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Four Ways to Plan a Transformational Trip in Calgary and Banff & Lake Louise

Published Date
Oct 20, 2017
Banff Upper Hot Springs Winter

Snowflakes fall in slow-motion as you gaze out the window at a dense fog lifting off the mountains. The world is quiet, apart from the crackling fire you’re sitting by, sipping your morning coffee. It is a rare moment to pause. You feel calm, yet exhilarated about the day you’ve got planned.

Because there’s no such thing as an ordinary trip to Calgary and Banff & Lake Louise.

Whether it’s ice skating in a snow globe or basking in a historic hot springs, experiences here will stick with you long after you’ve left. Quintessentially Canadian activities fuel the inner child, and the Western hospitality of these destinations will make you feel right at home.

If that sounds right up your alley, here are four ways to plan a transformational trip to Calgary and Banff & Lake Louise:

1. Become One with Nature

Calgary Zoo, CalgaryCalgary Zoo, CalgaryCalgary Zoo, Calgary

In Banff and Lake Louise, an unforgettable experience is as simple as stepping outside. Here, you’re surrounded by nature, and total wilderness is never far away. Winter brings its own unique beauty, as a blanket of snow brings stillness to the landscape. Frozen lakes, surrounded by epic mountain scenery, are ripe for the most memorable ice skating of your life. It gets dark early at this time of year, and the Northern Lights may come out and dance – a truly awesome phenomenon to see with the naked eye.

Calgary has its own beautiful outdoor spaces, yet one of the most unique experiences with nature in the city is to get up-close-and-personal with the wildlife at the Calgary Zoo. In winter, zookeepers take their penguins for a daily walk and you can join in! You’ll want to be snapping pictures as you walk – or waddle – with one of the world’s most-loved creatures.

2. Find the Power of Plenty

Ice Magic Festival, Lake Louise, Banff National ParkIce Magic Festival, Lake Louise, Banff National ParkIce Magic Festival, Lake Louise, Banff National Park

Stillness and solitude have their place, but there are times when the energy of a crowd is the secret sauce to an unforgettable experience. In Calgary, there is perhaps nothing so Canadian as the good ‘ol hockey game. So, grab your friends and head over to the Scotiabank Saddledome (yes, in the shape of a saddle!) and get ready to cheer for the Calgary Flames at an NHL game. Seeing Canada’s favourite game played in-person is in itself an electrifying experience. Add in 19,000 other fans and you’ll be stoked to snap selfies with total strangers.

In Banff and Lake Louise, take in a winter festival to get in on that people power. The Ice Magic Festival sees renowned ice carvers gather from around the world gather for an ice carving competition resulting in jaw-dropping displays outside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. You’ll never forget the sight of ice chips flying as these artists work with every tool imaginable – from chainsaws to chisels – to create the most delicate of statues. At night the finished sculptures are lit up with dramatic, coloured spotlights.

3. Seek a Shot of Adrenaline

Bobsled, CalgaryBobsled, CalgaryBobsled, Calgary

Trust the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary to deliver adrenaline-pumping experiences you’ll be raving about. WinSport hosts many outdoor activities, most notably the chance to hurtle down an Olympic track in a bobsleigh! Don’t worry, though, an expert pilot – perhaps even an Olympic athlete – will be there to guide you down. If speeding down a track at 78 miles/hr and 4G’s of force sounds a bit too crazy, check out North America’s only halfpipe in the city – also at Calgary’s WinSport.

With their steep slopes and mountain topography, Banff and Lake Louise have come to be synonymous with adrenaline-inducing activities. Whether it’s sinking your skis into a powder-filled bowl or climbing a frozen waterfall, it’ll take you a while to come off the rush of pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. If you prefer speed over steepness, hop aboard a dogsled and get cozy under a warm blanket while a team of huskies pulls you through the wilderness.

4. Get in the Holiday Spirit

Christmas, Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff National ParkChristmas, Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff National ParkChristmas, Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff National Park

Christmas in Canada, where the snow falls and evergreens grow, brings to mind that classic holiday scene. Add snow-capped mountains, special holiday events (check out the Santa Claus Parade and Banff Christmas Market), and the main street lined with Christmas lights; altogether you have the perfect place to bring your family to get into the holiday spirit. This destination has also perfected the art of mountain lodging, where cracking fires and warm duvets welcome you to get cozy and give yourself permission to hibernate.

You’ll find the perfect holiday pairing in Calgary, where several winter festivities will light up your spirit like a Christmas tree. Don’t miss ZooLights, the Christmas Light show at the Calgary Zoo or the chance to step back in time for an old-fashioned celebration at Heritage Park. Strap on some ice-skates at the Olympic Plaza and catch the annual “A Christmas Carol” production at Theatre Calgary. We guarantee you’ll feel the wonder of a five-year-old again.

With an international airport in Calgary and short driving distance to Banff and Lake Louise, you can easily make the most of both places in a single trip.

Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.