a distinctly Canadian seasonal menu. For those looking to walk off their lunch, there are numerous short hiking trails extending from the peak. When the cool evening air sends you back down the mountain, it needn’t send you indoors; the Banff Upper Hot Springs are open late into the evening all year round, offering the chance to stargaze while submerged in geothermally heated waters of up to 47C.

DAY 2
Wildlife hotspots

For a different kind of mountain experience, start the day by taking the Lake Louise Summer Gondola to ascend the Rocky Mountain, while catching sight of wild grizzly bears and the larch trees below. From the start of summer through to the first week of October, Discover Banff Tours offers evening wildlife safaris. Departing just before dark, the bus tour takes in known animal hotspots, with possible sightings ranging from mountain goats and deer to grizzly bears and chipmunks. Autumn also brings with it elk rutting season and the rare opportunity to glimpse these huge bulls vying for female attention, their distinctive bugle call echoing through the crags. Going with a tour ensures you can view the animals from a safe distance.

DAY 3
Mountains and culture

Sample Banff’s burgeoning foodie scene at Juniper Hotel Bistro’s popular weekend brunch, where the pulled-pork poutine vies for attention with the incredible valley views. From here, it’s just a short distance to Mount Norquay and the most hands-on way to experience the Rockies: climbing. Even complete beginners can enjoy the thrill of being face-to-rock on Norquay’s via ferrata. Along four routes, ranging from an easy two-and-a-half hours to a more challenging six, the adventure-inclined can climb ladders, traverse suspension bridges and gulp in lungfuls of crisp mountain air, all under the gaze of a highly experienced ACMG-certified guide. Limbs worn out and spirits soaring, it’s time to head to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which offers a year-round programme of events and performances, as well as the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival (26 October-3 November).

Essentials

Getting There: Multiple airlines including American Airlines, Air Canada and British Airways fly direct from Heathrow and Gatwick to Calgary. Banff and Lake Louise is a scenic 90-minute drive from Calgary on the Trans Canada Highway.  

To plan your autumn holiday to Banff and Lake Louise, visit banfflakelouise.com/fall

Published in the Jul/Aug 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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