Explore Three Hidden Gems in Banff, Jasper and Kananaskis
Are there any secrets in the Canadian Rockies? Some descriptive phrases are used so frequently in destination marketing they have become clichés that end up losing all meaning. When you hear them too many times, you stop paying attention. Such is the case with the phrase “the best kept secret.” With all the modes of communication available in our modern world, there are few places that can accurately use this phrase. Despite this, many attractions, hotels, restaurants and destinations have it plastered all over their advertisements, websites and Facebook pages.
The abundant use of the phrase “the best kept secret” got me thinking about it. I wondered if there were any places left in Alberta’s top tourist destination that could really be considered “secrets.” Such an attraction or destination would have to be relatively undiscovered by the travelling masses, but have something truly unique to offer. Here are three spots that I believe could accurately be described with this cliché – though I don’t necessarily recommend they use it.
The Banff Centre is well known for its arts programs and its summer arts festival, an annual feast of music, dance, art, culture and literary exhibitions. What it doesn’t advertise is the fact that it also has more than 400 hotel rooms and suites, an amazing fitness facility and one of the best restaurants in Banff. The facilities were put in place to provide accommodations, recreation and meals to program and conference attendees at the Banff Centre, but there is often extra availability that can accommodate other visitors to Banff. Since the Banff Centre receives some of its funding from government sources, it cannot advertise these facilities or the government would appear to be competing with private industry. That is what truly makes this hotel a secret of sorts.
Room types at the Banff Centre range from basic hotel rooms to kitchenette suites and luxury suites with fireplaces and jetted tubs. The hotel has dedicated front desk staff, a bell desk and offers room service. Guests at the hotel have full access to the Sally Borden Fitness and Recreation Centre, an amazing facility with a full size gymnasium, an indoor running track, a huge fitness centre, a climbing room, an Olympic size pool, a wading pool, a hot tub and a steam room. There are also onsite physio and massage services and parking is included in the rates. Rates for rooms start at $149 CAD per night during slow season and go up to $299 CAD for the most luxurious suites during peak season – a bargain in one of Alberta’s hottest travel markets.
There are several excellent onsite restaurants, but the Three Ravens Restaurant & Wine Bar is absolutely amazing. One of the top-ranked restaurants in Banff; the menu is fresh, seasonal and creative. Everything is made in-house from the four types of butter served with your breads to the sorbets served with dessert and the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows is spectacular.
The Parks Canada Palisades Centre is located in Jasper National Park, about 15-km east of the town in a secluded wooded area. It is the only facility of its kind in Canada and is a leader in outdoor experiential education, offering day programs as well as high school credit courses.
If you thought summer school was boring, you should think again. Alberta students can take Career and Life Management 20, a required course for high school graduation, in Jasper at the Palisades Centre. Students complete the course work in 4 intensive days, stay in Jasper at the Pallisades Centre, have fun experiences, meet other students from around the province and earn high school credit. There are several other 3 credit courses also on offer at the centre.
The onsite facilities at the Palisades Centre can also be booked by other adult, school or youth groups. The centre has been used to host corporate retreats, quilting workshops, scrapbookers, yoga retreats, meditation retreats, and other groups. Prices range from about $85-$125 CAD per night and include accommodation, 3 meals per day and programming – a bargain for a mountain resort town. The centre has facilities for up to 60 people, meeting rooms, classrooms, outdoor learning stations, rustic log cabins with modern amenities, recreational equipment and healthy home cooked meals. Rates without food are also available and groups must have at least 12 people to request meals. The site can also be rented as a day use area.
Getting away to the mountains can be particularly challenging for people with disabilities and for seniors, but the William Watson Lodge in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park makes it easy. The lodge is open year-round and has 22 fully accessible units of different sizes, so guests can bring their families. People bring their own food and bedding and have access to a playground, picnic sites and 20-km of wheelchair-accessible trails. There’s a main lodge and 13 fully serviced RV sites, which are open from the May long weekend to Thanksgiving. Rates start at $30-$40 CAD per unit per night and can be rented for up to 7 nights per season. William Watson devoted his adult life to the fight for better understanding and opportunities for the disabled and the lodge was named in his honor.