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Summer Travel in Canada: Stunning Alberta, Part 2

Welcome back to Part 2 of my Alberta series!

In Part 1, I covered the first few days of our 10-day itinerary, which were spent in Canmore and Jasper.

In this installment, the focus will be on Banff National Park, where we spent the second half of our trip. 

Day 4–5: Lake Louise

Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise is known for its turquoise waters in the scenic backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. Going in the shoulder season, we missed the beautiful colours of the lake this time around, but we also avoided the crowds of people as well, so it was a fair trade-off (especially when you’ve seen it before). 

Lake Louise, from another trip we took in the summer

From Jasper, it’s a three-hour drive to Lake Louise along the Icefields Parkway. One major attraction worth visiting along the way is the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains.

You can walk around the area on your own and see the glacier from afar, or buy a ticket for the Columbia Icefield Adventure, which will transport you right up to the glacier and includes a skywalk experience.

Columbia Icefield

Our accommodation: Fairmont Lake Louise

Price: $599 for two nights in a Deluxe Mount Temple two-queen room, booked during their Stay Close promotion (second night free) + paid upgrade to Fairmont Gold room; currently $700+ in July, cheaper the longer your stay

Fairmont Lake Louise – View from afar
Fairmont Lake Louise – Lobby

Prior to the trip, I signed up for the Ibis Business Card to achieve Accor Gold status, which has benefits like free drink vouchers and free room upgrades.

When we checked in, they gave us a complimentary room upgrade to a lake view room in the main building. Out of curiosity, I asked what other upgrades were available, and one that piqued my interested was an upgrade to a Fairmont Gold room for an extra $150 a night. Fairmont Gold rooms normally include access to an exclusive Gold Lounge that serves drinks and snacks throughout the day, including breakfast for all guests in the room and evening canapés.

Because our room was not ready at check-in, we were given another four drink vouchers. And because we arrived late, we missed the evening canapés for the night, but were given a $75 dining credit instead to compensate.  

Room: The room was simple but elegant, with two queen beds and a view of Lake Louise.  

Fairmont Lake Louise – Fairmont Gold Room with two queen beds
Fairmont Lake Louise – Fairmont Gold Room bathroom

Amenities: The property is located right on Lake Louise, so the location really cannot be beat, and that’s what you’re paying the premium for.

The hotel has a few dining options and a few retail shops on site, including a candy store. There is also an indoor pool and gym. At check-in, they also gave each kid a choice of an activity kit.

My girls chose colouring kits and plasticine as their “welcome amenity”

COVID considerations: At this time, indoor amenities remain closed until further notice. The spa is open for massage treatments. In-room dining is available as well as a takeout from The Guides Pantrytheir cafe serving lighter meals cooked to order and baked goods.

When restrictions are lifted, outdoor patio dining is available at their Lakeview Lounge. If you book a Fairmont Gold room, the lounge is open for grabbing drinks and snacks to go, while breakfast and canapés are delivered to your room. 

Fairmont Gold amenities: complimentary breakfast, canapés, snacks and drinks
Fairmont Gold breakfast menu
Fairmont Gold evening canapés

 Cost-saving strategies: The current summer rates are frankly price-gouging. If you don’t mind staying a bit further out from the lake, there are a few cheaper accommodation options.

Some people will even opt to stay in Banff or Canmore and make the 40-minute drive to Lake Louise as a day trip. If you consider this option, keep in mind that finding parking around Lake Louise during their peak season can be difficult, so you will want to arrive early.

