It was hard to find a tourist trap in a perceived tourist trap, but I think the Merman fits the bill.
The Merman can be found at the Indian Trading Post, a long-time institution in Banff. The Indian Trading Post was started by Norman Luxton, who had come to Banff by way of Winnipeg and Vancouver, and various adventures in between. He had a good relationship with the Stoney Indians, and showcased their crafts at the Indian Trading Post.
Today, you can still buy many Indian crafts and other gift items, plus visit the Merman. Purchased by Luxton in 1911 from Japan, and it is one of eight known to exist. He never admitted to buying the fabricated creature, but always told people that he and his brother had created the Merman out of "spare bits" they had on hand one day, while drunk.
The most popular rumor that circulated when I was a kid was the Merman was pulled out of Lake Minnewanka by some hapless fisherman. This was a highly effective story told late around the fire at summer camp!!
Location: The Indian Trading Post can be found at : 101 Cave Avenue, Banff (www.banffindiantradingpost.com)
The Town of Banff
This town has turned from a beautiful little town in Canada's oldest National Park into one big tourist trap. It now looks like any other town run for (and by) a major corporation in support of the ski operations in the vicinity. I'm not sure how many "faux Alpine" towns we need, but Banff has degenerated into another one.
They seem to be catering to the ski set. The type of people that don't want to leave home, but feel that they have to in order to ski. Everything is done up to keep them in their comfort zone. I call this "lowest common denominator tourism". Some people love this, but I personally find it tacky an stay away from the overpriced hotels, restaurants and shops.
If you are someone that enjoys this type of tourism, you will love Banff. If you are going there to see the stunning natural beauty of the Park, look at staying elsewhere.
In my opinion, the only good thing about Banff is that there are two roads leading out of town!
Unique Suggestions: Stay elsewhere in the park, or save yourself some money by staying just outside of it in Harvie Heights or Canmore. You are just a few minutes away from the park, but save yourself a fair bit of money staying outside of it.
Fun Alternatives: The local people from Calgary have abandoned Banff and head to Kananaskis (you drive right by on the way in on Highway 1).
If you don't want the tacky tourist town, look at heading up to the town of Jasper, in Jasper National Park. Touristy, yes, but not tacky.
- Hiking and Walking
- Skiing and Boarding
Bow Falls is on (where else) the Bow River, just below the famous Banff Springs Hotel. I have no idea why hundreds of tourists congregate here. The falls are completely unremarkable, and besides the difficulty of getting a parking spot, the hunt here gets ridiculous with people scouting on foot for their fellow drivers, and standing in empty parking spots waving their arms. I suspect the crowds are a result of unquestioning tourists being told this is the place to be. Please, please give this place a miss.
Fun Alternatives: Johnston Canyon is perhaps a 1/2 hour drive away and though nearing tourist-trap infamy, at least stretches the crowds among a few km of trail and offers much more interesting scenery.
icefield helicopter tours
Before you book that helicopter tour of a lifetime, flying over Glaciers in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, there are some factors that an informed and educated vacationer should make themselves aware of.
The experience is beautiful and amazing, truly, but..............
1. If you travel from Banff or Jasper, two of the major resort destinations, you could be making up to a 2 hour drive each way to get to a tour operator. That is not bad in itself, as the scenery is beautiful, but some people who have booked helicopter tours as part of a pre-booked travel package have been quite surprised to spend about five hours in a bus, only to spend twenty minutes in the air. Look at a map carefully, and or research the distance required to get to your tour.
2. You might be flying in equipment that is twenty or thirty years old, and may be rental machines, not owned by the tour company. Many of you know how rental cars are treated, and you should be aware that your helicopter might be a thirty year old rental.
3. You might find that the tour company is far enough from civilization that the likelihood of having certified maintenance staff on location is less. This means that you may end up flying in machines that are checked out and decisions made whether to fly or not, by a profit driven owner, rather than a qualified mechanic. The risks start to add up when they compound like this.
Unique Suggestions: 4. On the topic of pilot, you will more than likely be flying with “tour” pilots, those being usually very young and less experienced. In fact your flight could actually be flown by a brand new pilot who is flying his or her very first ever commercial flight.
5. To further explain number 4 above, consider this. A pilot wanting to fly most commercial jobs needs at minimum 1000 hours before most commercial operators will consider hiring them and putting them in a million dollar aircraft.
6. The tour operator hires the brand new pilot, who will do nearly anything in the world to fly, and to acquire more hours. The 100 hour pilot will not only fly some tours from A to B, but will cook, clean, shovel, rake, and wash the toilets for more than half of each 24 hour day.
7. The tour operator, if he or she wishes, can take advantage of the inexperience, the youth, and the desperation of these young pilots, to get them do just about anything. It can (and does) become a “sweat shop” for young pilots.
