Every year we take our annual winter family vacation to Banff and stay at the Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa. It is something we look forward to all year and cherish our time there and the memories we create as a family. It really is such a blessing that we get to go, stay at our favourite hotel, eat at all the restaurants we look forward to revisiting and do all the activities that we love.
This year we went for a whole week and it was amazing. It’s a chance to unwind, reconnect as a family and just enjoy being together and celebrating that our hard work made this happen. We always go just before Christmas and if you are planning a trip anytime in the winter I highly recommend that as your time because it is the quietest time to visit Banff before everyone swoops in to experience a “White Christmas”.
So today’s blog post I wanted o share all our favourite things to experience when you are in Banff including the best hotel the Caribou Lodge where we always stay, what there is do to at the hotel, The best restaurants and our favourite activities for those who don’t ski… Yes we don’t ski! We plan to eventually but we are holding out until our crazy little guy can manage to make it down the hill without causing us a trip to the hospital. He is slightly accident prone and has had stitches 3 times already at the age of 6.
So let’s start with WHERE TO STAY!
THE BANFF CARIBOU LODGE & SPA:
As I said we LOVE the Banff Caribou Lodge, it has been our family winter holiday home for 6 years now and even our summer home last summer. When you first walk into the lodge you immediately smell the wood burning in our fireplace at the heart of the lobby. This smell just makes you feel like you are in the lodge, in the middle of the mountains and need a cup of hot cocoa, although I’ll take a wine instead. We visit over the Christmas holidays which means they have it beautifully decorated with a large tree right in the centre of the lobby and garland draped through out festively. The kids always love how in the lobby there is a painting of elk that they hang a red ornament right in front of the elks nose to make him look like Rudolph. They have done it year after year and the kids always look for it. Funny how they notice those little things.
Over the years we have stayed in all their types of rooms but now because we stay so long we treat ourselves to the Mountain Loft Jacuzzi Suite. This year the Caribou Lodge was so so sweet and decorated our room for the season with a Christmas tree in the corner and garland draped across the fireplace. We are Christmas fans over here, having our home holiday decoration up on November 1st so we were so so excited about this and the tree lights stayed on the entire visit, even at bed time.
So when you first walk into the suite you get to see the enormous window that overlooks Banff Ave and the mountains. It has a table and chairs right in front of it which is always my favourite place to sit and soak in the view. This is the living room area with a comfortable couch, tv and a fireplace.
Upstairs is the loft that has views out that enormous window and the master bedroom. Attached to the master bedroom is the jacuzzi room which has sky lights and a large closet which I promptly took over.
WHAT TO DO IN THE CARIBOU LODGE:
The caribou lodge has everything you could want in a hotel.
Food – For food they have The Keg attached to the lobby, and since my husband and I used to work at the Keg we love this! They have an excellent breakfast buffet in the morning, great happy hour features including daily features which are on for $5 and we took advantage of a few days. Now our favourite is to go there for dinner and enjoy a good steak. Kids always get taken care of so well there as well with veggie plates brought out before the meals and colouring to keep them busy while they wait. It’s great to have the Keg within your hotel because you know you are getting good food and a great place to sit back and relax.
Hot Tub/Pool – I’m not really sure what to call their Hot Tub/Pool. Technically it’s a jet hot tub because it is so warm, perfect for warming yourself up from being out in the snow all day. The size of it though is not quite pool size but if it’s not busy we allow the kids to swim around it like it were a pool. We usually head there about 3-4 times a day because we love it so much. There is also a steam room in the Hot Tub area so your going to want to take advantage of that.
The Spa – Omg the spa! My husband and I LOVE the Red Earth Spa in the Caribou Lodge and go almost every single day we are there. Yes you read that right, and I am not kidding. We save all our massage benefits for this trip so we can really relax and unwind at the spa with massages. We have been doing this for several years now and I cannot tell you how much we visiting and seeing the same people who work there greet us, remember us and joke with us about how crazy we are for having massages every day. But it’s our thing and we enjoy it. If you were to visit the spa, meet the friendly people who work there, enjoy a massage with their chosen essential oil and just relax completely you would understand why we wait until we are at the Caribou Lodge to use them all.