If you do choose to stay at Fairmont, there are a few ways you can save a bit more:

  • Fairmont usually runs gift card promotions twice a year, the most recent one was in early May where they offered a 20% bonus on gift card purchases
  • Oxford Gift Card Plus cards (that’s right, the shopping mall gift cards) can also be redeemed at a few select Fairmont properties, including the Alberta ones. They sometimes run promotions offering up to 10% off. American Express has also in the past offered statement credits for Oxford card purchases, so keep an eye out for those offers. 
  • Travelzoo frequently runs Fairmont promotions that can save you up to 40% off.
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  • You can also purchase Life Experiences gift cards that can be redeemed for Fairmont vouchers, which essentially function as Fairmont gift cards. LifeExperience.ca frequently runs promotions offering up to 20% off their gift cards. Sign up for their emails, and they’ll send you the promo code “HELLO10LE” for 10% off.
  • Costco also used to sell Fairmont vouchers at a 20% off discount, but it seems they are phasing them out, as I only know of one location in Toronto that still has them. Keep in mind that only a maximum of 10 Fairmont vouchers can be used per stay. 

If you are not able to find any discounts with the above options, and you have an American Express Platinum card, then book through their Fine Hotels & Resorts program for some additional perks (ie. room upgrade, resort credit, free breakfast, etc).

Activities:

  • Daily resort activities: The hotel has a daily activity schedule, including indoor scavenger hunts, hikes, painting sessions, and more. 
  • Canoeing: There is a rental shed onsite that charges hourly rates.
  • Trails around the lake: There are two trails that wrap around Lake Louise on the east and west side. Both are relatively easy, with the the west side one being quite well groomed with benches along the trail for breaks as needed. 
  • Agnes Tea Trail: This 6.8km trail through the forest is an easy but longer hike that will take you to to Lake Agnes and a historic teahouse. Currently the teahouse is closed; otherwise, it would make for a nice rest stop for a cup of tea and a snack before heading back. If you have older kids, you could make the 1.6km journey up from here to the Beehive viewpoint for views of Lake Louise below.
  • Lake Moraine: Another beautiful turquoise blue lake located just a 20-minute drive from Lake Louise, which makes for a quick stop on the way to Banff. Parking is limited so arrive early, or take a shuttle run by Parks Canada that runs between Lake Louise and Lake Moraine (seats have to be reserved in advance). 

Days 6–7: Banff

Banff is a beautiful resort town bustling with shops and restaurants and conveniently situated for day trips to great hiking trails and neighbouring towns. 

Our accommodation: Fairmont Banff Springs

Although there are many options for accommodations in Banff, we stuck with the Fairmont because of the Stay Close promotion and my new Gold status with Accor. 

Fairmont Banff Springs – View from afar

Price: $599 for two nights in a Gatehouse Suite with two queen beds and a sofa bed; currently $919 for the same room or $819 for a deluxe two-queen room in July

Room: The Gatehouse is a separate building connected to the main hotel. The rooms are a bit dated, but the suite offered plenty of space for a family of five. If your kids are small, I would say you can even fit two kids comfortably on the sofa bed and so accommodate even a family of six.

The complimentary upgrade I received was only to a room with a view, which wasn’t anything spectacular. The hotel does look and feel a bit like a castle, including being bit dark and dreary in areas, but if your kids are into castles, this is will be a fun place for them to explore. 

Fairmont Banff Springs – Gatehouse Suite with two queen beds and a sofa bed
Fairmont Banff Springs – Gatehouse Suite living room

Amenities: There is a lot of history behind the hotel and it’s worth reading about. At check-in, the staff have toy crowns and activity books for the kids. The hotel has a nice spa, gym and pool facility. Outdoor activities include tennis, croquet and golf.

There are a few restaurants and shops on site, as well as a cafe that serves simple made-to-order meals, baked goods, and pre-packaged foods. Pre-COVID, the hotel ran a supervised children’s program called Kids @ The Castle for a fee, although the program is currently suspended.

Fairmont Banff Springs – Lobby
Fairmont Banff Springs – Kids’ amenities at check-in
Fairmont Banff Springs – STOCK Food & Drink cafe for quick bites

COVID considerations: At this time, indoor amenities remain closed until further notice. In-room dining and takeout from the cafe are available. When restrictions are lifted, there is an outdoor patio that will be available for dining. The Spa is open for select services.

