Calgary

Turquoise lakes with mountain backdrop at a height of 4,537 feet is a sight every tourist should think of visiting. We both are suckers for nature so given an option we would never skip this opportunity. The minute we saw Banff as one of the attractions in Canada we had to plan a trip here. Ask us if we will go back again, of course we will. It’s a place which we both came to the conclusion would be ideal place for retirement.

The breathtaking views of Banff has engraved in my mind forever. Personally I felt no camera can do justice to what you see, you have to visit it to experience it. I have heard tourists complain about the crowd, but such beauty is definitely bound to have spectators. As Ontario is proud of Niagara Falls, Calgary should be proud of having the Rockies Mountains.

TIME TO VISIT CALGARY

We decided to spend 4 Days in Calgary. Our trip was planned in August and we did find Banff to be filled with tourists during this time.

As per my understanding best time to visit Calgary would be from late May to end of September, I felt this would be debatable. For those who want to ski should visit during the height of winter and those who want the warm weather should visit for warmer weathers. Hence my advice decide why you want to visit Calgary and then plan accordingly.

TRAVELING AROUND CALGARY

Since we were traveling from Regina we had used plane as a mode of transport to reach Calgary. There are also various bus options namely Greyhound, Red Arrow and Executive Express which run between cities via bus routes.

From all my travels in Canada I found Calgary transit to be the easiest to follow. They have  CTrain -a light rail transit system. They basically have the red line (201) and blue line (202) which runs parallel to each other. There are also buses and Uber which run along town.

Calgary Transit works on a single fare zone with a flat rate fare. The ticket is valid for 90 mins for one time use only. There are also day passes and monthly passes. We used the day pass as it worked best for us. For those coming from airport there is Route 300 which comes to Calgary Downtown. The airport ticket is then valid for the day’s travel. The tickets are available at many convenience and grocery stores.

Our main aim of coming to Calgary was because we wanted to do Banff. However we were not very keen on doing with any tour companies. Since we didn’t have a car we decided to split our trips to two different days. The first trip we decided to do on our own and cover those areas which are possible to get done through the local transport. Second trip we decided to cover the lakes with a tour company.

For the first trip we had booked our journey to Banff with Greyhound bus. The booking office was walkable distance from our hotel and we didn’t have any issues with the travel as well. Once in Banff we used the Roam Transit to get around from one place to another. There are 8 routes which is used in Roam transit each with a different destination. Very easy to follow and also didn’t have any struggle with the wait time as well as everything ran smoothly for us.

For our second trip to Banff we decided to do it with Brewster. During my travel they were a popular company and have been there for a while. We decided to do their Lakes and Mountain tours. This mostly covered the lakes and since they were far from each other we felt the roam transit would make it harder. After completing the tour I can now say it was well planned and we didn’t feel rushed.

WHERE WE STAYED IN CALGARY

We had stayed 3 nights in Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Calgary Downtown hotel and one night in Acclaim Calgary Airport Hotel. 

The main reason for choosing Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Calgary Downtown hotel was because we wanted to avoid traveling a lot. We had early morning bus to catch for Banff and this hotel seemed ideal. It’s centrally located to most destination and had restaurants to try out nearby. The downside was the hotel itself, personally we found it run down and not up to the mark. The bed was not comfortable and the staff were not friendly. We didn’t go for the breakfast option as we were out of the hotel early so not able to comment on that. Location wise it worked out the best for us and stay wise I wouldn’t recommend it.

Since we had an early morning flight to Vancouver we decided to spend the last night in Acclaim Calgary Airport Hotel. We found the check in quick with very polite staff. The rooms were clean and had the necessary amenities. They also provide shuttle services to the airport which worked out very well for us since we had an early morning flight. Coming from Ramada Downtown hotel we were very pleased with this hotel but for overall stay it would not have been possible as it was far from all attractions. 

BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Banff is said to be the highest town in Canada and was established in 1885 as Canada’s first national park. The beauty of Banff can really only be explained when you see it with your own eyes.

