Banff National Park is known for its stunning mountain vistas and ample wildlife sightings. I recently visited with my mom and sister as a celebration for my sister’s college graduation. We were excited to visit a national park that none of us had been to before! It was also a great way to escape the heat of the South. The weather in Banff was perfect when we visited in August – about 70 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time! I am the only one in my family that is non-drinking. Here is my experience being booze-free in Banff National Park!
How to Spend 7 Days Booze-Free in Banff
Day 1: Saturday
We flew into Calgary, Alberta, rented a car, and immediately ate lunch at Tim Horton’s, which is a Canadian fast-food chain that is very popular. Then, we visited a bank to exchange money. We also visited the Canadian Superstore for groceries. Cooking a few of our own meals per day was a great way to save money. We cooked our own breakfast and packed lunch most days. I also love seeing grocery stores while visiting other countries to see what kind of food is popular. Everything was in the metric system (weighed in grams) so we had a few funny moments trying to figure out how much food was in the packages. My mom ordered sliced turkey from the deli and asked for 1 gram… it was such a small amount that she ended up ordering three more 1-gram bags of turkey! We laughed so hard!
From Calgary, we drove about 1.5 hours to our hotel in Canmore. We listened to commentary from Gypsy Guide that I would highly recommend! The commentary explains the landscape and history of the area. We enjoyed learning about the park and surrounding areas throughout the trip.
The city of Banff was a short, fifteen-minute drive from our hotel in Canmore. The night of our arrival, we drove to downtown Banff for a quick bite to eat at Athena Pizza. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed the view of downtown Banff. It was a little bit chilly, but we enjoyed the fresh air after a full day of traveling.
Cave & Basin Lantern Tour
In the evening, we enjoyed the Cave and Basin lantern tour, complete with a ghostly guide. The cave and the surrounding area holds a lot of history. The Cave and Basin National Historic Site became the first national park in Canada. The guides were the “ghosts” of the two brothers who first discovered the cave and hot springs. The tour is definitely geared towards children and families, but we still enjoyed it. The sulfur smell was very intense inside the cave!
After the cave tour, the group watched a very well-produced short film by Canada National Parks. Our favorite part of the experience was actually outside of the building in the hot springs. There is an endangered species of snail that is only found in the hot springs on Sulphur Mountain. My family is very interested in biology, so viewing the snails and learning more about the endangered species was the highlight of our day. Then, we saw a herd of elk right at the time of sunset at the top of the mountain!
Day 2: Sunday
We decided to sleep in after our long day of traveling. We shopped and booked tours for the week.
Exploring Downtown Banff & Canmore
Our amazing dinner in Downtown Banff was at Grizzly House Fondue. This restaurant is truly unique and a classic fondue experience. The appetizer was hot, gooey cheese with pieces of bread. The main course was chicken and lobster that we cooked ourselves on a hot stone. For dessert, we had melted chocolate fondue in which we dipped fruit and cake. Everything was delicious!
Day 3: Monday
Canoe Wildlife Tour
Our adventure day began with a canoe wildlife tour with Banff Adventure Tours on the Bow River. A group of us paddled down the river together and watched for wildlife. We saw many birds, including ducks and a bald eagle. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any big mammals.
Private Wildlife Tour
The rest of our day was filled with our wildlife tour with Explore Banff. We met the tour guide, Jesse, in downtown Banff and he drove us down the Icefields Parkway to our first hike. Jesse is from Quebec and we enjoyed getting to know him. Living in Jasper for over ten years, he is very knowledgeable about the area and especially about wildlife.
Num Ti Jah Lodge
Our first stop was the historic Num Ti Jah Lodge, which is trailhead of the Bow River Trail. Jesse specifically brought us here because he knew that it would be less crowded. With all of the crowds during the summer at Banff, it is nice to find a trail and lunch spot that is not too overpopulated! At times we felt like we were by ourselves on the trail, which is rare at a busy national park in the summer.
The Num Ti Jah Lodge was built in 1940 by Jimmy Simpson and his family using the earnings from his daughters’ professional ice skating careers. They held ice skating practice on the Bow Glacier! The lodge is open to guests to this day. There is also a small cafe where we bought a few snacks for the hike.
