I wish I knew sooner that there were far better things to do near Banff National Park, than in the park itself. The problem is that whenever I would do any sort of research, it would always lead me back to the same recommendations: Banff and Jasper. It is no surprise since these are the two most popular destinations in Alberta and a bucket list item for many (including myself, before I got the opportunity to visit).
While I love Banff and I would go back there anytime, I decided to explore a little more on my last visit. I asked myself, why is it that every time I go, I always see the same places? You know, the mains: Lake Louise, Lake Moraine, Bow Falls, Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Have you ever looked at the map and seen how big Banff National Park is? Zoom out a little more and you will discover the number of other places nearby (by that, I mean at least a 2-hour drive away, but it is still worth every minute spent driving!)
Here are some of my favourite spots (and a sweet hidden gem for you!):
Kootenay National Park
Kootenay left me in awe from the moment I drove in. I loved that there is no service in the park since it allowed me to feel more connected and cherish the moment. Within the park, you can visit the popular Radium Hot Springs, but I opted out of it. Though I went to see how it was, I did not like the lineups and the crowds. There are better places you can visit if you know where to find them, to get a more relaxing experience (such as Ram Creek Hot Springs - *a hidden natural gem IMO! - note: it does require a little bit of hiking to get there). Other sights in the park include Numa Falls, Sinclair Canyon, Paint Pots and more!
Driving through the park still feels like a dream to me. I was mindblown how quickly the atmosphere changes. One moment, I was surrounded by rock formations, the warmth of autumn tones and falling leaves, and before I knew it - I was up a mountain, in the middle of a winter wonderland!
2. The Town of Golden
I stopped by Golden when I was en route to Radium. It was more of a pit stop, to fuel up and grab a bite, but I still managed to explore a little. I came across the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge and a delicious bakery (Golden Bakery & Deli). Other activities in the area to consider include alpine rafting, the Rocky Mountain Adventure Centre and the Grizzly Bear Interpretive Centre.
It is more affordable to find smaller towns when you visit a place, as you may be able to score better deals, while also avoiding big crowds and popular places. Though I did stay in the major touristic areas to visit some of the major landmarks on my list, I managed to get the best of both worlds by also choosing somewhere a little quieter (I booked a night at Copper Point Resort in Invermere to get that experience on my trip!).
3. Rocky Mountain Honey Farm
I intended on mentioning this place only briefly, but I loved the products here so much that I only dream of the day I can go back to get more honey. Since I also started cutting the use of sugar in anything I make at home and using honey as an alternative, I consume a lot of it. If you know me, you would also know that I travel only with a carry-on 99% of the time.
But the return trip home was one of those special cases where I checked in my bag since 3/4 of it was buckets or jars of honey. There was a lot to choose from, including Mountain honey, Wildflower honey, Creamed honey (my favourite) and more.
4. Escape to Europe for a while
Who would have thought that in the middle of breathtaking landscapes, mountains and in the search for wildlife, you could escape to Germany?
While you are probably wondering what I could possibly be referring to, let me note that it is not halal* (but it has very limited, and very few vegetarian options). I only wanted to go in because the aesthetic of the Black Forest Steak & Schnitzel Haus restaurant drew me to it when I drove by. It is very unique, as it provides a full dining experience that makes you feel like you are in Germany. The staff were in-character and the menu offered authentic German dishes (which made sense to me as to why there were very limited vegetarian options).
Items were more on the pricier side and potions were only enough for one. I tried the Sauerkraut and loved it. The highlight for me was entirely the design and attention to details.
Being in the area for a few days really helped me appreciate the smaller villages and towns more. I look forward to visiting again sometime in the future. Best of all is that roads were empty and everywhere was pretty much free for us to roam since we barely saw any tourists!
It is the ultimate peaceful getaway!