After flying from Toronto to Calgary, we drove directly to Banff, Alberta. Banff is a beautiful town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, and is home to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel (pictured above). The hotel, styled after a Scottish Baronial Castle and built in 1888, is located in the Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent an evening at the Banff Springs, swimming in the outdoor heated pools (even though it was freezing outside!), and enjoying coffees at the Waldhaus pub. I loved exploring the vast hallways of the old hotel, which truly feels like a castle retreat in the Canadian wilderness.
The next morning we took a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. Looking down through the glass of the gondola, we spotted bear paw tracks (the black bears were just coming out of hibernation while we were out West, causing people to caution us more than once about their presence). At the top of the mountain, we walked from peak to peak across a wooden pathway, as snow fell softly around us. It was so quiet up there, and with 360 degree views of the mountains, it was easily one of the prettiest sights I’d ever seen.
On our way out of Banff, we spotted an elk nestled in the forest near the Banff Springs golf course. As we slowed down the car, and I began snapping shots, more and more heads turned. There were about 50 elk laying down in the forest, camouflaged in such a way that it made it difficult initially to discern how many animals there were. We were astounded by the size of the herd, and by their calm yet powerful presence. From the beautiful elegance of the Banff Springs hotel, to the harsh beauty of the mountains filled with wildlife, Banff was the perfect place to start our Western Canada adventure.