Bow River Trail
We hiked for about two hours around Bow Lake to the waterfall. The water was the bluest I had ever seen because it was directly connected to the glacier. The only strenuous area was a section of stairs. All other areas were very flat. We saw Clark’s Nutcrackers, chickadees, and ground squirrels.
The hike back from the waterfall was about two hours. We saw a group of sandpipers in the lake that were eating mosquitoes. It was so fun to watch them chase the mosquitoes through the binoculars!
I definitely recommend this Bow Glacier Lake Trail if you are looking to get away from the crowds here in Banff!! The trail and historical site were spectacular.
We ate lunch at the picnic tables at the Num-Ti-Jah lodge and took lots of great photos. We even watched part of a wedding!
After leaving our hike, we drove to the Fairmont Hotel at Lake Louise. We viewed the beauty of Lake Louise from the hotel. Then, we walked through the hotel and sipped some hot chocolate.
We drove to Morraine Lake (which is very close to Lake Louise), but we couldn’t even get into the parking lot because it was so crowded. That was when we headed back to Banff along the Bow Valley Parkway, which is more of wildlife viewing highway than the bigger highway.
Day 4: Tuesday
We drove to Sunshine Village, which is a ski resort during the winter. During the summer, it is a wonderful place for a hike. We bought roundtrip tickets for the gondola and chairlift at the main office. The gondola brought us to the first area with a small museum and store. Then, we took the chairlift to the top of the mountain. The views from both rides were spectacular and worth it even if you don’t complete the hikes. There is an amazing viewpoint at the very top of the mountain.
We hiked the Rock Isle Viewpoint Loop. The hike took about 1-1.5 hours to complete, with incredible views along the route. After completing the hike, we stopped to rest at Trapper’s Restaurant for some ginger ale.
Banff Gondola & Interpretive Center
After changing out of our hiking clothes, we drove to the Banff Gondola to have dinner at Sky Bistro. The Banff Gondola is a scenic cable car ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where there are an interpretive center and viewing deck. The interpretative center includes a museum of the national park, exhibits about the wildlife of the park, and a short film. (Be sure to book reservations in advance for the gondola and dinner)!
We attended the Summer Sunset Festival, which included live music and dancing. The atmosphere of the viewing deck was vibrant and exciting. A musician was playing guitar and a woman was dancing.
Our dinner at the Sky Bistro was absolutely delicious. And, of course, the entire restaurant centered around the view 8,000 feet up!
My sister and mom had a glass of wine at dinner. The only non-alcoholic beverage that the waitress recommended to me was a virgin mojito. I’m not usually a mocktail kind of person because sometimes it makes me just want the real thing. I didn’t miss the rum in the mojito, but I missed the relaxing and celebratory feeling of a drink after a full day. My mom and sister both asked me multiple times if it would bother me if they had a glass of wine and I honestly replied no. I truly don’t know why I started to feel sad after our marvelous meal, but this happens sometimes being sober. I made a point to go to a meeting the next night.
Day 5: Wednesday
Afternoon Tea at Fairmont Springs Hotel
We started our day with tea at the iconic Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff. We each chose our own tea to try from the tea cart, where we were able to smell each of them. After smelling over 15 teas, we chose Bella Coola Punch, Cucumber Melon, and Chocolate Mint.
The food was beautiful as well as delicious! It was a tower of treats, including cucumber sandwiches, curry chicken salad, macaroons, and scones. The view from the restaurant was incredible, and it was fun to visit the historic hotel.
Next, we went to the Meadow Spa inside the Moose Hotel for massages and a relaxing day at the spa! Along with our wonderful massages, we spent time at the outdoor hot tub and sauna. The Moose Hotel also has historic elements. Instead of demolishing the historic home that was formerly at the space of the hotel, they kept it in the center of the hotel and built the hotel up around it. It was very neat to see what a cottage from 1865 looks like! Guests can even book their stay in the cottage.
After our afternoon at the spa, we visited the farmer’s market in downtown Banff, full of delicious food, art, gifts, and jewelry. It is always more fun for me to buy authentic, handmade gifts from the maker rather than an ordinary souvenir! We bought Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and a woven bag.
