On Day Five we said farewell to Calgary and headed for the mountains. There was a lot of squealing and snapping on the way to Banff.
We arrived in Banff mid-morning and it was already crazy with tourists. You definitely want to go to Banff. You just want to get there as early in the day as possible, because: NUTS WITH PEOPLE. Also, they are very, very serious about parking regulations in Banff. If you’re in a three hour lot, they mean three hours, BUDDY.
Here’s something we didn’t know about Banff: because it’s in a National Park, you have to have a Park Pass to be able to visit. Jasper is in a National Park, too. You can buy a daily pass but because we needed, between the two towns, seven days worth of park pass it was financially better to just buy an annual pass. An annual national park pass will also get us into any other national park, like Algonquin, and it also gave us free admission to a few local museums that turned out to be quite interesting.
We wandered around the main strip – Banff Avenue – and it’s very quaint. In fact, I thought it had a very “designed” feel to it – like, hey, we want to make a quaint mountain town, let’s design one! – but my sister tells me that no, the buildings actually grew up organically and just look like that. The roads all have names like “Beaver” and “Bear” and “Caribou” which is pretty freakin’ awesome.
We popped our heads into the Parks Museum, which features a lot of taxidermied animals and birds, which is kind of cool and kind of creepy, although the kids liked picking out things they had seen at the zoo. The most interesting thing, really, is the building itself – it was built right at the turn of the 20th century and there was no power in Banff at the time, so it features tons of windows and skylights so that the museum displays could be clearly seen.
Later that afternoon we took the gondola up Sulphur Mountain which a) gives you a great view of the town, b) has an interesting old weather-prediction station at the top (which is a bit of a hike up), and c) is the secret source of the science that powers the hot springs. Definitely worth seeing, despite the expense. It was a cool and cloudy day down below, and at the top it was pretty darn chilly – we were happy we had brought jackets and gloves.
The gondola, by the way, was the site of my second major freak out of the trip. Sir Monkeypants actually took a video of me having a total meltdown on the way up, then an even bigger one on the way down, and no, you cannot see it. I do not really consider myself afraid of heights but man, apparently I am very afraid of gondolas and glass floors.
We finished up the day with a visit to the Cave and Basin historic site. This is a spot where there is a natural cave full of hot, sulphurous water – warmed by its passage down under Sulphur Mountain. There’s also a large basin where the hot water collects. There used to be a hotel/resort here, where people would come to soak in the hot springs for their health. But since it was discovered that the basin is the home to an endangered snail, the whole place became a protected area. At the site now you can see the cave and the basin, as well as a small museum about the old hotel and the history of the explorers who first found the site and set up the resort. It was fascinating, and beautiful, and, as Little Miss Sunshine will tell you, smelly.
We probably wouldn’t have bothered with the Cave and Basin, but it was free with our annual park pass (as was the Parks Museum), and turned out to be totally worth it. In fact, verdict on all this Banff stuff: WORTH IT.