More #RockiesPremiumTour adventures in Banff with Discover Canada Tours!

Grab a cuppa – or other beverage of choice – and get comfy. This entry is longer than most of the others because it was a BIG day, spent in the stunning Banff and surrounds. I would go back in a heartbeat. ❤️

2 October 2019
Hi Banff! I love you! 😍 Can I come back, pleeeeaaase?!

Banff, AB and surrounds

Banff Gondola

Sunrise glow! (Apologies for the blur – low light and moving gondola carriage!)

We started our day early – literally in the dark! – meeting at the bus for a drive up to the Banff Gondola! We were booked for brekky at the top of Sulphur Mountain… and it was perfectly timed so our gondola ride was during sunrise! 😍

The sky had hints of pink in spots – really beautiful – and the reflections off the surrounding mountains were just magic. 💗

Sulphur Mountain

Once we got to the top, Kerstin (a fellow tour member 👋) and I immediately headed upstairs and outside to check out that cracking view.

Holy. Crapola. This was a brand new level of cold I hadn’t experienced yet. 🥶 Even with multiple layers (seriously, a sleeveless tee, a long sleeved shirt, a flanno, beanie, scarf, fingerless gloves etc) AND a fleece-lined jacket with faux-fur lined hood (!) we had to go back inside after about five minutes. That wind factor made ALL the difference!

Sunrise views from the top of Sulphur Mountain

(Not that it was blowing a gale or anything, but it was blowing enough to be seriously icy on my face and my poor exposed fingers holding the camera! 😬)

Having said THAT, the views were absolutely magnificent… 360° of magnificent. It was so QUIET (wind notwithstanding) – that real absence of noise. And with only Kerstin and I upstairs at that point, you’d honestly think you were completely alone in the world. Incredibly peaceful and I’m dying to do it all again. 💙

Breakfast back inside was yummy (again with the a-ma-zing breakfast views!) but I demolished mine rather quickly so I could get outside and explore. (That’s a continuing theme through this trip!) There was a snow-covered mountainside with my name on it and who was I to refuse? 😁

Stairway to heaven? Close. Walkway to Sanson’s Peak.

There was a wooden walkway (downstairs from the restaurant) which led the way to Sanson’s Peak and the small weather observation tower at the top of the peak. I would have loved to go and see the views from Sanson’s Peak except there was ice (not just snow!) EVERYWHERE on the wooden walkway which made it slippery as hell.

Boardwalk to Sanson’s Peak, Sulphur Mountain

The closer to Sanson’s Peak I went, the worse it got and I didn’t want to risk a broken ankle or broken camera gear (my coordination is not historically great; I actually rolled and broke my ankle crossing the street once, no lie! So I was fully expecting to slip and break something). I made it about halfway to the peak and then turned back however it is DEFINITELY on my list for another go at some point. 😁

While I didn’t make it to Sanson’s Peak, I still took the opportunity to take in the GORGEOUS views and snow-covered trees all around me! 😍😍 This was my first real experience with snow in over 25 years so I was in HEAVEN.

Short video taken from the walkway to Sanson’s Peak

Fairmont Banff Springs

After we took the gondola back down the mountain, it was on to some sightseeing… including the famous Fairmont Banff Springs!

View of the Bow Valley from the Fairmont

This resort complex (it’s more than just one building) is seriously WOW. ‘Imposing’ is the word that comes to mind but it’s also stunning. For over 130 years the hotel has serviced the Banff area so you can probably imagine the historic architecture that makes up this beauty.

Despite not being guests, we were allowed to go into the hotel (saying ‘hotel’ really does not give you a clear picture of how sumptuous and elegant everything is inside) to view the Upper Bow Valley Terrace. Holy VIEWS, Batman. I mean, just check out the photo. It was about 180° of that gorgeousness.

Bow River and Bow Falls

Chasing waterfalls… Bow Falls, Banff

From the Fairmont we headed down to the Bow River and Bow Falls. The falls were lovely but more like raised rapids than a traditional drop waterfall (like Takakaw Falls the day before).

I love waterfalls. I love trying to capture the movement of the water using long exposure photography. To do that, you either need an impossibly steady hand or a tripod. Well. I didn’t have my tripod (stupidly, it was in my suitcase. On the bus. 🤦🏻‍♀️ Because that’s the best spot for it! 🙄) so I spent probably way too long trying to get a decent long-ish exposure shot of the waterfalls. Not entirely sure I succeeded (you’ll see what I mean when I share the photos from Athabasca Falls the day after this 😉) but glad I got some photos at least.

