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.