August 8, 2014
By Jeff Mitchell
It took me all of around 30 minutes to feel like John Wayne, but in my own western movie-rolling through the incredible scenery and raw ruggedness of Banff's backcountry like I envisioned an 1830's gunslinger would. Truth is, I couldn't be farther from the gunslinging type. With no previous horseback experience, save for one disastrous occasion on a Shetland pony when I was around 6 years old, I'll admit that the prospect of four days in the saddle gave me pause. Those fears quickly dissipated after I had a brief orientation with my ride for the week, the trusty and sure footed Peyto, basically a Cadillac among horses and a soother of cowboy angst.
In the video (above, top), we take a look at the four day backcountry trip with Banff Trail Riders-stopping at the warm and rustic Sundance and Halfway Lodges in Banff National Park. It's pretty much impossible to sum up how much fun this trip was in a 3 minute video, and similarly, I don't have the writing skills to do this adventure justice...so here are some point form highlights from a truly unforgettable week.
- My, um, saddle area was just fine. This was my primary concern. I did wear bicycle shorts with a padded chamois under my jeans, but don't think I needed them.
- Even after 20 years in Banff, I had no idea how beautiful and quaint the Sundance and Halfway Lodges are. I can't wait to cross country ski there in the winter.
- There are a couple adorable marmots living at Sundance, who try to break into the lodge. Phil, and Phyllis.
Phil the marmot
- The chefs and food were spectacular. Fred Flintstone sized ribs, and the best lasagna I've ever had. And I've had a lot.
- You will probably fall in love with the pack mules.
- You will not miss your internet, your tv, or your internet tv.
- These are true cowboys and cowgirls. Wyatt spends his off-season delivering calves or riding broncos.
Guides Kate, Vince, and Meaghan on the Sundance Lodge deck
- The night skies are ridiculous. So clear and un-light-polluted there is a constant stream of meteors and satellites to watch, along with a hundred gazillion stars.
- I started talking with a cowboy tinted accent almost immediately.
- The shower at the Halfway Lodge has unlimited hot water, is outside attached to a tree, and has a 180 degree view of the mountains. This is almost worth the trip itself.
- That said, it is fun to clean up in a river.
- Cal at Sundance Lodge gave me a feather for my cowboy hat. It was from a particularly evil raven named 'McMuffin' who still roams the skies. I took this as a great honour.
This backcountry trip is just one of the many adventures available from Banff Trail Riders. For the tenderfoot out there, you can try out a day in the saddle with Trail Rides ranging from 1 to 7 hours long. Then you can immediately sign up for the full 5 day backcountry ride, which includes both lodges and a day trip up Allenby Pass, because you will be lassoed by the cowboy life.
Jonathan stops for a fillup.
There are several amazing horseback outfitters in both Banff and Lake Louise. For more information, please click here. -Jeff Mitchell for The Real Banff
Me and my trusty steed, Peyto
Mike and Wyatt in the Halfway Lodge kitchen
So a horse walks into a bar, bartender says...
At the Banff stables.
Halfway Lodge stables.
Some light reading at the Sundance Lodge. For those who really love mules.