Famous Canadian Dish: Poutine!
For dinner, we tried poutine, a famous Canadian dish! Poutine is french fries covered with gravy, chicken, and peas, but this restaurant had a few different versions that were fun to try. We went to Carlito’s Pizza inside the Banff Inn on the main street of downtown Banff. Our tour guide, Jesse, told us that it is the best poutine in Banff!
Finding a Meeting
After feeling a little bit down after our fancy dinner on Tuesday night, I took the initiative to visit my first Canadian 12 step meeting! The meeting was close to our hotel in downtown Canmore. I found the meeting very easily. All of the visitors were very friendly, welcoming, and encouraging. The folks at the meeting also let me know that there is a meeting each night between the neighboring towns of Canmore and Banff. I did not end up visiting the meeting in Banff, but heard positive things!
Day 6: Thursday
We dressed warmly because this day was the day that we walked on a glacier! We drove on the Icefield Parkway and listened to Bill from Gypsy Guide to the Columbia Icefield Interpretive Center, and took the Ice Explorer adventure tour out to the Athabasca Glacier and, boy, it was beautiful!! And freezing, literally! Our tour took us by an all-terrain vehicle to the Athabasca Glacier, a 10,000-year-old sheet of ice. Some folks on the tour didn’t get the whole glacier memo and wore shorts! If you ever get to take this tour, make sure to wear pants and lots of layers!
After the glacier tour, we went directly to the world-renowned Skywalk, which is a glass-floored lookout above the Sunwapta Valley. On the way leading up to the Skywalk, we listened to an audio tour about the architecture, vision, and wildlife of the area.
From there, we went back to the Icefield Center for lunch, then continued down the Icefield Parkway while continuing to listen to Bill from Gypsy Guide. Along the route, we stopped at Tangle Creek Falls and Sunwapta Falls, which we would not have known about without the commentary.
Hiking Wilcox Pass
Another highlight of our trip was the hike at Wilcox Pass, because of all of the wildlife we viewed! The hike was honestly more strenuous than we expected, but it was worth it for how close we were to a herd of big-horned sheep. We were only a few feet away from an entire herd of sheep, including a very curious mother and baby. Also, across the ridge, we viewed three male sheep locking horns and fighting!
After leaving Wilcox Pass, we headed back to Canmore. We continued back on the Icefield Parkway and saw a Grizzly Bear across a pond. (Pro-tip: any time you see many cars stopped on the side of the road, make sure to stop and look around)!
Dessert in Downtown Canmore
One of our favorite places in Canmore was Old School Bus Ice Cream in downtown! You can’t miss it!
Day 7: Friday
In the morning, we visited Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary and it was truly an amazing experience! Wolfdogs are bred intentionally for the exotic pet trade by breeding domestic dogs with wild wolves. The rescue center keeps them safe, either from owner surrenders or government intervention because they are not suitable as pets. They have different levels of wolfdog based on the ratio they were bred with. We watched a worker feed two of the dogs’ breakfast and loved learning more about the animals.
Next, we traveled back to Banff to Peyto Lake, a famous photo spot. There is a quite strenuous, fifteen-minute, uphill hike to the viewpoint. (Most books and travel guides say that it isn’t, but I’m here to tell you that it is strenuous)!
Right before sunset, we traveled to Kuniskas Lake to try to see wildlife, and we succeeded! We viewed a herd of elk right next to the side of the highway.
Day 8: Saturday
Before heading to the Calgary Airport, we stopped at Blondies Cafe in Canmore for coffee. The cafe was very adorable and had a fun atmosphere.
Booze-Free in Banff:
My mom, sister, and I had so much fun on our trip to Banff National Park. Being booze-free in Banff was wonderful. I only “missed” alcohol during our fancy dinner, and easily found a meeting the next night. One warning: cannabis is legal in this area, so be prepared if you are triggered by marijuana shops.
The mountaintop vistas and wildlife sightings were definitely the highlights of our trip! This national park is a wonderful spot for a non-drinking vacation. Sober or not, if Banff National Park is not on your bucket list, make sure to add it now!
Need more sober travel inspiration? Check out How to Stay Sober at the Airport next!