Growing up in Southern California and only even living here and in Arizona, the concept of a “white Christmas” seems pretty foreign to me. I love the idea of waking up and looking outside to a backyard covered in a blanket of snow, sipping hot cocoa by a warm fireplace, and seeing snowflakes fall quietly on tall pine trees outside, covering them ever so gently. Ahhhhh. But, since I probably won’t get this in Los Angeles anytime too soon, I knew I’d have to “Getaway from LA” to experience my dream white Christmas. A few months ago, my boyfriend mentioned to me that someone he knew had gone to Banff, Canada over the summer and showed me pictures online from a quick Google search. I immediately fell IN LOVE with the beauty of this national park and quaint town, and just a few weeks later we booked Banff for Christmas. I was overjoyed and began counting down the days to our trip. I started shopping for wintery things (what do you mean I can’t wear my converse in the snow?!) and found snow boots, a warm winter coat, and warm winter accessories to bring with me. I was finally going to get my white Christmas! Our “Getaway from LA” trip to Banff exceeded our expectations (and I was expecting a lot!), and to date, it’s been one of the most beautiful and enjoyable places I’ve ever been to. Below I’ll be sharing with you details on how you can take a “Getaway from LA” trip to Banff, or travel there from wherever you’re coming from!
Getting to Banff from LA:
From LAX, you will need to book a flight to Calgary, Canada (YYC is the airport code). You can find direct flights on Air Canada, and it's about a 3.5 hour direct flight. Don't forget that you will need a passport to fly to Canada. From YYC, you will take a shuttle to the city of Banff. I'd recommend this over taking a cab because you will save money and both of the airport shuttles we took were convenient, comfortable, and all around a great deal. The shuttle ride from YYC to Banff will take about 1.5 - 2 hours depending on road conditions. Airport shuttles that I would recommend are the Brewster or the Banff Airporter (both you can research and book online). They will drop off/pick up directly from your hotel in Banff, making the trip easy and hassle-free for you! I will include more information about the accomodations in Banff and where we stayed toward the end of this post under the "Accomodations" section.
Banff is an adorably quaint town full of hotels, shops and boutiques, and delicious places to eat and drink, all in an incredibly picturesque setting, smack dab in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. The townsite is located in Banff National Park and is in the province of Alberta, Canada. Banff National Park covers 6,500 square kilometers and is home to a wide variety of wildlife including bears, elk, fox, and more. The town of Banff covers 2.5 square miles and has an elevation of 4,537 feet, making it the highest town in Canada. Banff is the perfect little town to stay in because it’s easy to walk everywhere within the town and you can take taxis or buses to any of the nearby National Park adventures you’re interested in! Read on for ideas on what to do when you visit Banff in the wintertime.
Explore Banff Avenue
Banff Ave. is the heart of the town of Banff. It’s the one main street in town, home to delicious places to eat, fun places to drink, great variety of shops to browse, warm and cozy coffee shops, and more. No matter what time of day it is, whatever you need during your stay in Banff you will find here. We loved walking around in the morning with a hot cup of coffee, stopping in to the souvenir shops and boutiques, and marveling in the picturesque setting of it all. The giant, jagged, snow-covered mountain in the background made for a great backdrop as we strolled along and took it all in (and tried not to freeze). Our favorite coffee shops were Whitebark and Second Cup, favorite restaurants were Maple Leaf Grill and Carlitos Pizzeria, and favorite bars were Banff Brew Co. and Wild Bills Saloon. There really wasn’t any restaurant that wasn’t delicious, and overall, spending time on Banff Ave. was one of the most enjoyable aspects of our trip!
Banff Sightseeing Gondola
On Christmas day we woke up to the gorgeous white Christmas I hoped for, minus the fresh snow falling, which was actually a blessing because instead we were gifted with the must beautiful and clear winter day. The Banff Sightseeing Gondola was one of the adventures I was most excited about in Banff - I love the adrenaline rush I get from tall heights and seeing impressive landscapes make me feel so small yet so inspired. The Banff Sightseeing Gondola is located just 5 minutes from the Downtown Banff, on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain, and costs about $40 US for a roundtrip ticket. Each gondola seats 4 people total and takes about 10 minutes one-way. Once you get to the top of the gondola ride, you can enjoy views from the main sight-seeing decks and walk around at your leisure. You can also walk 1km on the Banff Skywalk to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site and Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station, a higher deck with even more impressive views. I would highly recommend going on a clear day because the views from the top are BREATHTAKING! You’ll see 360 degree views of Banff, the Bow Valley, and the Canadian Rockies, all at an altitude of 7,486 feet above sea level. If you visit in the winter, definitely make sure to bundle up. On the day we visited it was -24 degrees C/-11 degrees F at the top of the gondola - aka very, VERY cold! Lastly, in case you’re in need of a caffeine pick-me-up or a snack, there is a Starbucks at the base of the gondola and a restaurant at the top.
Be prepared to be amazed by nature’s incredible beauty - you will feel like you’re on top of the world when you’re at the top of the Banff Sightseeing Gondola! Click here for more information about booking this adventure.