THINGS TO DO IN BANFF

BANFF GONDOLA

We started our Banff experience with the 8 minute gondola ride. At an elevation of 7,480 feet you get to take in the beauty of the sulphur mountain. Originally it was built between September 1958 and July 1959, where a man’s vision was to bring visitors to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. We also wanted to see the 360 degree view of Banff from the top hence started off with this experience.

The gondola takes you to the observatory deck where you can enjoy the beauty of the whole place or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants. Those wanting to hike can also start their adventure from here. It is little expensive for the ride but honestly I loved the breathtaking views hence forgave on the price.

FAIRMOUNT SPRING HOTEL

At a height of 4,639 feet is one of the earliest (1888) Canada’s grand railway hotels. Initially it was built in H shaped and included an octagonal centre hall where the additional wing extended towards the Bow River.

However, the hotel has gone through many changes from its original state. Our main purpose of visit was cause it was the first hotel built, since we didn’t stay we couldn’t see from inside.

THE BOW FALL

It is said to be the major waterfall of the Bow River. It sure was pretty in between all the towering mountains. The place is still kept without any boats or other tourist gimmicks, hence making it a spectacular scenery. The waterfall is said to have featured in River of No Returns, 1953 Marilyn Monroe movie. We did the free trail from Downtown Banff to the fall. The walk was easy and the views along the way were well worth the effort. Having been to Niagara Falls twice already we did wonder would we be impressed by it. After seeing it I did feel it should not be compared but simply admired.

SULPHUR MOUNTAIN

In 1916 it got its name cause of the hot springs on its lower slopes. In the Canadian Rockies Mountains overall looking the Banff town you can see the mountains forming a beautiful backdrop. The lakes found along Banff all have the mountains making it a picturesque sight.

We had used the gondola and then walked up the wooden platforms to enjoy the spectacular views. We love nature so failed to understand how anyone can complain about it.

BANFF DOWNTOWN

Banff Ave is the main street in the city of Banff. A friendly neighbourhood with lots of shops and restaurants nearby. Had a lovely time strolling along the street. Lots of souvenirs shops to take something back as memories.

TUNNEL MOUNTAIN

Also known as the ‘sleeping buffalo’. The idea by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1882 was to build a route through the tunnel, it never happened but the name stuck. It is said to offer beautiful views of Mt. Round, Banff and the Bow Valley. There is a 4.5 km trail and the best time to do it is from June until August.

THE HOODOOS

Unlike most hoodoos which is found in desert where the weather is hot and dry, in the Canadian Rockies they are forced from frost erosions. They are in alternating patterns of hard and soft rock layers. I remember we really struggled to find this place. We thought something was wrong with us and then we come across few other tourist who were in the same boat as us. Together we then started looking for them and found them.

LAKE MORAINE

For me personally this was my favourite lake of the lot. On the 1969 and 1979 issue of the Canadian $20 bill the view appears and is known as “Twenty Dollar View”. Featuring the Valley of the Ten Peaks in the background makes it an interesting mountains. If you climb on the rock pile trail then you can capture some scenic views.

NATURAL BRIDGE

On the way to Emerald Lake you come across the Natural Bridge. These are water flows which has formed as a bridge. It is amazing to see how nature has formed something on its own. I personally feel it can’t be compared to other spots, it should be viewed on its own and appreciate how nature has taken its course.

THE SPIRAL TUNNEL

In 1909 The Big Hill was replaced by the Spiral Tunnel. Although the engineering was amazing, when you see it from a distant the attractions becomes little disappointing. There were lots of information to read on the view point. Didn’t get to see the train but it sure would have been a beautiful sight with train approaching from in between mountains.

KICKING HORSE RIVER

In 1858 when James Hector was exploring the river he got kicked by his packhorse, hence got the name. It is said to flow along the Natural Bridge Falls. Very famous for rafting trips and kayaking. There is also a hiking trail along the river to enjoy. Unfortunately we didn’t get to do the activities.