WHERE TO EAT:
We really aren’t foodies until we go away on vacation and then we want to enjoy all our favourite places and the fabulous servers that work there. Just like the lodge and the spa our favourite restaurants have had the same employees for years and we have really grown to enjoy chatting with them and seeing them. Most of the time they recognize us too which is always fun. So here is our list of our favourite and MUST EAT restaurants.
- The Maple Leaf – This has been our favourite restaurant in Banff always! It is a bit pricier but definitely our go to restaurant, and one that we visit 1-3 times every stay. This visit we went there twice actually.
If your planning on visiting try the:
– Two tier seafood tower – perfect to share if you are a seafood lover
– The regional game platter – for the charcuterie board lover this one is delicious and made with locally sourced meat and cheeses.
– Maple Leaf Signature Dish – this combines their specialty salmon and prawns and is what I always pick if hubby and I aren’t sharing.
- Block Kitchen + Bar – We discovered Block last year and have added it to our top places to visit 1-3 times! Yes we really visit that many times, it could be a whole year before we get to eat there again so better enjoy it. This is another restaurant where the same girl has served us each time. It’s a smaller location so your going to want to be there early to ensure you get a table.
Here are our favourite items, keep in mind that some of these are feature items:
– The Duck Poutine – This is a family favourite, and I would say Brayden my little guy LOVES this. It’s on their feature menu and if you ask nicely they might just make it for you when it’s on featured. Thanks for doing that for us!
– Smoked Bison Flat Bread – OMG this was so yummy! We ordered this to share and I basically took control of ensuring it was eaten fully! So so good!
– Coconut Cream Ramen Bowl – This was on their feature menu so I’m not even sure I got the name right. We have ordered this twice and it is amazing. So good that we have come home and tried to recreate it.
- Banff Sushi House – This is one of our favourite sushi places and the kids love that their lunch is delivered on a train. They have so many choices and will make anything you request. Plus they always remember what you order so when you come back 3 times (we usually do lunches here several times to get our sushi fill) they always know that we want several orders of Chop Chop Cones so they make them fresh just for us.
- Balkan Restaurant – This winter was our first visit to the Balkan and it left us wondering why it took us so long to check it out. Our server was fabulous in helping us pick what would be just the right amount of food for our family and ensuring we got to try everything. We ended up ordering the ultimate greek feast which was perfect for us, we even had some leftovers to take home. Paired with the sangria it was the perfect night out and dinner that we will definitely be adding to our must eat list every visit.
- Ticino Swiss-Italian Restaurant – So when you think fondue in Banff you generally think of the Grizzly House on the main strip with that crazy entrance and you leave smelling horribly. I personally love Ticino which is on the main road but just a little bit down. Our first visit I remember actually getting to meet the owners who were sitting just a table down from us. This visit we loved the cheese fondue, our family favourite! Every drop of cheese is savoured for sure. Then everyone got their own bowl of their favourite past and we loved it. What really makes them special though for me is their personal touch. I shared a few photos of us there on Instagram and tagged Ticino. To my surprise they direct messaged me with a personal thank you for coming in and an invitation to visit again with a discount code. It’s the little things that make it special and I really appreciated that.
- Chuck’s Steak House – We didn’t get to make it there this visit but I really wanted to include Chuck’s Steak House because they are one of our favourites for a really delicious steak and accompaniments. Plus their service is exceptional which really makes it such an experience to have dinner there.
WHAT TO DO IN BANFF
We always get asked what we do in Banff that we can spend a whole week there and the answer is lots. We don’t ski so let’s take that right off the list, but there is so much to do for family activities that we appreciate. Some of them we could do at home but it’s our family tradition of doing them in the mountains that makes it special.
So here is our list of must do activities when in Banff in the winter.