8. So your beautiful flight of a lifetime, is likely to be flown in a helicopter two or three decades old, which is possibly rented, which may be without an on site mechanic or engineer. Flown by a pilot with not enough hours to work at a “non tour” helicopter operation. Flown in mountain conditions in high winds, at high altitudes, and a speeds which contribute to a fast turnover or customers.
Fun Alternatives: 9. Putting aside the fact that those twenty to thirty year old machines, will have less seating room. Will not have modern safety features found on newer machines. One of the passengers will be jammed into a middle seat, which is not suitable for persons much larger than a child. Your view and your comfort will be compromised. You will have no choice in which seat you are offered, nor will your flight be discounted if you have the misfortune of getting the middle seat.
10. Finally, something that was observed, was a tendency to rush. Rush, rush, rush. Making sure that your experience of entering and exiting the helicopter was as hurried and as frantic as could be. Your bum is something to get in, get up, get down and get gone. It does not always translate into satisfied vacationers when one considers the hundreds or thousands of dollars spent to pay for the flight.
11. Fog, visibility, rain, snow, dangerous mountain winds, are all safety factors which must be taken into account. Combine mountain weather, thin air at elevation, with a brand new or rookie pilot, and an event which is often desperately rushed. Mountain winds at 9000 feet have been known to hit a helicopter hard enough to cause the pilot to smash his head against the steel door frame of the helicopter. You may find yourself flying higher than you imagined, being hit harder that you have ever ben hit with mountain winds and gusts, and flying with one of the newest pilots employed in Canada. Fly informed.
12. In my opinion, safety would be far higher in a newer, more modern helicopter, flown by more experienced pilots, working for established tour operators in a safer location. Like Hawaii, to give one example. Sea level safety, lots of places to land. Less wind and turbulence. Lots of skill at the controls.
Banff downtown, avoid it
such junk! and tons of it
I was most disappointed with the famous Department store - I forgot the name, famous trading company. Help me someone?
Unique Suggestions: There's quite a good tea shop. Unique local artisans, really exceptional accutrements. A little treasure amidst a lot of dreck.
There's also a decent wine shop/liquor store just on the edge of the main drag
Fun Alternatives: Banff music festival!
Superb chamber music, some of it free and low cost. Xlnt.
There's also a bunch of other festivals, films, other types of music, but the Chamber Music Festival is so worth the trip. What a gift.
- Family Travel
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Arts and Culture
Souvenir shops in the town of Banff
Some who come to Banff National Park for the wilderness would feel that all of Banff townsite is one big tourist trap. I disagree. When I visited with my family in 1993, there seemed to be a large amount of really tacky souvenir shops, and that's what I would consider the biggest trap a tourist can fall into while visiting Banff National Park. Tempting, yes, but a trap? Definitely.
Perhaps these shops seemed tacky to me because I see the same junk sold where I live, but there seemed to be a large quantity of tacky "Canadiana" as opposed to souvenirs for Banff or the Rockies. The Rockies are thousands of miles away from the parts of Canada that produce maple syrup, and yet you'd see maple syrup everywhere in these shops. There would also be Anne of Green Gables souvenirs - a character from Lucy Maude Montgomery's novel that took place in pastoral Prince Edward Island - an island that's actually closer to England than it is to Banff! Then there are the stores selling fake totem poles, which always amuses me, since totem poles aren't indiginous to the natives from Alberta...
... but I guess what a tourist doesn't know doesn't hurt them, right?
While I'm sure the shopping has improved in Banff since then, those souvenir shops were certainly the most tourist-trappy places that existed in the national park. And I suppose if that's the only tourist trap I can think of, it's really not all that bad!
Overpriced sporting fashion & souveniers
Everything in Banff promotes the sporting circuit. So expect to see lots of overpriced sporting fashions like Lulu lemon, Columbia, Mountain Co-op, Burton. Also general souveniers can be pricey.
Unique Suggestions: Look around- that's free. If you want to get souveniers there are some stores at the end of the street away from the hotel strip that have a variety of items that are smaller and lesser in price. You just need to take your time and not buy into the sporting elitism that the town is promoting.
Even a Banf t-shirt is $24.99 but you can find deals for items that are going out of season - hoodies and t's that are on sale if you take your time and price compare.
Fun Alternatives: If it is sporting equipment and fashion that you are looking for check out the side street behind Banff ave. Paralell to it. There are smaller sporting stores that may offer deals. There are also sales that can be had on the higher end fashions at the end of season. I saw some really nice columbia knee high boots on sale for about $160 that if I had the cash I probably would've bought, but I didn't. You can also find sales on running shoes if you take your time and price compare.
- Mountain Climbing
- National/State Park
- Skiing and Boarding
Bear-proof garbage bin
This kind of bin are quite common inside all national parks, which keep the bears and other wild animals away from disposed human food and waste. You need to learn the way how to open the lid, it is a little bit tricky. :-)
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