Cost-saving strategies: The same saving strategies for the Fairmont Lake Louise also apply here. The only difference between Lake Louise and Banff is that Banff offers many more accommodation options, including Airbnb rentals.

The Fairmont Banff Springs is actually located just outside of the main town centre, so if you prefer to stay closer to the action and be within walking distance of it all, you may want to stay elsewhere.

Activities:

There are many trails and activities here to do; here are only a select few we were able to check out:

  • Daily resort activities: The hotel has a daily activity schedule, including guided hikes, campfire pits, and stargazing tours. During pandemic times, they had virtual bingo, trivia, and paint nights. Like Fairmont Lake Louise, they also run a scavenger hunt for the kids. 
  • Trails around the hotel: Right behind the hotel building is a trail that goes along the Bow River and  Falls. Once you hit the Banff Pedestrian Bridge, you can walk along the Bow River Trail to Surprise Corner Viewpoint and get a great view of the Banff Springs Hotel. You’ll likely see a few deer along the way as well.
Bow River
Deer along the trail
  • Downtown Banff: There are many shops to check out here, including a bakery, popcorn shop, and ice cream store to keep the kids going while you walk around. There’s also a small play area at Central Park for a longer play break if needed. The park also has a clean washroom facility, benches, and picnic tables that make for a great lunch spot. 
  • Banff Sulphur Mountain Gondola: The gondola is located in town and the views here are spectacular, with mountains and valleys on all sides. At the top there is a small boardwalk. When the restaurant reopens, you can enjoy a nice meal at the peak as well.
  • Johnston Canyon Trail: This 5km trail is an easy trek even for younger kids.
  • Geocaching: Take your family on GPS treasure hunt. Although this activity can be done anywhere in the world through this app, Banff National Park has its own challenge for families to participate in and you’ll get a special coin out of it! My kids only recently discovered this activity around our own community and they love it.

My Overall Impression of Fairmont 

If you can score a 2-for-1 deal under the “Stay Close” promotion, combined with some discounted gift cards, these properties are worth a stay. However, for the prices that they are currently going at, I would try to find another alternative.

If you are trying to decide between the two properties, I would choose the Lake Louise property for its convenient location, because it’s less dated and they seem to value elite members more if you have Accor status. Your options around Lake Louise are also more limited compared to Banff. 

As for the Ibis Business Card, if you love free drinks and will be staying at a few Fairmont properties in the coming year, it will pay for itself. Besides that, don’t routinely expect any spectacular upgrades like what we sometimes can get with Marriott and Hilton.

Days 8–10: Kananaskis

Kananaskis is little village tucked away from the main attractions, but it is every bit as scenic. If you prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle of Banff, this is great area to stay in. 

Our accommodation: Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, Autograph Collection

Price: $200 per night in a guest room with two queen beds, upgraded to their Hospitality Suite; currently $265 for the guest room at the Marriott member rate in July

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge – Exterior

Room: The Hospitality Suite was enormous, and featured a large sectional sofa and a dining table that could seat eight. There is a mini fridge, ice machine and bar sink as well.

The room has a bedroom with one king bed. The kids did their own sleepover in the living room. Although all of them could have fit on the sectional sofa, only one opted for the sofa; meanwhile, the other two preferred camping out on the carpeted floor, which we lined with extra sheets, pillows, and blankets. There was no laundry machine in the suite, but coin-operated machines were available on each floor.

Kananaskis Mountain Lodge – Hospitality Suite living room
Kananaskis Mountain Lodge – Hospitality Suite bedroom

Amenities: Of all the hotels we stayed at, this was the best-suited for families with young kids. The biggest draw is their mini-indoor waterpark featuring not just one, but four waterslides to suit kids of all ages. There are also a couple of water canyons and a wading area for toddlers.