Ice Skating at Lake Louise
I had seen pictures of Lake Louise at the Fairmont Chateau hotel online during the Spring/Summer months and the water was the brightest blue color I had ever seen in nature. I was disappointed I wouldn't be able to experience the lake at it's most beautiful, but I was so excited when my boyfriend told me that the lake completely freezes over in the winter and you are then able to ice skate on it. How cool is that?! It was my first time skating on a completely natural ice skating rink, and we had so much fun! The ice was slightly uneven so it was more challenging to skate on it, but you just couldn't beat the gorgeous setting and backdrop of snowy, tree topped mountains at each and every turn.
Skate rentals are available at The Fairmont in Chateau Mountain Sports, located next to the front desk lobby. You can rent ice skates for 2 hours for about $13 per person or you can also rent them for an entire day. We opted for the 2 hour rental, and it's good we did because we only skated for about 45 minutes before we got tired, hungry, and needed some warming up inside. Luckily, the Fairmont Chateau has delicious eateries inside after you finish your ice skating adventure, and the hotel itself is beautiful to stroll around. You don't need to stay at the hotel to visit, ice skate, eat, etc., but if you can afford it, this may be a hotel you need to add to your travel bucketlist! It's apparently one of the most iconic hotels in the world, and the Fairmont hotel line itself has an excellent reputation. They also get an A+ in my book since they had a full "ice bar" outside made entirely of ice (even the benches in the bar) and served hot alcoholic beverages like mulled wine and coffee with Baileys. Yum! The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is about a 45 minute drive from Banff, and we decided to take the Brewster bus from our hotel for $15 roundtrip - totally worth it.
It's no surprise to me that the Huffington Post claimed Lake Louise as "World's Best Skating Rink" in 2014, and I would HIGHLY recommend you put this on your agenda if you visit Banff in the winter months! Click here for more information about the Fairmont Lake Louise and the activities and restaurants it offers to both guests and visitors.
Sleigh Ride at Warner Stables
While we were visiting Banff, we really wanted to go dog sledding but we majorly failed on trying to book this too late (all of the tours were booked up through mid-January when we started looking them up in mid-December. Oops.). So, we opted for a sleigh ride instead from Warner Stables, just about a 10 minute cab ride from downtown Banff. Upon arrival, I loved seeing Warner Stables barn in a bright red color with the snowy and foggy sky as a backdrop. It was a picture-perfect moment in our Canadian winter wonderland. Once we got all checked in and settled, the sleigh ride was about 45 minutes total, and we sleighed through snowy meadows and woods while wrapped up in warm wool blankets. There were about 10 other people on our sleigh ride, but we were lucky to grab the front row so had beautiful views throughout the ride. It was really, really cold on this day, but our horses King and Kong were troopers and led us on a memorable, Christmas-y adventure. Click here to check out more information about the tour we went on.
Surprise Corner is only a 5 minute drive from Downtown Banff (any cab can easily take you here, or you can get more information from the Visitor Center if you'd like to drive there on your own) and has one of the most beautiful views in Banff – of the historic Fairmont Baff Springs Hotel. This is one of the most famous hotels in the world and is known as the “Castle in the Rockies.” Marilyn Monroe even stayed here in the 1950’s! The hotel sits at the base of Sulphur Mountain and is surrounded by tall hillsides and thousands of beautiful, tall pine trees. We just stopped by for a short walk and a few quick pictures, and it was definitely worth the detour. The view was incredible, and it truly looked like a castle in the middle of the woods, perfectly fit for a queen. So, I guess I’ll be moving in!
Since Banff is a small resort town, there are plenty of hotel options for you to choose from when you plan your visit. I typically look at Expedia and TripAdvisor before I book accomodations abroad, and we definitely lucked out with the Banff hotel we found online. We stayed at the High Country Inn, and all around, it was lovely! It had a big heated pool, two jacuzzi’s, a very helpful lobby staff who could answer all of our questions, a delicious Italian/Swiss restaurant attached to it, and rooms were cozy and comfortable. The location was perfect, which is always what’s most important to me. We were able to easily walk down Banff Ave. and it was only about a 5-10 minute walk to the center of Downtown, which was wonderful – especially in the freezing temps! I’d recommend you check out hotels online and if High Country Inn has availability for the dates you’re interested, I’d highly recommend staying here!
Oh, Canada! is all I can think to say to try and explain how much I loved Banff National Park. I truly fell in love with it! Not only was the town and park incredibly gorgeous (I am still drooling over all of the pictures - there are so many that are postcard worthy!), but the city itself was so enjoyable and fun to stay in. I loved being able to walk all throughout Banff Ave. for anything we needed and also appreciated how easy it was to take a taxi to any of the nearby adventures. Everyone that we interacted with throughout our stay were so nice, friendly, and helpful, and the entire town felt so warm despite the freezing temps. This has been my favorite "Getaway from LA" to date, and I can't wait to visit again, but in the Spring or Summer next time! Thanks for following along with this snowy adventure, and if you decide to plan your own "Getaway from LA" to Banff, I can pretty much guarantee you'll be glad you did!
WANDER BEYOND THE CITY LINES...
As much as I love to explore L.A., it's good for the soul to getaway every now & then. Join me as I escape from the city to explore new locations, both locally and globally!
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