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Alluring Alberta: Banff - Bow River byways and slow-braised bison

catwalk, Johnston Canyon
catwalk, Johnston Canyon

A dinner of bison short ribs, slow-braised in dark ale and blueberries, savored with a complex pinot noir from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, makes a satisfying close to a day of exploration in the Canadian Rockies. When it’s served overlooking three of Banff’s iconic mountain ranges, with a glimpse of Vermilion Lakes thrown in, it’s memorable.

And memorable it was, dining at the “Art Eco” Juniper Hotel in Banff, another in the group of Charming Inns of Alberta. The starter of pan-seared Qualicum Beach scallops, served with a vanilla-infused parsnip puree, was another brilliant example of Chef Tim Matsell’s creatively delectable cuisine. This is how his “cross roads” cuisine is described on the hotel’s website:                                            Don't miss the slideshow at the end of the story!

“Cross Roads is drawn from the memory of the first peoples who traveled between the salmon region to the west and the buffalo plains to the east. We are proud to weave the stories of regional growers and producers in to our menus.”

A twilight soak in the hot tub overlooking those same Rocky Mountains, now bathed in rose gold hues, eased muscles that had hiked, paddled and climbed. Sleep came easily that night.

The day had begun with a 35-mile drive from Lake Louise to Banff along the forested Bow River Parkway. We pulled over to view an elk with antlers so large we wondered how he navigated between the trees.  

We hiked the 1.5-mile riverside trail to the upper falls at Johnston Canyon, through cool green forests of lodge pole pines, along catwalks that edged  moss-draped limestone cliffs. It was easy to see why this is one of the most popular hikes in the Canadian Rockies. Interpretive signs explaining the flora, fauna and geology use quotes from one of my favorite authors. I’ll let the master, Wallace Stegner, express what we were feeling:

“…it was pure delight to be where the land lifted in peaks and plunged in canyons, and to sniff air thin, spray-cooled, full of pine and spruce smells …”

from The Sound of Mountain Water

In Banff, we stopped to gaze at the Hoodoos, pillars of sandstone eroded into strangely evocative shapes, then boarded a lake cruiser for an hour-long interpretive tour of Lake Minnewanka. This neon-blue glacial beauty, largest lake in Banff National Park, draws scuba divers who brave the chill waters to explore an underwater village, submerged in 1941 when the building of a dam raised the lake 100 feet.     

An 8-minute ascent on the Banff Gondola deposited us at the summit of Sulphur Mountain. The panorama here at 7,500 feet shows why Banff, encircled with snow-streaked peaks and the Bow River, winding its milky glacial green waters through forest, meadow and town, is one of Canada’s most popular destinations.

Join the celebration now, as Banff National Park salutes its 125th anniversary as Canada’s first national park.

Westjet serves Edmonton (YEG) and Calgary (YYC) from San Francisco (SFO) with seasonal non-stop service.

Watch for more on my travels in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies

Story © C. Canter, 2010
Photos © C. Canter, 2010



  • Norman 4 years ago

    Carol, its beautiful there, and shorts ribs description makes my mouth water.

  • Lanie 4 years ago

    I am spell-bound. The food descriptions go way beyond my mentality, as you know, but a great experiential start to the day!!

  • Lee 4 years ago

    Love dem ribs! What a great combo of an incredible environment and "stick to your ribs" eats.

  • Brewster Inc. 4 years ago

    Great post & photos about the Canadian Rockies, I have to agree those ribs are the best! Happy to read you had such a fantastic time here, hope you come back soon.

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