Our fifth day was planned to have a day of shopping downtown, though because we had also done shopping at the Lake Louise Village shopping strip and in Jasper the day prior so we also filled our morning with venturing to the Banff Park Museum and the Whyte Museum.
The Banff Park Museum was wonderful and full of history and information. With two floors this museum of a museum is completely crafted out of Douglas fir woodwork, it is Canada's oldest surviving federal building. Most of the museum's specimens were collected between 1890 and 1930, during the time when it was common practice to kill animals for identification. This was also one of the cheapest activities my mom and I did. We also visited later that day the Whyte Museum which is located just down the street from the Banff Park Museum, though we were not equally impressed. It does have a lot of information and really decent art collection, it is very dry and extremely small, so the higher price of admissions didn't feel worth for value.
In between the museums, my mom and I went shopping downtown Banff. Though idyllic and adorable, there are streets and rows of shops focused on tourists full of the tricky tacky whimsical kitsch gifts that all of us tourist buy into, even if it's just a little bit. Though there were a few beautiful and wonderful shops that were not just tourist but very local and are defiantly worth a stop in. There was Roots Canada - a Canadian lifestyle shop, About Canada Gallery and Gift store - with a wide selection of local based artists as well as other beautiful home decor, The Banff Tea Co. and The Spirit of Christmas were also beautiful little shops.
If your looking for groceries or a quick snack (as advised in earlier blogs), it's always helpful to have some food on hand to avoid going out to eat for every meal the two grocer's I suggest it Banff's Safeway and Banff's Provisions General Store. The two best coffee/pastries/lunch locations we visited was the Wild Flower Artisan Bakery and Evelyn's Coffee Bar (there is also an Evelyn's Two and Evelyn's Again - their all connected and all make amazing hot coco).
Once we were shopped and museum-ed out, my mom and I went for a drive to a near by lake that we had heard via only blogs and travel books was well worth a stop by. Lake Minniwonka did not disappoint for one moment. Equipped with an adorable coffee/snack bar, this is the perfect little picnic, get away from the downtown hubbub spot. It's water however is always at a static 32-degree's so this isn't a swimming hole at any point of the year (but with so many hot springs around, there doesn't seem to be much of any complaint.) Lake Minniwonka is full of minor day's history and has graduated from a small tiny lake, to now having three damns and is 14-times the size of Lake Louise. Being our first time in Canada my mom and I splurged and went on the scenic 1-hour boat ride that gave us a ton of information not only on the lake but on the area and its history as well.
We spent the majority of our afternoon hanging around the lake and on the boat ride. The staff was extremely informational, fun and helpful which made this an absolute great stop for any visitor or drive thru. You can also rent boats for an hour or for the day and don't have to opt for the touristy one-hour boat ride I ventured on.
When we got hungry enough for dinner, we opted to check-into our last stay for our holiday which was at a wonderful little stop right downtown Banff, The Blue Mountain Lodge. The staff was extremely helpful and wonderful to be around and it felt so much like "being home" that both my mom and I wished we'd gotten a chance to stay here more then just one night. Though the bathroom was quaint and the amenities seemed odd, it was defiantly how the lodge was taken care of and loved by its staff, it's homemade warm breakfast, a community kitchen and the motif that set this place apart.
The end cap to our busy day didn't fail us one bit. We had some pizza, found my thing one and thing two house slippers (which had been a man-hunt for over 24-hrs) then took the front clerk of the B&B suggestion - we went to Bow Falls and the Fairmont (Castle) Hotel. We figured we were in for a short drive, and were concerned as we were loosing light, however, it was less then five-minutes of a drive from the lodge and it was absolutely beautiful. The Fairmont Hotel was built in the 1800's and though it is still a running hotel, is also a historical landmark and is open to the public for viewing. Bow Falls and the hotel are within walking distance of one another, and so that is exactly what we did. We enjoyed the falls with the last bit of light and then toured around the hotel and enjoyed some late night hot coco and german pretzels the Castle Pantry, located on the main floor.
It was bitter sweet to be sitting in the lobby of the Castle Pantry, robbing them of their free Wifi which was hard for us to locate on this trip, enjoying our hot coco and pretzel. The company and the country would be most absolutely missed as it had gained so much of my heart. Though to end the night well, there were two giant elk bucks hanging in the parking lot reminding us as the sunset slipped into darkness behind Mt. Randall, that we had been in a very special place in the world.
To start our day four off right we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts I've ever had (which really is saying something) at the Lake Louise Inn! It was $1.00 extra per person at check-in and it was worth it, a complete spread from hash browns to multiple types of breakfast meats, sweet-pieces, fruit, on and on along with the most adorable mini Nutella's you've ever seen. We were also able to purchase our tickets for the Lake Louise Gondola at check-out which made it super convenient. There is transportation from the hotel to the gondola however we opted to drive ourselves (something about being on your own time which is just nice.)
At the gondola you have to watch a short informational video letting you know how Parks Canada and other groups work together to make sure that not only you as the visitor but the wildlife are as little impacted as possible, and then your off on your way. There are multiple large electric fences around Banff National Park to detour curious little bears and other wildlife from coming in contact with humans, you see one of these fences on your ride on the gondola, but once your past the fence it isn't uncommon to see one of those fuzzy creatures munching on huckleberries and other foliage down below. However, though we never saw a black or grizzly bear on our trip, the views from the gondola were wonderful and the informational center was sensational. If you have kids or want some hands on learning yourself, the informational center is the place to go. There is a well knowledged staff and lots of specimens for hands on teaching, as well as a nice restaurant and multiple trail heads.
One thing I saw when researching Banff National Park is that I MUST take the Icefield Parkway, a 3+ hour drive between Banff and Jasper National Park. According to National Geographic, it's the drive of a lifetime, and if your out to see some wildlife this is the way to do it. Like I mentioned earlier, we didn't see any bears on our trip, however, during our drive on the Parkway we saw Mountain Goats, Big Horn Sheep, Elk, and a few other small little creatures. The Parkway is also the way to a lot of other popular attractions.
Once we got to Jasper, we instantly fell in love with the town. It was quaint, the Canadian Pacific is in the heart and center of this town and its far less tourist driven but local. Though the tourist shops are still on the main strip, my mom went into a wonderful little flower shop, had some wonderful coffee, checked out a farmers market and got to have Monte Cristos (both our favorite sandwich and if you've never had one SHAME!) at a local Canadian chain.
To say the least, we stayed in Jasper a little longer then planned so we drove back in the dark, but we had a booked night back at Johnston Canyon, and if we had known we would love Jasper so much we would have stayed there the night. However we got to our little bungalow exhausted and happy and well adventured out for the day. Though this seems like a short day, there wouldn't have been enough time if I made every stop I wished to make on the Icefields Parkway as if was filled with glorious views of the Rockies, multiple lakes, wildlife and other spectacular views. Take a day and go drive this stretch, its well beyond worth the pricier gas prices.
hings learned: Plan a minimum of one day and one night at Jasper. Absolutely plan a trip (even a couple hours) on the Canadian Pacific railway. Look into and book hotels/bungalows or town houses before you go and plan your trip accordingly.