Banff Town/ Lake Louise Town, Banff National Park
Favorite thing: Lake Louise Village is small and has only the basic amenities. There are a few lodges or resorts, a campground, several gas stations, a post office, a grocery store and a few places to look at nick-nacks. The Lake Louise visitor center has a decent exhibit on geology and a twenty minute film (I only stayed for about 45 seconds--too much to see for yourself outside).
Favorite thing: Banff is a very beautiful city and you have to make a stop there if you're in Alberta. However, it is a very small city and it is obvious that it survives mainly on tourism. So if you're not into ski, which you could do every day and never get tired of it, this town will be too small for you to spend a whole week there. Consequently, if you're in town for more than 3 or 4 days, I suggest you take the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper National Park and then make a stop in Edmonton, which is only about 4 hours away.
The town of Banff was established in 1883 when the trans-continental railway was built through the Bow River valley. Banff has an elevation of 1,395 m (4,580 ft), but is nestled by mountains that tower a mile above.
Fondest memory: The town is the centre of recreation, tourism, and dining in the Canadian Rockies and Banff National Park. It not only has the largest number of hotels and beds & breakfasts, but also has an abundance of manmande and natural attractions. There are plenty of scenic wonders on the roads around Banff. The town's attractions are clustered in three main areas:
(A) In the Town centre, between Bow River and the Highway (#1)
(B) On Tunnel Mountain, overlooking the town
(C) On Sulphur Mountain on the opposite bank of the Bow River
Lake Louise is just a 40 minute drive northwest of Banff, it is less commercial than Banff. The town of Lake Louise is in the valley, just west of the Trans- Canada Highway. The town was built originally as a rail stop to get visitors up to the Chateau Lake Louise. When the highway was built, a variety of accommodations (including an International Hostel) sprung up in the valley. There is now a shopping mall, a number of fine restaurants in the town of Lake Louise.
Lake Louise itself has two parts: the townsite in the Bow River Valley, and the famous Lake itself on a plateau up the road. Be sure to enjoy both parts of Lake Louise.
Fondest memory: The town is also the starting point of the Icefields Parkway, and the town's visitor centre is "Mile Zero" of the road that winds past the Columbia Icefields up to Jasper.
Lake Louise Village doesn't amount to much, but it's an essential supply stop, with more or less everything you need in terms of food and shelter (at a price). Most of it centers round a single mall and parking lot, with a brand-new youth hostel and a few outlying motels dotted along the service road to the north. There's nothing to do in the village, and unless you have a vehicle to take you to the lakes you're likely to be bored and frustrated. The smart new Lake Louise Information center, a few steps from the car park, offers not only information but also high-tech natural-history exhibits (daily mid-June to mid-Sept 8 a.m.-8 p.m., 8 till 10 p.m. in high summer; winter 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; 522-3833).
Fondest memory: A short way from the village, the Lake Louise Gondola runs partway up Mount Whitehorn (2669m). To reach it return to and cross over the Trans-Canada, and follow the road towards the ski area; the gondola is signed left after about 1km (daily June & Sept 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; July & Aug 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; $9 return, $5 one-way). At the top (2034m) are the usual expansive views, self-service restaurant, and several trailheads.