- Snow tubing at Mount Norquay – Ok we talked about must eat, this is a MUST DO! It really is breathtaking and so much fun all at the same time. You have the chance to really soak it all in when you are taking the magic carpet ride up the hill. It really is just stunning up there. Then you get to have so much fun going down the hill as a family or racing. We split up girls against the boys and raced down, sadly the girls never won even being on the faster slide.
- Skating on Two Jack Lake – Oh my gosh it is so so beautiful! The lake is so clear and such a beautiful deep blue and you are completely surrounded by the mountains. This was our first year going and it was a little intimidating if you have never skated on a frozen lake before but there are so many people enjoying it that you feel so confident. It’s such a beautiful location and is a free activity as long a you bring your own skates.
- Drive Minniewanka Loop – This is the loop that is on the way to Two Jack Lake so you can do both in one day easily. This takes you on the prettiest drive with plenty of mountain views and if your lucky like us you might just stumble upon a herd of mountain goats on the road.
- Visit the Fairmont Hotel – I LOVE the Banff Springs, it’s just so beautiful. We do this every year and I never get tired of it. It’s like a chance to walk through a castle and see the beautiful architecture, the history and maybe a few ghosts. They do say it is haunted and we have visited all the sites through out the hotel that are said to be haunted but we have never experienced anything. It’s just fun for the kids to tour and see if they can see anything. If you have time stop into their lounge and enjoy a drink while looking out at the mountain views.
- Bowling at the Fairmont – This is a hidden gem. The fairmont has the best bowling. It is always empty in there so it’s fun to have the whole place to yourself and just enjoy a good game or two. They also serve food and drinks so Jon & I always enjoy a glass of wine and beer while we play. I definitely have to brag because this year was the first year that I have EVER beat Jon at bowling. It was so exciting that Fairmont Bowling Staff printed it out for me. PS The staff there is AMAZING!! Same guy every year and he is phenomenal.
- Shopping Banff Ave and favourite shopping spots – We love to spend part of the day just checking out all the tourist shops, treating ourselves and the kids to a little mountain vacation goodies. So here is a list of my FAVOURITE stores.
- Cabin 108 – Such a cute little boutique to find great clothing. Their vibe is cozy, comfortable, stylish and fabulous.
- House of Angelica – Another store I adore as well as the owner Marquesa is always my highlight to see when I pop in. This store is where you want to come when you want to get a little dressed up and feel glam.
- Duck Duck Moose – We like to get the kids toys on our trip, sometimes it’s something they can do at the restaurant or depending on which kid, it’s either slime or nerf guns/lego. This is the best spot to stop for kids toys. They have it all, it’s much more kid store than the toys you can get at all the Banff souvenir shops.
- Little Blue House – If you are looking for PJ’s this is the spot! They have so many super cute PJ’s and you could get a whole set for the family.
- Rocky Mountain Soap Company – I know we have this in Edmonton but it’s special going to the Banff store. Maybe it’s the fact that we get Rocky Mountain Soap bars in the Caribou Lodge. The Caribou Lodge also gives coupon books to their guests and there is one for this store. We love it and always get several to bring back for gifts and ourselves.
- Mountain Chocolates – This store is right beside the Rocky Mountain Soap Company and the smell of delicious chocolate coming from it is hard to resist. This is the one we always go to for our fudge and chocolate goodies. Plus they also have a coupon in that book. So that is a great perk.
- Watch A Movie At Lux Theatre – We always pick a movie each year to go watch with the kids. Again we can always do this at home but it’s something the kids look forward to now. It’s all part of the family tradition and building those memories.
- Go to the Banff Hot Springs – This is the best way to relax and unwind after a chilly day of snow tubing, skating, shopping, skiing, whatever you choose its a great way to relax.
I hope by reading all that there is to do in Banff you are excited to start planning your next family trip to Banff and stay at the Caribou Lodge. We have created so many special memories with this trip and I hope when you start making this your family tradition you create just as many. Check out the photo I found below of our previous stay a few years ago compared to this years shot! The kids were so little!!
Have such a wonderful day!