BC Hot Springs Tour: Banff, Alberta
We road tested our new-to-us 2007 Lexus RX-400H Hybrid SUV, from Calgary to Vancouver Island in early June of 2015.
On the way to Banff from Canmore I discovered another feature I liked very much about Lexi. When we stopped, I noticed that a lot of dead bugs had accumulated on the front of the vehicle, and I realized that not one had gotten stuck on the windshield.
The aerodynamics are such that they get pushed up and over the roof, so you don't have to forever keep cleaning the windshield - there is no bug splatter - a nice attribute for a long trip at highway speeds. I also noticed that the air doesn't come slamming in on you when you open the driver's side window.
Jewel of the Rockies
Some might say Banff is the jewel in the Rocky Mountain crown, although there are so many spectacular places in the Rockies it's really hard to pin down any one place as a superlative.
Nevertheless, Banff is pretty spectacular when it comes to settings, situated at the hub of a number of different valleys that radiate almost like spokes in a wheel from the town itself. Everywhere you look there is a spectacular vista, and there's also plenty of wildlife - elk, for instance - that stroll leisurely through the town.
It has the beautiful Bow River winding through it, and there's a very large lake close by (Lake Minnewanka).
The town itself is a very quaint alpine style village, and they've kept the low-rise character of it intact. Even though it has been decades since we lived there, it still felt very familiar.
In this view of main street, with nothing much over 4 or 5 storeys, you can see the impressive face of Cascade Mountain in the background (see it in the above picture too).
Just out of view to the left is Mt. Norquay, a prime ski mountain with excellent developed runs and lift facilities.
Like Canmore, it doesn't really matter which way you look, the view is always spectacular.
Relax and Rejuvenate at the Upper Hot Springs
Banff is actually situated in Banff National Park, Canada's very first National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has an excellent public hot springs spa located part way up Sulphur Mountain, the source of the very special geo-thermal heated water.
The hot springs were first discovered in 1884, and folks have been taking in the soothing waters ever since, which is kept between 37 and 40 ºC (98 and 104 ºF). The top five minerals in the water are:
- Sulphate 572 mg/l
- Calcium 205 mg/l
- Bicarbonate 134 mg/l
- Magnesium 42 mg/l
- Sodium 6.6 mg/l
It is an easy drive to the springs, and we headed directly there when we arrived in the village; I couldn't quite remember where they were, but it turned out that there's plenty of signage showing the way. Here's Jenni welcoming you to the entry of the public facility, which has a great view of the mountains and valley below.
They aren't particularly large, but they are certainly very pleasant, and there was plenty of room when we were there. Every now and then a bus tour shows up, so it's good to get in ahead of one of those.
You can read more about them at the Parks Canada Website (Banff springs).
Ethereal Ride to The Top of the World
Well, not really, but it feels like you're on the top of the world when you take the breathtaking ride up to the top of Sulphur Mountain (almost 8,000 feet) in one of the 4 person gondola cars.
The base of the gondola is very close to the upper hot springs public pool, and you can see the little gondola cars disappearing into the trees waaay up the mountain as you bask in the hot springs pool. In fact, it was while we were enjoying the pool therapy that I realized the gondola ride was going to be the next thing we did.
The first picture on this page was taken from the top of the gondola ride, looking north over Banff; here's another one looking north-west along the Bow River Valley, towards Lake Louise. If you look carefully, you can see the Bow Valley Parkway as it snakes along the valley, soon to pass the majestic Castle mountain that appears on our home page.
If you look at the extreme right hand side of the picture above, you'll see the old meteorological observatory building that was completed on Sanson Peak in 1903. You can take the hike over a wooden stair system (close-up below) and climb up to it, if you're feeling adventuresome. Visitors can look through a window to see its interior, complete with rustic furnishings. The view from that peak is even more spectacular than the gondola platform itself.
More information about the gondola and other activities in Banff is available at the official Town of Banff website.
Banff Springs Hotel - A Luxury Resort
No visit to Banff would be complete without a visit to this grand old lady of the Rocky Mountains. She was built in the 19th century as one of Canada's great railway hotels, constructed in Scottish Baronial style. In this picture you see the amazing Mt. Rundle in the background that stretches all the way back to Canmore:
At an altitude of 4,639 feet above sea level (1,414 m), construction began in the spring of 1887 by the Canadian Pacific Railway under the stewardship of its president, William Cornelius Van Horne.
Designed by American architect Bruce Price, the Banff Springs Hotel was opened to the public on June 1, 1888 and has been a popular destination luxury resort since then.
We stopped by to get pictures, and just to see her once again.
She is a gigantic 764 guest room hotel, located in a spectacular setting on Bow Falls, within walking distance of the Banff village center, just across the Bow River bridge.
The thermal springs are close by, and she has her own spa (Willow Stream Spa), a fitness centre and an aquatic centre with a salt water outdoor pool.
You won't need to leave the premises if you don't want to as there are more than a dozen restaurants and bars within the hotel itself.
Here's the official Fairmont Banff Springs website.
Map of the BC Hot Springs Circle Tour
1 - Cranbrook
2 - Kimberley
3 - Fairmont Hot Springs and Lussier Hot Springs
4 - Invermere and Windemere Lake
5 - Radium Hot Springs
6 - Golden
7 - Rogers Pass and Canyon Hot Springs
8 - Revelstoke
9 - Halcyon and Nakusp Hot Springs
10 - New Denver
11 - Kaslo
12 - Ainsworth Hot Springs and Kootenay Lake Ferry
13 - Creston
details can be found here: Hello BC Website