LAKE EMERALD

Located in the heart of Yoho National Park and discovered in 1882 is the lake which is accessible all year round. The turquoise water makes it a perfect place to click endless photos. I did however feel none of the photos taken did justice to the beauty of the place. There were also many outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy and renting is easily available. For those who wish to walk, there is a trail along the lake to enjoy. We had a BBQ lunch at the Emerald Lake Lodge and it was awesome lunch with a great view.

TAKKAKOW WATERFALL

It is the second-highest in Western Canada and the third highest in the country. The fall is said to be 1,224 ft. Takkakow is translated by the First Nations Cree language as “wonderful” and I couldn’t agree more.

There is a path to the base of the fall if you want to feel it up closes.

As for me I found the fall to be tall, beautiful and loud. Highly recommended!

LAKE LOUISE

This is known as the ‘Jewel of the Canadian Rockies’. The lake is named after Princes Caroline who was one of the daughter Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883.  It is said the lake gets its colour from the rock flour which is carried into the lake from the glaciers. Enjoying a walk along the lake or exploring the famous chateau is some of the things which is done here. Thanks to the beauty of the place it is always filled with tourist which is a shame as it’s a nice place to have some quiet time.

Since my main visit was to explore Banff, I still felt it would be wrong not to check out Calgary. So below are some of the things I decided to explore for which Calgary is famous for. 

THINGS TO DO IN CALGARY

CALGARY TOWER 

Originally this was called the ‘Husky Tower’. The observation tower is located in downtown and is at a height of 626ft.

Had fun on the glass floor, especially teasing my husband who has a weak heart with heights.

I also loved seeing most of the attractions from the top.I have done most of the towers in my Canada excursions hence didn’t skip this also.

STEPHEN AVENUE

This street is known for Calgary’s finest restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars. It is also Calgary’s pedestrian mall with architectural buildings. In 2002 it was declared a Canadian historic site cause of all the registered historic buildings in the vicinity. I enjoyed walking along the street, luckily without much crowd.

THE OLYMPIC PLAZA (1988) 

An urban park and gathering place in downtown Calgary.

 In 1988 Winter Olympics it was built as the venue for medal ceremonies.

A fun place to bring kids for playing in splash pad during summer, skiing during winter and if that’s not enough a good way to enjoy the different festivals which takes place here.

SCOTIABANK SADDLEDOME

An indoor arena located in Stampede Park which is home to Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. It also hosted the ice hockey and figure skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Of course I only got to see this from outside as there were no events at my time of visit. I also saw it from Calgary tower and also during my visit to Stampede Park.

Its 30 years old and there are talks of replacing it, which is a shame. If you are there during any of the games I advise visiting, as friends told me the atmosphere is worth the visit.

STAMPEDE PARK

It all started in 1884 when Calgary and District Agricultural Society wanted to promote the town and encourage framers and ranchers to move west from eastern Canada.

It is said to be the world’s largest rodeos, parade, stage shows, wagon racing, First Nations exhibition and concerts. Calgary’s known for this identity both nationally and internationally.

I have seen my friends dressed in cowboy themes and was told the office buildings and storefronts are also painted with cowboy themes. There are also pancake breakfast which is served during this time. We did explore the place inside and could only imagine the fun Calgarians would have during the events.

THE HERITAGE PARK

Canada’s second largest living history museum and also the most visited.  There are exhibits dating from 1860’s to the 1950’s showing the western Canadian history.

Also has an old working steam engine train ride to enjoy which makes you go back to that time.

Seeing the people dress in the old time clothes made the whole place go into another era. There were also many houses which replicated from that time.

Don’t miss the Gasoline Alley Museum and the riverboat ride. We easily spent little over half a day in this place and didn’t have a dull moment.

FORT CALGARY

The interesting story behind this place is that it was built to avoid illegal whiskey trading from America through Canadian Pacific Railway and to have a good relations with the people at that time. I personally only did this from outside as I had done a similar one in Regina.

