When it comes to Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, visiting during spring means experiencing the best of everything the area has to offer. The mountains are blanketed in snow yet temperatures are much warmer than the deep chill of winter, streets aren’t overrun with crowds, and snow begins to melt around the townsites, making for a great contrast to the blooming foliage.
But if you aren’t a powder hound, what’s there to do in the Rockies that doesn’t involve skiing? As it turns out, lots! Here are some of the best spring activities to enjoy in and around Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore.
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Hit the trails
While pathways can still be a little icy, spring is the perfect time to explore trails near town as they aren’t yet overrun with summer day-trippers. Who doesn’t love getting a great view all to themselves?
An easy walk is the two kilometre Marsh Loop trail, which starts from the parking lot of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site (more on that later) a couple of minutes from Banff Avenue. The flat pathway starts off through a thick forest of trees where you might be lucky enough to spot some deer grazing, and soon turns toward a marsh habitat frequented by birds.
From there you’ll have unobstructed views of the sparkling Bow River (can you believe the colour of that water?!) and Mt. Norquay before circling back to the parking lot.
Another effortless one is Bow Falls, which is just one kilometre from Banff Avenue (or you can cheat and drive straight to them—access is from the parking lot for the Fairmont Banff Springs golf course). Check out the waterfalls on the left, then head further away from the parking lot and explore the beautiful winding valley.
Those feeling more adventurous may want to strap on some ice cleats and head out to Johnston Canyon near Banff, or Grotto Canyon near Canmore. Both boast narrow creek beds leading towards waterfalls, which freeze into dazzling ice crystals during the colder months. Ice climbing excursions are also available, and if you decide to head to Grotto Canyon be sure to keep an eye out for ancient pictographs on the cave walls, which date back over one thousand years.
Finally, Vermillion Lakes just west of Banff is a great spot in every season. Try to time your visit for late in the day, when the reflection off the water of Mount Rundle combined with the setting sun makes for a picture-perfect scene.
Bike the Bow Valley
Hikers aren’t the only ones who embrace the end of winter: it’s also a great time for cyclists. There are dozens of scenic trails around the townsites, ranging from mostly-flat, paved pathways to backcountry trails best navigated on a fat bike. If it’s adventure you’re after, head to Tunnel Mountain or Sundance Canyon in Banff, or hit the trails around the Canmore Nordic Centre which has groomed pathways especially for bikers.
Another memorable option is the 20-kilometre Rocky Mountain Legacy Trail, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway between Canmore and Banff. Passing by the likes of Cascade Mountain and Mount Rundle, tackling the trail is a fun way to get some exercise and fresh air, all while shaking off the rust from a long winter cooped up inside.
Take a dip in the hot springs
For over a century, bathers have been flocking to the Banff Upper Hot Springs in Canada’s first national park. Open since 1932, the springs are located on Sulphur Mountain just past the Rimrock Resort, affording incredible views of the surrounding mountain ranges. With temperatures hovering around a toasty 40 degrees, chances are you’ll only last an hour in the water—but will reap the benefits of the thermal soak much longer!
It may be warm outside, but you can still skate on iconic Lake Louise during springtime. If you’re early enough in the season, expect to find a gorgeous ice castle on the rink directly in front of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which is a rightfully popular spot for selfies. To really get in the Canadian spirit, bring along your hockey stick and join a game of shinny.
Guided snowshoe tours are also available from many spots in the Bow Valley, including at Lake Louise Ski Resort where guides share stories about the history, landscape and wildlife in the area. Excursions last up to two hours, and can include things like a gondola ride, snowshoe rental and hot chocolate to warm you up after.
Take a history lesson
While the Cave and Basin National Historic Site may not be widely known, it plays an important role in Canada’s history as the birthplace of of the country’s national park system. After rail workers discovered bubbling thermal springs in the area back in the 1800s, it sparked the creation of the parks program which now stretches across the country, protecting Canada’s most pristine areas.
Today, the site includes an interpretive centre detailing that history, along with information about the naturally occurring, emerald mineral springs found inside the cave, which visitors can walk through and explore. Just beware of the smell—it turns out sulphate can be rather pungent!
Relax at the spa
Indulging in a spa day is always a good idea, especially when it comes with an epic view of the Rocky Mountains. There are no shortage of spas in the Bow Valley, such as Rapunzels Salon Spa in Canmore which boasts two floors of bliss, and the luxe Temple Mountain Spa in Lake Louise’s Post Hotel which has a salt water pool and treatments including massages, body scrubs and facials.
Those basing themselves in Banff should book in at the award-winning Willow Stream Spa in the Fairmont Banff Springs, where one could easily spend an entire day relaxing. Taking up a whopping 38,000 square feet, the spa includes multiple treatment rooms, rest areas, a european mineral pool, saunas, steam rooms and waterfall treatment pools. One of the best features is its outdoor hot tub, which is the perfect place to soak while breathing in the fresh mountain air.
Closer to town, the Red Earth Spa in the Banff Caribou Lodge also offers rest areas and multiple treatment rooms, including one dedicated to hydrotherapy. There’s also a private area that can be booked for groups, making it a popular pit spot for bachelorette or birthday parties.
Spring means sales in the Bow Valley! Once winter wraps up, it’s out with the old and in with the new for Banff retailers, so hit the stores for steep discounts on outerwear and ski gear. If it’s apparel you’re after, don’t skip Canuck favourites Hudson’s Bay and Lululemon along Banff Avenue, or tuck into Cascade Shops which hosts the likes of Gap and Billabong.
Enjoy afternoon tea
Celebrating something special like an upcoming wedding, baby shower, or just a girls weekend? Afternoon tea at the Fairmont properties is a great way to get the fun started. Soak in the sight of the surrounding Rockies at the Banff Springs or Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier at the Chateau Lake Louise, while enjoying culinary offerings like fresh-baked vanilla scones, deviled eggs and sliced roast beef sandwiches. Everything is accompanied by the Fairmont’s famous loose-leaf teas—or champagne if it’s that kind of day!
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Globe Guide explored the Rockies in partnership with Travel Alberta.