We rolled into Banff around 3pm. Our first stop was the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Established in 1968, the museum is dedicated to preserving the history and cultural heritage of the Canadian Rockies. Its founders, Peter and Catharine Robb Whyte, were local artists who not only painted the Canadian Rockies, but collected and preserved much of the history of the area. The museum has an well-known and extensive archive. One of the authors of a book Zach and I recently read (Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest – Wade Davis – highly recommend!) used it for portions of his research.
We spent 1.5 hours at the museum. I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the Whytes own paintings and favored haunts in the Main Gallery while The Heritage Gallery had an incredible exhibition – Gateway to the Rockies – with displays detailing several aspects of Rockies history ranging from priceless artifacts from the area’s indigenous tribes, displays on the construction of the trans-Canada railroad, and the innovation of heli-skiing. Seeing just a tiny portion of their collection was fascinating. It was also fun to see paintings of places we’ve already visited in the Rockies and others we hope to visit in the future.
After we left the museum, we were starving. We ventured over to Banff Avenue to satisfy our appetite and plan the rest of the evening. We ended up at Athena Pizza, a quiet place perched above the bustling avenue. We were able to take advantage of both happy hour and their Monday dinner deal, plus we finally nabbed some wifi time!
Revitalized, we decided to check out the Fairmont Banff Springs. Opened in 1888, as part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s tourism campaign, it’s much more impressive than its counterpart at Lake Louise (in my opinion). The hotel has expanded a few times and now includes a conference center; the whole complex is massive. We walked around the main level, peeked in some of the shops and restaurants, and wandered the grounds. The hotel patio has a stellar view!
Filled with envy of the hot showers and warm comfy beds indoors, we ventured down to Bow Falls below the hotel. There was a nice riverfront area with benches and a walkway. Again, it was confounding how beautiful the views were. Since it was prime dinner time, the crowds had all abandoned the riverfront and it was very peaceful.
Zach had one last place he wanted to visit before we returned to Kootenay NP for the night: Lake Minnewanka. East of town, Lake Minnewanka draws its name from the Stoney Nakoda people who called it Minn-waki which means Lake of the Spirits. There are scenic boat tours, plenty of hiking options, and even scuba diving. (The most recent dam raised the lake level 98 feet submerging a resort village!) Here too, the views were incomparable. We walked along the shoreline for a bit and enjoyed the tranquility of the evening.
Even though we were only in Banff for five hours, it gave us a fresh perspective on the town and the area surrounding it. Last summer, fresh off visits to less-populated places like Waterton Lakes NP and Kananaskis Country, Banff shocked us with its hoards of tourists and clogged roadways. We were in and out before we had a chance to appreciate it. But this time, despite those same things, we found the town enjoyable with ample hiking and sightseeing opportunities. We definitely plan to return.