Reflections on Bow River

The views up the river to the mountains were stunning – the same views as we saw from the terrace at the Fairmont but up close. The whole Banff area is just SO DAMN PRETTY. I saw some great reflections of the mountains in the water but there was probably just a leeeetle bit too much movement in the water for a proper mirror effect.

Put your paws up and step away from the phone box!

Funny story as we’d just arrived and were hopping off the bus. As we were leaving the bus, Matt (one of our guides) says to us “Go check out the phone box. Tell me what you see.”

Grr Argh. Claw marks in the phone box. (Image provided by Matthew Paugh)

Uhhh, okay? So we go to check out the phone box and… there’s no phone. Buuuut that’s not actually the interesting part. The interesting part was the series of deep dents in the base of the box. I really wish I’d thought to snap a photo (even an iPhone shot!) because it’s hard to accurately describe what it looked like. (Thank you to Matt for providing me with a photo!)

I looked at the pattern of the dents, then put my fingers against the marks in the metal… and they were perfectly spaced apart. Like a hand. Or a PAW. Turns out the marks are from BEAR CLAWS. 🤯 The story goes that some bear ripped the phone out of the box/booth, leaving those claw marks, and The Powers That Be never bothered replacing the phone. 😳

Moral of the story: Never prank call a bear. 😜 (I’ll show myself out…)

Surprise Corner

Fairmont Banff Springs from Surprise Corner

Our next stop was just up and around the corner to… surprise! Actually it literally WAS. Surprise Corner, that is. 😜 (I am not above a terrible pun, you have been warned!)

The views from this spot looking back towards the Fairmont, backed by the mountains, was just beautiful.

I especially liked that we got some autumn colours plus snow on the mountaintops. Just perfect! 😍


The large chunk in the middle of the day was spent shopping (my shoulder bag zipper broke the day before – d’oh!) and eating my leftover ‘burger with the lot’. Even cold it was still bloody tasty!

One place I stopped in while out shopping (other than just about all the souvenir places 😅) was The Spirit of Christmas! I was actually asked to find this place by a workmate who had visited it and LOVED it. Gotta say, I can see the appeal. I spent AGES in there just checking out all the amazeballs decos, fudge, souvenirs, and more. If you like Christmas even a smidge, I recommend checking this place out. So fun!

Random note: there are SO MANY Aussies working in Banff. 😂 I swear to God I was served by Aussies 75% of the time. The other 25% were Kiwis or Canadians. It was so bizarre hearing so many accents from home when I was literally on the other side of the world! (I heard someone joke that Banff is known as ‘little Australia’. I believe it!)

Afternoon activity – wildlife tour!

After lunch and shopping was our afternoon activity – a wildlife tour to tick a few more animals off our wildlife list!

I’m probably going to stuff up the order here (and likely miss a few places! 🙈) but places/animals we ticked off the list:

  • Sunshine Village – long horned sheep! Including a bubby or two. So cute!
  • Lake Minnewanka – SUCH a gorgeous spot and we even saw a fox!!! I think I took approximately 60,000 photos of the little guy. 🥴
  • Mt Norquay lookout – what a location! The views down to Banff and the surrounding mountains are seriously STUNNING..
Fox! Taken at Lake Minnewanka

I LOVE that I was able to catch the fox looking right down the lens. The Sony Alpha 7R Mark III I shoot with has animal eye autofocus which is just *chef’s kiss*. Even though it looks like I got close, I kept my distance (and cropped the hell out of the photo). These are wild animals, after all, and they shouldn’t be approached. (But you wouldn’t believe some of the dumb shit we saw people do around animals… 🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️)

We also saw this awesome raven before we went to Lake Minnewanka (I can’t remember exactly where we were) and the sheen on its feathers was so PRETTY.

Something the trip made me realise – I love wildlife photography but I have GOT to upgrade my 70-300mm lens to a 100-400mm (or bigger!) before I go on my next big trip/wildlife shoot. So many times I wanted just a tiiiiny bit more reach. Put it on the wishlist… 💸💸

Mt Norquay Lookout

That’s it for Day 3 of the tour and hopefully not such a long wait between blog posts! (Real life has been conspiring against me! *shakes fist* Moving house 6 March, thank God…)

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