From a topographical and geographical standpoint, Canada is extremely privileged. Stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the landscapes vary from mountainous to sprawling, with densely populated forests, freshwater lakes and bubbling brooks. Banff, Alberta then is the perfect place where the best of our Nation comes together, and interacting with nature is less of a choice than an inevitability. The park itself is Canada’s oldest National Park.

Banff National Park and township are located along the Trans-Canada Highway, making it an easy and direct route. It’s just 126 kilometres west of Calgary, which, if you’re planning to visit from afar, is an easy fly-and-drive destination. Things are a bit more adventurous from the West; the drive from Kamloops, BC is just shy of 500 kilometres, but makes for an extremely memorable and world-class road trip, and an early morning start can have you there just after lunch. From either direction, just hop on to Highway 1 and that’s it. It couldn’t be simpler or more beautiful.

Thankfully, as a world-class tourist attraction, you’ll find no shortage of hotel/resorts and bed and breakfasts in Banff. Just be sure to call long before your trip is underway as spaces are reserved early. For those looking to explore the area and other accommodations, Lake Louise is just a 30-45 minute drive further down the road.

The Fairmont Banff Springs – (From $399 a night / low season) Perched amongst the Sulphur Mountain and Mount Rundle, this AAA Four Diamond upscale resort seems plucked out of a majestic fairytale overlooking the Bow and Spray Rivers. The award-winning, full-service Willow Stream Spa includes massage/facial/salon services, a mineral pool and quiet atmosphere to unwind, while the 11 year-round and two summer restaurants offer will satisfy any pallet; Italian, Japanese, Indian or otherwise. The adjacent nine- or 18-hole golf courses ($100 to $239 per adult / high season) offers once-in-a-lifetime views.

Delta Banff Royal Canadian Lodge – Highlighted by surrounding coniferous trees and stone and wood architecture, the four-star Royal Canadian Lodge has a pool and full-service spa, fitness and bar and restaurant services for each of its 99 rooms on three levels (from $279 a night). With tourism assistance, easy mountain access, ski storage and a cozy atmosphere, it’s a great choice for couples and families looking for a quality hotel from a worldwide chain. 

Bed and Breakfasts – Whether you’re looking for shorter stays or travelling on a budget, there are plenty of quality BnBs to set up camp. A Good Nites Rest ($120 a night) offers free WiFi, private washroom and free parking, all within minutes of mountain and museum destinations. The country-rustic décor of Mountain Home ($165 a night) includes a 32-inch TV and en suite bathroom for each room just two blocks from the Banff city centre. The heritage property of Blue Mountain Lodge ($79 a night) is decorated with playful Western décor and artifacts, with its own guest kitchen, lounge and fresh baked cookies daily, is two minutes away from the shops of Banff town centre.

 Fairmont Banff SpringsFondue or high tea from noon to 4 p.m. in the Rundle Lounge have to be experienced, whether you decide to stay at the resort or not. New for 2015, CBC’s Dragon’s Den star and chef Vikram Vij makes his return to the place he started in the hotel’s newest restaurant offering, Indian Summer. 1888 Chop House is named after the hotel’s launch date and is considered its newest gem with modern takes on traditional game, seafood and prime cuts of Alberta beef. Grapes Wine Bar offers a premium wine, meat and cheese list served charcuterie style in a room that will transform you back in time. The timeless atmosphere, quality service and impeccable views are sure to please. Dining apps from $12 and dinner courses from $35 (kids five and under eat free).

Fairmont Château Lake Louise – The Lakeview Lounge offers a perfect view of the aquamarine-blue lake water and mountain glaciers across the way. Like the Banff Springs, you’ll also find excellent high tea and fondue. What dish is worth a taste? Try either the Quebec Foie Gras Duo appetizer ($25), or the venison treated with a chocolate chili rub ($48) at the Fairview Dining room as the evening sun sets over the lake.

 The Juniper Bistro – Canadiana with a view. Known for their perfectly cooked steaks and modern take on Canadian classics, the bistro located in the Juniper Hotel serves a full breakfast, après ski, dinner and dessert menu. Try the egg white frittata with roasted asparagus, aged cheddar, poblano peppers and pickled shallots ($12), or the duck confit huevos rancheros to start your day right ($14). 

The Fudgery – Handmade and sweet. Say no more. The Fudgery is located on the main street in Banff and offers a vast assortment of fudge flavours ($10 per piece on average), as well as truffles, brittles, candy and caramel apples, all made daily on site.

 Banff Upper Hot Springs – The hot springs atop Sulphur Mountain are a must for visitors to the area. The smell of sulphur soon gives way to the amazement of the view as you overlook the Banff Springs Hotel and Rocky Mountain scenery while relaxing in the radiant heat of natural mineral water, all at the same site used by First Nations in the 1800s. 

Shops in Banff – Before anyone scoffs at the suggestion of shopping on vacation, it may turn out to be an experience like nothing else. While it does provide some excellent dining options, jewellery, clothing/accessories and trade shops with a stunning backdrop, you may find yourself (like I did) inhabiting the streets with some large, four-legged game… otherwise known as elk. Whether they are sleeping in the park or walking past on the sidewalk, it’s an almost surreal display of civilization and wilderness co-existing. It’s rarer nowadays, but if you want to shop and have lunch in the Rocky Mountain town, the chance of a sighting is highj. And if not? You have bags full of new goodies!

Columbia Icefield Tour and Glacier Skywalk – The two-hour drive on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper National Park and into the Columbia Icefields makes for a day-long trip to remember. When you arrive, climb aboard the giant monster truck that is the all-terrain Ice Explorer and get off to walk across the ancient Athabasca Glacier, followed by the Glacier Skywalk overhanging the cliffs edge 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley that’s not for the height-fearing. Bring warm gear and proper footwear for this 9.5-hour journey (from $196). Pickups are offered from select hotels.

River Rafting – If you’re new to rafting, there’s no better place to experience it. Bow River and Horseshoe Canyon offer spirited rides through class three and four rapids that will have you up on your seat and powering through whitewater with friends, family or strangers with a big smile on your face. Surrounded by spectacular rock faces and greenery throughout the ride, there’s an optional cliff jump to put your bravery to the test.

Horseback Riding & Hiking – Because there are few better things to experience in the wild, wild west, Banff offers a number of riding options from gated training sessions to overnight excursions for kids and adults. One ride worth the fare is Banff Trail Riders (from $46), which offers rides near Sulphur Mountain and through Bow River, where you steer your steed through the rocky terrain and shallow river beds. The “Cowboy Cookout Lunch” (wagon rides $89 per person, riding $109 per person) is a three-hour journey that includes a time-true cowboy BBQ lunch and games like lassoing and horseshoe throwing. If you’re kids are anything like myself at that age, they’ll vividly remember it all. The 8,000-year old trail at Johnston Canyon is a hike that’s sure to take your breath in more ways than one.

Sunshine Meadows (Banff National Park) – During the summer months it’s accessible by road, or year-round by gondola or 1.5-hour hike. It’s a winter ski destination with tours, or a glorious summer sanctuary, where you can partake in hiking (from $30-55 w/ bus), an enlightening three-hour yoga session, or an incredible day-long photography workshop led by award-winning National Geographic photographer Mark Unrau ($450 per person, $400 for two or more with travel and lunch)

Photography by Brewster Travel Canada, Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography & Rachel Gillcrist