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What to see and how to see it
BANFF, Alberta – Ever since the wonders of the Banff area were first discovered, people have been flocking here to experience for themselves the natural wonders and breathtaking scenery.
But for those visiting Banff, the challenge is how to get around, and how to see all the highlights – especially if you have limited time and/or you don’t have your own car.
Fortunately for people like us, there are the Brewster coach tours. Brewster has been guiding people through the Canadian Rockies ever since the Canadian Pacific Railways decided, “if we can’t export the mountains, we’ll have to import the tourists.”
The good thing about The Discover Banff tour with Brewster is their drivers will pick you up at your hotel (or at their depot in town), take you on a three-hour guided tour of the highlights, and then drop you off at your hotel in time for lunch.
The only downside is that you really don’t get to spend a whole lot of time at any one place. It’s kind of like a buffet brunch – you get to sample a little bit of everything.
If you really want the full-meal deal, you can rent a car or hire a taxi and go to these places individually. But going on the tour is probably the best introduction.
The high point of this tour (literally) has to be the Banff Gondola ride at Sulphur Mountain. Sulphur Mountain is where Banff National Park was conceived. Workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway discovered natural hotsprings and before you could say “resort spa” the whole area had become Canada’s first national park.
An eight-minute ride on the Gondola takes you to the upper terminal, near the summit of Sulphur Mountain. From there – 2,281 metres (7,486 ft) above sea level – you can can get a panoramic view of the mountain ranges around Banff.
You can shop at the gift shop or snack at the summit restaurant, where you can relax and enjoy the 360 degree view.
But if you have the time, you should take a walk along the Banff Skywalk – a one km stroll along a boardwalk, where you really will have your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!
Emerald Lakes and Famous Falls
Of course, this mountaintop experience is not the only breathtaking view around Banff.
Two of the most picturesque spots in the Rockies are to be found on two small lakes near the town: Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewaka are both shining examples of glacier-fed waters that turn from emerald green to aquamarine when the sun dances on the surface.
You will also drive along a ridge above the Bow River to get a picture-postcard photo of the world-famous Banff Springs Hotel – the grand palace built by the Canadian Pacific Railway to lure faraway visitors to a holiday of luxury in the wilderness.
But for us, a favourite spot was Bow Falls – a small but rugged cascade on the Bow River, really.
These waterfalls may not be as big or massive as Niagara Falls, but Banff’s most famous waterfalls do have something in common with their more-famous cousin: They were both visited by Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn spent many days here filming a scene from her 1954 Western, River of No Return with Robert Mitchum.
So women who get their photos taken here can say they have at least one thing in common with Hollywood’s most-famous blonde. And guys can dream of being a ruggedly handsome movie star who got to be with Marilyn.