Sadly, I have returned from Canada…which is now my favorite place out of anywhere I’ve traveled to. I thought about writing about the trip earlier, but it was so wonderful that I just wanted to let it all soak in. Today I’m starting from the beginning, with my first introduction to the country- Banff.
I arrived at my hostel, Samesun Banff, around 5pm. It was overcast and I had a long day of travel, so I walked around Banff Ave., got dinner and headed back to the hostel, which was conveniently located right on Banff Ave.
Not one to waste time, I woke up early on my first full day and headed straight to the Banff Visitor Information Centre to figure out what I could cram in before leaving on my first tour. I decided on Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the Banff Gondola and Banff Upper Hot Springs, in that order. The local buses made things easy.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
The site is the birthplace of Canada’s National Park system and adult admission is only $3.90 CAD- well worth it.
I started out by learning that the Banff Springs Snail isn’t found anywhere else in the world. When this was discovered in 1926, the parks system began implementing more education programs and serious conservation efforts. It’s the only mollusc in the world that’s listed as an endangered species. # End nerdy notes on snails. #
After learning about the snail, I made my way through a narrow tunnel and into a small cave where I was greeted with the smell of eggs (or Hydrogen Sulphide) that’s caused by bacteria breaking down dissolved minerals in the water before they surface…or something like that.
After the cave I headed out to a larger room to watch a video and send some hilarious digital postcards to my family before making my way outside. I looked at a few more displays outside and then headed off to the trails.
My heart starts beating a little faster when I see REAL nature, and apparently my brain stops working too. I tried to stay near people since I knew absolutely nothing about bears or where I was going at this point, but once I saw the water, it was over. I was taking pictures; I had no idea where I was going and I got lost for about 30 minutes. I’m alive, so it was well worth it. I feel like travel isn’t really traveling unless I screw up at least once. Am I alone here?
I highly recommend a walk around all of the trails, but you may want to pay more attention to where you’re going than I did. After finding my way out, I sat down for a snack, caught the bus and headed over to the gondola ride.
At just under $40.00 CAD, the Banff Gondola isn’t quite as budget friendly as Cave and Basin, but it was worth every penny for the views at the top.
A few suggestions if you plan on doing the gondola-
Don’t go too early in the day if there’s a lot of fog or if it’s cloudy. If it’s very foggy or overcast, you’re not going to have a good view once you get to the top. I ended up waiting until about 2:30pm and it was perfect.
And second suggestion- Be sure you actually walk away from the main observation area and over to the wooden stairs that let you explore a little more. You’re missing out on some amazing scenery if you don’t! And if you’re up for it, walk off the path and down the side of the mountain. It’s a bit uneven, but it was hands down one of my favorite experiences.
After wandering around the mountainside and having that little squirrel beg me for food multiple times, I decided to head back down and go to the hot springs.
Banff Upper Hot Springs
You can actually walk to the hot springs from the gondola. It’s a five minute walk max, but if you’re too tired, there’s a bus that will take you there too. I arrived at the hot springs, purchased a locker and put on my suit. Remember that you’ll need a swimsuit and towel unless you plan on renting them. I just stuffed everything in my backpack for the day and it all worked out.
I have to admit that the hot springs were the least exciting part of the day. I think the experience would be much more enjoyable when it’s colder out, especially after skiing or a long hike. I’d also recommend getting there earlier in the day if you don’t have anything else planned. Less people might make for a better experience too. I stayed for a little before heading to catch a bus back to downtown.
And that was my first full day in Banff. It was a great introduction to Canada and I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay away for too long. I have more to say about Banff though, so I’ll be reliving it all for the next few posts. 🙂