The view outside Moraine Lake Lodge. Community

Best of Banff: 11 Favorite Moments

Banff has been drawing visitors to the Canadian Rocky Mountains for more than a century. They're drawn primarily to nature and the peace of the wilderness. It's not necessarily hip (although Banff has trendy restaurants), and it's certainly nothing new. Banff is dependable yet surprising, a place to stretch yourself physically and reward yourself mentally. The following are some of my favorite experiences in Canada's premier mountain wilderness.

Photo Caption: The view outside Moraine Lake Lodge.
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park
Canoeing on an Alpine Lake
Emerald, Maligne, Moraine . . . their names simply invite you to grab a paddle and launch a canoe upon their sublime shores. Out alone (or with a friend) on a placid alpine lake, with your reflection blending with that of giant rocky peaks on the ripples beside you, you'll find you're living inside your own postcard from paradise. Moraine Lake is next to Lake Louise and is less visited but still easy to access, making it my top choice.

Skoki Lodge, Banff National Park.
Hiking or Cross-Country Skiing into Skoki Lodge
Skoki Lodge is tucked in the woods behind Lake Louise Ski Resort may be the place that defined rustic charm. The 11km (6.8-mile) trail leads to a wooden cabin with private rooms, home cooking, endless trails
Pyramid Lake, Jasper.
Skating on a Frozen Lake
Clear as glass on a crisp winter day, the shallow Vermillion Lakes, close to the Town of Banff, make for a magical ice rink. The crisp mountain views and glimpses of fish wintering below the ice add to the icy drama. What could be more Canadian? Just be sure to check ice thickness with Parks Canada first. In Jasper, try Pyramid Lake.

Photo Caption: Pyramid Lake, Jasper.
Bow Valley Grill inside the Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts
Sunday Brunch at the Fairmont Banff Springs
In the stately Bow Valley Grill inside the Fairmont Banff Springs, you can sample a stellar array of gourmet Canadiana, from smoked Wild Pacific salmon and free-range eggs Benedict, to roasted Alberta beef and maple brownies. Ask for a window table for views of Fairholme Range and Bow River, and bring your appetite. Reservations recommended.

Photo Caption: Bow Valley Grill inside the Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff.
Sunshine Village, Banff.
Skiing the Great Divide at Sunshine Village
On a perfect winter day, catch the Continental Divide chair up to the top of Lookout Mountain, crossing from Alberta into British Columbia en route. The view of Mount Assiniboine, the "Matterhorn of the Rockies," is magnificent, and when the powder is fresh and the sun is shining, your ski back down will be even more thrilling.

Photo Caption: Sunshine Village, Banff.
The summit of Sulphur Mountain, Banff.
Matt Adams
Gazing at the Peaks From the Top of Sulphur Mountain
It's the easiest summit in the Canadian Rockies. Take the 8-minute gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, then walk the elevated 1km (2/3-mile) boardwalk to Sanson Peak, a truly jaw-dropping lookout. Six mountain ranges are displayed beneath you. Also great for families, this is an easy way to accomplish a kid's first Rocky Mountain summit. Hardcore hikers can hike up the 5.3km (3.3-mile) switchback trail, and then reward their knees by riding the gondola down.

Photo Caption: The summit of Sulphur Mountain, Banff.
The Ice Castle, Lake Louise, Banff.
Geoff S.
Exploring an Ice Castle on a Starry Winter's Night
Late January brings the annual Ice Magic event to the frozen shores of Lake Louise. Under the dark sky and beneath the icy glaciers of Mount Victoria, carvers from around the world craft magical creations, culminating with a frozen castle that stays on the lake as long as the lake is frozen. Rent some skates at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, snuggle by the outdoor fire, and sip hot chocolate
Miette Hot Springs, Jasper.
Soaking in the Banff Upper Hot Springs on a Winter Evening
If it's cold and you've been skiing all day, you're in the right town
Banff Avenue: Looking north along the main street in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
John Vetterli
Driving the Astonishing Icefields Parkway
For 230km (143miles), drive a road that feels like it's been carved inside the earth, with massive mountains clinging to the Continental Divide, ancient glaciers, and ragged peaks. At the middle are the Columbia Icefields, the liquid heart from which the waters of the nation pump. Oh, and there are mountain goats and grizzly bears too!

Photo Caption: Banff Avenue: Looking north along the main street in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
Healy Pass, Banff.
A tea but no e
Wildflowers at Healy Pass
In the high alpine zone at Healy Pass, hardy wildflowers like moss Campion, purple Saxifrage, glacier lilies, and alpine forget-me-nots bloom into gorgeous colors from mid-July to mid-August. This pass just beside Sunshine Village ski area is one of the finest areas for these brilliant displays. Hike the 12km (7.5-mile) trail up to alpine meadows, or cheat by taking the Sunshine Meadows shuttle up most of the way. In Jasper, head to Mount Edith Cavell.

Photo Caption: Healy Pass, Banff.
Bighorn sheep walk along the road in the early morning by Two Jack Lake, in Banff National Park. Community
Catching Your First Wildlife Sighting
Whether it's an elk munching on grass on a lawn or a grizzly bear crossing an avalanche path, each glimpse of a wild animal in Banff is a gift. There are no guarantees, but there's a good chance that you'll see bighorn sheep at Lake Minnewanka at dusk or dawn. Some animals, of course, require more seriousness than others. Visit the Parks Canada Visitors Centres for more information.

Photo Caption: Bighorn sheep walk along the road in the early morning by Two Jack Lake, in Banff National Park.