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From Summit to City Street: The Banff-Calgary Experience

Published Date
Oct 20, 2017
Winter Snowshoeing Bow Lake 2016 - Noel Hendrickson

On a clear day, from high in the mountains of Banff National Park, you can see the city of Calgary rising from the Prairies, the Calgary Tower punctuating the skyline like a lighthouse. A 1 hour and 30 minute drive is all that separates these two locations, putting two world-renowned destinations at your fingertips on a single trip.

That means you can put in an invigorating day of snowshoeing among the mountains of Banff and Lake Louise and be in Calgary for an unforgettable dinner, with plenty of time to spare.

Keen to make a Banff-Calgary trip a reality? It’s as easy as hopping on a flight to Calgary – less than a 4-hour flight from most major US airports – and arranging transportation to Banff and Lake Louise. Then, make the most of the easy accessibility of North America’s greatest mountain-city combo:

Outdoor Adventures

Hikers take a photograph while walking through the frozen Johnston Canyon, near Banff and Lake Louise, ABHikers take a photograph while walking through the frozen Johnston Canyon, near Banff and Lake Louise, ABHikers take a photograph while walking through the frozen Johnston Canyon, near Banff and Lake Louise, AB

Banff and Lake Louise: Mountains mean elevation, and that means some of Canada’s best-known ski and snowboard terrain. Banff and Lake Louise are home to three ski areas – Mt. Norquay, Banff Sunshine and The Lake Louise Ski Resort – each with its own unique character. The exhilaration continues at valley-bottom, where you can explore Banff’s many scenic trails on snowshoes, take an ice walk with friends through Johnston Canyon or mingle with the local scene at one of Banff and Lake Louise’s many winter events.

Calgary: Filled with photo-worthy outdoor adventures, this city pairs perfectly with the big peaks of Banff National Park. At WinSport, you can race your friends down a bobsleigh track from the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games with the help of a professional driver – maybe even an Olympian! (And we’re talking race; a 78 miles/hour and 4G of force, speed will forever be redefined for you.) Or, defy gravity in the Under Armour Super Pipe – the only halfpipe within city limits and the largest in Western Canada. Gear rentals (think ice skates, cross-country skis, and fatbikes) are available at Nomad Gear Rentals, the U of C Outdoor Centre or MEC, if you’re keen to explore the city’s trails and rinks.

Arts & Culture

Peace Bridge, CalgaryPeace Bridge, CalgaryPeace Bridge, Calgary

Calgary: You’re in for a treat in Calgary – by far one of Canada’s cultural gems. Catch a heart-pumping concert with 19,000 fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome or get intimate with an indie artist in a cozy venue. Peruse the Western Canadian and First Nations art and culture exhibitions at the Glenbow Museum, or take a walking tour of urban art. Whatever you take in, don’t miss the iconic and photogenic Peace Bridge and the Chinook Arc, which in the evening is illuminated with colour-changing lights that’ll match your movements and even the colour of your clothes!

Banff and Lake Louise: This mountain community has long been a magnet for artists of all kinds, from musicians to painters, photographers and more. Explore Banff and Lake Louise’s many art galleries and museums, including two National Historic Sites: The Cave and Basin and Banff Park Museum. Take in a concert or event at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity or tap into the historical roots of the area at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Culinary Scene

Juniper Bistro, Banff National ParkJuniper Bistro, Banff National ParkJuniper Bistro, Banff National Park

Banff and Lake Louise: With its long tradition of greeting visitors, Banff and Lake Louise are incredibly cosmopolitan, with many restaurants to choose from. They are famous for their “Rocky Mountain Cuisine” – hearty and delicious game-based meals – as well as their wide assortment of restaurants. Here you’ll find everything from the best pizza on the block to award-winning fine-dining. Top it all off with a local craft brew from the Banff Ave. Brewing Co., or handmade spirits from Park Distillery.

Calgary: We’ve got two words for you: Alberta Beef. If you haven’t yet heard about one of Western Canada’s biggest culinary icons, you have now, and you’ll have plenty of chances to try it in Calgary. More than beef, though, Calgary’s got one of Canada’s most vibrant food scenes, from craft breweries to diverse and innovative eateries. It’s also home to unique dining experiences, such as Sky 360, a restaurant atop the Calgary Tower, which provides a full, panoramic view of the city as it rotates 525 feet above the ground.

Night Life

Calgary: They don’t call this part of Canada “The Wild West” for nothing. Calgary delivers just the right dose of night light experiences – everything from live music to late night eats – across its bustling scene of bars, pubs and nightclubs. As darkness settles in, duck into the ever-popular Hifi Club, an all-in-one live music venue, dance club, and art gallery; pull on your cowboy boots and line dance the night away at Ranchman’s Cookhouse and Dancehall; or take a stroll through Calgary’s lively downtown core (and check out that urban art!).

Banff and Lake Louise: The nightlife looks a bit different in Banff and Lake Louise. Don’t get us wrong – there are plenty of hopping venues to enjoy – but here’s one place where dark skies should be taken in from the outdoors, too. Free from the light pollution you might find in urban environments, the skies in Banff and Lake Louise are prime for stargazing. If you’re lucky, the Northern Lights may appear.

Remember: Banff and Calgary are so close, you can mix and match these experiences into a single trip! Your friends back home will be wondering how you managed to drive a team of sled dogs and catch a concert downtown Calgary – all in one day.

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.