DEVONIAN GARDEN

Unfortunately we couldn’t see this as it was closed for renovation. It’s a large indoor park and botanical garden which you can see while in Stephen Avenue. The garden is said to have koi ponds, fountains, children’s play area and more than 550 trees. 

OUR ITINERARY IN CALGARY

Day 1

Did most of the attraction on foot. The day included Fort Calgary, Calgary Tower, Stephen Avenue Walk, Devonian Garden and Downtown

Traveling Tip:

  • Took the 300 bus to Downtown (SB 5 ST [email protected] Av SW stop) and then walked to hotel.
  • Walked 1.3 km to Greyhound bus station to book ticket for Banff
  • Walked 1.3 km to Fort Calgary
  • Walked 1.5 km to Calgary Tower
  • Walked 600 to Stephen Avenue Walk
  • Walked to Devonian Garden
  • Walked towards Downtown

Check the map below to get a better idea on the walking direction. 

Map courtesy where map Calgary

Day 2

Covered Banff Gondola, Fairmount Spring Hotel, Sulphur Mountain, Bow Fall, Tunnel Mountain, Hoodoos, Banff Downtown.

Traveling Tip:  
We took the Greyhound bus from downtown and reached Banff Greyhound bus stop. From here we did everything using Roam Transit and walking. Following are the bus routes we used – Route 1 Sulphur Mountain; Route 2 Tunnel Mountain; Route 7 the Banff Centre.
I would advise taking a map and planning as per your time and priority. 

Day 3

We used day pass to get through most of our day. Visited Olympic Plaza, Scotiabank Stampede Station, Stampede Park and Heritage Park.

Traveling Tip:

  • Got off at EB Centre Street Station and walked 250m to reach Olympic Plaza
  • Took the C-Train and got off at SB Victoria Park/ Stampede Station and walked 500 m to reach Scotiabank Stampede Station 
  • Walking around you will also come across Stampede Park
  • From SB Victoria Park/Stampede Station took the C Train to SB Heritage Station. Then took 20 Northmount Dr bus and got off at Heritage Park and walked 550m to reach Heritage Park.

Day 4 

Did the Lakes and Mountains in Banff with Brewster tours

Things covered in the tour were – Lake Moraine, Spiral Tunnel, Natural Bridge, Kicking Horse,Lake Emerald( Had BBQ lunch here), Takkakow Waterfall and Lake Louise

Traveling Tip: 

If you don’t want the headache of parking then tour would be advisable. The pickup was from Sandman Hotel City Centre and drop off at our Airport Acclaim Hotel.

The roam transit can help but be prepared for longer wait times for buses.

THINGS TO NOTE IN CALGARY

  • Should you choose bus options between cities to reach Calgary then note in winter roads might be wet or have snow so bus might take longer. Also there are chances of road blocks and detours.
  • Rail services for travel to Calgary are not there as I write this. But there is a luxury train from Calgary to Vancouver which gives awesome views of the Canadian Rockies.
  • When in the forests and mountains never attempt to approach, harass or fed any wild animals. Make noises when hiking as this scares animals off. Stay in car when viewing animals along roadways.
  • Park passes are required for entry to any national park. Choose wisely which pass you will need depending on your visits to the parks.
  • The Banff Gondola is small (4 seatings) so those scared of heights needs to take note. 
  • Parking can get busy in Banff during tourist season so plan ahead should you get your own car.
  • Calgarians usually complain a lot about their public transport. For tourist however most of the attractions are near public transport. Advise taking day pass to make maximum use. 
  • Calgary is known to have unpredictable weather so be prepared.
  • If you are planning to visit the Calgary Stampede then make sure the ticket bookings and hotel bookings are done well in advance. 

I do feel our Calgary exploring was not complete. Since we were visiting for the first time, we couldn’t do many of the hikes. I am not too sure how good it is but should I plan another trip I would like to stay in Banff and exploring the place more.