Day 3 of our Banff Adventure was a shorter day for driving as we toured things in and around the town of Banff. As previously mentioned, we took advantage of the Brewster Epic Pass which allowed us access to:
- Banff Gondola
- Banff Lake Cruise
- Glacier Adventure
- Glacier Skywalk
- Maligne Lake Cruise
Our Epic Passes cost $130 each for my husband and I, and another $70 for my 6 year old. Lucky for us, our 4 year old is still free on all the attractions (5 and under). The pass is now sold out, but there is a similar Explorer Pass now available. We visited 4 out of the 5 attractions over the course of the trip and the pass definitely paid for itself.
We decided to start the day off with a ride up Sulpher Mountain on the Banff Gondola. I had forgotten we did this with the kids a few years back when my husband was in Banff for a course. A lot has changed at the top of the mountain since then and they are continuing to renovate to make it an even better visitor experience.
The parking lot is also currently being overhauled, so that made parking a bit difficult. It is a very popular attraction so the lot was full and we ended up parking a ways up the road. We had read ahead that it is best to take the shuttle bus in from town, but opted to drive up because we had the dogs along. The rainy, overcast weather worked in our favor that day to leave the dogs in the car while we went to enjoy the attractions.
Getting our tickets was easy thanks to the Brewster app my husband had downloaded on his iphone. We got to bypass the longer line-ups outside and head straight in to the info desk to get our tickets and ride times. There was a bit of a wait time to get on the gondola, but there is a Starbucks in the lobby and a gift shop to browse while you wait.
My kids LOVED going up mountain! Each car fits 4, so we got our own individual car to go up as a family and act goofy in as we made our way all the way up the mountainside. The cars had large windows and it was easy for the kids and ourselves to see the view from all sides.
As mentioned, we had been to the Gondola before, but that was a few years back and in the winter time. I don’t think they had all the wooden sidewalks and walking paths so we had simply looked out from the platform.
My son ended up having a bit of a moment up top the mountain, so he and I stopped partway through the walkways for a rest and a break from all the stairs. My husband and daughter continued on to the very top where they got to check out a cool little cabin and found a set of red chairs for a selfie. I was a bit disappointed I missed out, but my son and I enjoyed watching the small critters while we waited.
On the ride down, the kids asked to do it all over again and we were half tempted because of the unlimited access with the Epic pass. Had we not had the Epic Pass, each trip up the mountain would have cost $105 total for our family of 4.
Banff Lake Cruise
After a stop in town for lunch (for a couple very yummy pizzas from Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company), we made our way to Lake Minnewanka to do the Banff Lake Cruise.
I don’t think my kids had ever really been on a boat so I knew the boat ride would be a new and interesting experience for all of us. The boats were smaller then I was expecting, and the dock and loading area was very unassuming. I was quite surprised to learn that the boat cruise is one of the longest running tourist attractions in Banff National Park and has been running for over 100 years.
The Lake area is rich in history, and the guide aboard the boat gave us three options for what she could talk about: the history of the lake and its people, the vegetation of the area, or the animals of the lake. It was only ourselves and a handful of other people on board, so my kids excitedly asked to learn about the animals and she was happy to accommodate. We learned about the fish in the lake, the eagles in the sky above, and the animals on the shoreline including wolves, bighorn sheep, black bears and grizzly bears. Note the Grizzly Paw as big as my 6 year old’s head!
The boat had a fully enclosed cabin, with large wooden benches and glass windows that could be slid open. There was also an open air seating area at the back that my daughter was excited to head back to partway through the trip.
The boat takes you all the way across Lake Minnewanka to what is called the Devil’s Gap. This is the foot hills of the Rocky Mountains and the large gap was created many years ago as a result of a glacier carving it’s way through the mountains.
We all enjoyed the Lake Cruise, but I am not sure we would have done it without having the Epic Pass. Even with our daughter riding free, regular admission would have added up to $150 for our family of 4. The guides gave a great presentation and the boat ride was quite scenic, but for the money I don’t think the entertainment value was there for the 1 hour tour. If we had to choose between our two adventures that day, I would say the $105 Gondola Ride was the better choice for our family.
After our Boat Cruise, we did a small walk along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka.
We were all happy to find more Red Chairs and wrap up our day’s adventures with a few more photos!
We made it back to the vehicle just before the rain started, but the rain lasted through the night and put a bit of a damper on our Day 4 hike to Johnston Canyon.