Peregrinations: Banff

May 10, 2011 • 4:24 am

Tomorrow (Wednesday), I’m off to Banff for the yearly meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, where I’ll be part of a symposium on the genetics of speciation. I’m much looking forward to this trip, not only to reconnect with old friends, but also to see the area, which is supposed to be spectacularly beautiful.  There are mountains, hot springs, and even an endemic thermophilic snail (I’ll try to get a photo) in those springs.

I’ll be back Monday evening.  Greg Mayer and Matthew Cobb have volunteered to try to post in my absence, but both are busy with end-of-semester tasks.  I will also post from Canada, but it may not be often.

Now, does anybody have any suggestions about what to do or see in the area, and especially, where to eat?

Physella johnsoni, the endangered Banff Springs snail

31 thoughts on “Peregrinations: Banff

  1. You’ve probably wlaked on a glacier in you travels, but there is the Columbia gl;acier field with Columbia Point for walking a glacier.

  2. Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain… fantastic views, well worth the time and price. Don’t bother with the souvenir shop though.
    Sunday brunch at the Banff Springs Hotel is spectacular.

  3. If you have the time & wheels, a short drive down the valley to Lake Louise and perhaps even part of the way up the Icefields Parkway will introduce you to some jaw-dropping scenery. It’s well worth the effort.


    1. There is a turnoff (left) from the road leading into Lake Louise that takes you to the Valley of the Ten Peaks. About 12 km. in, and as noted, truly jaw-droppingly scenery. Closed in wintr, may still have some residual snow.

  4. For a nice sit down dinner, I’d recommend Le Beaujolais. Little on the pricey side, but well worth it for the excellent food and service.

    For a burger, don’t miss the Eddie Burger Bar. Some fantastic beef, and Alberta is very well known for their beef quality.

  5. As people have mentioned, Lake Louise and the gondola are both excellent things to do and see (probably the two most famous attractions in Banff). There are lots of other lakes around, too, and the ice fields are beautiful. There are a couple of other nearby parks which might also be worth a visit (depending on how much you are willing to drive) – Jasper National Park to the north, and Kootenay National Park to the southwest. Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park is a particularly nice hike. I think Marble Canyon had a forest fire in 2003, so it provides an interesting look at the recovery from such an event (when I went through a couple of years ago the whole area was covered in fireweed).

    Unfortunately, although I’ve been to Banff a couple of times, I’ve never found any food that completely blew me away, so I cannot think of any restaurant recommendations. If you like desserts, try and pick up a Nanaimo bar from a bakery. It’s a common dessert in Western Canada, and it is delicious.

    1. 45 minutes? Holy carp, man, how fast do you drive? Perhaps, like most Albertans, you think that speed limits are minimum speeds? At 103km for the city limits of Calgary to the first highway exit to Banff, you’d have to go over 137km/hr to do it in 45 minutes…

      (I know, that’s how fast a lot of people drive here, but it is still well over the 110km/hr speed limit for most of the road, and very much over the 90km/hr limit within the park.)


    1. I assume you’re referring to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The opening hours vary by season, but given the conditions this year, I doubt it will be open before Victoria day.

  6. The snails are fairly easy to find – go to the natural part of the hotsprings (i.e. not the resort, though it’s nearby). There’s a boardwalk trail that goes around a couple of ponds and near the connecting streams. In the ponds you’ll find the snails, plus a resident population of South American mollies (Poecilia spp.), the descendents of released pets. The fish go through a severe population bottleneck every winter, the ponds don’t freeze but they do get colder and ice will form at the edges. Tropical fishes don’t like ice.

    If Felix Breden is there, tell him I said “Hello!” and get him to show you the mollies.

  7. Are you going to be around on the weekend? I have been known to give Banff-area tours to science blogging types…

    (I know, not a blog, right…)


  8. You must see the Athabasca glacier and take the Terra Bus out onto the surface. It’s an amazing moment.

    Also canoe on Lake Louise–well worth it.

  9. It’s a bit early in the season so it may not be accessible, but given Jerry’s credentials I’d be looking for a tour of the Burgess Shale, Walcott Quarry, site. A world heritage site that’s a must for any geologist/paleontologist/evolutionist.

    (edit – I see the guided hikes don’t start until July 1st, so it’s likely not an option)

    1. About the earliest I’ve hiked the Wapta-Highline trail, just below the Burgess Shale, is mid-July & that had me walking over thick snow from an avalanche at one point.

      JB 51° N 114° W

      1. I was up in Canmore last weekend and there was still a fair bit of snow just above the town, and the ground was still frozen. No sign of any amphibians breeding, not even wood frogs – hard to even find open water. It’s been warm this week and predicted to remain so, but we’ve had a late spring here and a lot of mountain trails won’t be accessible yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to try the trail to the Burgess.
        I’ve heard that the Magpie and Stump in Banff is a good restaurant, but I’ve never eaten there. I believe that you can still get an English tea in the hotel at lake Louise.

  10. Banff has a lot of good vittles: Balkan is good for Greek eats. The Buffalo is great too (you can probably get Elk), albeit more $, as is the Banff Springs Hotel, if you’re totally made of money. Ptarmigan Cirque is a great hike, will be cool (literally) this time of year. All the best!

  11. I’ll second Le Beaujolais. If you want 5-star try Eden at the Rimrock Hotel. They have an amazing wine list – it usually gets an annual mention in Wine Spectator. Looking for something a little more down-to-Earth? I always love the Saltlik Steakhouse or maybe Giorgio’s Trattoria…

    Any slack-time for book signing? 🙂

  12. and especially, where to eat?

    *takes a gander at endangered snail*

    I would suggest avoiding escargot at any local french restaurant…

  13. Just be prepared for any kind of weather. Mountains, especially these mountains are highly variable and unpredictable. You surely have heard that joke that if you don’t like the current weather, you will only have to wait a few hours to see a change? Not a joke this time of year in the Rockies.

    Car must have good winter tires, chains and a decent survival kit, though it’s surprising how many locals cheat on the kit. You should have layers of clothing and be able to cope with snow, slush, sun and rain.

    You won’t see likely see any 33º temperatures, to be sure.

    In any event, Welcome to Canada!

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