Shoulder Season in the Canadian Rockies

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With Banff National Park growing in popularity over the years there are few times to visit the iconic vistas within the National Park without being elbow to elbow with other visitors. One of the best times to avoid the crowds is the lull between the summer hiking rush and the winter skiing frenzy. Although the weather can be unpredictable I have composed some of my favourite places to eat, sleep and things to do in Banff National Park in-between adventures.


Where to sleep

With campgrounds closing and temperatures dropping far below what is comfortable I have compiled a list of places to stay for (nearly) every budget. Airbnb listings within the national park as well as Canmore are illegal so please practise caution when looking into alternative housing options in the Canadian Rockies.

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Luxury:

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Since 1888, the “Castle in the Rockies” has been a bucket-list destination for travellers, mountain/adventure enthusiasts, and now even foodies, who can make the most of their time at this historic landmark by taking advantage of the newly introduced “Eat the Castle” culinary tours, courtesy of Alberta Food Tours.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Known as the “luxury basecamp for adventure” in the Canadian Rockies, there are seemingly endless opportunities for outdoor exploration and adventure right in The Chateau’s backyard.  Lake Louise’s Swiss mountain guide influence is honoured to this day with the Mountain Adventure Program, which offers guided hikes, ski lessons & tours, snowshoe tours, voyageur canoe experiences, and more any time of the year.  Shoulder seasons in Lake Louise are also a time to relax, unwind, and reconnect with yourself through their newly introduced wellness retreats.

The Rimrock Resort Hotel

A 4 Diamond Hotel in the heart of the Canadian Rockies & Banff National Park.  Located nearby the Banff Gondola and Banff Upper Hot Springs, the uniquely elevated location of The Rimrock provides absolutely spectacular views of Banff from almost anywhere in the hotel.  It is also home to one of Banff’s top restaurants, Eden, which has been honored since 2003 with AAA/CAA 5-Diamond and “Best of Award of Excellence” Wine Spectator awards.

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Comfort:

Fox Hotel & Suites

Conveniently located and offering both standard-sized rooms and larger suites, The Fox is perfect for the traveller looking for the basics.

Deer Lodge

A short 5 minute walk from the shores of Lake Louise, Deer Lodge is proudly part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts family, and offers rustic mountain lodging in Banff National Park. 

Emerald Lake Lodge

With its century-old fireplaces and an oak bar salvaged from an 1890’s Yukon saloon, there is no shortage of history within these walls. There is also no shortage of comfort during your stay at Emerald Lake Lodge given the location’s award-winning dining opportunities and exceptional accommodations.

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Budget:

Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa

Comfortable, walking distance to the main Banff Avenue drag, and priced affordably.

Inns of Banff

Offers a little bit of everything – pool & hot tub, free parking, pet-friendly, and shuttle bus service throughout Banff.

Banff High Country Inn

Fantastic value, and is a family owned hotel who seem to have a knack for making personal connections with guests.


Where to eat

If there is one thing that I enjoy more than hiking it is eating. I ahem compiled a list of where I am most likely to be found snacking in Banff National Park.

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coffee

Buffalo Mountain Cafe

I have always found Banff a very difficult place to find solitude. I found this gem on my first trip up Tunnel Mountain Road. Not only do they have a custom blend espresso bean and handmade soups and sandwiches, they also offer wifi (albeit not the fastest) and electronic plugins. This is a small space but it seemed as though more people came in for a “grab & go” coffee and meal rather than setting up shop.

WildFlour Banff’s Artisan Bakery and Cafe

located downtown Banff along Bear Street, Wildflour is a coffee shop staple in the park. I would not recommend trying to get any work done in Wildflour as it is very busy and can get quite noisy, but it is one of my favourite spots to people watch. (oh, and there is a parking lot across the road to up your chances of finding parking in the Townsite)

Whitebark Cafe

Arguably the best coffee in Banff. This small cafe located inside the lobby of the Banff Aspen Lodge has a small window bar of indoor seating and (if it’s warm enough outside) a beautiful patio.

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breakfast

Trailhead Cafe

A staple of post-sunrise adventures for the past few years (and coincidently where I met one of my favourite road trip companions). There is virtually nowhere to sit down (maybe 6 seats total) and generally a line forms out the door. I always say I will try something new before ordering my tried and true Trailhead Wrap.

Juniper Bistro

With some of the best views overlooking the town of Banff and possibly the best eggs benedict in the rockies it is not hard to see why Juniper Bistro is so popular.

lunch

MacLab Bistro

With mountain views in nearly every direction, Maclab Bistro restaurant; located in the heart of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity where it is hard not to run into someone inspiring at the table next to you. This was there I befriended world class climber, mountaineer and alpinist Leo Houlding (that’s my humble brag for the day). Try the flat bread pizza or the Cobb salad (and get it with both cheese options because, why not) and you won’t be disappointed.

Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar

Located in the heart of downtown Banff, Park distillery, restaurant & bar has options for the drinker and the non drinker alike (their coffee is surprisingly great). Try the rotisserie chicken s’witch, the burger and also demand that they bring back the Mac and Cheese for me while you are there please.

dinner

Vermillion Room at the Banff Springs Hotel

If you are looking for really great food and a beautiful aesthetic look no further than the Vermillion Room. This mid century modern decorated dining room in one of the most beautiful hotels in the Rockies serves a cuisine aptly described as ‘French elegance with Canadian charm’.

Chuck’s Steakhouse

Located along the Bow River on Banff Avenue, in the heart of downtown Banff with panoramic mountain views is Chuck’s Steakhouse. This restaurant, which offers a lot more than steak including vegan options, is committed to supporting Alberta farmers and ranchers and using locally sourced ingredients.


Where to play

Shoulder season is a tricky time in the Canadian Rockies with roads closing and conditions changing almost daily without notice. Although there are trails that are accessible in this season (and with some research can be found quite easily) without day to day trail condition updates I am not comfortable providing recommendations. Familarizing yourself with resources such as Avalanche Canada (they also have an app!) is a good idea and remember that social media is not live-time when looking for up to date trail conditions.

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Safety

Take advantage of time off of the mountain to learn some new skills or brush up on your technique.

The University of Calgary, Yamnuska Mountain Adventures and the Alpine Club of Canada all offer mountain safety courses and training.

When the weather is especially awful, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff and Elevation Place in Canmore both offer indoor climbing options.

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Banff Mountain & Film Festival

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is a world renowned film festival with viewings in 550 locations in 40 countries with its roots in Banff. For nine days each year the film festival features stories of remote journeys, ground-breaking expeditions, and cutting-edge adventures told through the eyes of adventurers, authors, photographers, and filmmakers from around the globe.

This post was made with support from Banff Lake Louise Tourism. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.