For the adults, there’s a steam room and indoor/outdoor hot-tub. If that isn’t enough, then book a day at the Nordic Spa next door which features five pools and steam and sauna cabins.

Indoor waterpark, a family favourite on this trip

For your dining needs, there is an in-house lounge bar and restaurant as well as a grab-and-go cafe. Oh, another big perk here: kids dine free with paying adults at Forte, their in-house restaurant!

Dining options outside of the hotel are otherwise limited. There is a small takeout restaurant in the building next door run by the a friendly Japanese lady, which serves sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream, and a few Japanese dishes like ramen and teriyaki bowls. 

The Market Cafe for light snacks
Moose Family Kitchen for sandwiches, snacks, and Japanese home-style food
Moose Family Kitchen

There are also plenty of outdoor amenities just outside the hotel, including an outdoor play park for the kids, a basketball court, and tennis courts.

The resort runs some activities as well, including marshmallow roasting and s’mores on select nights. There are easy, well-groomed trails around the property with nice viewpoints along the way. 

Below is a comprehensive property map for the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge:

COVID considerations: At this time, indoor amenities remain closed until further notice. The Nordic Spa is open for treatments, but other facilities remain closed. In-room dining (not eligible for the free kids meals unfortunately) and takeout from the cafe are available. When restrictions are lifted, there is an outdoor patio that is available for dining. 

Cost-saving strategies: As a Marriott Bonvoy Category 6 hotel going for less than $300 a night, I would save the Marriott Bonvoy points. Instead, wait for a Marriott gift card promotion to save an additional 15–20% off, or for an Amex Offer on the Canadian- or US-issued Bonvoy cards:

The hotel is also quite good at giving out decent upgrades even if you don’t have Platinum or Titanium status. I had friends who were upgraded from a basic guest room to a one-bedroom bi-level loft with two queen beds, a sofa bed, two bathrooms, a small dining area, and a balcony.

It’s not as big as the Hospitality Suite, but can easily accommodate six guests. When I return next, this may be my room of choice, unless I travel with my extended family, in which case the Hospitality Suite wins with its huge dining and seating area.

Activities:

  • Enjoy the amenities located on property as mentioned above
  • Hiking: There are many trails in the area, but to be honest, we didn’t venture out much as there was enough to do onsite and we wanted to spend our last couple of days just chilling. 
  • Boundary Ranch: This ranch, located just 30 minutes from Kananaskis Village, provides guided horseback riding tours on trails around the area that are suitable for kids aged 6 and up. The trail rides start from one hour in duration. There may also be a chance to see some wildlife along the way, including passing by their buffalo padlock. 
  • Any of the activities listed in Canmore are also doable, given that they’re all within the same region.

Conclusion

My kids are not lovers of the great outdoors by any stretch, but they really enjoyed our trip to Alberta.

Many indoor attractions and amenities are closed right now, and even as restrictions are lifted, some will probably will remain closed for the summer. But that’s the great part of being in this part of Alberta – there’s so much to see and do outdoors!

For the kids, it’s a great opportunity to let them enjoy nature at its finest and take a much-needed break from those screens they’ve now grown so accustomed to. For us adults, it’s amazing what a little fresh air and change of scenery can do for one’s well-being.   

That being said, perhaps you’re not quite ready to travel yet, or the high cost of accommodation has you thinking twice. If this is a factor for you, consider travelling in the shoulder seasons of May/June or September/October, when costs are more reasonable and there is still beautiful weather and plenty to do.

As iconic as the Fairmont properties are to Lake Louise and Banff, I would opt to stay elsewhere unless they run another 2-for-1 promotion. Staying further out, you’ll find more cost-friendly options. If you’ve stayed at any good properties in the past, please feel free to share them below in the comments. 

With such beautiful landscapes right on our doorstep, here’s hoping that we continue to see COVID-19 cases decline across the country and a safe return to travel in the coming months – at least domestically for now.