A weekend in Banff National Park

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By Karlie Marrazzo

Earlier this summer one of my longest running wishes came true; I won a trip at a Travel Alberta media event in my hometown of Edmonton. It was a small, intimate event with travel professionals and bloggers from around the province and the first event of its kind that I had ever attended. Great conversation and delicious snacks and drinks were plentiful. As the night wound down, business cards were drawn for several door prizes, each a trip to a different destinations in our spectacular, diverse province. When it came time to draw the prize of a trip to Banff for Performance in the Park, courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism, my husband Dave’s card was drawn. Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for him, depending on how you want to look at it), he was to be away that weekend on his coast-to-coast Canada 5000 Rally. This left me with a free trip to one of the most beautiful places on the planet and my pick of who to have join me.

On a Friday in June on the first weekend of summer, my friend Claudia and I loaded into my car and hit the highway due south. Even though I’ve been driving for many years, I can count the number of times I’ve driven on the highway on one hand, and each time has been for less than an hour. Banff is about a four-hour drive from Edmonton, plus stops. I’ve been to Banff many times so had no problems driving the familiar route. I can never head south on Highway 2 without a traditional stop at Donut Mill in Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley, a deli and donut shop shaped like a windmill that has the best donuts I’ve ever tasted.

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Performance in the Park is an annual music festival that is co-presented in part by the Banff Centre, a world-renowned arts, cultural, and educational institution and conference facility nestled just across the Bow River and up the road from another world-renowned landmark, the Banff Springs Hotel. We were fortunate to have two nights accommodation at the Banff Centre included. The concerts were taking place at the Cascade Gardens, located at the Parks Administration Building, and we decided to stretch our legs and make the 2 km walk down.

The Parks Administration Buildings perches at the top of Cave Avenue like the patriarch of the family sitting at the head of the table, surrounded by the impeccable landscaping of the Cascade Gardens. The Performance in the Park stage is set up behind the building facing a gently sloping lawn, with my favourite peak, Mt. Rundle, looming to the right. First up for the evening was Matt Andersen and the Mellotones, a Canadian blues outfit from New Brunswick. I had never heard of Matt before, but his big frame, bigger voice, frequent hair whips, and the musical talent of him and every member of his band had me rapt with attention. I immediately fell in love with his soulful voice and bought his CD. He even hung around after his set so I was able to get the CD signed and get a picture with him. Next up was Joel Plaskett Emergency, a quintessential Canadian folk rock band from Nova Scotia. I have a couple of their albums but had never seen them live; I was impressed with Mr. Plaskett’s energy, stage performance and natural storytelling ability.

Matt Andersen and the Mellotones
Matt Andersen and the Mellotones

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Saturday was a clear and crisp mountain day, the perfect day to take in the scenery and take advantage of the VIP Pass I was kindly given courtesy of Banff Lake Louise Tourism and Brewster Canada, providing us access to a generous handful of Banff National Park’s most spectacular attractions. Our first stop: Banff Gondola. Climbing 698 meters up the side of Sulphur Mountain, the eight-minute gondola ride offers spectacular views of the park and the town site, if you’re not too queasy to look out of the all-glass compartment. Once at the top, you can enjoy 360° views of six mountain ranges. There is also an extensive wooden boardwalk path that leads to Sanson’s Peak, giving even better, more elevated views. It took us about 15 minutes to get from the summit of the gondola building to Sanson’s Peak. I would recommend taking the extra walk as it was less crowded over there and you get a little bit of exercise!

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Cost: $34.95 per adult, $19.95 per child (summer rate). If you’d like to hike up the mountain and take the gondola down, a one-way ticket is $19.95.

Just above the parking lot to the gondola sits arguably Banff’s most popular attraction; Banff Upper Hot Springs. Not only are the hot springs the perfect place to soak your bones after a day of hiking or a night on the town, they hold important historical significance as well. Native people have been soaking in the hot springs for centuries; the first bathhouse was built on the site in 1886, and the current facility has been standing since 1932. The pool is fed with sulphuric water pumped in directly from inside the mountain and is kept at a temperature of 37-40° Celsius. We had such a nice time lounging and relaxing that we had to tear ourselves away to make it to that afternoon’s concert.

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Cost: A steal of a deal at only $7.30 per adult. Towels and old-timey bathing suits are available for rent (although I’ve never seen anybody wearing one!).

By the time we arrived at the concert, we unfortunately missed the first act of the afternoon, Hannah Georgas. We grabbed some food and settled in for a clear crowd favourite, Rural Alberta Advantage, an indie band ironically from Toronto. Admittedly I’m not familiar with their music, but they put on a great show and knew how to work the crowd. The thing that I really loved about this festival was the diversity of the acts performing, and how welcoming and excited the crowd was about each and every one. Legendary Canadian hip-hop artist k-os closed out the weekend with an at-times genius, at-times sporadic, off-the-cuff, freestyle performance that had me shaking my booty in the rain. We capped off the evening with a stop at my favourite little spot in Banff, Bow Falls. This little waterfall isn’t secluded – it’s only a 5 minute drive from town – or necessarily outstanding, but the simple beauty, the sound and colour of the rushing water, and the perfect visual blend of the Bow River, a rocky beach and the mountains towering all around always make me feel at peace.

k-os
k-os

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My little piece of heaven.
My little piece of heaven.

Our day of departure, Sunday, was overcast and cool with sporadic rain. I was the most excited about our excursion for the day: the Lake Minnewanka cruise. The lake is a 15-minute drive from Banff on the scenic Minnewanka Loop. The wide and long lake is a special mountain blue and, ringed by jagged peaks, is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve been. Our interpretive tour took place on the Alberta Explorer, an immaculate 65-passenger Lake Cruiser. Our tour guide was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable young guy who told us all about the history of the lake as well as the nature and wildlife surrounding it. The ride was smooth, and with the raindrops and the window and the mist ahead, the scenery was otherworldly.

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The Devil's Gap, Lake Minnewanka
The Devil’s Gap, Lake Minnewanka

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Cost: $54.95 per adult, $27.50 per child

Banff may be 400km from Edmonton, but in Canadian distances, that’s nothing. I still consider myself lucky to have Banff in my backyard, and even luckier that I was able to spend an awesome weekend enjoying just a fraction of the fabulous attractions that it has to offer, as well as learning about a Canadian music festival that I’ll be sure to return to. Until next time, Banff!

3 thoughts on “A weekend in Banff National Park”

  1. What a great “Girl Weekend Away”. I listened to a few tunes of Matt Andersen and the Mellotones. Nice! Your photos are gorgeous! My favorites – the Lake Minnewanka photos.

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